Browsing articles in "Mental Health"
May 2, 2016
ELW

Acute Need for Psychological Data Protection Demonstrated by Sexual Orientation Survey

A Florida public school teacher was suspended and then resigned after giving the following “White Privilege” survey in Spanish class that asked questions about sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and disability status:

Collecting data about religious affiliation, but not any of the other parameters in this survey, is a violation of current Florida statute 1002.222:
1002.222 Limitations on collection of information and disclosure of confidential and exempt student records.–

(1) An agency or institution as defined in s. 1002.22(1) may not:

(a) Collect, obtain, or retain information on the political affiliation, voting history, religious affiliation, or biometric information of a student or a parent or sibling of the student…
The Orange County school system said that they do not collect this type of information on their students and rightly suspended this teacher who then resigned. However, this is only one example of controversial curricula, standards, and assessments that are being perpetrated on our children, even young children. Here is an example of a gender identity standard in the Common Core aligned federal Head Start standardswhich governs the new preschool program imposed on the nation in Every Student Succeeds Act:

Here is the definition of Gender Identity from The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in a pre-K curriculum called Making Room in the Circle:
Refers to a person’s internal, deeply felt sense of being either male or female, or something other or in betweenBecause gender identity is internal and personally defined, it is not visible to others.”
Apr 16, 2016
ELW

Message to Congress: Our Children Do Not Exist to Provide Data to Researchers & the Feds!

The US House Education and Workforce Committee recently held a hearing titled “Strengthening Education Research and Privacy Protections to Better Serve Students.” Although there were some great positives such as hearing from a parent from the organization that took down inBloom, The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, there was an alarmingly pervasive attitude that student data belonged to the government and researchers and that parent concerns about privacy are over blown. What follows is the introduction, a summary of the pros and cons from the hearing, our conclusions and  recommendations from our extensively referenced document written by our president, Dr. Karen Effrem – Response to US House Privacy and Research Hearing. A summary of this document is available HERE.

INTRODUCTION:

We are grateful that the committee convened the very important recent hearing, “Strengthening Education Research and Privacy Protections to Better Serve Students, and for the opportunity to comment on it. With the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act being 40 years old; the Strengthening Research Through Education Act (SETRA) continuing dossier building via state longitudinal databases; and the expanded efforts to psychologically manipulate and profile our children via social emotional and mindset assessments in standards, curriculum and tests; it is extremely important that these bills be updated. Government data gathering on our innocent children must be very significantly pared back in content and kept to the local level and privacy protections strengthened. It is not just the data security that is an issue, but the type and amount of data that is gathered.

POSITIVES:

It is wonderful that Rachel Stickland from The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy, an organization that receives no government or special interest funding, founded and composed of parents, which brought down the Bill Gates multi-million dollar inBloom operation, was able to testify. Ms. Stickland did an excellent job given that she was defending herself and parents from three other Big Data witnesses. (See NEGATIVES below).

Some of the questions by members seemed to indicate a good understanding about the dangers of the extensive student data collection taking place and took parental concerns on that topic seriously, particularly Mrs. Foxx, Mr. Thompson, Mr. Brat, and Ms. Bonamici.

Ms. Stickland’s description of the State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) was excellent and correct, especially the part about the result of this longitudinal data collection resulting in dossiers from birth.  This includes genetic data at least in Rhode Island. I would just add that although the funding push for SLDS occurred during the stimulus bill, in a separate provision, in the Race to the Top grants, and in the America COMPETES Act, they were codified in ESRA in 2002 and continue in SETRA, which is why the data transparency language she mentioned is so critical for both SETRA and FERPA. If, as Dr. Hannaway mentioned, it is really true that the data is completely anonymized, this should not be a problem.

This question by Mr. Heck and Ms. Sticklands’s response as reported by Politico:

“He asked whether Common Core has ‘required new depths of data mining’ of students. ‘I’ve heard the same concerns from parents across the country,’ said Rachael Stickland, Parent Coalition for Student Privacy co-founder and co-chairwoman.  ‘There’s a lot of new measurements of student achievement that doesn’t necessarily have academic purposes – grit and tenacity and those sorts of things, the sort of emotional factors. There are a lot of parents who are very, very concerned about this.’”

This is not just a concern, but absolute fact, and we applaud her for saying so.  There is much evidence  that non -academic social emotional teaching is being promoted through Common Core standards  which means that there is psychological data gathering happening in the federally mandated mostly Common Core state tests.

NEGATIVES AND MISSED OPPORTUNITIES:

The incontrovertible and unbalanced Big Data bias of the rest of the panel besides Rachel Stickland
Except for Mr. Heck’s excellent question, there was no discussion of the large elephant in the room – the social emotional data mining in ESSA, SETRA, the NAEP, etc. The social emotional research language in SETRA in Sec. 132 is completely unacceptable both to parents and even education researchers and professionals like Dr. Angela Duckworth that used to support the idea of gathering this data for accountability purposes due to subjectivity and validity concerns. There is also concern from school board members in California that is leading the way in trying to implement this very unwise idea.
There seemed to be little awareness or concern by the committee of the whole section of FERPA regulations allowing sharing of personally identifiable student information with the federal government and third parties without parental consent.
These same regulations say that personally identifiable information may be “redisclosed” to other entities without consent, again justifying the concerns of parents about loss of control over their children’s longitudinal data that can have life-changing consequences.
Closely related to this “re-disclosure” concern is the fact that the FERPA regulations allow the use of personally identifiable information for “predictive testing.” To have this subjective, validity-challenged socioemotional data not only stay in a longitudinal database that follows a student for life, but also be used to make predictions of future academic or workforce performance used for critical life decisions appalls and horrifies parents when they learn of it.
There was no mention of the two very important and illuminating recent hearings convened by Chairman Chaffetz and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee [HERE and HERE] showing the deplorable state of data security at the US Department of Education. A November Inspector General’s report showed how vulnerable those data are to hackers and that by comparison, it would dwarf the Office of Personnel Management data breach.

CONCLUSIONS:

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 on 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.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

Remove the social emotional research language from Section 132 of SETRA.

Prohibit social emotional data gathering and the use of data for predictive testing in the FERPA reauthorization.

Put in strict data transparency language and update the data security language per the recommendations of technical experts like Dr. Joel Reidenberg or Barmak Nassirian in any FERPA reauthorization.

Require third party software and testing vendors to notify parents of what data is collected on students and how it is used.

Find a way for students whose identity and privacy is compromised to be compensated, not just researchers or private vendors to be penalized.

Close the curriculum and assessment loophole for invasive surveys in PPRA.

Immediately demand that the US Department of Education repair the federal data security failures found in the Inspector General’s recent report and uncovered by the House Oversight Committee.

Strongly consider a moratorium on further federal research until programs already shown to ineffective and harmful are transformed or eliminated and until actually effective measures are actually implemented.

 

 

Apr 15, 2016
ELW

Robert Holland Describes Federal Psych Profiling in Town Hall Column

Robert Holland interviewed Dr. Karen Effrem about the growing dangers of federal psychological profiling in multiple federal education programs in an excellent article entitled  Do Parents Want Their Children on Uncle Shrink’s Couch?. He discussed how the US Department of Education is psychologically profiling our children in preschool programs like Race to the Top, Head Start, and now ESSA; via the reauthorization of the federal education research bill, SETRA (Strengthening Education Through Research Act – S 227), and planning to test subjective, non-academic, psychosocial “mindsets” via the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The government’s term for all of this is social emotional learning (SEL).  We have frequently discussed this topic in relation to child mental screening, Common Core, and preschool. Here are some excerpts:

One of the most influential ways the federal government is molding young minds is through “social and emotional learning” (SEL) programs, a prominent feature of the omnibus Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2015.

SEL has no clear definition in federal law, but many education sites tout SEL as instilling in students the necessary attitudes and skills that will supposedly enable them to manage their emotions, which in turn theoretically helps them do good things, such as showing empathy for others.

Very much in the same vein is the Strengthening Research Through Education Act (SETRA), which is currently being considered by Congress and will likely be passed soon. SETRA is a reauthorization of a George W. Bush-era law that extended the U.S. Education Department’s research arm into the collection of personal data about students and also authorized the use of linked state longitudinal databases.

Proceeding so far with minimal debate in Washington, DC, SETRA would expand federal education research to pupils’ “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.”

This kind of subjective probing of children’s attitudes, beliefs, and behavior amounts to psychological profiling that (thanks to electronic dossiers) could haunt an individual throughout a lifetime.

Dr. Karen Effrem, a pediatrician who has tracked this trend for years as the president of Education Liberty Watch, laments, “Parents are expected to submit their children to this kind of government profiling and psychological experimentation with no explanation, no way to express concern, [and no way to] opt their children out.”

Effrem also says SETRA is incredibly problematic because parents are afforded “no way to see the federally mandated assessments or to find out what private, sensitive psychological data was collected on their children as part of some online assessment and shared with some third-party vendor without their consent.”

Starting with the 2016–17 school year, the exploration of what education theorists call “the affective domain”—meaning feelings and emotions, as opposed to actual thought—will spread to the fairly well-respected National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also called the Nation’s Report Card. A background survey accompanying NAEP will attempt to assess a child’s grit and motivation, among other qualities.

Holland goes on to describe the preschool programs and the family engagement rule draft that are both very heavy on SEL and what the effects would be:

In plain language, this means the government will assess children every single step (or crawl) of the way, from cradle to career, to be certain they acquire all the attitudes, beliefs, and dispositions the omniscient, omnipotent government deems they must have. SEL, baby, SEL.

The plan to assess children and have this life long dossier determine their futures has been the plan for a very long time – at least as far back as Mark Tucker’s infamous 1992 “Dear Hillary” letter:

His vision is “…to remold the entire American system” into “a seamless web that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone” that is coordinated by “a system of labor market boards at the local, state and federal levels” where curriculum and “job matching” will be handled by counselors “accessing the integrated computer-based program.”

It has continued through the tenure of Arne Duncan’s tenure as Secretary of Education:

 We must as parents stand together to protect the lives, privacy and futures of our children.

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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