During recent years, the NoVo Foundation has been one of the biggest funders of Social and Emotional Learning work. Now that gravy train seems to be coming to an end. Here's how Jennifer and Peter Buffett worded things in an email:
While we remain deeply committed to the field, we also believe that the time is right for the foundation to pause on new SEL grant-making in order to consolidate the learning we have done over the past seven years. Our current priority is to explore connections across the foundation’s initiatives and to understand how we can best support the broad social and economic transformation our world so desperately needs.
The Buffetts go on to say that the staff person at NoVo who handles the SEL work, Doris Lo, is taking a job elsewhere. And added: "we will of course be honoring all of our existing grants commitments."
That sure sounds like more than a "pause" to me. On the other hand, who knows. Several major NoVo SEL grants will continue that implement SEL at a larger scale. The Buffetts write:
As many of you know, in 2011 NoVo and CASEL undertook an ambitious initiative to implement SEL in eight large school districts across the country. We will continue to assess this implementation process in order to determine how our shared goals can best be achieved.
So one could imagine that the Buffetts getting a second wind with SEL if a really encouraging set of findings pile up from their funding so far.
Trying to enact big changes in U.S. public schools is kind of like trying to pacify Afghanistan and, if the Buffetts back off from their big SEL ambitions, they wouldn't be the first funders to run screaming from the room after years of heavy spending.
But it'd be too bad if that happened. The goals and language of SEL are super refreshing amid the endless focus on accountability, evaluation, and outcomes.
NoVo's investment in Social and Emotional Learning has never been a bowl of liberal mush. It's built around evidence-based approaches to developing the skills that kids arguably need more than any others: managing their emotions, caring about other people, nurturing strong relationships, and making good decisions. Can this stuff really be taught?
You bet, according to a 2011 metastudy that looked at 213 SEL programs involving 270,000 school kids and found that those who participated in these programs were more likely to have improved social and emotional skills. Oh, and these kids did better academically, because, of course, your emotional and social behaviors are closely entwined with your ability to succeed in any sphere of life, starting with school.
To promote SEL, NoVo has aimed high and written big checks. Its goal has been to scale up SEL and "integrate SEL programs and practices into the very heart of education." They've done that through a bunch of different activities and partnerships to expand SEL work, evaluate this work, and mobilize more support for SEL among ed reformers and funders. In effect, they flooded the SEL zone to take this field to another level.
If NoVo pulls out, who'll replace them?