Browsing articles in "Social Emotional Learning/Mental Health"
Mar 11, 2019

New Study Shows Dangers and Ineffectiveness of “Social-Emotional Learning”

This article by Dr. Karen Effrem highlights the new study by The Pioneer Institute coauthored by her, attorney and researcher Jane Robbins and Dr. Kevin Ryan , a professor emeritus of Boston University. The study shines light on the harmful tactics of moving the focus of education away from academics, of data collection, and how the state is invading the privacy of public school students.

You can view a video previewing the study here made by The Pioneer Institute. Here are excerpts from the Pioneer press release:

Proponents of SEL call for focusing less on academic content and knowledge in schools, and more on student attributes, mindsets, values, and behaviors.  Not only are the goals of SEL ill-defined, but they also raise significant, unanswered questions about what attitudes should be promoted.

“It’s one thing to direct your own moral, ethical, and emotional development or that of your children,” said Jane Robbins, co-author of “Social-Emotional Learning: K-12 Education as New-Age Nanny State.”  “But having a government vendor or unqualified public school officials implement an SEL curriculum based on coffee-table psychology is quite another.”

Educational software developers purport to have created products that can determine a number of sensitive personality traits through students’ interaction with digital platforms.  Much of this monitoring occurs without the consent of children or their parents. Some software — especially for video gaming — goes beyond assessing traits, and aims to encourage the production of students who are well suited for a workforce development-centered education.

“This technology, when coupled with SEL, will further spread the recent wave of amateur, unqualified psychoanalysis in schools,” said Dr. Karen Effrem, M.D., who co-authored the study with Robbins. “Given the uncertainty around diagnosis and treatment of mental or emotional problems, even by highly trained physicians, the SEL movement runs the risk of further increasing the trend toward dangerous over-diagnosis and over-medication of American schoolchildren.”

Social-emotional learning is being interwoven into the Common Core State Standards and school efforts to implement competency-based education (CBE). CBE digitally documents the attainment of various skills with the goal of demonstrating that a student is ready to move on in his or her “personalized learning path.”  SEL and CBE are heavily weighted toward a conception of education as focused on workforce development rather than preparing active, informed citizens.

As the calls for increased school-based mental health screening, data collection and treatment become more intense and numerous in light of school shootings such as that in Parkland, Fla., this study serves as a counter-weight to those calls. It thoroughly covers the lack of scientific support for SEL assessments and programs, particularly for mental health screening with astronomically high subjectivity and false positive rates; the lack of effectiveness data for school-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS — see pp. 15-16); and the dangers of over-diagnosis by untrained school personnel and treatment with drugs that have many harmful, if not fatal side effects (see p. 30).

The mingling of SEL with Common Core has allowed the very orderly, objective discipline of math to be degraded with fuzzy, subjective issues like “grit” and a “growth mindset,” which even the staunchest proponents like “grit guru” Angela Duckworth and other researchers admit are not supported by reliable assessments or significant beneficial outcomes (see pp. 18-20). Moreover, numerous stakeholder groups have admitted that Common Core is tightly tied to SEL. Education Week admitted that SEL is being used for lessons in social justice, and Richard Hess and Grant Addison of the American Enterprise Institute have also shown how Common Core professional development lessons are taking a hard left turn into racial politics and social justice.

SEL skills, called competencies by the American School Counselors’ Association, are often infused in the computerized skills testing of CBE — which has failed in multiple jurisdictions where it has been tried. It will be important for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran to be extremely careful as they seek to fully rid the Sunshine State of Common Core that they do not allow corporate and establishment interests to keep SEL parameters in new standards and do not expand CBE in that state so as to prevent the efforts to “streamline testing” (as called for in the executive order) from becoming online SEL profiling in the embedded assessments.

You can view the full article on The National Pulse.

Multiple States Seek to Expand Invasive Mental Health Screening in Schools

This article by Dr. Karen Effrem written for The National Pulse details the problematic features of the expansion of mental health screening in the public school system, most notably how false positives in the system lead to over-diagnosis and over-medication in children.

In the wake of multiple horrific school shootings — particularly the Parkland, Fla., massacre where 17 people were murdered by a student long-known to have mental issues — states all over the nation have been moving to expand mental health screening, treatment, and data collection. The two most prominent states are Florida and Texas, but Georgia and other states are also joining this dangerous craze.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act (extensively discussed in this space) expanded mental screening of students by unqualified, minimally trained teachers and other school personnel despite admissions by psychiatric physicians trained for years that they are unable to correctly identify those known mentally ill patients that will become violent. The psychiatrist that extensively studied the history of the Sandy Hook shooter that killed 26 young children and teachers said about the Parkland shooting:

“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.”

If a highly trained psychiatrist is saying that, why should we put that enormous responsibility on already overburdened teachers?

This type of data collected by untrained personnel would go into the state longitudinal databases to follow a student for life and could result in mislabeling of a child or life-altering consequences affecting college, career, military service or gun ownership.

Screening is also admitted even by experts to be terribly inaccurate, with false-positive rates of up to 84 percent, and can lead to over-diagnosis and over-medication. Dr. Mark Olfson, the scientific director of the TeenScreen mental screening program with that 84 percent false positive rate, admitted in July before the federal School Safety Commission (p. 38-39) that “the overall increase in youth psychotropic medication use has occurred among those with less severe or no impairment.” Even though Dr. Olfson did not admit it, that increase among those with less severe or no impairment is likely due to false positives from inaccurate screening like his TeenScreen instrument. During that same hearing, he also admitted some of the dangerous side effects of psychotropic medications in children and teens, such as “uncertainty over the long-term effects on the developing brain” and “weight gain, high cholesterol levels and increased risk of diabetes.”

What he did not mention was the documented risk of suicidal and violent ideation and behavior of these drugs as shown in his own research and in information available from an analysis of reports of violence to the Food and Drug Administration. (More research and links on this topic are available here and here.)

Even worse, the follow-up school safety legislation proposed by the Florida Senate seeks to create a work group to develop a “Statewide Threat Assessment Database.” The type of data to be entered based on what criteria, who would enter it and who would have access to it are all yet to be determined. Consent and privacy issues related to this are based on the extremely weak Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that was gutted in 2012 by the Obama administration.

Attorney and researcher Jane Robbins explained the problems with this concept when testifying against a similar bill in Georgia described by the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

“Do we want our children to be flagged by the government based on an algorithm when we don’t even know who created the algorithm or what factors go into it,” said Jane Robbins, an education lobbyist who testified on behalf of Concern Women for America. She said profiling based on demographic information could produce biased, inaccurate results that violate students’ privacy and free speech rights while creating documents that “could come back to haunt them forever.”

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

Jan 25, 2019

The National Pulse – 6 Big Problems with Latest “Social Emotional Learning” Report

This National Pulse article written by Dr. Karen Effrem outlines what makes the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development’s new report on the use of social emotional learning in public education problematic. More specifically, how the report failed to complete fundamental and controversial issues with the teaching method such as invasion of privacy, federal overreach, etc…

1.) The Commission promotes the care and development of the “whole child” as an individual while simultaneously pushing standardized SEL teaching and assessment via “state standards, guidance, and frameworks” and the trend toward machine based skills training (including SEL training and assessment) via competency-based and personalized learning.

This is an oxymoron. If there are at least nine different names for SEL and schools are supposed to help children grow into their best individual selves, than how can there be SEL standards at all? The answer lies in the career focus of SEL.

2.) The Commission wants to expand SEL research, despite the lack of scientific and policy consensus on a definition of SEL and the existence of many SEL studies that have flaws and mixed or negative results.

We have discussed this aspect a number of times (see here and here for example). Even proponents and SEL experts admit there are problems with the research. This includes research on the academic achievement, brain science, and genetics aspects of SEL to name a few. In many ways, it is like the research on preschool described above or that of psychiatric drugs. There are grand claims initially for these programs or products, but with time and further scrutiny, the claims fall apart like wet tissue paper.

3.) The final report only contains two token mentions of privacy, which is gravely endangered by the SEL and the ed-tech phenomena.

The rate and extent of social emotional data collection — via federal assessments like the NAEP and federally mandated state assessments, education technology companies like Knewton and Dream Box that are collecting millions of data points per student per day, and foreign entities like OECD and China — is becoming difficult to follow. That is why the gutting of the federal privacy law, FERPA, during the Obama administration and the recent passage of FEPA that will create a de facto national database is all the more maddening.

4.) The Commission believes that there will be no federal control or interference for states and districts implementing SEL — even while one of their interim reports lists scores of federal programs supporting those concepts.

No kidding. After the Commission policy brief lists 111 different federal programs in 8 different federal agencies, plus the Corporation for National and Public Service that can be “leveraged” to achieve their SEL nirvana, Commission co-chairman Tim Shriver and putative conservative Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute solemnly intone that the report “should not be mistaken for an invitation to federal policymakers” to get involved in SEL.

5.) The Commission believes that somehow teachers can and will want to “develop expertise in child development and in the science of learning” with all of their other burdens, when there is no clear consensus on the science of SEL and in the midst of national teacher shortage.

Wonderful, experienced teachers are leaving the profession in droves because they are forced to teach the academically inferior, developmentally inappropriate, and psychologically manipulative Common Core while they are monitored on everything they teach via poorly validated tests that affect their pay and tenure via incomprehensible algorithms, have their desired curriculum removed from their classrooms, and are required to act as amateur psychologists in order to prevent school shootings and suicide.

6.) The Commission expects that SEL programs and curriculum will fill the cavernous social emotional void for the millions of children growing up in fatherless homes.

The statistics are overwhelming that children — especially boys — from fatherless homes have more SEL problems. Examples include:

Significantly higher juvenile crime rates

279 percent increased likelihood of carrying a gun

Externalizing behavior problems as early as one year of age

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

Oct 17, 2018

The National Pulse – Flawed Report Uses Pseudoscience to Promote “Social Emotional Learning”

This article written by Dr. Karen Effrem for The National Pulse, discusses a recent report put out by the National Commission on Social Emotional and Academic Learning and its problems.

Focus on Victimhood and Identity Politics

There is much discussion in the paper about issues such as “stereotype threat” and how “if one’s cultural beliefs and values feel at odds with those of the dominant cultural group, the conflict can cause misalignment between a person’s goals and ways of being and the expectations of the setting.” To fix this perceived cultural oppression in the schools, they want government “interventions and supports in the home, school, or community that specifically target cultural well-being [to] improve educational, socioeconomic, and health outcomes.” This social justice focus is not at all surprising given that one of the paper’s authors is Linda Darling Hammond, co-chair of this commission as well as co-chair of the Collaborative for Academic Social Emotional Learning (CASEL) and radical terrorist Bill Ayers’ choice to be Secretary of Education under President Obama.

No Attention to Breakdown of the Family

The government subsidy of fatherless families has been happening since the 1960s, and the sociological problems with that approach have been documented since the 1970s beginning with Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The myriad of studies and articles documenting the downsides of growing up in a single-parent household and collated at wonderful websites like Marripedia is completely ignored in this paper. These downsides include increased social emotional distress and mental illness, school problems and failure, acting out, juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy and drug use. Any paper that makes recommendations about the social emotional, cultural and family status of children without discussing the research around this issue and making recommendations for reversing this destructive policy doesn’t merit much consideration.

Conflicts of Interest

The list of funders for this commission contains all of the usual suspects — including the Gates Foundation. Three of the funders for this commission are foundations tied to corporations that have profited or will profit handsomely from the expansion of SEL curriculum, monitoring software (Microsoft/Gates) and hardware (Hewlett Packard/Hewlett), or from psychiatric medication when a child is falsely labeled abnormal by these subjective standards and mental screening tools and referred to a mental health professional (Johnson & Johnson/Robert Wood Johnson [RWJ]).

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

Dr. Effrem’s National Pulse archive is available here.

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