Mar 26, 2013

Issues with Florida SB 878 – Common Core Linked Data Warehouse Bill

Issues with Florida SB 878 – Common Core Linked Data Warehouse Bill

Karen R. Effrem, MD – President, Education Liberty Watch

Executive Summary – SB 878 is a huge danger to the data privacy of Florida’s children and their families for the following reasons:

1)      It is being written to comply with the longitudinal data system requirements of the Stimulus bill in general, the Race to the Top grant program, and the No Child Left Behind waivers so that the state can receive funds, not on behalf of the students of Florida and their families.

2)      According to the US. Department of Education, the Common Core related assessments will be assessing students on various psychological parameters, not just on academic issues, so that the assessment in Florida’s K-20 Warehouse will definitely include psychological assessment data.

3)      According to numerous sources, health and psychological data in education records covered by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) are not subject to the Health Insurance Privacy and Portability Act (HIPPA) privacy protections.

4)      The bill aligns Florida’s data system with the National Center for Education Statistics National Data Model which contains hundreds of data items on each and every child in the state that include both academic and non-academic data, such as religious and political affiliations, mental health data, medical data, bus stop and bus route description, and even DNA sequence.  The federal and state governments have no legal or constitutional right to this amount and detail of information on innocent American citizens, especially since it is being stored without parental consent.

5)      Although the bill language strives to make it appear that privacy is protected by the various provisions that rely on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) passed by Congress to protect student privacy, the Obama administration’s weakening of the law via regulation have created broad exceptions to the requirement to obtain parental consent before releasing individual data that many entities including a “contractor, consultant, volunteer, or other party…”  Therefore, this very sensitive, private data will go to outside parties and many government entities without parental consent.

6)      The bill combines the K-20 Data Warehouse with the Department of Economic Opportunity’s Wage Record Interchange System so that all of your child’s personal and private data will follow them not only throughout their academic careers, but throughout their work lives as well.

7)      The U.S. Department of Education is being sued by the Electronic Privacy Information Center because it has so weakened the FERPA. [1] And parents, the PTA and the ACLU in states that are part of the inBloom database that already holds data on millions of children from nine different states[2], are protesting to education officials and seem poised to bring lawsuits in those states.  Florida will be open to this kind of legal action if this bill becomes law.

Continue reading »

Mar 21, 2013

Major Problems with Common Core in Florida

Karen R. Effrem, MD

The Common Core Standards and related assessments being implemented in Florida have many problems including lack of rigor and transparency; loss of state, local, family, and teacher autonomy, as well as loss of data privacy; and high costs that will be borne by the state and counties analogously to the proposed Medicaid expansion.  The citizens of Florida and their elected representatives on county school boards and in the legislature should consider carefully before spending hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars more  and irreversibly changing the state’s education system with enormous impact on our children’s future, freedom, the economic health of the state, parental and teacher autonomy and data privacy.

Lack of Academic Rigor

Although the Thomas Fordham Institute is a strong Common Core proponent, their grading scale found that Florida’s current standards were near or above the level of the Common Core.  Why should so much be spent to change them?


Common Core Grade

Florida Grade




English Language Arts




The standards define college readiness as being the same for 4-year, 2-year, and vocational colleges[i]

Despite claims by Commissioner Tony Bennett and proponents that the standards are “internationally benchmarked,”[ii] repeated data requests by members of the Common Core validation committees were ignored[iii]


English (Much more detail available on request)

High school level, “college ready” standards actually at 6th to 8th grade level[iv]
Chief architects, David Coleman (now head of College Board) and Susan Pimentel, have had no experience teaching English or reading at any grade level from K-12[v]According to experts the standards are described as empty skill sets;  significant reduction in literary study leading  “to fewer opportunities for students to acquire the general academic vocabulary needed for college work;” and the division of reading standards leading to completely incoherent literature curriculum in grades 6-12[vi]
Texts being taught without historical context – e.g. Animal Farm[vii] and the Gettysburg Address[viii]


Mathematics (Much more detail available on request)

Chief architects, Professors William McCallum and Jason Zimba, have never taught mathematics at any grade level from K-12[ix]

According to experts, Common Core removes the mathematical concepts that are critical for four year college readiness, STEM careers, international competitiveness, and are major delays and steps backwards from the most highly rated state standards and those of other countries.[x]

Florida Not Ready for Implementation – Florida, the state leader of PARCC, the 22 state testing consortium, admits that the state is not ready to implement Common Core. Education Commissioner Tony Bennett said within the next few months his staff will devise  a “Plan B” in case implementation cannot proceed as planned by 2015.[xi]

Testing and Costs

Because computer adapted testing will change the difficulty of questions for each student depending on the answer to the previous question, there will be no uniform testing standard so that there cannot be uniform comparison between students, much less between states.[xii]

Florida   $1,024,163,000 (projected cost for testing, technology, textbooks, and professional development)[xiii] – $905,838,000 (grants received) = $118,325,000 (costs to FL taxpayers)

Given that Tony Bennett and the SBOE are asking for $400 million in one year[xiv] to implement assessments equivalent to what the Florida has already spent on the FCAT between 1996[xv] and 2008, that $118 million amount might well be low and will serve as a huge unfunded mandate to already strapped county districts.

South Carolina Senator Mike Fair cites data that testing cost will increase from $12/student to $100/student[xvi] in that state which is a member of the other testing consortium called SBAC.  Both PARCC & SBAC require multiple computerized assessments during one school year. Florida’s testing cost for the FCAT in 2008, the most recent year available, was $19.44 per student[xvii]

All states in each of the large testing consortia (PARCC, of which Florida is a part, and SBAC) must agree on cut scores and the test item banks despite wide disparities in education philosophy, attainment, and funding[xviii]

Without enough computer equipment and IT staff to allow every student to take multiple tests every year, students will have to rotate through computer labs creating less than uniform administration for students as well as major test security problems[xix]

Student Data Collection

The Electronic Information Privacy Center is suing the U.S. Department of Education over the weakening via regulation of FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) passed by Congress to prevent the use of student level data without consent in the state longitudinal data systems required for Race to the Top.[xx]

“A new database tracks learning disabilities, test scores, attendance, as well as student hobbies, career goals, attitudes toward school, even homework completion. Federal Department of Education officials say that the “database project complies with privacy laws. Schools do not need parental consent to share student records with any “school official” who has a “legitimate educational interest,” according to the Department of Education. The department defines “school official” to include private companies hired by the school, so long as they use the data only for the purposes spelled out in their contracts.”[xxi]

Information from the U. S. Department of Education leads one to conclude that our children will be used as psychological guinea pigs:[xxii]

Conclusion 10: 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.

Recommendation 10: Researchers should work closely with technology developers to continue to explore how to integrate best practices into new and emerging digital learning environments that are well positioned to promote grit, tenacity, and perseverance, and key psychological resources (mindsets, learning strategies, and effortful control) for a range of purposes. Continue reading »

Mar 15, 2013

Written Testimony – Mandated School Mental Health Curricula

Written Testimony on SF 261 – Mandated School Mental Health Curricula
Karen R. Effrem, MD
President – Education Liberty Watch

Thank you, Senator Torres-Ray, for your concern for children and youth and for the mentally ill.  Although the intentions are good, Education Liberty Watch has many concerns with SF 261, including dilution of academic curriculum content, loss of local control and cost for already strapped districts, our biggest ones are the subjectivity of mental health diagnosis, controversies in treatment, huge potential for political bias in diagnosis and treatment, and conflict of interest of the pharmaceutical industry, none of which are discussed in the national health education standards.  We believe that this bill would create a biased and potentially dangerous curriculum for students. Here are a few examples:

  • Even the top echelon of experts in psychiatry admit that diagnosis is very subjective:

Dr. Dilip Jeste, president of the American Psychiatric Association, in a statement on the completion of the new about to be published edition of the bible of psychiatric diagnosis, the Diagnositc and Statistical Manual (DSM-V), said last December:  “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.”  In plain English, that means that all psychiatric diagnosis is an educated guess.

Dr. Allen Frances, chief editor of the current edition of the DSM put it much more bluntly in a 2010 interview:  “…there is no definition of a mental disorder. It’s bull****. I mean, you just can’t define it.”

  • The DSM-5 committee debated adding extreme racism and homophobia as a new diagnosis in the most recent version of the diagnostic manual set to come out this Spring (2013).

“Doctors who treat inmates at the California State Prison outside Sacramento concur: They have diagnosed some forms of racist hatred among inmates and administered antipsychotic drugs. ‘We treat racism and homophobia as delusional disorders,’ said Shama Chaiken, who later became a divisional chief psychologist for the California Department of Corrections, at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. ‘Treatment with antipsychotics does work to reduce these prejudices.’” (Vedatam, 12/10/05, Washington Post, emphasis added)

“As doctors increasingly weigh the effects of race and culture on mental illness, some are asking whether pathological bias ought to be an official psychiatric diagnosis.  Advocates have circulated draft guidelines and have begun to conduct systematic studies. While the proposal is gaining traction, it is still in the early stages of being considered by the professionals who decide on new diagnoses.” (Vedatam, 12/10/05, Washington Post, emphasis added)

  • The latest changes in the DSM are very controversial and according to experts like Dr. Frances and others will lead to even more over-diagnosis and more over-treatment with medications that have very limited efficacy and severe or fatal side effects

The decision to create a pediatric bipolar diagnosis in the current DSM-4 led to a 40 fold increase in that diagnosis in children, affecting African-American children most severely.  This is probably because Medicaid is the largest purchaser of antipsychotic medications used to treat those labeled with this disorder.

In the new DSM, about to be published this year, temper tantrums are now to be labeled as Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder and the manifestations of the normal process of grief are now considered symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder.

  • The side effects of medications used to treat mental illness are very significant and severe:

To varying degrees,  all psychiatric drugs are associated with both increased suicidal thoughts and ideation as well as akathesia, an extreme inner sense of agitation, which can and has been associated with at least 64 incidents of violence at schools, including mass shootings like Columbine, Red Lake, and as it appears, Newtown.  There are at least two reports that have not been discredited that Adam Lanza was on some type of medication.  Here is a chart showing the gun related incident resulting in deaths in the US derived from

Antipsychotics (Zyprexa, Seroquel, etc.) – 25 year shorter life span, brain shrinkage, severe neurological problems in 60% of children that take them, more severe metabolic problems than in adults that include diabetes, weight gain, male breast development, as well as heart attack and stroke in young people.

Antidepressants (Prozac, Paxil, etc.)– For young people under 24, these drugs carry the FDA’s black box warning, the most severe warning short of a ban because of suicidal thoughts and attempts.  They also cause akathesia, even more so than the antidepressants.

ADHD Drugs (Ritalin, Adderall, etc.) – Associated with psychosis, hallucinations, sudden cardiac death and weight loss Continue reading »

Mar 14, 2013

Pre-K Scholarships Mandate Curriculum, Aid Unionization & Decrease Choice

The DFL legislature is seeking to greatly expand the funding for early childhood scholarships to as much as 1750% over current levels.  The Republicans are supportive of the concept of school choice as is Education Liberty Watch.  However, both sides need to be aware of the many pitfalls with these bills.  The biggest concern is that accountability strings will end up imposing a one size fits all nationalized government mandated curriculum on private and religious providers, analogously to what is happening with the Common Core in K-12.

SF 481, authored by Senator Chuck Wiger (DFL – South St. Paul) was heard in the Senate Education Committee on March 11th.  HF 1058, authored by Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL – Golden Valley) is being heard today, March 14th at 4 PM in the House Early Childhood and Youth Development Committee.

The detailed written testimony submitted to both committees is available here.  The main points are as follows:

1) Mandated curriculum standards for early childhood that apply to private and religious programs that take subsidies that destroy parental autonomy regardless of one’s views. These standards are based on the Head Start national standards and are part of the Race to the Top efforts. They include gender identity, careers, environmentalism, and social activism

2) Childcare and preschool programs that accept scholarship recipients will be considered subsidized for the purposes of unionization, resulting in increased costs and decrease access for poor and middle class families analogously to what is happening under the Affordable Care Act.
3) Cost – The governor’s finance bill calls for a 733% increase in funding for these scholarships over current levels.  This bill’s funding for 2014 is a 1,300% increase and a 1,750% increase in 2015 in a bad economy.

4) Many large centers and Head Start programs receive automatic four star ratings putting small programs at a disadvantage.

5) Evaluations of Parent Aware and national research show there is no evidence that the required quality rating systems  improve child outcomes.

6) Scholarships incentivize poor parents to let someone else raise their kids.
7) Preschool does not work in the long-term and causes academic and emotional harm.

Although there are many issues facing the legislature, if you care about parental autonomy, conscience rights for providers, and fiscal responsibility, please consider calling your legislators and asking them to oppose this legislation or at least to provide conscientious objection to the curricular mandates.

Thank you!