IMAGINE YOUR IDEAL COWORKER OR FRIEND.
She communicates well and is a good teammate. She's in touch with her emotions but stays calm under pressure. She's not a quitter. You'd probably describe her as hardworking, understanding, and flexible--the sort of person who helps solve big problems.
Research in economics, psychology, and sociology has found that, compared to people who are otherwise similar, those who demonstrate these sorts of mindsets and skills tend to have better outcomes in school and in life. Studies also show that contextual factors influence the degree to which people demonstrate these mindsets and skills. Supporting social-emotional development, such as by fostering experiences of belonging and promoting sharing and productive communication, has long been part of preschool and elementary school programs. Now, high schools increasingly are focused on social-emotional development, too.
The most common instruments used to measure social-emotional development are student surveys, in which adolescents report their experiences, behaviors, and attitudes related to school. Can these surveys reveal which high schools best support social-emotional development? And does attending such a school improve students' long-term outcomes?
We examine results from a detailed annual survey about social-emotional development and school climate administered to students in the Chicago Public Schools. Through value-added analysis, we identify individual high schools' impacts on 9th-grade students' social-emotional development and test scores. We then trace the effects of attending a school that excels along each of these dimensions on short-term outcomes, such as absenteeism and school-based arrests, as well as on longer-term outcomes, like high-school graduation and college enrollment. Our focus on 9th grade is intentional, because it is a critical transition year of schooling, when young adolescents are most vulnerable to becoming off-track for high-school graduation due to accumulating an insufficient number of credits.
Our analysis confirms that some schools are better at supporting students' social-emotional development than others. But these effects are not all the same. School effects cluster in two domains, social well-being and work habits, and some schools are better at one than at the other. Schools that promote social well-being have larger effects on students' attendance and behavioral infractions, while those that improve work habits have larger effects on academic performance.
We also calculate each school's value-added to student test scores and then look to see how well these measures predict student success. Compared to test-score value-added, social-emotional value-added is far more predictive of the behaviors that support student success, such as having fewer absences and being on-track to graduate. And it is more predictive of positive longer-run outcomes as well, such as graduating from high school and enrolling in a four-year college.
These results show that students' own assessments of their social well-being and work habits provide valuable information about their development. They also show that these surveys can be used alongside traditional indicators like test scores to provide a more complete picture of how schools prepare students for the future. This analysis represents an important early step toward understanding how schools influence the social-emotional development of adolescents,...