A fight in Utah is one of several skirmishes roiling the field of social and emotional learning–SEL, for short–as schools spend record amounts of money on curricula, assessments and training aimed at strengthening students’ empathy and resilience.
Nationwide, school and district spending on SEL grew roughly 45 percent between November 2019 and April 2021, according to a report by Tyton Partners, an education consulting and investment firm. The increase was driven by concerns about student well-being amid a global pandemic and a national reckoning on race, and enabled by a massive infusion of federal recovery funds.
But this surge in spending has brought heightened scrutiny to the field, with parents pushing back against curricula and screeners in places as politically and geographically diverse as Brooklyn, New York, and West Bend, Wisconsin. Conservatives have accused schools of hijacking SEL to promote progressive ideas about race, gender and sexuality, while liberals have warned of threats to student privacy.