More and more states are encountering pushback to social-emotional learning (SEL) in early education and K-12 schools because of unfounded concerns about its connection to critical race theory (CRT). Earlier this year, forces with Louisiana’s state school board wanted to remove the social-emotional development standards from the state’s early learning development standards, calling it a “trojan horse for CRT.” Alliance allies at the Louisiana Policy Institute for Children (LPIC) mounted a successful campaign to protect the standard.
As chair of a committee on the revised Louisiana Early Learning Development Standards for the Louisiana Department of Education, Libbie Sonnier, Ph.D., received a call this past May asking if the term “social emotional development” could be removed from the state’s early learning development standards. This Alliance ally executive director explained that social-emotional development is one of the five core developmental domains, part of the early education accountability system, and a medical term – but she was told that social emotional learning (SEL) was tied to CRT and, if it wasn’t removed from the early learning development standards, they wouldn’t be approved by the state board of education.
LPIC began shoring up support for the standards. They trained others in talking points, like showing how social-emotional development is essential to workforce development and to learning how to be a good citizen. They spent time with K-12 advocates, recording a webinar for them and business leaders, and then releasing a seven-minute clip of that video more widely. They offered their website as a hub for sharing revised drafts of the standards with fellow advocates.
LPIC and their coalition partners in the state also demystified the standards by educating the state board of education about its contents and roots in the medical field, made the business case for social-emotional development as it related to the state’s future workforce, brought infant specialists, pediatricians, business leaders, and conservative elected officials to speak to the board during public comment about the importance of the standards, and asked detractors to be specific about what in the standards they were concerned about.
The coalition shared messages like:
- The Early Learning Development Standards are for everyone – parents, caregivers, and educators.
- Parents are always the first teachers.
- The standards are guideposts, not a curriculum.
- These are the things we should be looking for in children’s early development.
- This is what early learning and development looks like for an infant, for a 3-year-old, etc.
Their opponents couldn’t provide any evidence that the early learning standards were tied to CRT, and the Board voted 8-2 to approve the standards as written in August.
The battle was not won without a personal cost. Sonnier has received hate mail – as well as an outpouring of support that this fight matters for children. And the war over SEL in Louisiana is not yet over. LPIC is preparing for the conversation to move into legislative oversight by developing new talking points explaining what social emotional development is and drawing on more data and research. They will use business people and professional educators to make a case for legislators to support the revised Early Learning Development Standards.
Sonnier says, “Stay tuned, because it’s not over by a long shot.”