School districts across the region are struggling to get students back on track academically after the debacle of pandemic-related school closures. However, remote learning and school closures may not be the only reasons for failing academics.

A recent Right-to-Know request submitted to the Chester County Intermediate Unit revealed that staff from a West Chester Area School District middle school believe there are more important priorities than academics. Specifically, the meeting notes read, “Need to increase SEL instead of high focus on academics.”

Similar to the concept of restorative justice, public school districts are misusing the concept of “Social-Emotional Learning,” known as SEL. On the surface, the idea of creating safe and supportive environments where all students can learn sounds like a good plan. However, when you peel back the onion and analyze what is happening in classrooms, it doesn’t take long to see that SEL distracts from academics.

READ MORE — Beth Ann Rosica: Silence is not violence — why school districts should refrain from political statements

SEL was initially designed and implemented for low-income students who were struggling academically. In the same way that inadequate nutrition impacts student learning, the Yale School of Medicine believed that a lack of social and emotional support adversely affects academic achievement.

Based on this theory, agencies like CASEL, Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, started to form in the early 1990s. This organization and hundreds of others design and market curriculum and training programs geared toward public schools. This is big business. A quick Google search for “SEL curriculum” yields an unwieldy number of results.

Strikingly similar to the positive reasons to implement restorative justice, the original mission of SEL was to support struggling students. However, in 2019, some SEL programs devolved into “Transformative SEL.” According to CASEL, one of the largest SEL companies that promulgates school policy in addition to training and curriculum, “transformative SEL focuses on skills for individual success, interpersonal relations, and community-building, as well as skills needed to ensure democratic, fair, and inclusive communities.”

While this statement might raise a few eyebrows, most people would not argue that interpersonal relations and community-building are good skills to acquire. However, CASEL is forced to acknowledge that there is no evidence to support this model. “Transformative SEL grew out of developmental science and research on student engagement, well-being, academic achievement, and long-term success. But, in practice, there are currently limited options for evidence-based programs and implementation models for transformative SEL.”

Most school districts in Southeastern Pennsylvania and across the state have implemented some type of SEL curriculum. While many had these programs before the 2020 school closures, these curricula skyrocketed during Covid. This dramatic increase in the use of transformative SEL is directly related to the billions of dollars of Covie relief funds allocated to districts across the country.

Pennsylvania received almost $3 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) funding. When the state allocated funds to each district, they specified how some of the money was to be spent:

  • Thirty percent: To address the social, emotional, and mental health needs of students 
  • Ten percent: To provide professional development and technical assistance to educators, school support staff, school leaders, and school health professionals to address the social, emotional, and mental health needs of students.
  • Eight percent: To address reading remediation and improvement for students.

The state only required that eight percent of funding be spent on reading remediation. Today, we know from state testing that our students are significantly behind academically in reading and math.

While social and emotional skills are important in the workplace, they do not take precedence over technical and academic skills.

Interestingly, CASEL introduced a “Roadmap to Reopen Schools” that focused primarily on SEL. They credit a multitude of partner agencies, including the National Education Association, American School Counselor Association, the Schools Superintendent Association, Council of Chief State School Officers, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of School Psychologists, and National Association of Elementary School Principals.

The National Education Association is one of the largest teachers’ unions in the country and the rest of the organizations have some connection to the unions. Most of these agencies fought hard to keep schools closed, and when they finally reopened, they decided to focus on issues unrelated to academic success for students.

The groups that forced extended school closures decided that they knew best how to solve the problem that they created. In the Right-to-Know request, multi-disciplinary teams of teachers and staff in the West Chester Area School District met to discuss “their perception of SEL in the building in an open format with questions guiding discussion.” Following are actual, documented comments in a section focused on staff needs:

“SEL feels like an additional thing.”

“Balancing learning loss with SE needs.”

“Some staff are more content-driven and not see SEL as ‘their thing.’”

“Some teachers see SEL as outside of their realm or ‘just one more thing.’”

“Teachers need an understanding of their role in SEL.”

“Struggling to see how SEL can help with everything they need to do.”

“Staff are tired and feel one more thing keeps getting added.”

“Balancing SEL with content is challenging.”

“Data collection not directly related to SEL yet.”

The West Chester Area School District spent over $70,000 on SEL curricula materials and over $145,000 for professional development and organizing the multidisciplinary teams, but the feedback above shows the struggles of teachers across the sixteen buildings in the district.

Two requests for comment from the West Chester Area School District, including verification and explanation of the documents, were not returned. Absent comment from the district, more questions than answers remain. Why is the district implementing expensive programs at the expense of academic outcomes that have no data collection? What are the true objectives of the SEL program and how does it ultimately relate to improved literacy and math competence?

All school district-sponsored programs should have clear objectives and measurable outcomes. Without this level of transparency, there is no way to measure if these programs are helping or harming our students and teachers. Ultimately, the role of public education is to educate students and teach them how to think, not what to think. While social and emotional skills are important in the workplace, they do not take precedence over technical and academic skills. The most equitable practice is to ensure every student is proficient in reading and math and then focus on the soft skills.

Beth Ann Rosica resides in West Chester, has a Ph.D. in education and has dedicated her career to advocating on behalf of at-risk children and families. She covers education issues for Broad + Liberty. Contact her at

7 thoughts on “Teacher concerns rise as West Chester District embraces unproven learning program”

  1. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, also known as ESSER was a $190 billion program. It was part of the CARES Act – 2.2 trillion rushed thru and foolishly signed by Trump during a man-made “emergency.” The now proven Biden family operations are how MOST of these multiple-term politicians operate (both Democrats AND Republicans.) That is mainly why they are not going after Biden, and it is why they indicted Trump for bringing it up in the first place. How much money was just laundered in Ukraine? So, if you opposed the Patriot Act and invasion of Iraq, they called you anti-American. If you opposed the lockdowns (which hurt poor children the most) and the mRNA mandates, they called you anti-science. And if you oppose endless funding for Ukraine and for Israel, they will call you antisemitic. Please ignore their name calling, preserve your liberty, and please vote these multi-term criminals out of office.

  2. I have no issue with the school district spending 0.07% of its budget on helping students recognize the importance of being upstanding members of our community. How one measures community impact is a bit reductive, and sometimes we do things because they’re just the right thing to do (like being kind). Data collection and reporting would only cost more money, and I doubt any amount of data would sway the author of this post. 9 comments of concern about having time to implement such a program across ~1,500 faculty and staff is not surprising, and should be taken seriously by stakeholders. That said, there is no link to the document in question, which lends a question to the credibility of the source. It’s also notable that none of the comments question SEL as a worthwhile approach.

  3. Jeff, The West Chester Area School District (WCASD) School Board of Directors passed a final budget for the 2023-24 school year of $302,294,995.00 approximately $5.3 million increase over the current budget (1.8 percent). 1.8% is an arbitrarily negligible percentage, correct? Could you please give me $5.3 million dollars? I’ll use it well.
    $215K might be less than .07% of their budget, but I like your math. Could you please explain how you determined the specific West Chester SEL [Social Emotional Learning] curriculum and the “need to increase SEL instead of high focus on academics” is indeed “helping students recognize the importance of being upstanding members of our community”? The author’s main points: 1) West Chester Area School District is stonewalling scrutiny on changes in their curriculum and 2) without transparency, there is no way to measure if these programs are helping or harming our students and teachers… are very much valid points.
    The word “kind” is rooted in the Old English word “cynd,” which meant “nature” or “race.” The meaning of “kind” evolved to encompass notions of generosity, benevolence, and having a good-hearted nature. It works when everyone is pulling in the same direction; however, it does not work when people use it as a cudgel to force Communist ideology upon those who embrace the Jewish teachings, training, and spiritual formation and the Christian teachings, training, and spiritual formation.
    I reject the notion people should be kind to everyone as a default approach. It is stupid nonsense. Namaste, my friend, which literally means ‘bow me you’ or ‘I bow to you.”

  4. Education is everything. Some people think they should “turn the other cheek” or “walk another mile” because they learned to be nice or kind at all costs, and just suffer tyrants. They are clueless that under Roman law a master was entitled to reprimand his slave by slapping him once on the cheek. However, under law to do so twice was to grant him freedom. Similarly, a Roman soldier was entitled to conscript a civilian to carry his pack for a mile but no further, otherwise he could be reported and get reprimanded.
    There is a major difference between equal results and equal opportunity. Public schools throughout the area now teach “equal results” and call it social justice because communists and their ideology have taken over public education.
    What exactly is in the SEL curriculum being taught? Telling people not to be concerned because it only comprises .07% (.0007) of the budget is terribly naive. Just 2 milligrams of fentanyl, equal to 10-15 grains of table salt, is considered a lethal dose.

  5. CASEL is the standard bearer in SEL worldwide and has it’s roots with the Fetzer Institute, an organization about spreading a global consciousness and spiritual awakening. I wonder, will teachers be told this background and historical information, do they know which people and what organizations are collectively pushing SEL so hard in schools and why? Here’s a rundown of some: United Nation’s (so they can push the Sustainability Development Goals), UNESCO, World Economic Forum, World Health Organization, Office of Economic Co-Operation and Development, The White House, USAID, NEA, AFT and state affiliated unions, ASCA, AASA, U.S. Department of Education, PA Dept of Ed and many other state ed depts, Intermediate Units, various special interest groups, Democrats AND Republicans, Learning Policy Institute and Linda Darling-Hammond (someone really should pay attention to her contributions to what is currently happening in public ed, she’s also connected to CASEL). State governors are signing proclamations and resolutions about SEL, and weaving it into legislation like the Safer Communities’ Act. Grant money is being dangled at the federal and state levels to test SEL in schools because after all that is what this is, a test. The PA School Boards Association states on their website that “The Department of Education has opened all phases of its grant program, Education Innovation and Research (EIR). These competitive grant opportunities represent an investment in innovative approaches to field-initiated innovations in STEM, social-emotional learning (SEL), and teacher recruitment and retention. EIR Early-phase grants provide funding to support the development, implementation and feasibility testing of a program, which prior research suggests has promise, for the purpose of determining whether the program can successfully improve student achievement and attainment for high-need students.” The 2015 was a pivotal year for SEL. What happened in 2015? The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the UNESCO 2030 Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action Towards inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all (SDG #4). We’re in the midst of the great reimagining of education, not just here but globally (again, see Linda Darling-Hammond). If you question what’s happening, no matter your political affiliation, you’re labeled an extremist.

    2015 SEL:
    UNESCO SDGs and SEL:

    If you question what’s happening, no matter your political affiliation, you’re labeled an extremist.

    1. Thanks, Alexis, for pointing the way.
      New Pluralists is a project of several large and cross-partisan philanthropic organizations including the Einhorn Collaborative, the Stand Together Trust, the Fetzer Institute, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, with the goal of reducing social tension and division. It is fiscally sponsored by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, but is governed by representatives of the various donor organizations. In early 2022, it announced its first major grant initiative, seeking to distribute $10 million to local organizations working to reduce social divisions. 1 2 3

      Foundations leading US away from Constitutional rule with their hoaxes made tenable only by their intimidating, callous spending which in most cases is soon turned into another taxpayer burden and, look around, you seeing any faith in the values being taught k-16, these days?

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