May 10, 2019

Why Ohio Should Reject “Social Emotional Learning” Standards

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This article written by Dr. Karen Effrem for The National Pulse details Ohio’s new plan to implement social-emotional standards into its state education system.

A committee of the Ohio State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on advancing a proposal to the full state board to implement statewide social emotional learning (SEL) standards this coming Tuesday, May 14th. This is part of a national movement to psychologize education, falsely advertised as improving academic achievement and preventing violence and suicide.

The problems with this approach are myriad. They include the following points (with more information available from the Pioneer Institute, as well as this list of concerns for Ohio and numerous writings in this space, such as here):

SEL would further erode the fundamental right of parents to control the education and upbringing of their children due to unjustified expansion of the schools beyond their basic mission of academics.

Some SEL assessments and lessons promote highly controversial topics that, regardless of one’s view of them, ought to be up to parents to decide how to discuss and present to their children.

Even proponents of SEL have admitted there is a lack of consensus in defining it and multiple flaws in the research, with mixed or negative evidence of academic improvement.

The teaching and assessing of SEL by untrained or minimally trained, already overburdened school personnel, as well as the linking of SEL to violence and suicide prevention via mental-health screening, can lead to many problems such as biased or inaccurate assessment based on subjective criteria, improper referrals, diagnosis and over-treatment with potentially harmful medications.

Experts have admitted and research has shown that over-medication has occurred in the most vulnerable populations, including foster children and minorities.

There are strong linkages between SEL and Common Core, as well as between SEL and competency-based education/personalized learning that further dilute the promised rigor of Common Core and nudge/force children into career paths not of their choosing.

Competency-based education and the education technology on which it is based, like SEL and Common Core, has little to no evidence of improved academic achievement and severely damages student-teacher interaction.

If SEL is about meeting the individual needs of the “whole child” and the Department of Education claims this will be implemented according to the individual needs of the school districts, why is there a need for statewide SEL standards?

If there is no reliable way to assess SEL standards, as admitted by experts such as “Grit Guru” Dr. Angela Duckworth, and the Aspen National Commission on SEL strongly recommends against assessing students and teachers on these subjective standards, then why have them?

If SEL’s definition, assessments, and research are all questionable, and experts admit no evidence of cost effectiveness, should Ohio be spending its state’s share of what national proponent groups have estimated to be $30 billion on SEL in this time of tight education budgets, teacher shortages, infrastructure issues, etc.?

The state superintendent’s budget testimony mentioned $4.2 million in federal grants related to SEL, school climate and mental health. That means Ohio will have to follow the dictates of the federal government to use these funds for SEL and will not have the flexibility to use them as state officials see fit. This is similar to issues of state sovereignty that arose with No Child Left Behind’s testing mandates and Race to the Top that required the adoption of Common Core.

If you are an Ohio resident and wish to make your voice heard on this critical topic, please consider a personalized note using arguments from this list or the other resources cited above in your email. Addresses may be found here. As we celebrate mothers and families this weekend, let us always be vigilant to guard parental rights and the hearts and minds of our children.

The full article can be read on The National Pulse’s website.

Parents Beware: “School Climate Surveys” Pose Many Threats to Students

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This article written for The National Pulse by Dr. Karen Effrem takes a look at “School Climate Surveys” which are the tools by which SEL educational learning systems gather data and the problems which these surveys pose for American students.

A recent article by Joy Pullmann in The Federalist demonstrates just how nosy and invasive “school climate surveys” have become. These surveys are now a cornerstone of the implementation of social-emotional learning (SEL) programs in the nation’s public schools and have also been found in Common Core-aligned state tests and (illegally) in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

The surveys make use of extremely vague and subjective questions, such as these examples from the Massachusetts state test:

As noted by Pullmann, another such survey used in the Austin (Texas) Independent School District usurps parental autonomy and asks the particularly invasive and controversial question about gender identity, defining gender as how a person feels about their biological sex:

The problems with these surveys are myriad. Here are just a few:

Asking questions about difficult behavior can actually increase the behavior.

Pullmann interviewed me for The Federalist piece, and one of the major problems I addressed is that survey questions may stimulate thoughts about and increase negative behaviors:

“Yet ‘Whether it’s comprehensive sex education or a survey, if you’re bringing stuff like that [sexuality] up you are potentially creating upset or conflict or just planting the idea’ in young minds that may not be developmentally ready for it, said pediatrician and education researcher Karen Effrem in a phone interview about Austin’s survey. Research suggests that simply asking questions about specific behaviors, such as teen suicide or drug use, increases those behaviors.”

The questions are developmentally inappropriate.

A related problem is that this gender question in the survey was given to third graders — children as young as 8 to 9 years old. Expert psychiatric opinion notes the psychological dangers of raising difficult issues like this with young children who are not developmentally ready to handle it. For example, psychiatrist William McGrath, M.D. said:

“There is a phase of personality development called the latency period, during which the healthy child is not interested in sex. This interval from about the age of five until adolescence serves a very important biological purpose. It affords a child an opportunity to develop his own resources, his beginning physical and mental strength. Premature interest in sex is unnatural and will arrest or distort the development of the personality. Sex education should not be foisted on children. . .”

The the full article can viewed on The National Pulse’s website.


Apr 29, 2019

Lawmakers Still Pushing “Personalized Learning” Despite Huge Problems

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In this article written for The National Pulse, Dr. Karen Effrem lays out the details regarding the implementation of personalized learning in public education, especially how large tech companies are lobbying the state and federal governments to implement it, despite its problems.

The corporate technology push of machine-based skills training continues to march across the nation. This effort goes by the names such as “competency-based education” (CBE), “personalized learning,” and “mastery education.” It has been well described by Jane RobbinsPeter Greenehere and in this space.

The latest is a bill in Florida that seeks to expand what was supposed to be a five-year pilot project for four school districts and the University of Florida experimental school to all 67 Florida school districts after only two and a half years. This expansion is problematic, not only because of an absence of data showing its effectiveness in any of the pilot counties, but also because of the clear evidence that it failed in Lake County, one of the original pilot districts. Lake County experienced a significant drop in graduation rates, and the grade for the high school implementing the pilot dropped from a B to a D.

Bill Gates, who was funding Lake County’s CBE effort before it failed, has admitted that education technology has not improved academic performance in general. It should be noted that just about every Gates education venture has been a failure. In addition to Common Core and CBE, the teacher evaluation grants in Hillsborough County, Fla., cost that county’s taxpayers an extra $24 million and were a total failure. Even the smaller school-to-work learning communities which preceded Common Core also failed.

Parents, initially quite enthusiastic about the advertised glories of CBE, have quickly learned in most instances that these promises have all the substance of cotton candy in the rain. For example, 73 percent of middle school parents in the MacPherson, Kan., school district stated in a survey that they would prefer their students not be in a class using Summit Basecamp personalized learning (CBE) digital learning platform due to academic, privacy, physiological and psychological concerns. Parents in Cheshire, Conn., and Indiana, Pa., have been able to stop the use of the Summit in their school districts due to concerns about academic achievement and data privacy.

The Summit Basecamp platform is a joint venture between the Summit charter schools and the Chan-Zuckerburg Initiative founded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg and his wife Priscilla Chan. There are many other instances of parental anger and removal of their children from schools using this platform, well explained by Leonie Haimson of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. Interestingly, Summit boasts of a research collaboration with Harvard, but refused to be studied by Harvard researchers.

Data collection, including psychological data, in CBE is extensive, with the FBI issuing public service announcements warning of the privacy dangers related to education technology. One education technology company called Knewton brags about being able to collect 5-10 million actionable data points per student per day as they interact with Common Core curriculum and embedded assessments, and another called Dream Box boasts of collecting 100,000 data points per student per hour. These are the kinds of platforms commonly used in CBE.

The full article can be viewed at The National Pulse’s website.

Apr 17, 2019

New Law, Same Story: Fed Ed Tyranny Continues Under ESSA

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In this article for The National Pulse, Dr. Karen Effrem details some examples of the federal education system cracking down on states such as Arizona, Utah, and Alabama which were non-compliant with federal education standards and were subsequently defunded.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed Congress in 2015 despite the strong protests of more than 200 organizations and leaders after claims by leadership about the legislation:

“Prohibiting the Secretary of Education from forcing, coercing, or incentivizing states into adopting Common Core”

“Ending the era of federally mandated high-stakes tests”

“Eliminating the federally mandated one-size-fits-all accountability system”

All of these claims were false then and continue to show themselves false now. Even though ESSA prohibits the secretary of education from incentivizing or coercing Common Core, that is closing the barn door after the horse is already gone. There is no enforcement mechanism, most states have already adopted Common Core, any state standards changes have been purely cosmetic, and the law itself still requires Common Core or standards very much like them, as admitted by former Obama education officials, so it is irrelevant what the secretary does in the future.

One of the other biggest concerns by both citizens and state and local officials was the continued oppressive control over state and local education by the federal government — features remaining from ESSA’s predecessor, No Child Left Behind. One of the biggest and strongest objections was the law giving the education secretary veto power over state plans.

The latest example of federal tyranny in this area is the written threat by Frank Brogan, assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education, to withhold $340 million of Title I funds from Arizona because the state is not toeing the federal line in technical requirements for a waiver to offer a different high school test — the ACT or SAT — in place of the Arizona statewide standardized test for high school math, English and science.

In 2017, Alabama also wanted a one-year waiver from federal testing requirements while it sought to develop or purchase a new test to replace the highly unsatisfactory ACT Aspire. The Aspire was not providing questions to schools and teachers to give them an idea about how to help students improve. However, the Alabama request was denied by then Acting Deputy Secretary Jason Botel, a Common Core and social justice supporter, who eventually left USED. Nevertheless, Alabama proceeded on their own to use a different test — Scantron, formerly Global Scholar, which had already been in wide use in Alabama as an interim assessment for its statewide test — while the next test is chosen for the 2020 administration.

Utah also applied for a waiver on ESSA’s 95-percent testing participation mandate. As explained by Jane Robbins, the waiver was requested because:

“…state law specifically protects the rights of parents to opt their children out of statewide assessments. It also forbids the State Board of Education from imposing negative consequences on schools or employees because of the number of opt-outs.

One reason for the rising opt-out numbers is discontent with the SAGE (Student Assessment for Growth and Excellence) test. SAGE was developed for Utah by the American Institutes for Research, which is not an academic-assessment company but rather a behavioral-research organization. In increasing numbers, parents have concluded they don’t want their children subjected to problem-riddled testing that hasn’t been proven academically valid – especially when, as shown by Dr. Christopher Tienken, Common Core testing is designed more to centralize control over education policy than to benefit student learning.

The clash here, then, was between parents’ inherent right to govern their children’s education and indeed protect them from harm, as explicitly protected by state law, and federal mandates. Guess which won?

On May 31 the U.S. Department of Education (USED) denied the request for a waiver. USED found that a waiver wouldn’t “advance academic achievement” as required by the statutory waiver provision, because failure to force test participation would mean not all students were subjected to federally incentivized standards and federally mandated tests. “

The rest of the article can be viewed here on the National Pulse’s website.