Apr 16, 2018
ELW

The National Pulse: Expanding Unproven “Social Emotional Learning” Will Not Make Schools Safer

The national social emotional learning commission from the Aspen Institute is pushing SEL as a way to deal with school violence. Dr. Effrem discusses the problems with this approach:

First, public schools and universities were not created to be the monitors and promoters of emotional safety and growth. While, of course, the learning environment should not be abusive (as it has often become, especially for students trying to maintain traditional, Judeo-Christian values or learn the principles of freedom that founded this nation), the emotional development of children is supposed to be under the primary purview of families. One of the main reasons the American education system is having so many problems is because schools and teachers are being asked or, in many cases, forced to take on the roles and duties of families. This trend is in turn caused by the government-induced epidemic of single-parent families. The evidence is clear that two-parent families and religious involvement are far more effective at closing the achievement gap and preventing social emotional distress than any school-based SEL program could ever be.

Secondly, there is nothing in any of these documents about maintaining firm, consistent discipline, which is integral for creating the school climate called for in these documents. As has been previously discussed (here, here, and here), the lax Obama school discipline policies — imposed upon schools via threats of extensive civil rights investigations or via bribes of million of dollars in School Climate Grants — have dangerously decreased school safety for both students and teachers. While it is true that behavior incidents are higher in African American students than for other races, this, as the research clearly shows, is not due to discrimination, but to the fact that children raised in single-parent households, especially boys, are more likely to have behavioral problems or be involved in criminal incidents. It is hoped that Secretary DeVos will continue the move to rescind this policy as the work of the School Safety Commission proceeds.

Thirdly, significant studies show that SEL is not as important for success as academic achievement — and some show SEL doesn’t work at all:

“Early math skills have the greatest predictive power, followed by reading and then attention skills. By contrast, measures of socioemotional behaviors…were generally insignificant predictors of later academic performance, even among children with relatively high levels of problem behavior.” [Emphasis added — Duncan, et. al., School Readiness and Later Achievement – Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1428-1446]

To create SEL standards and assess progress toward those standards presupposes that we agree about what SEL is. Yet neither researchers nor practitioners nor policymakers have come to such a consensus.

Finally, the individualized, inclusive, multi-cultural perspective that teachers are requesting in the teacher document has several major problems. It distracts more from academics when there are already so many distractions and academic performance has stagnated. And it is very difficult to see how teaching and learning can be further individualized when the Common Core standardizes teaching, curriculum, and assessment; machine-based “personalized” learning (competency-based education) severely diminishes the student-teacher interaction; and a multi-cultural emphasis can further balkanize students instead of creating unity.

Read the full article HERE.

Apr 13, 2018
ELW

The National Pulse: Parents Beware: Mental Screening of Students Ramps Up in Texas

After Florida’s misguided school safety law passed, be on the lookout for similar harmful mental screening programs. Dr. Effrem discusses two programs in Texas:

There are so many problems with the foundation of these programs, it is difficult to know where to begin. Let’s start with the admitted subjectivity of mental illness diagnostic criteria. As the latest version of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) diagnostic handbook was about to be published, Dr. Dilip Jeste, APA’s president at the time, admitted:

At present, most psychiatric disorders lack validated diagnostic biomarkers, and although considerable advances are being made in the arena of neurobiology, psychiatric diagnoses are still mostly based on clinician assessment.

There are many similar quotes, but this one from the World Health Organization (WHO) is very important, because it deals with the even more complicated developmental issues that prevent accurate psychiatric diagnosis, especially in children and teens:

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.

If the WHO, which is hardly a conservative, pro-family organization, admits that pediatric diagnosis can be confused due to normal developmental changes, this UT Southwestern program — featuring group psychotherapy sessions in schools that have the potential to amplify normal adolescent angst and blues into full-blown mental illness — hardly seems like a great idea.

The accuracy of mental screening instruments is also important to discuss given that both programs are doing mental screening in the schools. The Columbia Suicide Screen has a false positive rate of 84 percent. Others recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics have false positive rates of 71 percent and 59 percent. [Those percentages are obtained by subtracting the low positive predictive values, which mean that a person actually has the condition being tested or screened, from 100 percent.]

In addition, the use of Texas students by UT Southwestern as guinea pigs for “developing blood and brain tests for diagnosis to identifying effective treatments and interventions” raises many troubling issues. The studies want to analyze “socio-demographic, lifestyle, clinical, psychological, and neurobiological factors.”

This raises issues of patient and family consent, data privacy, and freedom of conscience. This is especially true when there is already a troubling overlap between academic data that lives forever in state longitudinal data systems (SLDS) and medical, social emotional, and psychological data collected at schools that does not seem to be protected by medical confidentiality law (HIPAA). These changes have come about due to the gutting of FERPA, the federal educational privacy law, during the Obama administration and changes in ESSA, the replacement for No Child Left Behind.

There is definitely a need for more effective treatments for adolescent depression. The current record for children and adolescents is awful. According to the government-funded STAR*D study in which the doctor in the UT Southwestern article is involved, the standard medications used to treat depression, SSRI antidepressants, are only effective for about one third of patients. These drugs are associated with suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide in children and teens. In fact, these medications are under the FDA’s black box warning, the agency’s most serious warning short of a ban. The SSRI drugs are also associated with violent reactions, including murderous rampages like school and other mass shootings.

If combined with other classes of medication like antipsychotics, the effectiveness only increases to about half of patients. However, these other drugs have very serious additional side effects, including permanent abnormal movements, brain damage, obesity, diabetes, and heart attacks.

All of these dangerous efforts are ramping up after school shootings like those in Newtown and Parkland. As previously discussed, the focus on mental screening, especially by poorly trained teachers and school officials, which can lead to inaccurate diagnoses and dangerous, ineffective medications, should be strongly opposed. Students in Texas schools, or those in any other state, should not be used as lab rats for government or pharmaceutical industry researchers.

Root causes like family breakdown and the use of academically inferior, developmentally inappropriate, and psychologically manipulative standards in schools (i.e. Common Core) need review and solutions. Using mental screening and medication for these issues is like trying to put a bandage on broken leg.

Read the full article HERE.

Apr 7, 2018
ELW

The National Pulse: OECD Pushes Facebook-Style Personality Profiling of Students Worldwide

As we hear more about the data mining operations of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, we are also finding out that Facebook and other organizations are data mining and psychologically profiling our children. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Effrem’s article at the National Pulse discussing this newest threat to student data privacy:

Now we are also learning that even financial publications are warning about the cancerous spread of social emotional learning (SEL) assessment and profiling on a global scale. The eight-hundred-pound gorilla in this process is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the developer of the PISA international comparison test. The Middle East North Africa Financial Network (MENAFN) has chronicled OECD’s machinations in this realm in an article entitled, “Why education is embracing Facebook-style personality profiling for schoolchildren.”

The article describes how both Facebook/Cambridge Analytica and OECD have developed and are using personality surveys based on the “Big Five” personality traits — “openness,” “conscientiousness,” “extroversion,” “agreeableness,” and “neuroticism” or (OCEAN). The brand new, upcoming 2019 OECD international Study on Social Emotional Learning for middle and high school students is described as a “computer-based self-completion questionnaire” that will assess students on these traits. The common foundation of this new OECD test and the Cambridge Analytica personality test are the same.

The purpose of the OECD test is for workforce development, which uses inaccurate predictive testing of this subjective SEL to steer students toward career paths they may not want and close off others:

The assumption behind the test is that social and emotional skills are important predictors of educational progress and future workplace performance. Large-scale personality data is therefore presumed by the OECD to be predictive of a country’s potential social and economic progress.

Several of the dangers of this concept were discussed:

There are of course many dangers and problems with this approach that we have frequently addressed, such as here and here. These include:

Lack of agreement by researchers on what SEL really is and how to measure it;
SEL’s subjective nature;
The danger of this inaccurate data having eternal life in longitudinal databases endangering future schooling, careers, military service, and gun ownership;
That SEL data can and has been used for political purposes, endangering freedom of conscience; and
Sharing of data without consent between government agencies and between government and private entities.

Interestingly, the MENAFN article also lists some important problems, which is somewhat surprising given the usual focus of these types of publications on markets and profits:

It risks reframing public education in terms of personality modification, driven by the political race for future economic advantage, rather than the pursuit of meaningful knowledge and understanding. It treats children as little indicators of future labour markets, and may distract teachers from other curriculum aims.
As education consultant Joe Nutt wrote in the Times Educational Supplement last year, ‘If you make data generation the goal of education then data is what you will get. Not quality teaching.’

I also have covered the effort by OECD to begin this personality molding, assessment, and data mining in the preschool years. Even more dangerous is the idea posited in their 2015 report about coordinating between government and family to develop the proper, government-required attitudes:

Policy makers, teachers, parents and researchers can help expand children’s growth potential by actively engaging in skill development within the domains that they are responsible for. However, given that “skills beget skills”, education policies and programmes need to ensure coherence across learning contexts (i.e. family, school and the community) and stages of school progression (i.e. across primary, lower secondary and upper secondary schooling). This is an important way to maximise the returns to skills investment over the life cycle.

We must protect our children’s privacy and our national sovereignty at the same time!

Read the whole article HERE.

Apr 4, 2018
ELW

The National Pulse: One Thing President Trump Can Do Now to Make Schools Safer

 

The President’s School Safety Commission held it’s first meeting and the focus was on the Obama-era lax discipline policies. Here is an excerpt from Dr. Effrem’s review of the meeting and the dangerous situation for students and teachers due to this ill-considered  and unconstitutional guidance:

Review of the guidance and grants have all shown that the Broward County Public Schools and Sheriff’s office have ignored a great deal of criminal behavior — including that of the Parkland shooter — in concert with receiving this guidance, the Promise program, and millions of dollars in School Climate grants.

Although Superintendent Robert Runcie has protested in a Sun-Sentinel op-ed that this cause of the shooting is “fake news,” an interview of Max Eden, a school violence expert from the Manhattan Institute, by Dr. Susan Berry strongly refuted that notion:

“Runcie’s careful formulation contains a falsehood, several omissions, and obfuscations,” Eden says. “It doesn’t cover middle school, where Cruz racked up about two dozen offenses and was transferred into an intensive behavior management school – without ever getting an arrest record.”

“Runcie claims that PROMISE only covered ‘non-violent’ offenses,” Eden observes. “That’s just straight false. The 2013 version covered assault and fighting; the 2016 version covered ‘affray,’ i.e., fighting. That means Cruz’s fights were only deemed non-PROMISE eligible based on administrator discretion, not policy.”

“Given that Cruz is alleged to have threatened students, it’s also worth noting that ‘threats’ are a PROMISE-eligible offense,” he continues. “Perhaps those incidents weren’t recorded as threats. Students have reported that Cruz brought bullets and knives to school. Perhaps those incidents weren’t recorded at all. Or perhaps they were and Runcie’s statement eludes them; the discipline matrix doesn’t highlight Class B Weapons as a PROMISE-eligible Incident.”

Ann Coulter quoted the threats that Cruz allegedly made to kill other students at school that were ignored by school officials:

At least three students showed school administrators Cruz’s near-constant messages threatening to kill them — e.g., “I am going to enjoy seeing you down on the grass,” “Im going to watch ypu bleed,” “iam going to shoot you dead” — including one that came with a photo of Cruz’s guns. They warned school authorities that he was bringing weapons to school. They filed written reports.

The excellent testimony of Eden to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on School Violence painted a stark picture of the dangerous atmosphere for students, especially vulnerable students and staff, created by the Obama guidance that threatened and started investigations in hundreds of school districts for “unlawful discrimination” if students of different races broke the rules at different rates — all without even a regulation:

At Lincoln High School in San Diego, a male student with cerebral palsy was raped in the bathroom. The teacher who caught the rapist in the act tried to raise the alarm. But the administration downgraded the event to an “obscene act.” They did not even attempt expulsion. For their part, the police did not even inform the mother that her son had been raped.

Eden also quoted teachers from around the country who have dramatic stories of the life threatening environments in which they are forced to work:

“Students are threatening teachers with violence and in many cases are physically attacking teachers without consequences.”

“School environment is unsafe. I do not feel safe. Teachers are afraid. Students have little or no consequences for behavior that is often outright violent toward students and staff. Please help us!”


…Given all of the damage this policy and these grants have done to student and teacher safety, local control, and school district costs, repealing this guidance is an incredibly wise idea. It is something that the Trump administration can do without pursuing the complicated legislative process and will have great benefits.

Read the full article HERE.

 

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