The U.S. Education Department recently reported that the high school graduation rate is at an all-time high at 80 percent. While these statistics sound like a reason for optimism, they are overshadowed by the crisis that is sweeping the United States. While 80 percent of high school seniors receive a diploma, less than half of those can read proficiently or complete math problems. Among our children of color, the economically disadvantaged and those with limited English proficiency the numbers are significantly worse.
Historically, a high school education was often enough to qualify one for a good-paying job that provided the necessary income to buy a house and take care of the family’s needs. That scenario may have worked for our parent’s generation but is far less likely to be realized in today’s economy.
There is a lot more than hours in the classroom that contributes to our children’s academic performance and socialization. As neuroscientists continue to learn how our brains develop and the consequences of stressors on the developing brain, we’ve become increasingly aware that many children come to school unprepared to focus on academics. Socio-economic background has a significant impact on student performance in the United States. Disadvantaged students show less engagement, drive, motivation and self-beliefs.
There is increasing research into what has been called the non-cognitive skills and social-emotional aspects of childhood development. The term ‘non-cognitive skills’ refers to a set of attitudes, behaviors, and strategies that are thought to underpin success in school and at work, such as motivation, perseverance, and self-control. They are usually contrasted with the ‘hard skills’ of cognitive ability in areas such as literacy and numeracy, which are measured by academic tests. Non-cognitive skills are increasingly considered to be as important as, or even more important than, cognitive skills or IQ in explaining academic and employment outcomes.
It’s not enough to simply fill students’ brains with facts. A successful education demands that their character be developed as well. That’s where social and emotional learning comes in. SEL is the processes of helping students develop the skills to manage their emotions, resolve conflict nonviolently, and make responsible decisions.
Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. Much of the foundational research in this area has been referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) These potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being. These experiences range from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse to parental divorce or the incarceration of a parent or guardian.
Adverse Childhood Experiences have been linked to
As the number of ACEs increases, so does the risk for these outcomes.
The wide-ranging health and social consequences of ACEs underscore the importance of preventing them before they happen. Reducing the number of ACEs can have a positive impact on a broad range of health problems and on the development of skills that will help children reach their full potential.
Sadly, some students are lost to the school-to-prison pipeline. Over half of black young men who attend urban high schools do not earn a diploma. These dropouts face a 70 percent likelihood of going to prison. Far too often, students of color have been pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system. For those students, it isn’t just an interruption in learning, although it’s definitely that as well—if they aren’t in school, they aren’t learning. A suspension can be life altering. It is the number-one predictor— more than poverty—of whether children will drop out of school, and walk down a road that includes greater likelihood of unemployment, reliance on social-welfare programs, and imprisonment.