by Jane Rosenblum MSW, LCSW, ACSW, CCM (pending certificate)
Despite the fact that Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has outlined social-emotional benchmarks and goals to be addressed in schools, there is a growing schism between the Common Core’s emphasis on cognitive or intellectual development and growth versus the social-emotional developmental needs of schoolchildren.
In 2010, the state of Illinois adopted new standards for education highlighting the need to expand a student’s knowledge and skills in order to go on to a college education and be an active contributing member of the workforce.
In the academic year of 2013-14, these standards were adopted by all schools in Illinois. This team, funded by the Bill Gates Foundation, who are not teachers, developed these specific learning standards or common core, as a result of past research and comparison between U.S. and European workforce skills and employment.
The results of the study found that U.S. students lagged behind in education, college attendance and participation in the workforce. The solution was to develop and integrate a new curriculum, although the state reports, “they are a set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed.” Additionally, the benchmarks and goals must be completed and tested yearly.
The Common Core material was not written by teachers. It is not research-based or a model that has been tested and tried in any school.
The social-emotional standards from the Illinois State Board of Education web site states: “These standards have been developed in accordance with Section 15(a) of Public Act 93-0495.”
This Act calls upon the ISBE to develop and implement a plan to incorporate social and emotional development standards as part of the Illinois Learning Standards.
Goal 1: Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.
Goal 2 – Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.
Goal 3 – Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and community context.
The social-emotional goals are very important to child development. Yet, there is little time for teachers to address them adequately and appropriately given the weight pushed by the administration to focus on Common Core standards.
School districts are evaluated based on test scores of their students with the expectation of improving the scores. The result of improved test scores can be seen in how the school is rated, what funding they receive and what supports can be provided.
The social-emotional standards are recognized by the state as mandatory for child development. School personnel are concerned about not having time to attend and teach these concepts to their students.
Teachers are worried about the negative outcomes off not being able to address this issue because they are mandated by their district to teach the core subject areas to improve test scores. They have reported to me that they (as well as the students) are more stressed and anxious since the release of the Common Core standards.
Teachers are reporting that they are having difficulty ensuring each student’s learning styles are met appropriately even when they attempt to differentiate instruction. The demand is to immerse children in the information, ignoring their developmental needs.
Teachers from a low-income school district with limited funds and resources have stated to this writer that they were informed they can’t slow down to help a student understand the material but to keep going to meet goals and benchmarks. In other words, the message is, “Don’t go back to re-teach the material.”
They are instructed by their principals to lecture and review all specific material within a specific time period. Teachers are spending their time telling their students to not only memorize information but learn and practice higher level language art skills and math concepts to improve their test scores. They have been told to inform students they will likely fail the tests especially in the first few years of this implementation.
Overall, teachers, social workers and other staff are concerned about how the student’s social-emotional needs aren’t being met appropriately as well as having little time to spend on educating the parents.
When a child’s social-emotional needs are ignored, children and adolescents may exhibit the following behaviors: intensified bullying (including cyber-bullying), anger and aggression and acting-out behaviors as well as emotional disorders like anxiety and depression.
These negative side-effects may eventually lead to inappropriate labeling and diagnosing and treatment for a behavioral health disorder with the potential for receiving special education services, medication and therapy.
Is the Common Core implementation pushing teachers, parents and children over the edge? Is ignoring the social-emotional needs of children appropriate or is it seen as an injustice to the students?
Parents are struggling to understand the new and different modes of teaching. I have had many parents state to me, whether they have a secondary education or not, that they don’t understand the new techniques, feel lost, confused and ineffective as parents in providing support to their child.
They are angry, frustrated, concerned and feel as if they have been cut out of the loop. They may or may not have their own resources to educate themselves on the Common Core standards, they may or may not understand the information and they may or may not ask for help or direction from teachers.
How can parents assist their child in learning if they don’t understand the topics being taught in a thoroughly different manner? What if the school district they live in doesn’t provide educational workshops to teach parents what concepts and techniques are being taught for each grade level? What can the parent receive in order to assist them with their child?
Parents are feeling stressed, anxious and angry when they don’t have their questions answered. They may or may not recognize that the Common Core standards are ignoring the basic social-emotional needs of their child.
There is no known research to indicate that children, although their brains are like a sponge, can accommodate this new method of teaching, which is focused on intellectual and cognitive skills without potentially damaging their psyche.
Children have specific developmental needs that must be addressed to help them mature into a functioning adult. Theorists who have focused on the necessary developmental stages of growth for children and adolescents are well recognized and acknowledged; such as Piaget, Kohlberg, Erickson, Mahler and Maslow.
The social-emotional and behavioral skills children and adolescents must learn and engage in has been extensively studied. There is acknowledgment that a child’s ability to perceive social cues, context, language and expression are learned over time via various experiences.
Children learn to interpret people’s behaviors, develop a basic understanding of cause and effect and learn unspoken social rules in order to start to regulate their own emotional and social responses to interact and cope appropriately with others.
Youth are continually evolving in their ability to accurately perceive social and emotional issues and they are learning to engage their ability to synthesize what’s acceptable behavior or not. Methods that assist children learn is via play, role-modeling and discussions to ensure they have learned appropriate social behavior.
They need to learn how to negotiate their social world in order to learn how to interact appropriately with others. In order for children and adolescents to be successful in the work world, they need to understand social cues, behaviors, language and exhibit self-control of those emotions and behaviors to succeed as well as develop their executive skills functions.
Children must learn how to socialize and communicate, without technology, with their peers and adults toward the development of their self-worth, self-identity and self-esteem. There have been many studies about students who are intellectually bright being pushed forward in school to another grade yet their emotional and social issues lag behind.
They can’t catch up because they don’t have mature social-emotional skill sets as well as abstract reasoning skills. They don’t fit in with their new peer group due to this insurmountable problem. How can the state ignore these basic needs of the students?
There has to be a balance between teaching the Common Core standards and addressing the social-emotional developmental needs of children and adolescents. Any individual whose basic social, emotional and behavioral needs are not met will not be able to function adequately in the workforce, much less in the world.
The continuing need to teach moral and ethical reasoning is important to the development of character. While the Common Core standards are an improvement on past teaching requirements, not paying attention to the students’ needs, the whole child, will lead to further lapses in functioning.
This student will then fail to live up to the expectation that they can interact with others appropriately and excel. The stress of the academic setting without acknowledgement and intervention around the basic social and emotional needs of children will lead to more pathology, impaired functioning and less impact on the workplace.
One can NOT take a child, teach them academic skills and ignore their developmental needs without negative consequences. We can NOT lose sight of the foundation of human behavior — social and emotional functioning.
(NOTE: Jane Rosenblum is a licensed clinical social worker and freelance writer. Rosenblum has worked for 30 years in the field of social work in various settings and roles. Those settings and roles include the following: hospitals (including that of psychiatric geriatric patients); home health care facilities; an elder abuse task force; community health care services coordination; and school social work and case management for public and private organizations for those with medical, psychiatric and substance abuse problems. Rosenblum holds a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation counseling from Sargent College of Allied Health at Boston University and a master’s degree from the Simmons College School of Social Work in Boston. She has also received a Type 73 certificate from the School of Social Work from Loyola University in Chicago. Rosenblum’s column on social work and education will appear regularly on BlackSpeaks.com’s news and education section.)