Is American Government Rejecting Capitalism & Embracing a Managed Economy?

While skilled workers are needed to build new infrastructure and for our expanding economy after the tax cuts, the reauthorization of the Carl Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act of 2006 tries to accomplish those goals via the wrong method – replacing capitalism with central planning. The new bill, called The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, HR 2353, just passed Congress on voice votes and signed yesterday.

The increasingly centralized federal education and workforce system, of which Perkins is a part, is multifaceted: the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the proposed merger of the Departments of Labor and Education, Common Core for use with digital badges,  computerized  “personalized” learning (PL)/competency-based education (CBE), and older laws like No Child Left Behind, Goals 2000, and School to Work. 

This longstanding, unconstitutional federal interference in education and labor markets, picking winners and losers, has not improved and will not improve academic or economic outcomes. Even worse, Perkins is the latest example of racing away from capitalism to embrace principles of government/corporate control found in European social democracies and failed command-and-control economies littering the 20th century.

The Perkins reauthorization contains multiple passages embracing central economic planning. The bill requires the use of “State, regional, or local labor market data to determine alignment of eligible recipients’ programs of study to the needs of the State, regional, or local economy, including in-demand industry sectors and occupations identified by the State board, and to align career and technical education with such needs… What happened to individual students and free markets making those decisions? 

The “State board” refers to government-appointed bureaucrats, including corporate bigwigs, on state workforce boards set up under the Workforce Investment Act (predecessor to WIOA) signed by President Clinton. This scheme elevates the needs of business over student desires, while playing Carnac to predict economic trends. 

These boards were essential to Marc Tucker’s plan to centralize the entire U.S. education and workforce system, outlined in his now infamous 1992 letter to the Clintons. It was and remains Tucker’s plan to “to remold the entire American system” into “a seamless web that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone,” coordinated by “a system of labor market boards at the local, state and federal levels” where curriculum, including “national standards” and “job matching,” will be handled by counselors “accessing the integrated computer-based program.”

In 2001, former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and policy analyst Michael Chapman described key components of Tucker’s system implemented via three federal laws signed by Clinton, including:

  • Public/private [unaccountable] non-profits provide design, policy, and seed money as a catalyst for systemic change.
  • The Federal Department of Labor chooses which private industry sectors are promoted in each state. 
  • K-12 and state colleges dump academics for job training in local “targeted” industries. 

They used the following diagram to illustrate the system, which served as the foundation leading to the various other programs listed above. These others could then be added on appropriate sides of this triangle:

Billionaire busybodies like Bill Gates adopted the Tucker/Clinton vision, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on programs like Smaller Learning Communities that required students to choose career paths in eighth grade, Common Core, and other education/workforce/data mining debacles. 

In Tucker’s recent letter to Secretary of Education DeVos praising Europe’s managed education-workforce systems, he continues the theme of government/business control of CTE, believing “business and labor” should “own it, period.” He giddily describes the Swiss system, in which business and labor “set the standards” for various system components, “define the progressions,” and “even examine the candidates seeking credentials.” 

This idea of corporations examining candidates underlies Tucker’s 1992 desire for national standards that became Common Core. The Common Core standards are used as data tags to hold everyone accountable to the government system, including expansion of social-emotional learning.  This concept also inspired Big Data’s push for constant assessment, data mining, and psychological profiling in PL/CBE, including use of Facebook-style student personality profiling being pushed globally. 

Perkins contains numerous references to CBE, data collection, and the manipulative Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (a system of universal student behavioral screening and potential psychological modification). All this can ultimately feed into subjective, murky algorithms that will channel children into government/corporate-desired societal roles. 

Yet – as history shows — government is utterly incapable of predicting economic trends and workforce needs. Five-year plans have failed spectacularly. Even Tucker, when recently discussing CTE, admitted his scheme’s great danger is to “condemn a large fraction of our youth to narrowly conceived training programs at the very time that advances in artificial intelligence and related disciplines are on the verge of wiping out entire industries…” 

Although Tucker and colleagues tout European education-workforce systems, none have produced or will produce American levels of freedom and prosperity. Will America choose the Tucker/Gates/Clinton failed methods that view “human value only in terms of productive capability” or our children as “products” (per Rex Tillerson)? Or will we return to promoting, as framed by C.S. Lewis, education over training so that American civilization continues to produce the freedom, prosperity and generosity that have made it the greatest civilization in human history?

Responding to The 74 Jumping on the Social-Emotional Learning Bandwagon

An education news organization called The 74 (heavily funded by the Gates Foundation) recently jumped on the bandwagon for so-called social-emotional learning (SEL). This supposedly objective news source found little reason for skepticism about implementing SEL, as long as teachers are given sufficient resources and guidance. But such cheerleading masks deep concerns about whether schools should be manipulating students’ personalities via SEL. 

A brief response to The 74:

  • The 74 defines SEL as “teaching students skills such as self-regulation, persistence, empathy, self-awareness, and mindfulness” but admits that different research and media entities define SEL differently. This disagreement complicates SEL implementation and research/assessment, as evidenced in contradictory statements by The 74 and many other SEL proponents. As one researcher for CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning) stated in a 2017 meta-analysis, “We know these skills are essential for children…” Yet in the same sentence, she said, “but there’s still a lot we don’t know about ways to enhance them.”
  • However SEL is defined, The 74 thinks this is what schools should be doing. But parents rightly object that the school (which means the government) has no business analyzing and trying to change a child’s psychological makeup. It’s one thing to enforce discipline in a classroom and encourage individual students to do their best; good teachers have always done that. It’s quite another to assess students on their compliance with highly subjective behavioral standards that may measure personality and individual or family beliefs more than objective shortcomings in performance. The school exists to assist parents in educating their children, not to replace them in that role. 
  • The 74 traces the concept of SEL back to the 1995 book Emotional Intelligence (which the news outlet apparently takes seriously). In fact, “emotional intelligence” has been debunked as “a fraudulent concept, a fad, a convenient bandwagon, a corporate marketing scheme.” SEL first entered the federal education lexicon in 1994 as part of the Goals 2000 legislation signed by President Clinton. These goals were “voluntary” as long as states were willing to give up their share of federal Title I money for not implementing them. This is analogous to recession-racked states’ “voluntarily” adopting the Common Core standards to qualify for federal money. 
  • Interestingly, research in a paper cited by The 74, as well as multiple other SEL proponents and education stakeholders, posits that the supposedly “rigorous” and “academic” Common Core supports  SEL and vice versa. The fact that Common Core is proving to be a drag on academic achievement demonstrates that neither is very effective. Besides seeing both SEL and Common Core as anti-academic, parents and citizens also recognize both as invasive and indoctrinating — so touting the SEL-Common Core connection is unlikely to engender support for either one.  
  • The 74 cites only studies supportive of SEL. But even the aforementioned CASEL researcher admitted, “The results to date have been mixed…There’s also a general lack of long-term studies that might give researchers a clearer picture of the programs’ effectiveness.” In fact, The 74 ignores glaring defects of the first meta-analysis it links — that only 15% of the 200+ studies reviewed did a long-term follow-up, and only 16% actually checked academic outcomes. The 74 also neglects to mention a decidedly negative analysis of preschool SEL in six longitudinal education databases, which concluded, “Early math skills have the greatest predictive power, followed by reading and then attention skills. By contrast, measures of socioemotional behaviors…were generally insignificant predictors of later academic performance, even among children with relatively high levels of problem behavior.” Ironically, the preschool years have the most uniform, numerous, and longstanding SEL standards in all fifty states. Yet this study, combined with a new Brookings paper, affirms much previous research showing that SEL-laden Head Start and other government preschool programs don’t improve academic outcomes. Nor does “growth mindset” (an SEL favorite), as confirmed by another recent study. 
  • The 74 also touts a paper claiming economic benefit from SEL interventions. But the paper’s authors emphasized that the SEL interventions they analyzed “are not representative of SEL generally,” and that the protocols and methods they used are racked with “deficiencies.” If there is any real economic benefit from SEL, this study doesn’t show it.
  • Turning to student SEL assessment, The 74 does admit that deciding whether SEL is working, or whether individual students are reshaping their personalities to the government’s satisfaction, is a tricky business. Only 17% of principals “know which assessments to use for measuring how their students are doing socially and emotionally,” especially since most states don’t have clear SEL standards or grade-by-grade benchmarks. But The 74 doesn’t report that even SEL gurus admit that meaningful assessment is at best problematic. This is because, among other factors, teachers aren’t mental-health professionals capable of assessing children and because, in any event, the assessment mechanisms usually depend on unreliable inputs (such as student self-reports). 
  • Speaking further of assessment, The 74 doesn’t mention the serious problem of placing all these unreliable, amateur psychological assessments into the longitudinal data system that will follow students, potentially, throughout their lives. Might employers or colleges or government agencies be interested in accessing records about a particular individual’s psychological makeup? 
  • The 74 approvingly links SEL to schools’ implementation of “restorative justice” in place of “punitive disciplinary practices.” The news outlet seems oddly oblivious to the controversy surrounding restorative justice. Many teachers across the country are rebelling against restrictions on their ability to discipline unruly kids, and such policies can have tragic consequences if criminal offenders are allowed to remain in schools. 
  • The 74 seems to endorse “deep breathing, counting, and mindfulness” for helping students improve their relationships with teachers. There is no acknowledgment that many parents would object to a school’s leading their children through such pseudo-spiritual practices. 
  • Prominent thought leaders in the teaching profession, even SEL proponents, are questioning whether SEL can be formally taught and standardized, as well the wisdom of burdening teachers with another responsibility for which they aren’t trained. (See here and here.) 

The bottom line is that SEL is far more subjective and invasive, and far less effective, than proponents claim. Maybe The 74 should take another look.

Personalized Learning Is Not Personal

Photo credit: Brad Flickinger (CC-By-2.0)

Paul Emerich France wrote an op/ed for EdSurge about personalized learning that I thought had some good points. It’s entitled “Why Are We Still Personalizing Learning If It’s Not Personal?

Here’s the good stuff:

Because “personalization” emphasizes focusing on the needs of each individual, we sometimes assume that to mean that a child’s education should then be individualized. It is this assumption that has given us the many web-based, adaptive technologies that individualize curriculum on our kids’ behalf. That can result in teachers putting tablets in front of kids, letting the technology do the work, and meanwhile calling it “personalized learning” when it’s anything but that.

What we fail to realize is that individualization actually has diminishing returns. As individualization increases, so does the potential for isolation. In classrooms where the primary mode of personalization is hyper-individualized, technology-driven curriculum, we find our children siphoned off into silos, taking away valuable points of convergence.

Here the wheels fall off:

When we take away points of convergence, we take away opportunities for our children to learn from, through, and with each other. We rob them of opportunities for social-emotional learning through serendipitous and spontaneous interactions. We limit the amount of time children can learn through meaningful dialogue and discourse. In essence, we take away the very things that make the human condition of learning utterly personal in the first place.

Gosh, what do you do when two to three education trends are at conflict with one another?

He uses a litmus test for education tech so that he can find his happy balance between personalized learning and social-emotional learning, here are questions he asks:

  1. Does the technology help to minimize complexity?
  2. Does the technology help to maximize the individual power and potential of all learners in the room?
  3. Will the technology help us to do something previously unimaginable?
  4. Will the technology preserve or enhance human connection in the classroom?

I appreciate that he recognizes the flaws with personalized learning and its use of education tech, but it just seems to me that he’s caught between two competing education trends.

Read the whole piece.

Gasp! How Will We Educate Without Social-Emotional Learning?

EdSurge has an obnoxious piece of Social-Emotional Learning propaganda up. The article is not quite as desperate as the headline would lead you to believe – “The Future of Education Depends on Social Emotional Learning: Here’s Why.”

It did capture my attention.

Gasp! How will kids learn without social-emotional learning?

*Choke.* How will teachers teach?

Giancarlo Brotto whose bio says “has more than 20 years experience working in education technology in K-12 and university environments. His areas of expertise include education policy, classroom practice, training and professional development, education research and technology implementation. As SMART’s Global Education Strategist, Giancarlo engages with thought leaders, researchers, and policy organizations to gain further insight on trends in the K-12 education space.”

He writes:

Social and emotional abilities are said to be indicators of how well a person adjusts to his or her environment, adapts to change and, ultimately, how successful she or he will be in life. In fact, core development abilities such as conscientiousness, emotional stability, openness, and agreeableness can be as or even more important than cognitive intelligence in determining future employment. Despite these competencies being related to consequential life outcomes, it can be challenging for educators to find effective ways to prioritize, teach and assess social and emotional skills.

Developing these core life abilities through social and emotional learning (SEL) is critical to a child’s development, as it directly correlates to success and happiness as an adult. For many children, school is the only place where any deficiencies in these abilities can be addressed before they become active members of society.

Combining these skills with academic development creates high-quality learning experiences and environments that empower students to be more effective contributors in their classrooms today and in their workplaces and communities tomorrow.

HIs evidence? Two reports that are written by CASEL (an organization whose purpose is to advocate for social-emotional learning) and one report from The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OCED).

What his article is truly evidence of is the echo chamber that exists among education reformers.

Will Altering Growth Mindsets Improve Student Performance? Research Says No.

As schools are transformed from academic institutions into mental-health facilities, various theories have arisen about how to engineer students’ personalities to improve their performance (or to create the Ideal Citizens desired by the government, but that’s another topic). One theory that has swept schools in the U.S. and globally is called “growth mindset.” But Science Daily reports on a new study from Michigan State University and Case Western Reserve University which finds that altering students’ mindsets in this way has no meaningful effect on anything.

The theory, associated with Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck, goes as follows: An individual with a “fixed mindset” believes his intelligence and talent are fixed traits and not particularly responsive to hard work and perseverance, whereas an individual with a “growth mindset” believes his basic abilities can be developed and improved with effort. “This [latter] view,” according to proponents, “creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” So the idea is for teachers to spend precious class time on “interventions” that create a growth mindset in students and increase their achievement.

But the new meta-study finds that such interventions generally don’t work. 

The study involved two massive meta-analyses (aggregating and assessing the results of hundreds of previous studies). Both analyses – with a combined sample size of almost 460,000 students – evaluated whether growth-mindset interventions improved academic achievement.

The answer, as one author told Science Daily: “Our results show that the academic benefits of [growth-mindset] interventions have been largely overstated. . . . [T]here was little to no effect of mindset interventions on academic achievement for typical students, or for other groups who some have claimed benefit substantially from these interventions . . . .”

Overall, the meta-study concluded that “on average, academic achievement increased when the growth mindset programs failed to change students’ mindsets and didn’t increase when the growth mindset programs worked [i.e., when they did change mindsets].”

Some of the studies examined in these meta-analyses have found that growth-mindset interventions are more effective with economically disadvantaged students or those at high risk of failure. But the metastudy authors cautioned that only a few studies reached these conclusions, and so should be viewed skeptically.

Other researchers have challenged, specifically, Dweck’s own research. Speaking to Buzzfeed, Columbia University statistics professor Andrew Gelman described Dweck’s seminal 1998 study as “riddled with poor statistical practice.” Timothy Bates from the University of Edinburgh has tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to replicate Dweck’s results. As he told BuzzFeed, “People with a growth mindset don’t cope any better with failure. If we give them the mindset intervention, it doesn’t make them behave better. Kids with the growth mindset aren’t getting better grades, either before or after our intervention study.” 

Bates cites the essential difference between showing that students who work hard generally have better grades, and showing that students who have been exposed to mindset-alteration generally have better grades. He says the former idea is really “a very conservative, old-fashioned one: ‘If you don’t work at it you won’t get results’” – but that in her (highly lucrative) talks, books, and Brainology computer program that is sold to schools, Dweck argues that adopting her interventions will massively improve academic achievement. (She denies conflicts of interest, since her research is funded not by her profits but by grants and her university; she also points out that she disassociated herself from Mindset Works, a company she co-founded.)

Dweck has challenged Bates on his replication efforts, but he’s not alone in calling out her research. BuzzFeed quoted other psychology professors and statisticians who have cited numerous serious errors with her findings – some of which constituted statistical impossibilities, and all of which, of course, bumped up the “success” numbers for her interventions.

Much of Dweck’s work illustrates the phenomenon of “cascading amplification,” discussed in our book Deconstructing the Administrative State: The Fight for Liberty. One study gets cited in subsequent research, which in turn is cited in even more research, ad infinitum. Before long, whatever the first study claimed – even if it’s problematic at best – becomes gospel. Thus it is with Dweck’s early studies.

But regardless of whether these mindset interventions “work,” the deeper question is whether the government, through schools, should be engaging in essentially psychological manipulation. A teacher’s encouragement of a child to boost his confidence is a far cry from putting that child on a sophisticated computer program and fed images designed to reshape his attitudes and even his personality. Accepting such a role for government opens the door to more and more “interventions” – which may be much more insidious than a digital pat on the back. 

But if the education establishment isn’t worried about that, maybe they’ll at least balk at spending money for useless programs. The metastudy may help persuade them.

Group Therapy Comes to School

NPR has a story on group therapy that is now offered at Cresthaven Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md. that they say is one of several schools that now offer students “training in how to manage emotions, handle stress and improve interpersonal relationships.”

This is social-emotional learning on steroids.

An excerpt:

At Cresthaven, some fifth-graders like B. get an intensive 12 weeks of such training, a course called the Resilience Builder Program. Created by psychologist Mary Alvord, it’s a form of group therapy designed to help students who are struggling with trauma or cognitive disorders — or everyday anxiety caused by things like bullying or moving schools..

“I think it’s so critical that kids know they have the power to make changes. While we can’t control everything about our lives, we can control many facets,” Alvord says.

If students can learn this kind of resilience, the ability to adapt to emotional challenges, she says, “I think the whole world gets better.”

Alvord offered the program to Cresthaven on a pro-bono basis.

When Alvord offered to bring the Resilience Builder Program to Cresthaven pro bono as part of a research project, Sklias selected a group of students she thought could benefit from it. It has been used especially with students dealing with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or anxiety or trauma — officially, students with “social competence deficits.” She met with parents, and many agreed to sign up their kids.

Not quite out of the goodness of her heart, the students who now participate are now part of a research project. Also, while the school did the group recruitment and did get parental consent for student participation, one has to wonder how much data on students’ social competencies did the principal have to access before recruiting students. Was that data collected with parental consent?

I’m sure there are lots of students who can benefit from group therapy, especially those dealing with trauma, but this is just another example of schools expanding beyond their primary mandate to educate students on academic subjects.

Read the whole article.

A Dataless Report on Social-Emotional Learning

The National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development with The Aspen Institute released a report in March entitled “The Practice Base For How We Learn: Supporting Students’ Social, Emotional, and Academic Development” which is a “Consensus Statements of Practice from the Council of Distinguished Educators.” (AKA propaganda)

What struck me as I read through this is that it lacks footnotes and references. It lacks any mention of studies done. The only “data’ mentioned is another statement out of The Aspen Institute.

You’d think they would at least give lip service to being evidence-based.

They say the research is coming.

You can read it below. Let us know what you think of the report by leaving a comment.


Social-Emotional Learning for Educators?

Teacher at Maxwell AFB Elementary/Middle School
(Air Force photo/Kelly Deichert)

I wanted to follow-up J.R.’s piece yesterday on social-emotional learning after seeing this article on the U.S. Department of Education’s blog – “Educator Self-Care Is Social Emotional Learning.”

This week is National School Counseling Week (I wasn’t aware) so they had a guest article from Christy Lynn Anana, a nationally board-certified school counselor and registered yoga teacher, who was Washington State’s School Counselor of the Year in 2016.

She writes:

As a school counselor, I help teachers understand the most important thing they can do for children is to keep their own mood stable. When I come into their classrooms to teach students about breathing strategies, mindfulness, yoga and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), it is not just for the students but also to offer time for teachers to connect with their own breath.

Addressing our own “caught-upness” and keeping our own mood stable

Emotional awareness, empathy, anger/anxiety management and problem solving are the backbone skills that make up Social Emotional Learning. These are highly honed skills that educators use every day and every minute. When teachers and educators embody compassionate strategies like breathing, stretching and tapping, they increase their capacity and provide safe haven for students to practice these skills.

We can be curious about a child’s behavior. What is the child trying to communicate? We can always pair our curiosity with compassion. There have been times I have felt the same way. How can we serve to help the child communicate his/her feelings more effectively without getting “caught up” in the behavior?

Can we be kind to ourselves when we do get “caught up”?

Neuroplasticity and hope

When educators feel like they belong in a safe, inclusive, and positive school, they are able to structure an environment where students feel safe, included and hopeful about their futures. This is the foundation for emotionally healthy youth and providing a culturally responsive and trauma sensitive world.

SEL proponents believe Members of Congress need social-emotional learning, and, no surprise, they feel the same about educators.

I’d love to talk about the exercises she does with students in classes in her school because, frankly, they are rooted in eastern religious tradition (just doing yoga stretches and exercises in gym class is one thing, but pairing them with meditation and “mindfulness” exercises in an academic classroom is another). Some people flip out when prayer at school is discussed, but they allow this?

But, I digress.

Back to the educators, as a person who worked with youth including high-risk youth for 20 years, I knew the importance of taking care of myself (not to say I always did a good job of doing that). This is not new. If you don’t, it’s easy to burn-out. The same is true with teachers. We need to get enough sleep, exercise, eat right, and learn what helps us reduce stress.

This is common sense and common knowledge. We don’t need to wrap it up in the social-emotional learning lingo and have it promoted on the U.S. Department of Education’s website.

What Is So Great About Social-Emotional Learning?

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) seems to be the rage in education these days. It sounds so great SEL easily seems to attract supporters and promoters, including legislators. Maybe it makes them feel good. Use your search engine and see what comes up when you search for “social-emotional learning.” Check things out for yourself. Dig into some of the hits that come up and see if there is any big money behind SEL. While I haven’t dug into the deep history of the SEL movement, as with many other ed reform issues, I wonder if this push has come from widespread parental request or from big money folks. Or have the parents been told to want this? Which comes first, feeling good about yourself so you can accomplish something worthwhile or accomplishing something worthwhile so you have something to feel good about? Which is it, the chicken or the egg?

I recently read an article from ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine titled Accounting for the Whole Child. This article is very much promoting SEL and casts it, and some questionable practices, in a very favorable light. Here are two quotes that stuck out to me:

A growing number of districts and networks of schools are now administering social-emotional skill assessments, empowering educators to make informed decisions about how best to help students develop these capabilities.

A growing number of schools are making authentic, sustained efforts to collect data on students’ social-emotional skills.

Do you see any problem with this? ASCD and Educational Leadership apparently don’t. It would appear they fully support administering SEL assessments and collecting data on students’ social-emotional skills. This is sensitive and personal non-cognitive data being collected. No expression of concern for student privacy with regard to the collection of this data. Is there any reason to have concern about student privacy, either now or in the student’s future as a result of this data collection?

In case you aren’t aware of concerns about SEL that some people have, I want to provide you with a list before continuing on with this article.

Social Emotional Learning

  • Social emotional learning (SEL) standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs, and assessments address subjective non-cognitive factors.
  • Subjective non-cognitive factors addressed in SEL programs may include attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes, beliefs, feelings, emotions, mindsets, metacognitive learning skills, motivation, grit, self-regulation, tenacity, perseverance, resilience, and intrapersonal resources even though programs may use different terminology.
  • The federal government does not have the constitutional authority to promote or develop social emotional standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs or assessments.
  • Promoting and implementing formal SEL program standards, benchmarks, learning indicators and assessments will depersonalize the informal education good teachers have always provided.
  • Teachers implementing SEL standards, benchmarks, learning indicators, programs, and assessments may end up taking on the role of mental health therapists for which they are not professionally trained. SEL programs should require the onsite supervision of adequately trained professional psychologists/psychotherapists.
  • Social and emotional learning programs take time away from academic knowledge and fundamental skills instruction.
  • SEL programs may promote and establish thoughts, values, beliefs, and attitudes not reflective of those held by parents and infringe upon parental rights to direct the upbringing and education of their children.
  • Informed active written parental consent should be required prior to any student participating in any social emotional learning program or assessment through the school system.
  • Sensitive personally identifiable non-cognitive data will be collected on individuals through SEL programs.
  • The collection and use of subjective non-cognitive individual student SEL data may result in improper labeling of students. This data will follow individuals throughout their lifetime with the potential for unintended use resulting in negative consequences.
  • Concerns have been expressed that SEL programs and collected data may potentially be misused with a captive and vulnerable audience for indoctrination, social and emotional engineering, to influence compliance, and to predict future behavior.

This list of bullet points can be downloaded as a one-page pdf document by clicking here.

On Jan. 23, 2017, HB 1518 Improving student achievement by promoting social-emotional learning throughout the calendar year was introduced to the Washington state legislature. The Brief Summary of Substitute Bill in the House Bill Report HB 1518 says:

  • Requires that the Department of Early Learning contract for up to an additional 600 summer Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program slots at certain priority school buildings.
  • Directs the Superintendent of Public Instruction to convene a work group to build upon the social emotional learning (SEL) benchmarks developed in 2016, and provides a list of members and duties for the work group.
  • Establishes a competitive grant program to increase the number of summer learning programs that combine academics and SEL, and specifies application criteria and reporting requirements for the program.

In addition, the bill requires a report be submitted in 2019 to the governor the legislative education committees “that describes how many summer early childhood education and assistance program slots were funded, participant’s school readiness outcomes compared to children that did not receive the summer school programming, lessons learned in combining academics and social emotional learning in summer early childhood education and assistance programs, and lessons learned in funding meal programs during the summer using reimbursements from the United States department of agriculture or other nonstate sources; and that includes recommendations for continuing, modifying, or expiring the program.” (Emphasis mine)

It seems like data would be collected on an experimental group and a control group. Kinda sorta sounds like an experiment would be conducted without saying it is an experiment. Maybe it is a non-experiment experiment. There is no mention of this being submitted to an institutional review board as research involving human subjects. Does HB 1518 call for experimental research on non-cognitive skills to be conducted on low-income four and five-year-olds in Washington State without adequate informed parental consent? Boy howdy, this is something that sure seems to sound good to a lot of folks, especially the 24 state representatives that sponsored the bill.

This bill also calls for the formation of a Social-Emotional Indicators Workgroup to continue building on the work of the Social Emotional Learning Benchmarks Workgroup that produced a report called Addressing Social Emotional Learning in Washington’s K-12 Public Schools. This report also tells us that in 2016, Washington state was chosen as one of eight states to participate in the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning’s (CASEL) Collaborative States Initiative (CSI). See page 8 of the report for some brief info about the CSI. Three of the eight CSI states dropped out within a few months of their selection. Washington was not one of those three states.

Washington’s Social Emotional Benchmarks Workgroup developed SEL standards and benchmarks. The Indicators Workgroup is to develop indicators for the benchmarks. HB 1518 did not pass out the house committee and has been reintroduced for this session. As of this writing, it has not passed out of the house committee and may be dead after today. That this bill hasn’t passed has not stopped things from happening that it requires to start. ESSB 5883 did pass in 2017 and appropriated funds for a workgroup to be established to develop SEL indicators for the already developed benchmarks. A Social Emotional Learning Indicators Workgroup has been formed and hard at work since September 2017 developing SEL indicators by grade band for each benchmark. It may, or may not be, a comfort to know that a Bill & Melinda Gates representative has a seat in this workgroup. Hmmm, I wonder if this workgroup will be influenced to use SEL indicators to stack-rank public school students similar to one of Microsoft’s employee evaluation systems.  We could use that as an example of a real-world application in the classroom.

The indicators no doubt will be used to assess student SEL skills. That means data collection. Collected data is going to be stored somewhere, no doubt in an electronic database. Who will have access to the SEL assessment data and anecdotal notes regarding an individual student’s SEL? How long will such data be kept? Where will it be kept? What kind of assurances are there the data will be secure? Should parents be informed and required to give permission for such personal data to be collected about their child?  So many questions.  I wonder if the indicator workgroup members will give any consideration to such questions.  The authors of the Education Leadership article gave no indication of concern for such questions.

With all that has been said here, you really should look at Washington’s SEL standards and benchmarks. Initially, they may look great to you. As you look at them, consider whether you would like your child to be formally assessed on the benchmarks using indicators under development with records that may follow them into adulthood.

The above standards can be found on page three of Washington’s Social Emotional Learning Benchmark Workgroup’s report, Addressing Social Emotional Learning in Washington’s K-12 Public Schools.

What will an SEL report card look like? What will the written comments look like for a student? What would they look like for you? I wonder if written comments on an SEL report card for a legislator might look like this:

Shows awareness of other people’s emotions, perspectives, cultures, language, history, identity, and ability by pretending to listen to and agree with expressed wishes of constituents and then responds “almost exclusively to the views of the wealthiest 10 percent of the population.”

Demonstrates a range of communication skills by responding to constituent questions with extended animated responses and displays of great oratorical skill but unfortunately fails to answer the questions asked. Has developed an excellent skill of answering questions that aren’t asked. Has a great ability to tell constituents one thing, usually what they want to hear, and then doing the opposite.

Demonstrates the ability to work with others to set, monitor, adopt, achieve, and evaluate goals provided the others will help with re-election funds and votes and has views aligned with and supporting those of the elite. Displays a conditional ability to work with others.

I bet you could come up with some great comments on a legislator’s SEL report card.  Can you state those comments in positive terms?  This is SEL after all and we want everyone to feel good.

If you don’t live in Washington state you may think you don’t need to be concerned about any of this. Before skipping off carefree, happy and content, you may want to check to see what similar SEL activity is already taking place in your state. There is a good chance SEL is already embedded in education programs across your state. Is it possible it is embedded in your state’s ESSA plan?

This Made Me Roll My Eyes

There have been many, many articles I have read that caused an involuntary eye roll. This article has to be the first that I’ve felt compelled to address.

Education Week found a way to spin social-emotional learning into the government shutdown story.

Evie Blad wrote “Social-Emotional Learning for Senators: This Elementary School Exercise Helped End the Shutdown.”

U.S. Senator Sue Collins’ talking stick saved the day!

She wrote tying this into social-emotional learning:

The experience illustrates something school leaders have told Education Week in the past: It’s wrong to assume that adults have social-emotional learning all figured out. We all need help with skills like social-awareness and relationship skills, and some tools and scaffolding never hurt anybody. Many school leaders who’ve put social-emotional learning plans into place have later said they should have started with adults, like teachers, who are crucial for modeling respect and healthy interactions to students.

It’s amazing to me that these folks seem to believe that educators, youth workers, parents, etc. did not teach or model social skills like listening before.

No, this is a “new thing,” and even U.S. Senators are trying to figure it out!

“Now we need to wrap it up with a bow into a new fad.” Let’s “be intentional” about teaching it and let’s assess it as well!

She continues her consideration of the talking stick and how things like it can help the educational process:

But young students don’t always recognize how they communicate with body language and facial expressions. So some schools use the same kinds of “scaffolding” exercises when they teach listening as they do when they teach traditional academic subjects, like writing. That might be posters with sentence starters that help children reflect what they heard back to their peers, or objects like talking sticks to make the roles of speakers and listeners more deliberate.

A few years ago, I watched a group of fifth-grade students in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, an area known for gang violence and poverty, complete a listening circle. To help listening become more deliberate, their teacher had created a routine. First a classmate led them in some mindful breathing to “inhale the positive and exhale the negative.” Then they went around the circle answering questions from their teacher: What is something they’ve said or done that made someone happy? What’s something they’ve done that made someone hurt? How could they “set an intention” to fix it?

Mindful breathing? Is this a 5th-grade classroom or yoga class? Perhaps Senator Collins’ needs to introduce this into her meetings.

Look, I don’t have a problem with things like talking sticks. I’ve employed ideas like this myself as a youth pastor (and *shocker* I didn’t need training on social-emotional learning). Teaching kids to listen was the secondary outcome. The primary focus was discussing content I wanted them to grapple with.

That is where teachers’ focus should be as well. If teachers have an opportunity to model listening and find teaching moments when students are not listening well then great. What Senator Collins did was help her group not to talk over one another. Teachers (and anyone who has led meetings) have been doing that for years.

Ok, I need to stop rolling my eyes otherwise they will be permanently stuck there. Thanks for letting me rant.