Mar 11, 2019

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

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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

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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.

Feb 19, 2019

Common Core & SEL Architect Linda Darling Hammond to Lead CA State Board of Ed

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In this article for The National Pulse, Dr. Karen Effrem describes the current state of the California education system, and how it’s new appointed head, Linda Darling-Hammond, is continuing to roll out faulty education policies state-wide.

While Governor Ron DeSantis is taking Florida away from Common Core, California Governor Gavin Newsom is bitterly clinging to the failed standards and pushing that state farther into the fuzzy, unscientific, invasive social-emotional learning (SEL) as well. Newsom appointed radical Stanford professor emerita Linda Darling-Hammond to lead the California State Board of Education.

Hammond, as you may remember, was terrorist and close Obama friend, Professor Bill Ayers’ choice for secretary of education during the first Obama administration. Hammond served as an education adviser and transition team leader in 2008. When Arne Duncan was chosen instead and took on the role of bribing/coercing 45 cash-strapped states to accept the Common Core standards during the Great Recession, Hammond got to work developing and implementing the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium (SBAC) national Common Core assessment.

SBAC started out with 24 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands and have now decreased to 13 states plus the U.S.V.I. However, some of the states formerly in SBAC like Utah and West Virginia have gone on to adopt the American Institutes for Research (AIR) test, which admits in it contract with Florida that it also develops the computer adaptive testing platform for SBAC, so it is likely that the two tests are quite similar, at least in format. AIR admits on its website that it “delivered online tests for 19 states and had contracts with 22 states in 2015-16” but does not list which states use their tests. It is also important to note that AIR describes itself as “one of the world’s largest behavioral and social science research and evaluation organizations.”

The reason it is important to understand the connections between Common Core, AIR, SBAC and Linda Darling-Hammond is that she also is an extremely strong proponent of non-academic issues like “equity”and SEL. She believes that the U.S. has “one of the most unequal educational systems in the industrialized world.” Hammond serves on the board of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the godfather of SEL in the U.S. and co-chaired the Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Learning that just completed their final report that is loaded with problems and contradictions.

These problems include:

Lack of scientific and research support – the interim commission report on the brain science of SEL co-authored by Hammond had numerous problems

Strong links between SEL and Common Core, despite the fact that proponents promised that the standards were academic and rigorous

Repeated promises that SEL in schools will be a local effort while publishing an interim report that lists over 100 federal programs in eight different federal departments and agencies that can be leveraged to fund SEL

Despite the Commission and “grit” guru, Dr. Angela Duckworth, stating that SEL parameters and school climate surveys should not be used to judge students, teachers, and schools for accountability purposes, California has been piloting an effort to do just that among a large consortium of districts over the past several years.  With her strong SEL involvement, will Hammond heed the Commission and stop that effort or will she find a reason to continue the subjective and invasive data collection involved?

Hammond is also a strong proponent of the ineffective and dangerous Obama-era school discipline policy that has been so wisely rescinded by the Trump administration. This policy is also being rejected in Florida, where Arne Duncan mentee from the Chicago school district, Robert Runcie implemented the idea in the Broward County Public school district. This failure to maintain discipline and heed clear warning signals from a very troubled former student are felt to be large contributing factors in the tragic massacre of 17 innocent people at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School one year ago. Some of the many legal, policy, and safety flaws with that guidance are discussed here.

Finally, Hammond was the co-founder of two Palo Alto charter schools that were dismal failures academically as described by Donna Garner at Education Views based on local reports. This does not inspire confidence for the future of California’s public schools.

Although it is tragic for California students, the contrast between failed philosophies espoused by Linda Darling Hammond and the efforts of Governor DeSantis to listen to parents and get rid of Common Core could not be clearer. Let us work to make the Florida efforts so successful that it inspires an even stronger parent rebellion in California that sets those poor children free.

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

Feb 11, 2019

Does America Really Want a Federalized School Choice Program?

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This article written by Dr. Karen Effrem for The National Pulse explores how school choice might be rolled out on a federal scale.

During last week’s State of the Union speech, President Trump spoke briefly on education by stating, “To help support working parents, the time has come to pass school choice for America’s children.” This may include Senator Ted Cruz’s Student Empowerment Act, which would expand tax-free 529 college savings plans to include K-12 education expenses for public, private, religious, and home education.

While appreciating this concern and compassion for poor and underserved children who need a good education, there are many dangers with a school choice program, especially at the federal level. The biggest and most obvious concern is the further expansion of unconstitutional federal control in education. Imposition of federal regulations on private, home, and charter schools would naturally follow federal funds. Despite claims by proponents that the 2015 federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), returns education control to the states, nothing could be farther from the truth. The myriad and byzantine stipulations and regulations of ESSA would be enough to destroy private and home school autonomy for good.

Requirement of the statewide tests that measure the statewide standards — which for 41 states is still Common Core — is the worst of these. I began writing about this major concern in 2012. That was the year presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in an education plan written or heavily influenced by Jeb Bush, promoted Title I portability with federal funds but requiring the state tests. The damage to private school autonomy in state school choice laws that required the state Common Core tests was also noted. The late conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly, founder of Eagle Forum also clearly understood this danger when she said:

“The Obama Core advocates are even planning to impose their standards on private schools. As the school choice movement grows, the attempt will be made to force any private or charter school that accepts public funds to adopt Common Core standards and have their students take the national tests.”

Conservative firebrand Michelle Malkin also cogently grasps the issue, writing the following:

“Big-government Republicans such as Jeb Bush and flip-flopping Mike Huckabee pay lip service to increasing school choice and supporting charter schools, private schools and homeschooling. Yet, they have been among the loudest GOP peddlers of the Common Core “standards”/textbook/testing/data collection regime thrust upon schools who want nothing to do with it. … No fully funded school voucher system in the world can improve the educational experience if Fed Ed controls the classroom and homeschool room. Coerced conformity kills choice.”

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

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