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The Economic Value of Social and Emotional Learning

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There is a growing body of research emphasizing the advantages of teaching students social and emotional (SE) skills in school. Here we examine the economic value of these skills within a benefit-cost analysis (BCA) framework. Our examination has three parts. First, we describe how the current method of BCA must be expanded to adequately evaluate SE skills, and we identify important decisions analysts must make. Second, we review the evidence on the benefits of SE skills, again noting key methodological issues with respect to shadow pricing. Finally, we perform BCA of four selected social and emotional learning (SEL) interventions: 4Rs; Second Step, Life Skills Training; and Responsive Classroom. These analyses illustrate both methodological and empirical challenges in estimating net present values for these interventions. Even with these challenges, we find that the benefits of these interventions substantially outweigh the costs. We highlight promising areas of research for improving the application of BCA to SEL.
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... As such, emerging SEL policy agendas instantiate a new mode of psycho-economic governance within education, one underpinned by a political rationality in which (ideally) society is measured effectively through scientific fact-finding and subjects are managed affectively through psychological Emotional Learning in 2016. International organizations including the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Bank, UNESCO, and World Economic Forum (WEF) are extending SEL into global policy spaces alongside think tanks and philanthropic partnerships (Williamson & Piattoeva 2018), while SEL has also become a lucrative international market for commercial providers (Hogan et al 2018) and an investment opportunity for venture capital firms (Belfield et al 2015). The global social media company Facebook has even designed features 'rooted in principles of social and emotional learning' into its controversial Messenger Kids app, in order 'to teach kids how to better understand and express their emotions in creative ways, [and] encourage and promote healthy social behaviors' (Cheng & Govindarajan 2018), while the venture philanthropy NewSchools Venture Fund has assembled 14 SEL scales into new 'mash-up' measurement instruments (Atwood & Childress 2018: 7). ...
... The metrics for calculating the social benefit and monetary value of SEL schemes have already been published as a cost-benefit analysis with the title The economic value of social and emotional learning. The report features a simple statistical algorithm for calculating the ROI of SEL programs, which has been used to calculate that SEL programs demonstrate measurable benefits that exceed their costs at an average benefit-cost ratio of about 11 to 1-a substantial economic return of 11 dollars on every dollar invested in SEL programs (Belfield et al 2015). Itself drawing substantially on the work of Heckman and on evidence collected by CASEL, the report provides a justification for state investment in SEL programsas long-term returns in terms of earnings and other socio-economic benefits-as well as for investors, who stand to gain substantially by profiting from measurably successful programs. ...
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... The European Commission (2017) thus states that SEI learning contributes to a socially cohesive society based on active citizenship, equity and social justice and as part of a meaningful and balanced (cognitive and social and emotional) education represents an important way forward. The benefits of SEI learning for economic development are seen in the increased employability of students and reduced need to provide mental health services, which constitute a heavy economic burden (Belfield et al., 2015). 3 Like education in general, SEI learning is defined not as an independent area but as prerequisite and instrument for higher political goals -the social and economic development of the EU. 4 ...
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