Karen R. Effrem, MD – President
Emmett McGroarty, director of education at the American Principles Project testified at the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking (CEP) about the highly dangerous idea of creating a longitudinal higher education/workforce database. This plan would lift the ban on this concept currently in federal law. The proposal is being pushed by Florida Senator Marc Rubio in a bill called The Know Before You Go Act, the concerns about which we have discussed before.
Here is the testimony starting at 2:4548 (Thanks to Shane Vander Hart at Truth in American Education)
Mr. McGroarty gave excellent testimony, as usual, and covered many critical points, especially about how this database would make students/employees subservient to and intimidated by the government, flipping the arrangement put in place by our Founders. The commissioners in their questioning tried to minimize his concerns saying that it would only involve higher education students and would not involve social emotional or “soft” or 21st century skills that is such a concern in pre-K to 12 as we have covered elsewhere. McGroarty held firm and said that these are issues no matter what the grade level of the individual and that the federal government has no constitutional authority to be gathering all of this data on individuals.
We also know that the commissioners arguments were straw man arguments. Corporations and foundations are already very interested in gathering this fuzzy, subjective SEL data on our kids as evidenced by the efforts of the Gates Foundation and the Business Roundtable. And we know that USED has long spoken of wanting to have linkable data on everyone from pre-K through the workforce, so there is no reason that this college workforce would not be eventually be linked to the pre-K through 12 data they are putting together through the state longitudinal database systems.
Here are some additional thought to be added to Mr. McGroarty’s always great testimony on this topic taken from Education Liberty Watch’s response to the March US House Education and Workforce hearing on education research and data collection:
We believe that student privacy and parental consent should always be considered pre-eminent compared to the research desires of the government or private sector, especially in the realm of psychological profiling.
The government has no constitutional, statutory, or moral right to collect data, especially highly personal and sensitive socioemotional data on our children.
According to data presented to this committee by the Cato Institute several years ago, federal involvement in education has yielded either stagnant or declining academic performance:
The vast majority of federal education programs are unconstitutional because the entire US Department of Education is unconstitutional, meaning that most of these programs should be eliminated with any remaining that can be shown to be effective and constitutional programs being block granted to the states.
Many studies showing the ineffectiveness and or harm of current government education and child social programs and the effectiveness of two parent family structure and other non-government academic and social measures are ignored raising the question of why we need so much research in the first place. This includes early childhood and home visiting programs.
We have an opportunity to submit comments to this commission on this and other data privacy related issues by November 14th! Please participate. You may use information from Emmett McGroarty’s testimony, this post and other sources like the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. Please do not let the federal government create lifelong dossiers on us and our children!
We are grateful to the Federalist for posting the latest article on social emotional learning from Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project and Dr. Effrem:
It is great that Georgia has joined Tennessee in withdrawing from the CASEL SEL standards movement, but sadly, CASEL is pushing on with a new effort detailed in the article along with a detailed discussion of the dangers of SEL.
This summer the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)announced it had chosen eight states to collaborate on creating K-12 “social emotional learning” (SEL) standards. All students, from kindergartners through high-school seniors, would be measured on five “non-cognitive” factors: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.
Under such a system teachers become essentially therapists, and students become essentially patients. Supposedly this will clear away the psychological deadwood that obstructs a student’s path to academic achievement.
Federal Government Probes Students’ Psyches
We’ve written about the push by the U.S. Department of Education (USED) and the rest of the progressive education establishment to transform education from academic content instruction to molding and assessing children’s attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors. The infamous “outcome-based education” (OBE) in the 1990s began the trend, and Head Start and the Common Core national standards advance the same foundational principles.
The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ramps up the trend in several ways. ESSA requires rating schools based partly on “nonacademic” factors, which may include measures of SEL. It also pours money into SEL programs, “which may include engaging or supporting families at school or at home” (i.e., home visits by bureaucrats).
Other provisions include training school personnel on “when and how to refer . . . children with, or at risk of, mental illness,” and implementing programs for children who are deemed “at-risk” of academic or social problems, without ever defining “at-risk.” Similar ESSA language urges school officials to cast a wide net for special education in school-wide “intervention” and “support” programs, allowing schools to sidestep parental consent requirements for formal evaluations.
Beyond ESSA, at least three other federal initiatives aim to monitor children’s attitudes and beliefs. One is the planned revision of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the test referred to as “the nation’s report card,” to assess mindsets and school climate. This revision has been challenged not only on constitutional and privacy grounds, but as a violation of federal law. Of course, law is merely an inconvenience to the Obama administration.
A third federal initiative is USED’s bribery of states to promote SEL standards and data-gathering on preschool children via the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants. These grants, along with the preschool grants in ESSA and Head Start, promote “Baby Common Core”-style SEL standards and data-collection and preserving this in states’ student-data systems. So now every child’s permanent dossier can include how well he played with others when he was four.
Should Government Track Students’ Thoughts, Feelings?
The problems with SEL are both philosophical and operational. Parents rightly object that the school (which means the government) has no business analyzing and trying to change a child’s psychological makeup. It’s one thing to enforce discipline in a classroom and encourage individual students to do their best; good teachers have done that from time immemorial. It’s quite another to assess students on their compliance with highly subjective behavioral standards that may measure personality and individual or family beliefs more than objective shortcomings in performance. The school exists to assist parents in educating their children, not to replace them in that role.
Writing in trade publication Education Week, a SEL consultant touts a new assessment “to generate data about such character strengths as responsibility, resilience, teamwork, curiosity, and leadership.” This violation of both privacy and freedom of conscience is also an alarming effort to standardize children, who normally develop at very different rates and in very different ways, to fit government-determined norms. The government has no right to collect data on any child’s “character strengths,” which are the most personal aspects of a child’s psyche. Period.
The operational problems are also daunting. Who will be assessing a child using these subjective criteria? Psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors undergo years of training to delve into this murky area. But even these experts admit there are no firm criteria for mental-health diagnoses, especially in children. The World Health Organization, hardly a bastion of conservative medical or political thought, warned: “Childhood and adolescence being developmental phases, it is difficult to draw clear boundaries between phenomena that are part of normal development and others that are abnormal.”
Student self-reporting such as surveys, another common means of compiling SEL data, is similarly unreliable. Prominent SEL proponents Dr. Angela Duckworth and David
Yeager have pointed out that students may interpret survey questions differently from how the creators intended, and that the questions are unlikely to detect incremental changes. As parents of teenaged boys can attest, many children will treat such surveys as a joke and gladly take the opportunity to respond in the most outrageous manner possible.
Because “perfectly unbiased, unfakeable, and error-free [SEL] measures are an ideal, not a reality,” Duckworth and Yeager argue, such measures should not be used to evaluate schools or teachers. Duckworth was so concerned about using these highly subjective criteria in federally mandated accountability schemes that she withdrewfrom a California project to do just that. But this is exactly what USED is pushing through ESSA, and CASEL through its K-12 standards.
New Head Start Performance Standards Cement National “Baby Common Core” Content Standards, Assessments, and Curriculum
The federal government continues its long march to ensnare more of our children in its tentacles at an ever-younger age. “Baby Common Core” has reared its ugly head.
Head Start, the failed but lavishly funded federal pre-K program, recently released its new Program Performance Standards. These standards are the yardstick by which Head Start programs nationwide will be evaluated. Chief among the many problems with these standards is the cementing in section 1302.32 of the mandate occurring 11 times in the federal Head Start Act of 2007 requiring that all curriculum be “aligned with [or “based on”] the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework: Ages Birth to Five” (Framework). This Framework provides federalized “Baby Common Core”– style curriculum content standards. In fact, efforts have already been made to align both the Framework itself as well as state pre-K standards, often based on the Head Start Framework, to the Common Core national standards for Kindergarten through grade 3. So under the new Performance Standards, any Head Start program will implement Baby Common Core in order to achieve a good rating.
Addressing the 2007 reauthorization of the Head Start Act, the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge (ELC) grants, and the harmful $250 million preschool grants in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – grants that must be used to develop programs in compliance with Head Start — we warned of the dangers of nationalized preschool content standards, assessment, and curriculum. Particularly concerning is the intense focus on subjective and indoctrinating social emotional learning (SEL) standards. Yet that is exactly what the Head Start Act and these new Performance Standards have produced.
The controversial content standards in the Framework not only exist in Head Start programs, but are intertwined with many state preschool standards that govern private preschool programs when there is a quality rating system. According to CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning), the national SEL bully, “approximately 48% of states consulted the Head Start Framework when developing their standards, and 60% of states relied on the NAEYC [National Association for the Education of Young Children] Developmentally Appropriate Practices.” The following examples explain why every parent should be alarmed with the Head Start and NAEYC standards and curriculum.
Gender Identity for 3-Year-Olds and the LGBT Agenda
Most concerning of the many problematic standards in the Framework is this set:
This standard goes beyond having children identify their biological sex, an objective physical characteristic, but rather embroils them in the complex and controversial issue of gender identity. The gender-identity issue has been central for a long time in Head Start, NAEYC, and the many state standards based on both. The curriculum Making Room in the Circle: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Families in Early Childhood Settings defines gender identity as follows:
… a person’s internal, deeply felt sense of being either male or female, or something other or in between. Because gender identity is internal and personally defined, it is not visible to others. (Emphasis added.) [The same definition appears in The Policy Institutes of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, p. 8]
In its diversity handbook for preschool programs titled Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves (p. 91), NAEYC identifies these goals regarding gender identity and gender roles:
- Children, regardless of gender, will participate in a wide range of activities necessary for their full cognitive and social-emotional development. (Anti-Bias Education [ABE] Goal 1)
- Children will demonstrate positive feelings about their gender identity and develop clarity about the relationship between their anatomy and their gender role. (ABE Goal 1)
- Children will talk about and show respect for the great diversity in appearance, emotional expressiveness, behavior, and gender roles for both boys and girls. (ABE Goal 2)
- Children will recognize unfair or untrue messages (including invisibility) about gender roles. (ABE Goal 3)
- Children will practice skills for supporting gender role diversity in their interactions with peers. (ABE Goals 3 & 4)
NAEYC also foments gender confusion by encouraging cross-dressing by young children (p. 93):
Some of the favorite costumes in the center are made from women’s skirts. Small slits cut just under the waistbands for the children’s arms let the skirts become super hero capes, princess gowns, doctors’ uniforms – anything the children want them to be. One morning the teacher puts out some of the costume skirts. Brad puts on the red one, but Victor hesitates. He reaches for the bright turquoise satiny one. “Is this a boy’s costume?” he asks. “Are you a boy?” the teacher responds. “Yes,” he responds soberly. “Then if you wear it, it’s a boy’s costume,” she says. Victor’s face brightens and he puts it on and with arms outstretched swirls around with delight.
Without asking why childhood innocence must be breached to discuss these issues at all, NAEYC also recommends using anatomically correct dolls to guide the conversation:
Many programs use anatomically correct dolls. Some put the dolls out for children to play with freely; others use them in persona doll stories to help children explore issues of gender identity. These stories also provide teachers opportunities to use anatomical terms in a matter-of-fact way. Sometimes a family may object to your using an anatomically correct doll with their child. If this is an issue in your program, having respectful conversations with the family can lead to a third space solution (as described in chapter 4). – p. 95
Head Start also seems more concerned about making LGBT families comfortable in its programs than about families who believe in traditional marriage. In fact, Head Start created an entire webpage about the issue titled Creating a Welcoming Early Childhood Program for LGBT-Headed Families:
One of the resources on this page contains a checklist that includes these items:
❏ Do images show people who represent diverse races/ethnicities, economic status, physical ability, age, and family structure?
❏ Do posters, children’s art, children’s book displays, and photos of your real families (including staff) depict the many ways that people work, play, and live as families?
While all children and families in these programs should be treated with respect, there is no concern for the confusion and difficulties this will bring to the majority of preschoolers by portraying these minority and very alternative lifestyles as normative. And regardless of one’s beliefs on this contentious issue, should taxpayer-funded government programs be deciding how gender identity is discussed or family structure portrayed? And what about parental rights and religious liberty?
Turning Uncle Sam into Uncle Shrink – Government-Mandated Emotional Norms
Among the other controversial Head Start standards is this set that mandates empathy in young children:
Empathy can be a highly subjective and difficult trait to assess. This and many others of these social emotional standards are expecting teachers to function as psychologists, for which they have neither the time nor the training. Even highly trained psychologists and psychiatrists and experts on preschool standards admit that there is little agreement on standards, assessment, or diagnosis based on them for young children. Additionally, gender differences would penalize boys compared to girls, because boys by their normal emotional make-up do not tend to be empathetic at that age. So boys will be more likely to receive low assessment scores, or referrals for unnecessary evaluations and treatments, for non-existent emotional problems. And of course, this subjective data would follow them for life in their government dossiers affecting “college and careers.”
Government Takeover of State, Local, and Private Preschool and Childcare
Federal law also mandates that Head Start coordinate with other federal programs such as the Child Care and Development Block Grants (CCDBG). This federal childcare law heavily promotes the Baby Common Core curriculum by strongly incentivizing grantees to implement state quality rating systems, many of which mandate these same Head Start Framework or state standards based on the Framework or NAEYC curriculum described above. This is analogous to what the federal Race to the Top grants did to impose the K-12 Common Core standards on the states. The result is a state takeover of private and religious childcare, because now these programs outside of the state system (about 80% of childcare) are being bribed or coerced to teach the public program curriculum in order to get a good rating. Minnesota admitted this in its ELC application when it said, “….to reach 3 or 4 stars requires both familiarity with the ECIPs [standards] and also alignment of curriculum and assessment with them.” (Emphasis added). Minnesota’s standards are heavily based on an earlier version of the Head Start Framework and discuss gender identity, family structure diversity, careers, and environmentalism with preschoolers. This then allows the latest Head Start Framework and curriculum to be interwoven into the state and local, public and private, preschool programs outside of Head Start.
As with the Race to the Top K-12 and Early Learning Challenge grants, the Head Start grants usurp power from states, parents, and local programs. This is federal control of academic content, designed to influence the thoughts and attitudes of our youngest children. Regardless of their positions on any particular topic, parents should be alarmed at allowing such control over their children by any government.
The K-12 Common Core standards promote social emotional goals as well, but are much less overt than the Framework. The feds were likely emboldened to directly impose national Pre-K content standards because Head Start is housed in the Department of Health and Human Services rather than the Department of Education (USED). Thus, some of the constitutional and statutory objections that parents and other citizens have addressed to USED’s overreach are less applicable to HHS (although the constitutionality of HHS as well is a valid debate to have).
On top of all of this, Head Start just does not benefit children. Hundreds of taxpayer-funded studies about the program have produced no good evidence that it is effective beyond third grade. That is why we support major cuts to the program this year and a major overhaul or better yet, elimination of the program in the next Congress. As stated in our recent analysis of the federal education budget, “With $19 trillion in debt, we should not be spending $430 million more [as the House is proposing] on failed preschool programs. Nor should the federal government be spending any of our hard-earned tax dollars to mold and monitor the thoughts and emotions of our children. “
Congress is now completing its work on the budget or continuing resolution that will fund the government until after the election. The fiscal year ends on September 30th. Make your voice heard. (202-224-3121)
Congress is fighting with the president over the federal budget, including for education for the new fiscal year that starts on October 1st. There is likely to be a temporary bill called a continuing resolution. Congress in this election seems to be listening to education concerns of parents and freedom organizations around the nation. We have an opportunity to support some important cuts for the US Department of Education as a whole and the Institute of Education Sciences that oversees the data collection, research, and social emotional learning (SEL). The details are in Dr. Effrem’s full article at Truth in American Education. (Thanks Shane Vander Hart for posting!)
Here is what you can do right now:
1) Please contact the following:
- Speaker Paul Ryan at 202-225-0600
- Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at 202-224-2541
- House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers at 202-225-4601
- Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran at 202-224-5054
- Your own U.S. House member or use the House Capitol Switchboard at 202-225-3121
- Your two US senators or use the Senate Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121
Thank them for being willing to decrease the education budget overall and for their great work to protect privacy by cutting the IES budget. Tell them that you support the House position on these items.
2) Send them this compilation of major research studies showing the failure of government preschool programs and this compilation of quotes showing the subjectivity and dangers of SEL. Respectfully tell them that with $19 trillion in debt, we should not be spending $430 million more on failed preschool programs. Nor should the federal government be spending any of our hard-earned tax dollars to mold and monitor the thoughts and emotions of our children. Tell them that you want to see real and significant cuts in early childhood spending and that you support the Senate cuts for School Improvement Programs that teach and assess SEL.
3) Be encouraged that all of our work together is making some progress.
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