New Report: 50 Years of ‘Fed Ed’ Has Failed to Close Achievement Gap

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This article written by Dr. Karen Effrem for The National Pulse details the failings of the U.S. federal education system to raise the academic performance for underprivileged students.

A History of Fed Ed: From ESEA to Common Core

That federal interference started with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which began compensatory grants for poor children in K-12, and Head Start, the federal preschool program, both passed in 1965. Both laws, plus the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), started out relatively benignly with all sorts of comforting language about how the federal government was not going to interfere in local autonomy regarding curriculum, etc.

However, both federal education laws have gradually increased the iron grip of federal control over states and school districts over the last fifty years. These three statutory provisions protecting local control have essentially been ignored.

First, the feds imposed statewide standards and tests on states as a prerequisite for federal funds in the 1994 reauthorization of ESEA, called the Improving America’s Schools Act. Not only did they take away school district autonomy in choosing standards and tests, but they also required those standards to comply with the federal Goals 2000 standards. Goals 2000 was an intensification of federal control of both state and federal pre-K programs that had to comply with Head Start — and also marked the first time that “social emotional learning” appeared in the federal education lexicon.

Then came the 2001 version of ESEA, called the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). It ratcheted up federal control even more by requiring statewide tests in math and English/reading every year in grades 3-8 and science once in elementary, middle, and high school. SEL and preschool elements from the 1994 bill also survived in the new version. However, the worst part of NCLB was the completely unrealistic 100-percent proficiency requirement in math and English by 2014 for every subgroup under the threat of districts losing federal funding.

Years later, the Obama administration then used that threat plus the Great Recession to bribe/coerce states into adopting Common Core via illegal waivers and the Race to the Top grant program, all well explained in the white paper by Robert Eitel and Kent Talbert: “The Road to a National Curriculum — The Legal Aspects of the Common Core Standards, Race to the Top, and Conditional Waivers.”

The rest of the article can be viewed on The National Pulse’s website.

Mar 26, 2019

President Trump’s 2020 Budget: The Good and Bad News for Education

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This article written by Dr. Karen Effrem for The National Pulse lays out and simplifies this year’s education budget proposals.

As discussed for the last two budget cycles (here and here) President Trump is working to keep his 2016 campaign promise to cut the size and scope of the U.S. Department of Education (USED). Here is some of the good, bad and ugly of the Fiscal Year 2020 budget:

The Good News

The 2020 budget seeks to cut overall USED spending by $7.1 billion or ten percent. That is consistent with his previous budgets and a good start on what is a big job. Basically level funding is maintained for both Title I, the main federal education program for poor students in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and for the Individuals with Disabilities Act.

Within that 10 percent, for a total of $6.7 billion, the proposed budget eliminates “funding for 29 programs that do not address national needs, duplicate other programs, are ineffective, or are more appropriately supported with State, local, or private funds.”

Among those 29 programs proposed for elimination are several that we have followed over the years that are particularly invasive:

Full Service Community Schools — a.k.a. Parent Replacement Centers

21st Century Community Learning Centers — Besides being terribly ineffective, according to a national study performed by USED, there is evidence that these programs are actually harmful to behavior.

Safe and Supportive Schools Program — This $1.17 billion program is new since ESSA was passed in 2015 and contains many social and emotional learning programs with all of their subjectivity and data collection with the potential to live forever in the state longitudinal systems (SLDS), whether the data is accurate or not.

State Longitudinal Data Systems — Given the porousness of student data protections due to the age and weakness of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) already with rampant sharing of very sensitive student and family data, including SEL data,  with government agencies, corporations, and researchers, all without parental consent, this is possibly the best cut on the list.

The Institute for Education Sciences (IES) that oversees the SLDS and all other federal education data mining is taking a 15 percent cut in this budget.

As it did last year, the budget request zeroes out the $250 million Preschool Development Grants. Given the near constant stream of data from the federal government or scholarly sources, even to the left of center, showing government preschool to be at best, ineffective, and at worst harmful, this is a very wise move.

Regional Education Laboratories — These education research centers have long been petri dishes for failed progressive policies that, as admitted by the head of one regional lab back in 1989, are seeking “…the total restructuring of society…”

Ready to Learn Television — This is further government supplementation of public broadcasting, which is already biased toward the left end of the political spectrum to produce government approved children’s programming that has contained many topics controversial among adults.

The Bad (or Less than Ideal) News

There is a push to use the savings from the eliminated or reduced funding to promote public and private school choice, a big priority for both the President and Secretary DeVos — but which has detractors on all points on the political spectrum. The significant problems with federal school choice from a conservative perspective, particularly the strong potential for imposing state tests and therefore the state standards, were discussed by Joy Pullman at The Federalist and by me a few weeks ago.

The budget calls for $53.4 million for school climate grants, including tiered programs like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), that begins with monitoring the attitudes and behaviors of the entire student population and advances toward intensified “interventions” as the staff determines children need more “help.” PBIS was originally included in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to try to resolve academic or mental/SEL issues of “at-risk” students short of a full special-education referral, but ESSA expanded the program school-wide. Despite claims by proponents that PBIS is “evidence based” or “research based,” the federal PBIS technical support center admits that “school-wide PBIS is in its infancy” and that all of PBIS is quite experimental. In other words, there are no controlled trials involving large numbers of students to know if the concept really works. Nevertheless, PBIS is embraced uncritically in the public-education realm; even the federal School Safety Commission has recommended it as a means to prevent school violence. The literature on PBIS includes little to no discussion of how the universal or at-risk behaviors are chosen; what sensitive, personally identifiable information is collected on children for the various tiers; how children’s attitudes, values, and beliefs are modified; and what outcome data is included in children’s lifelong data dossiers (more about this below). Also, the phrase “parental consent” rarely, if ever, appears on PBIS explanatory websites.

The Bottom Line

Unfortunately for the great cuts in this budget and fortunately for the bad items, if Congress, even under total Republican control, was unable or unwilling to pass most of the President’s budget request, it is highly unlikely to happen now, given that Democrats control the U.S. House. However, with the 2020 elections upcoming, there is a chance that if we unite, we can make our voices heard on these vital issues of academic excellence, parental autonomy, and privacy. Stay tuned!

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



Mar 15, 2019

Invasive International Survey Targeting Pre-K Students Is Coming to U.S.

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This article written by Dr. Karen Effrem for The National Pulse details the international survey titled the International Early Learning Survey (IELS), and how the questions it asks inherently violates the privacy of Pre-K students.

It is important to note that this assessment will be conducted via digital media.

The comments submitted by Education Liberty Watch about this study outline several major problems:

1.) The compelling evidence of ineffectiveness and or harm (also here) of early childhood programs, especially government-sponsored ones, as admitted even by proponent researchers, renders the need for yet another taxpayer-funded study completely moot.

2.) As extensively discussed in our new research paper, “Social-Emotional Learning: K-12 Education as New Age Nanny State,” there is significant subjectivity in the questions asked of these young children and very thin to non-existent scientific support for social-emotional assessments and SEL programs in general in young children. After all, SEL has been a prominent part of Head Start and early childhood programs for many years, yet many studies have shown early childhood programs to be at best ineffective and at worst harmful, as described above.

3.) There are clear ties of SEL to Common Core, which hundreds of early childhood experts have rightly declared developmentally inappropriate.

4.) The data privacy concerns are extremely significant, as the U.S. Department of Education (which houses the National Center for Education Statistics that will be conducting this study) has shown itself utterly incapable of protecting student data, and this data on sensitive SEL parameters will be shared with a large international organization (OECD), which does not comply with even the weak, outdated data privacy provisions of FERPA.

5.) This data gathering violates multiple U.S. Supreme Court precedents placing parents in charge of the raising, education, and other care of children, including social-emotional care.

Early childhood experts have criticized this effort globally. Here are a couple of examples:

Early-childhood experts from at least 25 different nations oppose OECD’s IELS, questioning “whether political and corporate profit interests are being privileged over valid research, children’s rights and meaningful evaluation.” They also argue that “the motives and interests driving international standardised assessment and its underlying assumptions need to be questioned at all levels.” They “disagree with an approach that conceptualizes and instrumentalises early childhood education and care mainly as preparation for the following stages of formal education, and as tool [sic] for achieving long- term economic outcomes—which are in itself questionable or unsubstantiated.”

According to Education Dive, a very pro-early childhood and workforce education reform publication, another early childhood expert questioned whether social-emotional skills can be measured through digital media. “Once again, we have opened Pandora’s box,” he wrote. “If more and more countries participate in this study — as I expect will happen in the long term — we will see a further narrowing and standardization of early-childhood education. There will be no room for culturally and contextually sensitive comparison and discourse.”

There is clear evidence that these assessments represent OECD’s goal to expand student surveillance beyond the school and into home and family life.

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

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.