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Despite wide achievement gaps across California between students from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, some school districts have excelled at supporting the learning of all their students. This analysis identifies these positive outlier districts—those in which students of color, as well as White students, consistently achieve at higher levels than students from similar racial/ethnic backgrounds and from families of similar income and education levels in most other districts. These results are predicted, in significant part, by the qualifications of districts’ teachers, as measured by their certification and experience. In particular, the proportion of underprepared teachers—those teaching on emergency permits, waivers, and intern credentials—is associated with decreased achievement for all students, while teaching experience is associated with increased achievement, especially for students of color.
New advances in neurobiology are revealing that brain development and the learning it enables are directly dependent on social-emotional experience. Growing bodies of research reveal the importance of socially-triggered epigenetic contributions to brain development and brain network configuration, with implications for social-emotional functioning, cognition, motivation and learning. Brain development is also impacted by health-related and physical developmental factors, such as sleep, toxin exposure, and puberty, which in turn influence social-emotional functioning and cognition. An appreciation of the dynamic interdependencies of social-emotional experience, health-related factors, brain development and learning underscores the importance of a “whole child” approach to education reform, and leads to important insights for research on Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). To facilitate these interdisciplinary conversations, here we conceptualize within a developmental framework current evidence on the fundamental and ubiquitous biological constraints and affordances undergirding SEL-related constructs and learning more broadly. Learning indeed depends on how nature is nurtured.