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Nancy Bailey's Education Website: The Trouble with Social-Emotional Learning: Why Be Concerned? Here’s Why!

. . . we must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit. 

It’s time to strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted advertising to children, and demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children.

~President Biden, State of the Union Address, March 1, 2022

Social-emotional learning (SEL) transforms public schools to focus more on student behavior. That by itself raises concerns. Equally troubling is the sensitive student information collected through online SEL assessments and privacy concerns.

If Americans want to address the social-emotional needs of students, here are a few ideas that would help and be better than online data collection.

  • End or reduce standardized testing.
  • Incorporate recess and play into the curriculum.
  • Make class sizes manageable.
  • Give students well-qualified teachers.
  • Hire more counselors and school psychologists.
  • Promote access to the arts for all children.
  • Make sure every school has a library and librarian.
  • Provide teachers time to collaborate with parents.

SEL covers various programs, and some might even sound nice and not be online. But ultimately, it seems more about the online data, which is questionable and often not secure. A child’s privacy is at risk.

Some parents and media outlets connect SEL to Critical Race Theory and gender issues, politicizing SEL as a Democrat v. Republican issue. But parents from both parties should be worried.

SEL has been around for years. Here are concerns in 2016 and Social-Emotional Learning: The Dark Side.

While SEL’s current roots are left-leaning, different from Republican character education, which was also worrisome. SEL has become ingrained in the curriculum.

But if you’re Republican and think SEL and collecting data on students is only promoted by Democrats, think again. Businesses have become embedded in public education, and they want data no matter political persuasion.

Consider:

It doesn’t matter which political party; student data is gold. Type SEL and dozens of online programs pop up on Google, including student assessments.

Lendio, a small business finance company, projected SEL as a growth market: This kind of industry, one which will more than double in size is an opportunity for entrepreneurs. 

Transforming Education claims in their report, A Data-Informed Approach to Social-Emotional Learning, the nation is spending $30 billion annually on SEL instructional materials.

Why worry?

In the National Educational Policy Center’s Learning to Be Watched: Surveillance Culture At School, the authors state:

Specific concerns relate: to violations of children’s privacy; threats to children’s physical and psychological well-being and to the integrity of their education; and, to their socialization as consumers above all else—consumers who take for granted the constant surveillance of their behavior by data-gathering entities for purposes that threaten their well-being.

The Kappan recently published Boninger and Molnar’s Don’t go ‘Along’ with corporate schemes to gather student data. They describe Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s (CZI’s) Along, an SEL program, a “free” digital reflection tool born of Gradient Learning, that says it’s designed to help teachers make each student feel seen and understood.

They provide a glimpse of Along’s online questions for students:

  • What do you watch on television, in the movie theaters, or on other devices when you have free time?
  • What is something or someone in your life you are grateful for and why?
  • What’s a problem you’re currently facing?
  • What is something you really value? Why do you value it?

Last October, Forbes reported that Panorama Education, co-founded by U.S. AG Merrick Garland’s son-in-law, had contracted with 23,000 public schools & raised $76M from investors.

Here’s a sample of questions students are asked online (p 7):

  • When others disagreed with you, how respectful were you of their views? 
  • How well did you get along with students who are different from you?
  • In your family, how clear are the rules about what you can and cannot do? 
  • How much did you care about other people’s feelings? 
  • To what extent were you able to stand up for yourself without putting others down? 
  • When you get stuck while learning something new, how likely are you to try a different strategy?
  • How often do you spend time outside (including parks, in your neighborhood, or at school)? 
  • Overall, how much do you feel like you belong at your school?
  • How much does your opinion matter to your family?
  • How clearly were you able to describe your feelings in the past 30 days?

Contractual agreements might lead parents to believe their child’s data is secure. Even when promised anonymity, data experts acknowledge this is marketing deception (Boninger & Molnar, 2022).

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), originally signed into law by President Gerald Ford, focused on records in file cabinets. Since then, the Act was weakened further under the George W Bush and Obama administrations, allowing for loopholes where student information gets collected without parent permission (Ravitch, 2020, p.172)

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA), is a decade-old giving parents more control over information collected on children under 13, but it doesn’t go far enough, and the Federal Trade Commission should extend (COPPA) protections.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) wrote more thoroughly about the needed changes concerning student privacy and describes the Congressional action involved in this effort.

This is critical for schools considering Hackers recently gained access to highly sensitive personal information of about 820,000 current and former New York City students and children in a Connecticut school district, through the software vendor Illuminate.

CASEL

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a non-profit that promotes the alignment of soft skills to Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Common Core was controversial, and many write about its failure, but online programs involve Common Core.

CASEL states its mission:

. . .is to help make evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) an integral part of education from preschool through high school. 

We envision all children and adults as self-aware, caring, responsible, engaged, and lifelong learners who work together to achieve their goals and create a more inclusive, just, and equitable world.

Such goals aren’t easily measured, and parents interpret their meaning differently.

CASEL’s partners raise more questions and concerns.

  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative
  • New Profit 
  • and more.

Parents and teachers need to seriously question all the online programs students face at school and the data collected about them.

Reference

Ravitch, D. (2020). Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Boninger, F. and Molnar, A. (2022). Don’t go ‘Along’ with corporate schemes to gather up student data. Kappan, 103(7), 33-37. https://kappanonline.org/dont-go-along-with-corporate-schemes-to-gather….

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Nancy Bailey

Nancy Bailey was a teacher in the area of special education for many years, and has a PhD in educational leadership from Florida State University. She has a...