Editor’s Note:


The Washington State House Education Committee will be taking an executive action on 2/16/2017 regarding “HB 1518 – Improving student achievement by promoting social emotional learning throughout the calendar year”.

This bill is the first salvo across the bow on Social Emotion Learning and requires far more time than a few days for legislators to understand what the term means and its ramifications for the future.

This grand experiment of SEL initially targets low income and minority students and the start up costs would include a summer SEL program for 600 students to be located in public school buildings. Public schools in Washington State are severely under funded by the state and yet these legislators want to initiate an expensive and untested program.

If you live in Washington State, please contact your legislators, call them, tweet them, send them this post, whatever it takes to educate our legislators on the big picture.


The endgame of corporate reform in public school education, Part 2 : Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and the Federal Government

In part 1 titled What do Betsy DeVos and Seattle Public School’s IT Lead John Krull have in common? The endgame of corporate reform in public school education, I described Betsy DeVos’ vision, which includes vouchers for students to attend (Christian) religious schools and for every student to use a computer for most, if not all, of their education. This is for public school students and would not apply to private school students who have the advantage of small class sizes, the attention of qualified and certified teachers and a range of subjects to explore.

The idea of computer-centric learning is termed “anytime, anywhere” learning and is seen as an excellent value for online charter schools. No brick and mortar buildings to lease or teaching staff. They actually call this type of school a “value school”.

A student can do all their lessons online, be assessed as they work with short quizzes and tests as well as be evaluated in terms of their emotional state.

This leads us to what is referred to as Social, Emotional Learning (SEL).

Along with online learning that was put into place by John Krull, who at the time was the Chief Technology Officer at Oakland Public Schools and is now the Chief Information Officer within Seattle Public Schools, another program was put into place in Oakland public schools with the assistance of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). The idea of Social and Emotional Learning is teaching “mindfulness” which is a difficult state to be in if you’re hungry because they is no food at home or you’re sick and can’t see a doctor but issues of poverty are not part of this equation. This SEL program is sold as being an integral part of the “successful implementation of the Common Core”.

The student is evaluated on their emotional state by teachers or other school staff using a rating scale. This is comparable to psychological testing but done by untrained personnel rather than trained psychologists. The evaluation becomes part of a student’s record and because it is an educational record rather than a medical record, there is no privacy as provided by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). Whether a child has “anger management problems” or finds it difficult to focus, both of which could be situational, the information is tracked from preschool to the age of 20. The tracking of student information is often referred to as “P20”.

CASEL has assisted OSPI with writing a report on SEL and is determining a set of standards for Social Emotional Learning for every grade level.

CASEL was supported by Bill Gates early in organization’s development.

To get an idea of how one school district, Cleveland Metro Schools, has school staff evaluate students from preschool to grade 12, you can go here. To view the standards set for the initial eight CASEL states, some of which have withdrawn from the program, see this document provided by CASEL.

All of this skirts the issue not only of costs to school districts but also an educator’s capacity to teach and psychologically evaluate students in a classroom. In anticipation of this argument, software has been developed as a complement to the Common Core Standards curriculum that can reportedly track a child’s emotions and thoughts.

The Federal Government and Social, Emotional Learning


In February 2013, the US Department of Education’s (USDOE) Office of Educational Technology released a draft report titled “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century,” suggesting the potential of physiological readings of a child to measure their responses to stimulus on a computer screen and therefore have the ability to influence their mindset and performance.

It is stated in the introduction the goal is “To design and evaluate learning environments that effectively promote and/or teach grit, tenacity, and perseverance, the field will need valid and reliable measurement instruments that can provide quick and useful feedback.

The contributors to the report include two people representing the Melinda and Gates Foundation and the paper was prepared by SRI which describes itself as “an independent, nonprofit research center that works with clients to take the most advanced R&D from the laboratory to the marketplace. Serving government and industry, we collaborate across technical and scientific disciplines to generate real innovation and create high value for our clients.”

Bill Gates has donated $1M to SRI “to accelerate acceptance of common evaluation frameworks for digital courseware by providing technical assistance and support to institutions conducting evaluations of high quality next generation digital courseware”.

Per the USDOE’s report:

“…there are substantial opportunities in the broad spectrum of measurement methods and techniques. With the prevalence of new digital learning resources and learning technologies, new forms of measurement are emerging, making it possible to go beyond conventional approaches. For example, data mining techniques can track students’ trajectories of persistence and learning over time, thereby providing actionable feedback to students and teachers. In addition, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and physiological indicators offer insight into the biology and neuroscience underlying observed student behaviors.”

In the report on page 44, the equipment suggested to read a child’s response to stimulus on a computer screen includes a Facial Expression Camera, Posture Analysis Seat, a Pressure Mouse and a Wireless Skin Conductance Sensor. Although some of this equipment might not be practical in terms of scale, the goal is to develop software that can read facial expressions and use other forms of biometrics to assess a child’s thoughts and emotions.

On page 41 of the report in the section titled New Methods for Measuring Behavioral Task Performance: 

Educational data mining (EDM) “develops methods and applies techniques from statistics, machine learning, and data mining to analyze data collected during teaching and learning. EDM tests learning theories and informs educational practice” (U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology, 2012, p. 9) Learning analytics “applies techniques from information science, sociology, psychology, statistics, machine learning, and data mining to analyze data collected during education administration and services, teaching, and learning. Learning analytics creates applications that directly influence educational practice” (U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology, 2012, p. 9). Affective computing is the study and development of systems and devices that can recognize, interpret, process, and simulate aspects of human affect.

Emotional or physiological variables can be used to enrich the understanding and usefulness of behavioral indicators. Discrete emotions particularly relevant to reactions to challenge—such as interest, frustration, anxiety, and boredom—may be measured through analysis of facial expressions, EEG brain wave patterns, skin conductance, heart rate…

Student data collected in online learning systems can be used to develop models about processes associated with grit, which then can be used, for example, to design interventions or adaptations to a learning system to promote desirable behaviors. …The field of affective computing is also emerging … Researchers are exploring how to gather complex affective data and generate meaningful and usable information to feed back to learners, teachers, researchers, and the technology itself. Connections to neuroscience are also beginning to emerge.

On page 42 of the report, it goes on to describe how to evaluate children in preschool using the Preschool Self-Regulation Assessment then goes on to report how to measure a “students’ patterns of interactions with digital learning environments. Interaction patterns can demonstrate how tool use in an environment relates to mindsets, learning goals, learning strategies, and help-seeking”.

Continuing on page 44, “Interaction patterns also can be explored by tracking eye moments to see where learners focus attention during problem solving. Conati and Merten (2007), for example, used an eye-tracking device to examine metacognitive behaviors that are relevant for learning mathematical functions. The device provided information about how learners explored the stimuli, in this case the relationship between a function’s graph and equation”

And of course, there is the use of video games to promote “grit, tenacity, and perseverance”.

There is also the continual denial in this report that poverty can be a determining factor in school performance because, of course, all you need is grit, tenacity and perseverance:

Students in high-poverty areas face particular challenges of stress, limited social support, lack of critical resources, and psychological disempowerment and disenfranchisement. However, regardless of socioeconomic conditions, all students can encounter difficult challenges and setbacks throughout their schooling as they learn conceptually complex material, deal with distractions, persist through academic assignments that are important but not necessarily intrinsically interesting, manage competing demands, and prepare themselves for the complex and rapidly changing 21st-century workplace.

In conclusion of the report written on page 92:

As discussed in the Expanding Evidence report and throughout this report, the advancement of digital learning environments provides new opportunities for mining the data produced when students work in digital learning environments, and the emerging field of affective computing allows for multiple channels of data integrating behavioral performances, selfreport, physiological responses, and eye tracking. Video games also provide an “exhaust Draft 92 stream” of data reflecting all of a student’s moves within the game. While there are many promising methods emerging, the field is new and there is still considerable work to be done before these become inexpensive and practical for widespread use.

It’s interesting to note that Betsy DeVos, during the nomination process as Secretary of Education, stated her unwillingness to lose her financial stake in a biofeedback company Neurocore.

Next part in the series will be about Social Emotional Learning and the Department of Defense.

Dora Taylor