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Benefits of Social-Emotional Programs Far Outweigh Their Costs, Study Finds

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For every dollar schools spend on six common social-emotional learning programs, those interventions return an average $11 worth of benefits.

That's the finding of "The Economic Value of Social and Emotional Learning," a study released this week by the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Columbia University's Teachers College. 

To arrive at their conclusions, researchers analyzed existing evaluations of six prominent social-emotional learning interventions, which are described in this graphic I pulled from the report.


"We estimate each intervention's costs based on the ingredients employed during the implementation previously evaluated," the report says. "We utilize the effects estimated in the evaluations to estimate economic benefits of the interventions to society. We then calculate the benefit-cost ratios and net present values to determine if the benefits generated by each program outweigh the costs of implementation."

Costs included in the evaluation include personnel, materials/equipment, facilities, and other inputs. Researchers estimated benefits by measuring the financial impacts of the interventions' outcomes. For example, a successful bullying intervention may reduce missed school days that can cause students to struggle and need extra academic supports, and it may reduce the amount of costly personnel time that staff spend addressing student complaints. And programs that lead to improved academic results may lead to higher income for students later in life, the report says.

"In the educational setting, we seek investments that have the highest return to the taxpayer and to society," the report says. "In the past, [cost-benefit] studies have been limited largely to increases in educational attainment and to improvements in cognitive test scores. But it is now becoming widely recognized that social and emotional learning in schools can be as important as or even more important than cognitive gains in explaining important developmental and life outcomes. Social and emotional skills are less commonly considered in educational evaluations, in part because they are more challenging to measure than attainment and test scores. As such skills have gained prominence, it is important to integrate them into BC studies for consideration in educational policy and decision-making."

The study was requested by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and the NoVo Foundation, which helps support coverage of school climate issues in Education Week.

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