Browsing articles in "Data Collection and Data Privacy"

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

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.


Jan 11, 2019

Anti-Privacy Database Bill Set to Become Law without Trump Veto

This article written by Dr. Karen Effrem for The National Pulse is an alert regarding a new bill in the House that will invade student’s privacy.

HR 4174, the privacy-crushing de facto national database bill discussed here earlier this week and recently at Townhall, will become law as early as tomorrow, January 12th, without a presidential veto. Economic and privacy experts are gravely concerned about this bill due to its potential to expand the welfare state and planned economy and an increased vulnerability of government data to hacking. This will also affect our children due to the ever-expanding mountain of data collected on them through education technology and state longitudinal databases as well as the weakening of FERPA, the federal privacy law.

Although much is happening with the border crisis and the government shutdown, concerned citizens must keep up the pressure. A new way to raise awareness is to take a few minutes to share these 50 tweetsprovided by our friends at Patriot Journalist to explain how dangerous this data mining legislation really is and then to alert your friends. You may also continue to email the president here. (The White House comment line is not taking calls due to the shutdown.)

Other details are available at these resources:

Stop FEPA Facebook Page

Rebuttal to House Staff “Myths and Facts” on HR 4174

Summary of HR 4174/S 2046, The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act

Parent Activists: Data-Sharing ‘Grinch’ Bill Will Create ‘De Facto National Database’” by Dr. Susan Berry at Breitbart

What is FEPA?

Radio Interview on FEPA by Dr. Karen Effrem with the American Family Association of Pennsylvania

Radio Interview on HR 4174 by Dr. Mary Byrne with Morning Coffee (Missouri)

Talking Points to Veto FEPA by Dr. Mary Byrne

Paul Ryan’s Trojan Horse for the Welfare State” by economist Sven Lundgren at AIER explaining how this bill expands the swamp on welfare, health care and other issues

Privacy-Crushing FEPA Bill #HR4174: 10 Nitty Gritty Facts You Missed #VETO !” by Cristel Swayze at “What is Common Core”

Michelle Malkin on Tucker Carlson Explaining Dangers of Ed Tech in Schools

Please take this stand for your privacy and futures and those of your children! Thank you!

Dec 29, 2018

Townhall – Lame-Duck Congress Plays Grinch to Citizens by Passing Anti-Privacy Database Bill

In a new column at, Dr. Effrem explains the dangers of the unrecorded voice vote passage of yet another privacy invading bill by the U.S. Senate, waiting until after the election to pass a bill that dozens of citizen and parent groups opposed when passed by the House in 2017. This excerpt discusses some of the many reasons HR 4174, the Foundations for Evidence-based Policymaking Act (FEPA) is so problematic based on a summary and a rebuttal prepared by groups opposing FEPA:

While FEPA itself doesn’t expressly establish a formal data system with a central repository, the bill’s mandates regarding linking and sharing data among multiple federal agencies and thousands of bureaucrats will create essentially the same result: a de facto national database.

The federal government is demonstrably incompetent at data security; moreover, it routinely ignores the overwhelming data it already has showing the ineffectiveness of many (most) federal programs. There is no reason to believe an even more enormous trove of data can be secured, or that it will actually change government behavior in any meaningful way.

Most importantlycollecting and holding massive amounts of data about an individual has an intimidating effect on the individual—even if the data is never used. This fundamentally changes the relationship between the individual and government. Citizen direction of government cannot happen when government sits in a position of intimidation of the individual.

The full commentary is available HERE and has also been discussed at and

Due to the partial government shutdown, the White House comment line is not operating, but you may urge President Trump to veto this egregious violation of citizen led-governance and privacy by emailing him or tweeting to @realDonaldTrump or @POTUS.


Dangerously Flawed “TeenScreen” Mental Health Program Returning to Schools

This article written for The National Pulse by Dr. Karen Effrem takes a look at “TeenScreen” which is a flawed tool used by schools to asses students’ mental health condition.

As the push for more school-based mental health intervention increases after recent high profile school shootings, one particularly controversial and inaccurate mental health screening instrument, “TeenScreen”, is starting to make a comeback. Developed by Dr. David Schaffer and other psychiatrists at Columbia University, TeenScreen is a 14-question computerized survey that was heavily used in as many as 40 states in the early 2000s.

However, the vague and subjective questions used by Teen Screen yielded an astronomical false-positive rate of 84 percent, as admitted by Dr. Schaffer:

The CSS’s positive predictive value of 16% (determined by a weighted prevalence of DISC positive in the sample) would result in 84 nonsuicidal [sic] teens being referred for further evaluation for every 16 youths correctly identified.

One egregious example of TeenScreen’s inaccuracy occurred when an Indiana high school student was forced to take the survey without her parents’ knowledge or consent. As a result of her Teen Screen responses, she was given two psychiatric diagnoses in the hall of the school by a perfect stranger. Because she was studious and did not like to party, she was labeled with social anxiety disorder, and because she liked to keep things clean, she was tagged with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The understandably outraged parents subsequently sued the school and mental-health agency administering TeenScreen.

The lawsuit and surrounding controversy caused the consent procedures to switch from opt-out to opt-in parental consent, resulting in a massive decline in the numbers of children screened (the Indiana school screening the student without parental consent stopping the procedure altogether). This change in consent procedure, the high false-positive rate, and the strong connection between TeenScreen and the pharmaceutical industry were all likely factors in forcing TeenScreen to eventually cease operations of its national program in 2012.

The Dangers of TeenScreen

However, this is unfortunately not the end of the TeenScreen saga. In 2016, Stanford University acquired the rights to the TeenScreen test, and it has been used in some school districts even as recently as the fall of 2018. Even more concerning is recent testimony by Dr. Mark Olfson, current scientific director of whatever is left of TeenScreen at Columbia University, before the federal School Safety Commission in July calling for expansion of “voluntary mental health screening” in an effort to prevent mass shootings such as the one at Parkland, Fla., despite other parts of his testimony rendering that recommendation dangerous and quite illogical:

There are concerns that many young people are being unnecessarily treated with these medications because approximately two-thirds of the increase, the overall increase in psychotropic medication use in youth has occurred among those with less severe or no impairment.

These concerns have focused most intensively on anti-psychotic medications, particularly their use in very young children and children in the foster care system.

He does not realize — or will not admit — that the reason the overall prescription rate increase has occurred in youth with “less severe or no impairment” is due to the promotion and widespread use of mental screening instruments like TeenScreen. Olfson does, however, admit some of the dangerous side effects of the medications:

In addition to uncertainty over the long-term effects on the developing brain, side effects of anti-psychotic medications include weight gain, high cholesterol levels and increased risk of diabetes.

Other severe and life-threatening effects associated with the antipsychotics (studies compiled here) include brain damage, movement disorders, suicide, and a 25-year shortened life span.

In addition, psychiatric experts readily admit that their efforts to predict which patients will become violent are only slightly better than chance, so it is unwise to train already overburdened school staff for a few hours and place this enormous responsibility on them. A psychologist involved in violence-prediction research told the Washington Post, “There is no instrument that is specifically useful or validated for identifying potential school shooters or mass murderers.” Another said in that same article that doing so would endanger both public safety and civil liberties.

Moreover, many experts also rejected the idea of expanded school mental-health screening after the horrific Sandy Hook shooting. A psychiatrist who extensively studied the Sandy Hook shooter told the Los Angeles Times after the Parkland massacre, “But unfortunately, it’s impossible for any of us to predict who is going to go from being troubled and isolated to actually harming others…It really means we can’t rely on prediction and identifying the bad guys. Because we’ll misidentify some who aren’t bad guys, and we’ll fail to identify others who may become bad guys.”

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