The Need

Associations in the exSEL coalition have come together to build public awareness and advocacy about an increasing set of challenges facing preK-12 public schools in Massachusetts:

  • Since the adoption of standards-based reform in Massachusetts, schools and districts throughout the Commonwealth have made tremendous investments of time, attention, and resources in improved academic outcomes, often without a comparable investment in the social-emotional learning essential to student achievement. As a result, many students are not developing important social-emotional skills needed for academic, career, and personal success.
  • This is not about making choices between academic and social-emotional skills. On the contrary, it is about acknowledging that students can achieve academic success only if they possess the personal skills needed to face challenges, solve problems, demonstrate self-reliance, and actively participate in their communities.
  • Too often, these issues come to the forefront only because of high-profile tragedies, such as teen suicides and overdoses. This is also about everyday examples of students facing challenging personal issues, with schools across the Commonwealth reporting “dramatic increases in student behaviors linked to anxiety [and] emotional trauma.”[1]
  • The statewide associations representing Superintendents, School Committees, elementary and secondary principals, and educational collaboratives all have identified this issue as a top priority. We have come together in a first-of-its-kind coalition to raise public awareness and promote reforms designed to address the full range of students’ needs, including their mental health and wellness.
  • Students lacking critical skills such as self-regulation and interpersonal communication are unable to learn and perform at the highest levels, contributing to persistent achievement gaps. Without these skills, large numbers of young people are at much greater risk of academic failure, dropping out of school, substance abuse, violent behavior, criminal activity, and suicide.
  • These challenges span all grade levels, from pre-school through high school, and are prevalent in all communities, regardless of location or socio-economic conditions.
  • At the same time, there has been a steady decline in critical supports, resources, and coordination from State and local agencies to address the full range of students’ needs.
  • Many educators report inadequate professional development in these areas to address students’ mental health and other social-emotional needs.
  • Massachusetts is highly regarded for having one of the finest education systems in the country. We now have a unique opportunity to lead the nation in developing social-emotional competencies on par with our reputation for academic excellence.

So what can we do about it? Read our recommendations for strengthening SEL statewide.


[1] Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy (2016). Toward a More Comprehensive Vision of Student Learning. Boston, MA.