Feb 11, 2016
ELW

New Details on the Dangerous Social Emotional Research in SETRA

Karen R. Effrem, MD – President

Although there are several major problems with the reauthorization of the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) now called The Strengthening Research Through Education Act (S 227, SETRA), the most pressing and concerning is the expansion of federal education research to psychologically profile our children beginning in preschool:

Section 132 of the bill (page 28, line 16-21) inserts the following:
“and which may include research on social and emotional learning, and the acquisition of competencies and skills, including the ability to think critically, solve complex problems, evaluate evidence, and communicate effectively…” (Emphasis added).
Here are more of the many concerns:

1)      Lack of Constitutionality – The federal government has no constitutional authority (Tenth Amendment) to be involved in education, much less doing research and collecting data on the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of our innocent children.  The Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution says:

The right of the people to be secure in their personshouses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (Emphasis added).

Having the federal government sanction and fund psychological profiling of children is the worst kind of privacy invasion.

2)      Subjectivity These parameters are admitted even by experts in the field to be extraordinarily subjective and difficult to define and measure.  There is still no agreement about their meaning or even their selection over a period of ten years:

Challenges Involved in Infant and Early Childhood Diagnosis
 “Diagnostic classifications for infancy are still being developed and validated…”
“Lack of longitudinal outcome studies”
“Broad parameters for determining socioemotional outcomes are not clearly defined” (National Center for Infant and Early Childhood Health Policy Addressing Social Emotional Development and Infant Mental Health in Early Childhood Systems 2005 (Emphasis added)
Engage the Community in Collectively Defining SEL Standards
The process of collectively defining standards provides a great way to address the first two pitfalls. Developing collective standards and engaging all stakeholders in the process of constructing the standard help to ensure that everyone understands and supports the implementation of the learning standards.  – Social and Emotional Learning Research Review: Avoiding Pitfalls 12/1/2015
Here are some quotes from leading researchers in the field cautioning against using these measures for accountability reported by Education Week:
Or, as researchers Angela Duckworth and David Yeager put it in a May essay “perfectly unbiased, unfakeable, and error-free measures are an ideal, not a reality…”
“…Current data and theory suggest schools that promote personal qualities most–and raise the standards by which students and teachers at that school make comparative judgments–may show the lowest scores and be punished, whereas schools that are least effective may receive the highest scores and be rewarded for ineffectiveness,” they wrote.
This is analogous to the difficulty of making accurate diagnoses and predictions in the realm of psychiatry, and especially in child psychiatry:
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.‖ (Jeste, D (President of the American Psychiatric Association) The New DSM Reaches the Finish Line Huffington Post 12/11/12.
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.‖ (World Health Organization (2001) World Health Report)
To then have highly sensitive information collected under extremely subjective criteria be in a child’s lifelong academic record affecting grade advancement, special education referrals, college entrance and future employment is completely unacceptable.
3)      Horrific Data Security in the US Department of Education The US House Oversight and Government Accountability Committee chaired by Rep. Jason Chaffetz has held two hearings dealing with the deplorable state of student data security in the US Department of Education.  Here are some of their findings (emphasis added):
  • The Committee learned at the November 17, 2015 hearing that the US Department of Education:
Holds 139 million unique Social Security numbers;
Continues to be “vulnerable to security threats” according to the IG, and has repeat findings in annually-required FISMA  audits;
Failed to detect a penetration test of its systems conducted by the IG during its FY2015 FISMA audits [Federal Information Modernization Security Act];

Received an “F” on the Committee’s FITARA scorecard [Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act] .
The Department of Education’s (ED) Chief Information Officer (CIO) Danny Harris received substantial bonuses despite poor performance in securing IT systems at the Agency and significant ethical lapses in judgment.
o Despite the IG’s evidence to the contrary, Acting Secretary King asserted that Mr. Harris did not violate any law, regulation, policy, or standard of ethical conduct.
o Mr. Harris testified his home theatre installation and car detailing activities were “hobbies” and not businesses. The IG testified that these activities qualified as businesses.
It was in excess of two years before ED responded to the IG’s initial report of findings and referral for administrative action.
o The Department of Justice (DOJ) declined to prosecute the IG’s criminal referral and deferred to ED leadership for action. Acting Sec. King deemed verbal counseling and a three-page ethics guidance letter as appropriate consequences.
Does anyone really want psychosocial research and assessment results housed in the US Department of Education under these circumstances?
4)     Dangerously weak and gutted Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) After the Obama administration’s regulatory hatchet job on the already weak data protection efforts of FERPA, there was an entire section of FERPA regulations that allow sharing of student data without parental consent. (See the Formal Response to the Chief State School Officers’ Letter on Student Data Privacy for details). To then have sensitive and subjective socioemotional data gained by research or assessments such as is the plan with Common Core assessments PARCC and SBAC is extremely concerning:
“Comply with and where applicable coordinate with the ED staff to fulfill the program requirements established in the RTTA Notice Inviting Applications and the conditions on the grant award, as well as to this agreement,including, but not limited to working with the Department to develop a strategy to make student – level [individual] data that results from the assessment system available on an ongoing basis for research, including for prospective linking, validity, and program improvement studies; subject to applicable privacy laws” (Emphasis added)

5)      Consent Issues 
If curriculum and assessments are used to gather this data, will the consent requirements for this socioemotional research be circumvented by that loophole in Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA)? PPRA, cited in section 82 as 20 USC 1232h, prohibits the collection of psychological, political, religious, and other sensitive data in surveys, however, the law says that these prohibitions do not apply to “curriculum and instructional materials” or to “tests and assessments,” such as those required to be aligned to Common Core in most states.
Here are a few statements from the US Department of Education and other major national education groups showing that a major purpose for Common Core curriculum and assessments, which are still required in a vast majority of the United States, is clearly psychosocial:
  • “In national policy, there is increasing attention on 21st-century competencies (which encompass arange of noncognitive factors, including grit), and persistence is now part of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.” (US Office of Educational Technology -emphasis added.)
  • ASCA [American School Counselors Association] Mindsets & Behaviors align with specific standards from the Common Core State Standards through connections at the competency level. (Emphasis added)”
  • “[A]s new assessment systems are developed to reflect the new standards in English language arts, mathematics, and science, significant attention will need to be given to the design of tasks and situations that call on students to apply a range of 21st century competencies that are relevant to each discipline. A sustained program of research and development will be required to create assessments that are capable of measuring cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal skills.” (US Office of Educational Technology-emphasis added.)
  • “There are important opportunities to leverage new and emerging advances in technology (e.g.,educational data mining, affective computing, online resources, tools for teachers) to develop unprecedented approaches for a wide range of students.” (US Office of Educational Technology -emphasis added.)
This type of research should not be done at all, especially under these potentially very questionable consent scenarios.

For these and many other reasons, please continue to contact your US House member at 202-224-3121 to let them know of the dangers of this bill. Please let them know that not objecting to an unrecorded voice vote or voting yes in a recorded vote will be considered allowing federally sanctioned psychological profiling and invasion of your children.

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