Browsing articles in "Social Emotional Learning/Mental Health"
Apr 15, 2016

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

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.

Jan 7, 2016

Education Liberty Watch Comments on Federal “Family Engagement” Policy

Detailed comments were submitted by Dr. Karen Effrem on January 4th in response to the US Departments of Health ad Human Services and Education’s Orwellian Family Engagement Policy Framework. The full document is available here: Family Engagement Policy Comments.  A summary of the four main points of contention are as follows:

  1. Parents are not just “equal partners,” they “own the store” when it comes to raising their children – Although the document says on page one that “Families are children’s first and most important teachers, advocates, and nurturers” on page 1, it does not clearly set forth the preeminent role of parents in the education and upbringing of their children.  Based on Pierce vs. Society of Sisters, Troxel vs Granville, and Meyers vs. Nebraska to name a few seminal Supreme Court decisions that have affirmed the constitutional right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children, the pervasive language in this document that parents are mere partners with government or that government programs are to perform “parenting interventions” is extremely disturbing and unacceptable.
  2. Promotion of government home visiting programs – Based on this agency’s own research, these programs are extraordinarily ineffective in two of the major areas that they are alleged to help:

    Prevention of Child Maltreatment:  For primary measures in the studies reviewed where there was data listed, only 15/75 parameters (20%) showed a positive effect while 60/75 parameters (80%) showed no effect and there were many programs not studied.
    Child Development and School Readiness:  For primary measures in the studies reviewed where there was data listed, only 77/448 parameters (17%) showed a positive effect while 362/448 parameters (82%) showed no effect, 3/448 parameters (1%) showed a negative or ambiguous effect, and there were many programs not studied.

  3. Focus on social emotional parameters and data for young children – It is the epitome of destruction of parental autonomy to have the federal government via any agency tamper with, manipulate, set norms for, or otherwise deal with anything in this realm.  Psychiatric diagnosis and social emotional parameters are extremely subjective to begin with and are especially difficult to use for young children in particular. Having data and evaluations of these subjective and inaccurate parameters in children’s records that follow them for life is extraordinarily problematic.
  4. Data Privacy – The draft document is replete with references to expand data collection such as this recommendation on page 9: “Develop and integrate family engagement indicators into existing data systems.” Students, families, and teachers whose sensitive personal and family data about everything from “social and emotional” issues to genetic data in newborn screening is collected and shared between many federal agencies and private entities. According to an investigation by Politico, education technology companies are “scooping up as many as 10 million unique data points on each child, each day.”  FERPA has been severely weakened via regulatory fiat to gut consent requirements and broaden access to data by federal agencies and private entities.  Given both the extent and sensitivity of the data that would need to be collected, the spectacular failure of the federal government to protect citizen data (, OPM and NSA data breaches), and the complete absence of the word “consent” in this document, this kind of data collection should be eliminated, not expanded


Aug 25, 2015
ELW Interviews Dr. Effrem About “Parent Replacement Centers” in NCLB Rewrite

Many thanks to Barbara Hollingsworth for her excellent and in-depth article about Senator Sharrod Brown’s amendment that passed in the Senate No Child Left Behind Rewrite called the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA).  This amendment continues funding for the very nanny state program called The Full Service Community.  Here is our description from the summary of ECAA:

Brown amendment (SA 2100) to restore the Full Service Community Schools grants from NCLB Despite Alexander’s opposition, the horrific grant program that turns schools into a second or even first home for children and reduces parents to “breeders and feeders,” passed 43-51.  Among the purposes of the program are to “ensure that children have the physical, social, and emotional well-being to come to school ready to engage in the learning process every day.”  The grantee is supposed to do a means assessment that “identifies the academic, physical, social, emotional, health, mental health, and other needs of students, families, and community residents,” which will include all sorts of mental health data gathering. The list  of services that can be offered is 23 items long and included mental health services and “other services consistent with this part.” All of the Democrats plus Republicans Ayotte, Blunt (MO), Capito, Collins, Fischer (NE), Hoeven (ND), Isakson (GA), and Portman voted for this nanny state expansion while all of the rest of the Republicans, including presidential candidates Cruz and Paul wisely voted against it, Sanders voted for it, and Graham and Rubio did not vote.

Here is her description:

The U.S. Department of Education’s Full Service Community Schools Program has awarded $55.2 million to various applicants since FY 2008, with preference given to groups that operate in the White House’s designated Promise Zones.
The department filed a notice in the Federal Registeron May 6 soliciting applications for the program, which will be paid for by The Fund for the Improvement of Education (FIE).Applicants, defined as “consortia consisting of a local educational agency and one or more community-based organizations,” can request up to $500,000 for each of five years, for a maximum of $2.5 million. So far this year, the department has awarded 12 grants totaling $5.2 million.According to the Coalition for Community Schools, there are an estimated 5,000 full service community schools currently in operation in the U.S. “Using public schools as hubs, community schools bring together many partners to offer a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities,” the group’s website states.

Brown’s amendment would extend funding for five years for schools that participate “in a community-based effort to coordinate and integrate educational, developmental, family, health, and other comprehensive services through community-based organizations and public and private partnerships.”

According to his bill, such schools must agree to provide “not less than 3 qualified services …and not less than 2 additional qualified services” to students both before and after school, on the weekends and during the summer “to meet the holistic needs of children”.

The type of services that would be provided are based on a “needs assessment that identifies the academic, physical, social, emotional, health, mental health, and other needs of students, families, and community residents.”

Here is Dr. Effrem’s discussion in the Hollingsworth article of the mental health and indoctrination concerns with this program:
This is basically the government schools taking over the duties of families. It’s very scary,” agreed Dr. Karen Effrem, president of Education Liberty Watch.”At least the House was strong and wise enough not to allow such an amendment,” which she says “turns schools into a second or even first home for children and reduces parents to ‘breeders and feeders’.”I have been fighting against both the data-mining of students and the psychological profiling of students for many years,” Effrem told “This program is horrible because it continues the great expansion of federal psychological profiling of children, and it also will result in a ton of data-mining of students and their families about very non-academic subjects.
“It will not only run your life, but control what your kids are taught,” she said. “A big part of it is the mental health screenings of children and families that really opens the door for a tyrannical imposition of thought and conscience norms by the government.
“The National Center for Education Statistics and the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Education are already collecting data on bullying incidents that have to do with perceived gender identity and sexual orientation. And there are already violence prevention programs that talk about kids as potentially violent or mentally unstable if they make statements about LGBT students or religion,” Effrem pointed out.”Of course, this is incredibly subjective and open to all sorts of political correctness. Who’s going to define what the norms are?” she asked.
This is all the more evidence that the conference report from these bills needs to be defeated!