Dec 14, 2016

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

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!

Dec 3, 2016

DeVos & Bush Engage in “High Standards” Snake Oil Sales

Karen R. Effrem, MD – President

President-elect Donald Trump has selected Michigan billionaire; Republican mega-donor, and school choice advocate Betsy DeVos as his Secretary of Education. The corporate, big government Republican establishment, such as Jeb Bush, his Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, as well as groups that have received her large contributions, are thrilled with her appointment. Key education freedom leaders like Frank Cannon, president of the American Principles Project who called her a “very Jeb-like pick”; Joy Pullman, managing editor of The Federalist; and grassroots parent anti-Common Core groups in MichiganOklahomaFlorida, and around the nation are justifiably concerned.

Understanding her future boss’ promise to get rid of Common Core, as well as how fatal it was  to the presidential campaigns of her friend and fellow FEE board member, Jeb Bush, whom she supported, and others that Donald Trump beat, she put out a hastily constructed statement on Twitter and her website the day she was appointed, alleging her opposition to Common Core, stating that she is “not a supporter-period,” because it had turned into a “federalized boondoggle”:

Here are several important things to know about DeVos based on her rhetoric quoted above; her record as documented by the Stop Common Core in Michigan parents who have experienced her brand of education reform firsthand, and other sources.

1)      DeVos used Jeb Bush’s “high standards” euphemism for Common Core    Her mention of “high standards” in her website statement and the report of having discussed “higher national standards” in the Trump Transition Team readout of her November 19th meeting with the president-elect, are identical to Jeb Bush’s efforts to deflect criticism of his Common Core support before and during his failed presidential campaign right down to the “Period.”:

Education Next: You have been a steadfast supporter of the common core, even when others have become increasingly critical. Why? What do you say to critics?

Bush: I support high academic standards. Period.

This has all the believability of a multi-level marketing campaign selling educational snake oil. Bush readily admitted while campaigning for Rick Scott in 2014 that there was no major difference between Common Core and the rebranded Florida Standards:

Bush and DeVos have never been able to explain just exactly how Common Core standard may be considered “high” when they were untried; are not rigorous; not internationally benchmarked; developmentally inappropriate, etc.

And her concept of “high standards” with local control is a complete oxymoron. Whether these “higher national standards” are called Common Core or not, the federal government has no place whatsoever promoting national standards at the federal level or in the states. Yet, sadly, by use of the secretarial veto of state plans and federal requirements to have standards and tests comply with 11 different draconian federal laws, this is what has happened with Jeb Bush’s admitted involvement in ESSA. If and until the USED is closed or scaled back and or ESSA is repealed, if she believes in local control, she must approve the state plans.

2)      Betsy DeVos has no record of Common Core opposition. The website statement and tweet the day she was appointed were the first indications of being against Common Core ever documented. In fact, she has been described as supporting Common Core by Tonya Allen of the Skillman Foundation in the Detroit News. There is absolutely no record of her or any of the three major organizations that she has founded, chaired or still chairs, and funds The Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP), The American Federation for Children (AFC), and the Philanthropy Roundtable (PR) ever having opposed Common Core. She never reached out to, and in fact, steadfastly refused to meet with or assist Stop Common Core in Michigan in any way. The GLEP executive director even threatened these parents with legal action.

3) The organizations that she ran, not just “worked with,”  were intensely pro-Common Core:

Actively worked to block a bill that would have repealed and replaced Michigan’s Common Core standards with the Massachusetts standards, arguably the best in the nation (GLEP)

Actively lobbied for continued implementation of Common Core in Michigan (GLEP)

Financially supported pro-Common Core candidates in Michigan (GLEP)

Threatened the grassroots parents’ organization Stop Common Core in Michigan with legal action for showing the clear link between GLEP endorsement and Common Core support (GLEP)

Funded Alabama pro-Common Core state school board candidates via the Alabama affiliate of AFC

Does anyone honestly believe that she would allow these groups she basically controls to take such pro-Common Core actions if she opposed the standards?

4) Betsy DeVos personally lauded, and AFC strongly supported, and funded the 2011 Indiana law signed by Mitch Daniels that imposes Common Core on private voucher schools via the tests. The law requires voucher recipient schools to administer the public school Common Core-aligned tests without the option of choosing a nationally norm-referenced test (sec. 4.7) and submit to the grading system based on those same tests.  The tests determine what is taught. Indiana still has Common Core via the infamous rebrand perpetrated by VP-elect Mike Pence and “is the second-worst in the country on infringing on private school autonomy” according to the Center for Education Reform because of that and other onerous requirements. Indiana’s law received an F grade on the Education Liberty Watch School Choice Freedom Grading Scale.

5) DeVos and AFC are strong supporters of federal Title I portability.  This program would require the same public school, Common Core tests and likely, the rest of draconian and unconstitutional federal regulations for private schools as are currently imposed on public schools. This would eliminate them as a real “choice”  and would expand the “federalized boondoggle” she says she opposes. Jeb Bush recommended this same kind of program requiring the state tests for Mitt Romney in 2012 (p.24).

6)      DeVos seems to favor highly regulated Common Core-aligned charter schools Although charter schools are public schools usually requiring the public school Common Core tests, there are some that are trying to blaze a trail of independence. Hillsdale College in DeVos’ home state of Michigan is nationally renowned for its classical and constitutional teaching and for not taking federal funding.  It has also developed non-Common Core classical charter schools.  Hillsdale President Dr. Larry Arnn says, “…we only put those charter schools in states where the charter law enables the independence of the school under a local board to run the school as they please.”

Although there are token mentions of the Hillsdale programs on various of her organization websites, that style of charter school is not favored by her. The Philanthropy Roundtable group that DeVos chaired until her appointment published a report on charter schools, but did not once mention the Hillsdale program. There is no evidence that her family foundation has made a single donation to Hillsdale College, including to its charter program. She should be asked why she seems to want all charter schools in Michigan and elsewhere to only teach Common Core aligned standards, curriculum and use those tests. How is that advancing any real parental choice in education?

7)      The DeVos organizations seem very cavalier about student privacy – The Philanthropy Roundtable, which she chaired until her appointment, published a report called Blended LearningA Wise Giver’s Guide to Supporting Tech-assisted Teaching (analyzed HERE) that lauds the Dream Box software that “records 50,000 data points per student per hour” and does not contain a single use of the words “privacy,” “consent,” “transparency” [as in who receives that data and how software algorithms crunch that data to make life changing decision for children]. The report also prominently mentions Knewton, whose CEO bragged about collecting “5-10 million data points per user per day.” Blended learning is the same as Competency Based Education with its teaching, invasive data mining, and psychological profiling by machine that we have warned about .

It is in stark contrast to another Trump promise on the campaign trail to protect student privacy. When asked if he would close the FERPA loophole opened by the Obama administration allowing sensitive data to be shared widely without consent, he said:

“I would close all of it,” Trump replied. “You have to have privacy. You have to have privacy. So I’d close all of it. But, most of all, I’d get everything out of Washington, ’cause that’s where it’s all emanating from.”

Whose philosophy will prevail?

8)      The DeVos-led (until recently) PR group also supports expanding invasive, subjective social emotional learning The PR’s national conference had a breakout session titled: Enabling Student Success: How Social-Emotional Learning Can Impact Schools. The recap had no discussion of privacy,freedom of conscience, or indoctrination concerns. It called parents merely “assets” in student learning. The T74, a pro-Common Core education blog funded by the DeVos FamilyFoundation 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, Bush’s FEE, and the Gates Foundation, all major supporters of Common Core and of SEL.

None of this constitutes “draining the swamp” in education.  American Principles Project senior fellow Jane Robbins said it very well in her excellent piece, Jeb’s Revenge:

Bush professed himself thrilled with DeVos’s “outstanding” nomination to be Education Secretary, and with good reason – he surely believes she’ll use the stratagems the cartel has employed for so long to impose its own vision of what American education should be. DeVos must instead assure the grassroots that she’ll use her new position to eliminate federal interference and truly return education policy to the states. Trump was elected to achieve that goal, not to install Jeb’s agenda. He should make sure DeVos understands that.
Nov 16, 2016

New at Breitbart: Parents Groups Urge Trump to Appoint Anti-Common Core Education Secretary

Dr. Susan Berry of Breitbart News highlights the potential schism between parent supported anti-Common Core officials and the pro-Common Core, corpratist establishment candidates to run the US Department of Education (USED). Here is an excerpt:

The grassroots groups have been fighting against federal intervention in education for years. They’ve activated email alerts in light of what has been released as Trump’s short list of possible candidates for U.S. Education Department (USED) secretary. The list includes:
U.S. Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana, a supporter of school choice who backed Jeb Bush in the GOP primary and has been an ardent supporter of the new massive education law, Every Students Succeeds Act;
Former Florida education commissioner Gerard Robinson, who was also a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change and is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
Eva Moskowitz, the pro-Common Core CEO and founder of Success Academy Charter Schools;
Michelle Rhee, the pro-Common Core former chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools and the founder of Students First, an organization whose board of directors once included Common Core architect David Coleman and math standards writer Jason Zimba.
Tony Bennett, the ousted Indiana superintendent of public education who was investigated for fraud and resigned later as Florida commissioner of education;
Dr. Ben Carson, former neurosurgeon and 2016 GOP presidential candidate;
Williamson M. Evers, Hoover Institution education expert who has been vocal in his opposition to Common Core and federal intervention in education.


Dr. Carson has since declined a cabinet position and the only other person on that list against Common Core is Bill Evers, who has been fighting it since 2011. Hopefully it is a good sign that President-Elect Trump has made him head of the education transition team.

Parent group leader from across the nation are concerned and want to help President-elect Trump keep his promises to stop Common Core, make education local and decrease the size and scope of the US Department of Education:

“When Donald Trump talked on the campaign trail about ‘the forgotten men and women’ of America, many of us who have been fighting Common Core in the trenches felt like he was talking to us,” says Heather Crossin of Indiana, who adds that many parents have lost a voice in their children’s education.”We are counting on President-elect Trump to stand up and fight for us against the powerful special interests, who not only profit off of Common Core but who pull the strings of the vast majority of politicians in both parties,” she explains.

Dr. Karen Effrem of Florida also points to Trump’s promise to end Common Core and make education local once again.
“Choosing pro-Common Core, establishment people like Tony Bennett, Michelle Rhee, or Eva Moskowitz would be a complete betrayal to those parents in every state who helped elect him,” she says.
While on the campaign trail, Trump said Common Core is a “disaster” and that Washington, D.C. should leave education to states and local school districts. Most of Trump’s recent discussion about education has been in the area of school choice.

Other strong candidates acceptable to parents include or should include English Standards expert Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Dr. Peg Luksik, Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn, Dr. William Jeynes, and former Texas education Commissioner Richard Scott. More details about each are available HERE.

Please help Donald Trump remember those “forgotten” parents that work to get him elected. Send a short note to the transition team at or tweet to @realDonaldTrump, @stevenkbannon and @transition2017 and include hashtags: #KeepYourPromises #DontForgetParents #EversforEd  #StotskyforEd #LuksikforEd #JeynesforEd. 


Thank you!