Mar 9, 2018
ELW

The National Pulse: Florida “School Safety” Bill Would Make Schools Anything But Safe

A follow-up to the recent article by  Dr. Effrem on the Parkland shooting discusses the dangers of knee-jerk legislative responses in this excerpt:

But the most dangerous and unrecognized part of this bill is the increased psychiatric screening of “at-risk” students and the training of teachers to recognize the signs of mental illness and violence, imposing on them the responsibility to intervene.

Both sides used mental health issues as a scapegoat. Leaving the gun issues aside for a moment, not only will the mental health provisions do little to protect students in schools, they will harm essential liberties like freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, data privacy, and parental autonomy. By greatly increasing the potential for more students to be labeled and drugged with medications like ADHD drugs (which the Parkland shooter was reportedly taking) that are known to be associated with increased hostility and violence, it may also increase the incidence of these horrific events.

There are two aspects of the mental health issues in this bill that especially need more attention.

First is the hypocrisy of saying that it is wrong, dangerous, and too burdensome to give teachers and other school staff the voluntary option to be trained to carry weapons if the sheriff and the school board agree, but not saying the same of turning already overburdened teachers into psychologists to recognize mental health challenges and intervene. It is illogical and dangerous to the majority of other students to have teachers, who are unqualified in this realm, try to do — after only a few hours of training — what psychiatric professionals, who are trained for years, freely admit that they cannot do: predict who will become violent. Here is Dr. Julian Ford, professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut, who had extensively analyzed the life of Newtown shooter Adam Lanza, speaking to the Los Angeles Times about the similarities between Parkland shooter, Nikolas Cruz, and Lanza:

But unfortunately, it’s impossible for any of us to predict who is going to go from being troubled and isolated to actually harming others…

…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.

Professor Ford also discussed the other huge issue in the Parkland case — intervention when there was already a diagnosis and clear signs of someone being a danger to themselves or others:

Fortunately, in most cases, people who have come to that extreme juncture [that violence in is the only solution] don’t have the access to weapons, or there are people or institutions that intervene to help them.

After Cruz lost his mother, the institutions in his life clearly failed him. Mental screening would not have stopped him, because he was already identified as mentally ill and under treatment for both ADHD and depression. The school, the sheriff, the FBI, and the Department of Children and Families were all notified and yet failed to deal with his actions — which were both felonious and qualified him for involuntary examination under Florida’s Baker Act.

Ann Coulter quoted Cruz’s social media posts threatening to kill various classmates:

At least three students showed school administrators Cruz’s near-constant messages threatening to kill them — e.g., “I am going to enjoy seeing you down on the grass,” “Im going to watch ypu bleed,” “iam going to shoot you dead” — including one that came with a photo of Cruz’s guns. They warned school authorities that he was bringing weapons to school. They filed written reports. (sic)

Threatening to kill people is a felony. Either the felony arrest or the involuntary mental health exam under the Baker Act would have caused him to fail the background check and prevented his firearm purchase. The reason these crimes were ignored have nothing to do with a lack of mental screening, but rather terrible, failed liberal policy.

As Coulter, Jane Robbins and Erin Tuttle of the American Principles Project, and Dr. Susan Berryhave all detailed, the failure of the school and the sheriff to act had much to do with federal coercion and bribery via a horrible Obama-era policy to not report, arrest, or otherwise intervene in the crimes of minority or disabled students — all in the misguided name of equity. Here is a great summary of what we know from Robbins’ and Tuttle’s detailed review of this terrible program:

One: The federal government established a policy to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline by keeping troublesome students in school and out of jail. Two: Several federal agencies collaborated to leverage educational efforts, formal guidance, and federal money to incentivize states and local districts to implement this policy. Three: BCPS took bold steps – including entering into an agreement with law-enforcement and judicial authorities – to implement the policy, as a result of which it was awarded several million dollars in federal funding. Four: BCPS was proud of its reduction in contacts with law enforcement after implementing the collaborative agreement and had committed to USED through the School Climate grant to keep those numbers down. Five: A boy with a long history of disturbing behavior throughout his time at the school murdered 17 students [and staff].

You can read the full article HERE.

 

 

Mar 5, 2018
ELW

The National Pulse: Progressives Renew Push for Nanny State Programs — Despite Poor Results

Home Visiting to the Rescue?

Because the mountain of evidence continues to show that preschool is not particularly effective, progressives in both parties are pushing home visiting programs to replace them. The author of a recent piece at the Fordham Institute blog used the cloying and inaccurate “parable” of rescuers (the education reformers) using home visiting to pluck vulnerable children whose family poverty had caused them to be thrown into a river of neurodevelopmental delay, word gaps, achievement gaps, and other horrors that can only be fixed by sending bureaucrats into the home to tell their benighted parents how to raise them.

Here are several reasons why this analogy and analysis are incorrect:

  • Experts in neuropsychology and neurodevelopment admit that there is no 0-3 or 0-5 critical period beyond which it is too late to help vulnerable children. Here is an inconvenient truth from a report considered foundational to the pro-preschool and pro-home visiting camp, especially the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, called “Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development”:

    Available evidence indicates that such critical periods are more exceptional than typical in human development. Assertions that the die has been cast by the time the child enters school are not supported by neuroscience evidence and can create unwarranted pessimism about the potential efficacy of interventions that are initiated after the preschool years.

  • As shown by the Tennessee study, The Atlantic article, and other research, a focus on kindergarten readiness in preschool is not only not helpful, but also actually harmful to longer-term academic achievement. The Atlantic article mentions Finland’s approach of not starting formal reading instruction until age 7 and instead focusing on making sure that “children have heard and listened … They have spoken and been spoken to, people have discussed [things] with them … They have asked questions and received answers.” The American system, focused on pushing academics in kindergarten and preschool due to Common Core, is skewed and harmful — as admitted by hundreds of early childhood experts.
  • Home visiting programs in general are not effective, and this is especially true of the Parent-Child Home Program mentioned in the “parable” article. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has shown in repeated reviews that this program is not helpful in improving child development or school readiness — even if improving school readiness were a good thing to do — and that the program as of 2017 does not even meet HHS criteria as a program rigorous enough to review.
  • Home visiting programs do not deal with the root cause of the problem they are trying to solve: single parent families. Poverty is merely a proxy measure for the enormous and tragic consequences of this government-created crisis. Sending bureaucrats into the home will never solve all of the horrific consequences of growing up without two parents replete in the social service literature.

Read the full article HERE.

Feb 27, 2018
ELW

The National Pulse: Turning Teachers Into Psychotherapists Will Not Prevent School Shootings

In other words, psychiatric diagnosis is guesswork, and predicting violent behavior in known patients, much less children briefly screened, does not work even when done by experts. So, given the possibility for misdiagnosis that has no medical privacy protection in schools and will be added to longitudinal databases, training teachers for a few hours to screen and diagnose mental illness seems foolish and dangerous.

Mental screening for “at-risk” students is notoriously inaccurate. One study of a mental health screening instrument called TeenScreen admitted that the survey “would result in 84 non-suicidal teens being referred for evaluation for every 16 youths correctly identified.” This is very dangerous when treatment could include psychiatric medications that have harmful or even fatal side effects, such as suicide, homicide, aggression and hostility, heart problems, brain changes, and many more.

The problem with mental screening in general and with labeling “at-risk” children with a psychiatric label is that the already admittedly subjective diagnostic criteria discussed above are even more difficult to apply to children. The World Health Organization has said (and there are many similar quotes available here):

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.

Other psychological experts interviewed, even after the horrible Sandy Hook shooting, for The Washington Post story quoted above were opposed to expanded mental screening of children and teens:

“There is no instrument that is specifically useful or validated for identifying potential school shooters or mass murderers,” said Stephen D. Hart, a psychologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver who is the co-author of a widely used evaluation tool. “There are many things in life where we have an inadequate evidence base, and this is one of them…”

…“I think people are going toward wanting all their kids to be screened in high school for mental illness and violence risk — and that’s a bad idea,” said Gina M. Vincent, a forensic psychologist at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

“We can’t go out and lock up all the socially awkward young men in the world,” said Jeffrey W. Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University.

The great irony of Sandy Hook, Parkland, and many other school and mass shootings is that the perpetrators were already involved in the psychiatric system, and many — an estimated 90 percent according to British psychiatrist Dr. David Healy — were already receiving medications or withdrawing from them at the time of their crimes. There is a known association between antidepressants like Prozac and violent behavior. There is also evidence of new or worsening aggression or hostility associated with drugs to treat ADHD like Ritalin. The Parkland shooter was reported in several places to be on ADHD medication and undergoing treatment for depression that may have included antidepressants.

See the table above and the full article for more details.

Feb 16, 2018
ELW

The National Pulse: Trump’s Budget Cuts Fed Role in Education — But Will Congress Follow His Lead?

The Trump administration’s fiscal 2019 education budget contains many reductions and eliminations that should give hope to parents and privacy advocates. But sadly, congressional appropriators seem almost as genetically incapable of eliminating ineffective, invasive, or harmful programs — despite mountains of data clearly documenting these programs’ uselessness — as they are of exerting any sort of fiscal discipline, as documented by the budget deal discussed last week that will only increase the $21 trillion deficit. So unfortunately, this budget will likely be dead on arrival in Congress unless citizens act.

Details on several areas of the education budget are available in the full  article:

  • Overall spending
  • Data Mining, Privacy and Research
  • Preschool
  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers
  • Mental Health in Schools
  • Concerns

 

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