Browsing articles in "Mental Health"
Jan 20, 2017
ELW

Review of the DeVos Confirmation Hearing

Karen R. Effrem, MD – President

Betsy DeVos at her 1/17/17 Confirmation Hearing

I strongly agree with Shane Vander Hart at Caffeinated Thoughts that Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing to be Secretary of Education was not terribly informative. Aside from a brief mention of Common Core by Senator Cassidy (R-LA) where she said she wouldn’t mandate it from the secretarial level and her answer to a question from Senator Alexander (R-TN, chairman of the HELP Committee holding the hearing) that she wouldn’t implement school choice from the federal level, none of the major concerns in our national parent coalition letter about Common Core, privacy, and school choice were asked or answered.

Here is a brief discussion of several issues that did come up and those that should be closely monitored during her control of the U.S. Department of Education:

Common Core – Mrs. DeVos answered Senator Cassidy’s brief yes or no question, that she would not continue Common Core from the federal level. it is interesting that she said in her prepared opening statement:

And every teacher in America dreams of breaking free from standardization, so that they can deploy their unique creativity and innovate with their students.

If she wants teachers to “break free from standardization” how is it that she has supported national standards and standardized tests that require “standardized” teaching for so long?

However, as stated in numerous writings by many anti-Common Core experts and activists, the foundation of the Every Student Succeeds Act mandates the Common Core by imposing secretarial veto of state plans and requiring states’ compliance with eleven different federal laws all mandating statewide standards and tests that are Common Core even if not labeled such. How she implements ESSA will be critical.

Federal School Choice – While it was somewhat reassuring that she said that she would not support a federal school choice law,  her answers about wanting accountability combined with her record of support for very regulated voucher plans in Indiana and Louisiana that require administration of the state (Common Core) tests along with that strong push by her allies John Engler of the Business Round Table and Michael Petrilli of Fordham as well as most of the Democrats is extremely concerning for the autonomy and viability of private schools. Education freedom groups across the nation, including Education Liberty Watch, Eagle Forum and the Cato Institute are all very concerned.

Implementation of ESSA

  • We hope that she is extremely liberal with waivers for state plans that seek to truly eliminate Common Core and the associated federally mandated state tests in favor of various state options or changes the regulations altogether. This is the best way in our view that Donald Trump can keep his promise to get rid of Common Core.
  • It is also critical that she not favor or implement any kind of social emotional/21st Century skills standards or assessment programs in ESSA or its accountability scheme. This was one of our questions and is also an issue in the Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA) and the subject of a national commission.

Data Privacy – This topic did not come up during the hearing. Betsy DeVos  chaired the Philanthropy Roundtable, which published a report called Blended Learning: A Wise Giver’s Guide to Supporting Tech-assisted Teaching that lauds the Dream Box software that “records 50,000 data points per student per hour”

  • Senator Hatch seemed to be promoting the lifting of the prohibition on the student unit record system which would then allow data mining and a federal dossier on students from cradle to career. This was one of our questions and this idea must be firmly resisted.
  • The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was gutted by regulatory fiat during the Obama administration. At the very least, those privacy protections must be restored and preferably expanded to deal with all of the online data mining that is happening with technology-based education. Privacy was mentioned by Mr. Trump and was one of our questions not addressed during the hearings. It would be a huge improvement even to return to the previous regulations.

Preschool – Senator Isakson (R-GA) made the following very alarming statement during the hearing (1:02:55):

“She [Senator Murray] talked about her goal and my goal which we’ve shared with each other, that is to work toward requiring 4 year old prekindergarten for every student in the country…” (Emphasis added).

Thankfully DeVos demurred with her standard, “If confirmed, I look forward to working with you on…” statement. However, given how ineffective, harmful, invasive and expensive these programs are, including in Georgia, expanding preschool like this would be a “disaster” of Trumpian proportions.

GLBT issues – This was a key issue pushed by the Democrats and while we agree with her that no student deserves discrimination or harassment, we would have felt much better if she had also said that she also cared about protecting the First Amendment free speech, freedom of assembly and religious rights of all students and families. It will be important to see how she deals with the Title IX guidance.

Guns in Schools –  Her response on guns in schools satisfied no one. While right that it is a states’ issue, the “grizzly bear” response was quite ineffective. Far more satisfying would have been a mention that almost all school shooters have been on psychotropic medications at the time of their crimes, including Knewtown, Connecticut, the home state of Senator Murphy (D). These drugs have the well-known side effect of violent, murderous reactions in certain individuals and that guns in the hands of responsible concealed permit holders would likely reduce the carnage in these incidents as it did in Pearl, Mississippi and other mass shootings.

What’s Next – Betsy DeVos was required to have her letter from the government ethics agency documenting that she would serve with no financial conflicts of interest by the end of today as President-elect Trump takes the oath of office in order to have her committee confirmation vote on January 24th. We will see if that happens and what comes next. Please consider contacting the Senate HELP Committee members and your own senators with the concerns we have listed.

Dec 15, 2016
ELW

Breitbart Covers DeVos Funding of Allegedly Independent Education News Site

 

Dr. Susan Berry at Breitbart covers more in-depth the influence of the DeVos fortune in promoting education news, Common Core, and social emotional learning which we described in our last post about the debate over SEL between Allison Crean Davis whose employer works with a number of DeVos-related entities and whose article was published on T74, the DeVos funded website:

The education reform website founded by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown is supporting Donald Trump’s education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos with the disclaimer that DeVos’ family foundation provides funding for the site.

Education Week writer Mark Walsh recently observed DeVos “has a friend” in Brown, who founded education news site The 74. He adds DeVos’ selection puts Brown in “an awkward position” in that The 74 is advertised as an independent education news site. Brown herself, however, advocates for school choice and charter schools – exactly the main causes DeVos espouses.

The disclaimer on Brown’s site reads as follows:

The Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation provides funding to The 74, and the site’s Editor-in-Chief, Campbell Brown, sits on the American Federation for Children’s board of directors, which was formerly chaired by Betsy DeVos. Brown played no part in the reporting or editing of this article. The American Federation for Children also sponsored The 74’s 2015 New Hampshire education summit.

In a recent column at The 74, Brown writes:

Social media attacks aren’t famous for accuracy, but it’s a pity that Betsy DeVos has been so misleadingly caricatured since Donald Trump asked her to serve as secretary of education last week.

Not just because she’s a friend. Also because her attackers needlessly reopen late-NCLB fault lines and deepen the clamor that follows Trump everywhere.

Brown adds that DeVos will work hard at “pushing to improve whatever model is working — traditional or charter or voucher or something we haven’t yet imagined.”

Berry also notes that Campbell Brown defended close DeVos friend and major Common Core proponent Jeb Bush. She then goes on to discuss the above-mentioned SEL debate by Common Core defender Davis:

However, in another recent article at The 74, Allison Crean Davis, a senior advisor at Bellwether Education Partners, bemoans, “Promising, well-intended initiatives, like the Common Core Standards, burn and struggle to survive even before there is a shared understanding of their potential, much less evidence of their impact.”

Davis continues in support as well of the integration of social emotional learning (SEL) into schools and criticizes Federalist writers Jane Robbins and Karen Effrem for their warning about the dangers of including psychological learning as part of the curriculum children are exposed to at school.

Davis writes:

This article is the journalistic equivalent of yelling “fire” in a theater, designed to have folks crawling across the floor to the nearest exit. It’s as if the authors are saying: Don’t think. There’s danger. Escape! To which I say: Calm down. Harness one of the “subjective” social emotional skills in question, self-management. Instead of panicking, work to understand the rationale behind the push for more social emotional learning in schools and how the still-emerging science presents some limits to the work.

Characterizing the inclusion of SEL into curriculum as another “march of science,” Davis encourages the “exploration of the value of social emotional characteristics in schools.”

Robbins and Effrem, who assert the teaching of social and emotional qualities belongs not to the government, but firmly to parents who may be assisted by faith communities, respond:

Davis is firmly in the “government” camp. (So are the pro-Common Core and pro-SEL organizations working with her employer, Bellwether Education Partners, such as the Philanthropy Roundtable—chaired by Betsy DeVos—the Gates Foundation, and Jeb Bush’s ExcelinEd.) Her article mentions parents only once, in connection with paraphrasing and dismissing our arguments. Instead, she emphasizes the need to focus on “science” uber alles.

Berry concludes by quoting Jane Robbins who accurately describes the way elitists like DeVos and Jeb Bush work to have their way in education policy:

“Jeb Bush and his ideological compatriots, including DeVos, advance what could be called a ‘government-foundation cartel’ model of educational policy-making,” she writes. “Private foundations funded by wealthy individuals (who themselves may be dilettantes with no real experience in education) contribute ideas, and frequently personnel, to the government to achieve their policy goals.”

While Robbins notes Congress or state lawmakers may rely on “research” funded by such foundations to make policy decisions, she also observes that often the actual decisions are made by the administrative state, i.e., unelected federal and state executive agencies. This state of affairs explains why so many parents and citizens want to see the U.S. Department of Education eliminated.

Please read the whole article – Former CNN Anchor’s Education Site Funded by Betsy DeVos Family Foundation and share!

Dec 14, 2016
ELW

The Federalist Publishes Robbins-Effrem Response to DeVos-funded Blog Supporting SEL

 


 

In the analysis of the DeVos nomination, it was mentioned that T74, a DeVos Family Foundation funded website published a critique of Jane Robbins’s and Dr. Effrem’s Federalist article warning of the dangers of social emotional learning (SEL) and that the author’s employer had connections to many pro-Common Core and SEL groups:

The T74, a pro-Common Core education blog funded by the DeVos Family Foundation carried a post attacking the Federalist article written by Jane Robbins and myself as the “journalistic equivalent of yelling ‘fire’ in a theater” without substantively answering our concerns. The author works at Bellwether Education Partners, whose  partners include (surprise, surprise) DeVos’ PR [Philanthropy Roundtable], Bush’s FEE [Now called ExelinEd], and the Gates Foundation, all major supporters of Common Core and of SEL.

Here is an extensive excerpt of the rebuttal to that misguided critique published in the Federalist today:

In response to our recent article in The Federalist exposing the dangers of so-called social emotional learning (SEL), Allison Crean Davis argues that parents have nothing to fear from governmental monitoring and manipulation of their children’s psychological states. Writing for a new organization called The 74(funded by the DeVos Family Foundation), she urges that Americans wait for the “iterative march of science” (no, we don’t know what that means either) to help us figure out the best way to implement and measure SEL in schools.

At the outset Davis likens SEL to Common Core: a “promising, well-intended initiative” that should be given a chance to work. Now there’s a comparison that will ease parents’ minds.

It’s also interesting that she wants education to be more like medicine, yet bemoans the fact that benighted parents didn’t wait for the “research” to come out on Common Core before opposing it. If the Common Core scheme had followed the pattern of medical research, the standards would have been tested on small groups of students and, if effective, only then would have been offered to a wider population.

Instead, untested, academically inferior, developmentally inappropriate, and psychologically manipulative standards were foisted on the entire nation mostly by unelected officials flying blind. Think what families and teachers and taxpayers would have been spared if proper testing had been done. And if Common Core’s allegedly high standards were marketed as a drug, the FDA would have withdrawn it as misbranded snake oil, and doctors prescribing it would have been sued for malpractice.

Who Gets to Oversee Children: Parents, Or the State?

But back to SEL. Davis justifies the focus on SEL by pointing out what everyone knows: that people do better in work and in life when they have certain intangible qualities such as enthusiasm and integrity. The question, though, is who should be instilling and monitoring the development of such qualities in children: their parents, frequently assisted by churches and other faith communities? Or the government, through the schools, collecting information on how well children measure up and feeding it into the ravenous government data system?

Davis is firmly in the “government” camp. (So are the pro-Common Core and pro-SEL organizations working with her employer, Bellwether Education Partners, such as the Philanthropy Roundtable—chaired by Betsy DeVos—the Gates Foundation, and Jeb Bush’s ExcelinEd.) Her article mentions parents only once, in connection with paraphrasing and dismissing our arguments. Instead, she emphasizes the need to focus on “science” uber alles.

“If education is going to mature as a discipline,” she writes, “it needs to embrace an evidence-based, not ideologically based, approach…” An interesting way of putting it. Humanity has been educating children for millennia, but not until the twenty-first century does it have “science” to help it “mature.” Were Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas not educated? Thomas Jefferson? What about the huge proportion of colonial Americans who read and understood complex tracts such as Common Sense and the Federalist Papers? Or the engineers who sent Neil Armstrong to the moon and brought him home?

How did they do that without having had SEL?

A ‘Collective Mindset’ Is the Last Thing We Want

The fact that education was remarkably more effective long before the “science” of education entered the picture should tell us something. But Davis will have none of it. “Research” says social emotional indoctrination may help children achieve more in school (i.e., score better on tests), and it’s our duty to wait and see what the researchers tell us we should do. In the meantime, “[a] more patient, disciplined collective mindset will allow promising approaches to be tested and will shield innovations from suffocating dogma.”

Parental determination to protect children from government intrusion into their psychological makeup is now “suffocating dogma.” And a “collective mindset” is the last thing we should be developing when it comes to the individual thoughts and psychological make-up of innocent children.

Davis completely ignores the overarching problem: the government here exceeds its proper role and interferes with the most fundamental American right—the private right of conscience. Nor does she directly address the problem that SEL is based on enormously subjective, nebulous criteria, although she does mention that more “research” will sort that out.

The Government Should Not Dictate Children’s Feelings

Davis apparently doesn’t realize that even psychiatry, which is practiced by formally trained medical doctors, admits that “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.” So if even trained professionals admit there is no physical evidence for their formal diagnoses, how can SEL—as practiced by well-meaning but untrained personnel—hope to come up with research-validated opinions about the psychological make-up of children?

So Davis thinks we should exercise “self-management” and stop yelling “fire” in a theater. But when we smell the smoke and see the flames licking at the curtains, how long do we have to wait before we sound the alarm?

 

Oct 19, 2016
ELW

New at the Federalist: Schools Ditch Academics For Emotional Manipulation

 

 

We are grateful to the Federalist for posting the latest article on social emotional learning from Jane Robbins of the American Principles Project and Dr. Effrem:

It is great that Georgia has joined Tennessee in withdrawing from the CASEL SEL standards movement, but sadly, CASEL is pushing on with a new effort detailed in the article along with a detailed discussion of the dangers of SEL.

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This summer the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL)announced it had chosen eight states to collaborate on creating K-12 “social emotional learning” (SEL) standards. All students, from kindergartners through high-school seniors, would be measured on five “non-cognitive” factors: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

Under such a system teachers become essentially therapists, and students become essentially patients. Supposedly this will clear away the psychological deadwood that obstructs a student’s path to academic achievement.

Federal Government Probes Students’ Psyches

We’ve written about the push by the U.S. Department of Education (USED) and the rest of the progressive education establishment to transform education from academic content instruction to molding and assessing children’s attitudes, mindsets, and behaviors. The infamous “outcome-based education” (OBE) in the 1990s began the trend, and Head Start and the Common Core national standards advance the same foundational principles.

The new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ramps up the trend in several ways. ESSA requires rating schools based partly on “nonacademic” factors, which may include measures of SEL. It also pours money into SEL programs, “which may include engaging or supporting families at school or at home” (i.e., home visits by bureaucrats).

Other provisions include training school personnel on “when and how to refer . . . children with, or at risk of, mental illness,” and implementing programs for children who are deemed “at-risk” of academic or social problems, without ever defining “at-risk.” Similar ESSA language urges school officials to cast a wide net for special education in school-wide “intervention” and “support” programs, allowing schools to sidestep parental consent requirements for formal evaluations.

Beyond ESSA, at least three other federal initiatives aim to monitor children’s attitudes and beliefs. One is the planned revision of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the test referred to as “the nation’s report card,” to assess mindsets and school climate. This revision has been challenged not only on constitutional and privacy grounds, but as a violation of federal law. Of course, law is merely an inconvenience to the Obama administration.

A third federal initiative is USED’s bribery of states to promote SEL standards and data-gathering on preschool children via the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants. These grants, along with the preschool grants in ESSA and Head Start, promote “Baby Common Core”-style SEL standards and data-collection and preserving this in states’ student-data systems. So now every child’s permanent dossier can include how well he played with others when he was four.

Should Government Track Students’ Thoughts, Feelings?

The problems with SEL are both philosophical and operational. Parents rightly object that the school (which means the government) has no business analyzing and trying to change a child’s psychological makeup. It’s one thing to enforce discipline in a classroom and encourage individual students to do their best; good teachers have done that from time immemorial. It’s quite another to assess students on their compliance with highly subjective behavioral standards that may measure personality and individual or family beliefs more than objective shortcomings in performance. The school exists to assist parents in educating their children, not to replace them in that role.

Writing in trade publication Education Week, a SEL consultant touts a new assessment “to generate data about such character strengths as responsibility, resilience, teamwork, curiosity, and leadership.” This violation of both privacy and freedom of conscience is also an alarming effort to standardize children, who normally develop at very different rates and in very different ways, to fit government-determined norms. The government has no right to collect data on any child’s “character strengths,” which are the most personal aspects of a child’s psyche. Period.

The operational problems are also daunting. Who will be assessing a child using these subjective criteria? Psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors undergo years of training to delve into this murky area. But even these experts admit there are no firm criteria for mental-health diagnoses, especially in children. The World Health Organization, hardly a bastion of conservative medical or political thought, warned: “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.”

Student self-reporting such as surveys, another common means of compiling SEL data, is similarly unreliable. Prominent SEL proponents Dr. Angela Duckworth and David

Yeager have pointed out that students may interpret survey questions differently from how the creators intended, and that the questions are unlikely to detect incremental changes. As parents of teenaged boys can attest, many children will treat such surveys as a joke and gladly take the opportunity to respond in the most outrageous manner possible.

Because “perfectly unbiased, unfakeable, and error-free [SEL] measures are an ideal, not a reality,” Duckworth and Yeager argue, such measures should not be used to evaluate schools or teachers. Duckworth was so concerned about using these highly subjective criteria in federally mandated accountability schemes that she withdrewfrom a California project to do just that. But this is exactly what USED is pushing through ESSA, and CASEL through its K-12 standards.

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