Jan 10, 2017
ELW

UPDATE: Hearing Delayed! National Parent Coalition Sends Senate Questions About DeVos Record on Standards, Privacy, Etc.

The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee was scheduled to vet the nomination of Mrs. Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education on Wednesday, January 11th at 10 AM.

Education Liberty Watch is helping to lead a very large national coalition consisting of nearly 60 parent organizations, education experts and writers, and elected officials that are extremely concerned about Mrs. DeVos’ record and views regarding Common Core, parental and private school autonomy, data privacy, freedom of conscience, and federal education overreach. Also of grave concern is her strong and close association with Jeb Bush and his Excel in Ed. Foundation,

The coalition has written a letter containing questions  HELP Committee members are requested to pose to Secretary-designate DeVos. This later came after several more from groups and coalitions from several points on the political spectrum. This letter is one of the few dealing with Common Core, privacy and parental rights. While likely coincidental and not causal, it is extremely interesting to note that within a few hours of receiving this parent letter, the HELP Committee delayed the hearing for a week citing Senate scheduling concerns.

Some examples of these questions in the coalition letter include:

We understand that your website statement right after your appointment that you are “not a supporter – period” of Common Core was meant to reassure activists that you oppose the standards and will honor Mr. Trump’s promise to get rid of Common Core. Please list your efforts during your extensive period of education activism and philanthropy to fight the implementation of the standards.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires secretarial approval of state education plans for standards, tests and accountability. Will you support state sovereignty by approving the state plans in line with Mr. Trump’s vision of decreasing the federal role in education, or will you exercise federal control by secretarial veto power over these plans?

Through commissions, programs, federally funded groups, the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the proposed Strengthening Education Through Research Act, and other entities, there has been an explosion of effort to expand invasive, subjective social emotional learning (SEL) standards , curricula and assessment. What is your view of SEL and what will you do to protect student psychological privacy and freedom of conscience?

We believe that it is very important for the American people to hear her views on these critical education issues as the Senate prepares to vote on the DeVos confirmation.

This coalition of national organizations like Education Liberty Watch and Eagle Forum and state organizations, experts and officials represents hundreds of thousands, if not millions of American families. The signatories are from 23 state organizations including DeVos’ home state of Michigan and many represented by members of the HELP Committee, such as Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray,and Senators Isakson, Young, Roberts, Paul, Cassidy, Franken, Hatch, and Baldwin.

 

Please read the questions and contact the US Senate HELP Committee with your concerns about Betsy DeVos! Contact information for each member is available at  http://www.help.senate.gov/about/members

Thank you!
 
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?

 

Dec 14, 2016
ELW

Last Chance to Comment on Student Data Dossiers

The deadline to post comments for the Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking against the idea of what will turn into a lifelong womb to tomb data dossier on children is midnight TONIGHT!

Please submit even a short comment HERE along the lines of:

“I oppose lifting the prohibition on the student unit-record due to privacy and constitutional concerns.”

If you want more information to expand your comments, please see this link and this one by Christel Swasey.

Thank you!

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