Social, emotional, but where’s the learning?

First graders react to the question, “What face do you make when your mother compliments you?” during a class session called “Feeling Faces” at Public School 24 in New York City. — Emile Wamsteker for Education Week

Teachers are using Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) to manage classes, reports Education Week.

Already dubious about SEL’s claims to make children nicer and prepare them for the 21st century, Katharine Beals sees SEL for classroom management as intrusive and manipulative.

It starts with an obvious tactic: “Giving students input in classroom rules and making them make amends and apologize when they hurt someone’s feelings.” Students also learn simple vocabulary words related to feelings, practice identifying their emotions and act out their feelings.

It all takes more time than a traditional incentives-based classroom management system, a teacher tells Education Week.

The program also invades students’ privacy, writes Beals.

Students convene for class meetings, during which they express their feelings and solve problems.

. . . Ms. Diaz said she has conversations with the class about not repeating what they hear from members of their “class family.” In addition, she explains that as a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect, she must pass on certain information to counselors and administrators.

Also, Ms. Diaz said, she warns parents at the start of the year that their children may open up to her about what’s going on at home.

One activity sounds like “emotional abuse” to Beals.

Maria Diaz’s 5th graders were revisiting a lesson in social-emotional learning they’d done recently in which they drew pictures of themselves and then listened to a story. Each time students heard a “put-down,” or a hurtful statement about someone in the story, Ms. Diaz had them tear off a piece of their self-portraits in a show of empathy.

. . . The “put-downs” activity . . . brought much of the class to tears.

The goal is to make kids “more responsible and empathetic,” writes Beals. These are “two traits which the teachers we’ve read about, as well the architects of these programs, appear to be lacking in spades.”

“SEL-based classrooms also do not work for every child,” Ed Week admits. “Students with behavioral issues may require an extrinsic-rewards system or a more structured approach.”

Beals asks: “Why are we forcing students who don’t have behavioral issues to waste so much time on these privacy-invading, time-wasting exercises?”

Is SEL useful, harmless or manipulative?

Teacher suspended for profane outburst

A high school English teacher was suspended by Los Angeles Unified for a “profanity-laden outburst” that was recorded by a student. It went viral.

In the clip, which was recorded by a student on Sept. 26, the teacher yells “I know my f–ing s–t. Don’t f— with that. I’m tired of trying to educate you, and you guys resist every step of the f—ing way. Get the f— out of here.”

“You know, I had a weak moment,” the suspended teacher told the Daily Breeze.

The outburst occurred at new school for performing arts, HArts Academy, located on the campus of Narbonne High.

The teacher added that the clip was recorded by a student who had been heckling her in front of the 12th-grade class. That student then allegedly brought the recording to a Narbonne High faculty member with whom the teacher has had an adversarial relationship. The HArts Academy teacher contends the Narbonne teacher began disseminating the recording to others on campus.

Narbonne has refused to let 90 students transfer to HArts, which forced the smaller school to lay off four teachers and let the comprehensive high school hire three teachers, reports the Breeze. Bad blood between the two faculties explains why Narbonne teachers publicized the sound clip, the English teacher said. “These are people who used to be my friends.”

Students are not allowed to have cell phone in class, much less to record their teachers.

Iris scans are the new school IDs

In the sci-fi movie Minority Report, ubiquitous iris scanners reveal shoppers’ identities so advertising can be targeted — and they can be tracked everywhere.

Iris scanners are replacing ID cards at schools ranging from preschools to universities, reports CNN.

South Dakota-based Blinkspot manufactures iris scanners specifically for use on school buses. When elementary school students come aboard, they look into a scanner (it looks like a pair of binoculars). The reader will beep if they’re on the right bus and honk if they’re on the wrong one.

The Blinkspot scanner syncs with a mobile app that parents can use to see where their child is. Every time a child boards or exits the bus, his parent gets an email or text with the child’s photograph, a Google map where they boarded or exited the bus, as well as the time and date.

Parents already can slip a GPS tracker in little Aidan’s backpack, but I guess that’s not good enough for helicopter parents. Kids can lose a backpack, but they aren’t likely to lose their eyes. (But kids will forget to use the scanner and be reported missing . . . )

Eyelock, which makes scanners used in foreign airports and at high-security offices, is “entering the school market, piloting their devices in elementary school districts and nursery schools around the country.”

A San Antonio school district will stop using microchip-enabled ID cards to track attendance, despite winning a lawsuit. The cards didn’t raise attendance enough to cover the cost.

Privacy fears derail K-12 database

States are backing away from a $100 million database set up to track millions of public school students amid privacy protests by parents and civil libertarians, reports Reuters.

The database, funded mostly by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is intended to track students from kindergarten through high school by storing myriad data points: test scores, learning disabilities, discipline records – even teacher assessments of a child’s character. The idea is that consolidated records make it easier for teachers to use software that mines data to identify academic weaknesses. Games, videos or lesson plans would then be precisely targeted to engage specific children or promote specific skills.

The system is set up to identify millions of children by name, race, economic status and other metrics and is constructed in a way that makes it easy for school districts to share some or all of that information with private companies developing education software.

The nonprofit that runs the database, inBloom Inc, had nine states as partners in March when the project was announced. Kentucky, Georgia and Delaware have backed out, Louisiana will hold hearings before providing any data and Massachusetts and North Carolina are wavering. That leaves New York, Illinois and Colorado as active participants.

Districts already store student data and often share it with private vendors hired to crunch the numbers, said former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, who sits on the inBloom board of directors.

InBloom simply consolidates in one secure, cloud-hosted database the reams of student information now scattered among an array of computer servers, teacher grade books and file cabinets, Wise said. The districts retain complete control over which data to store in inBloom and whether to let third-party vendors use it.

In Colorado’s test district, suburban Jefferson County, software lets teachers look at digital “dashboards” that show which students are having trouble with which skills.  When teachers got a sneak peek, “by far the most common question was, ‘Could we get this in my classroom tomorrow?’” said Greg Mortimer, the chief information officer for the 85,000-student district.

Some inBloom supporters, such as the Council of Chief State School Officers, are backing away from the database and focusing on phase two, an online library of lesson plans, quiz questions and other teaching resources that won’t use student data. However, some states already have joined together to create their own online library.

Officials at inBloom vow to do a better job of explaining how the database will help teachers improve teaching. And the nonprofit will ask districts to assign each student a random numerical ID instead of using students’ Social Security numbers. “But spokesman Adam Gaber refused to say whether Social Security numbers might be included elsewhere – not as a label but as a basic data point, along with ethnicity, address, parents’ names and other personal information routinely collected by public schools.”

I don’t think inBloom has a sinister purpose, but it’s a tough time to persuade parents of that. The government is tracking your phone calls, emails and texts and now the public schools want to make it easy to track your children’s academic, behavioral and health records in a giant database — a “permanent record” in the cloud — that can be accessed by officials and private companies.

Teaching the 5th draws suspension

When Batavia High School students were asked to reveal their drug and alcohol abuse on surveys marked with their names, social studies teacher John Dryden told them they didn’t have to answer. It’s in the 5th Amendment.

The 20-year veteran was reprimanded and suspended without pay for a day for what the school board called ”inappropriate and unprofessional” conduct. In a letter, he was ordered to refrain from using “flippant” or sarcastic remarks, providing “legal advice,” and discrediting any district initiative, reports the Chicago Tribune.  ”Other requirements in the letter include that when Dryden is given a directive in a meeting, he must now repeat the directive back at the end of the meeting and agree to comply.”

District officials said the survey was meant to target students “in need of emotional and social interventions,” not to penalize students who admitted breaking the law.

Dryden is unrepentant.

“This un-vetted survey was and is a massive invasion of privacy and students do have a Fifth Amendment right not to give to a state institution any information that might incriminate them regardless of the intentions of that institution,” he wrote in an emailed response to the board’s letter. “The administration has argued that they intended to do the right thing and that we should have simply trusted them to act responsibly with the information provided by students.”

Dryden wrote that that the new requirements are “demeaning, vague, overly broad and constructed to entrap me in a future infraction for the purpose of termination.”

Where is the teachers’ union? Will they take action only when Dryden is fired for future flippancy or failure of allegiance?

Many teachers, former students and parents of current students turned out at the hearing to support Dryden, writes Joe Bertalmio, a local businessman, in the Tribune comments. “High school is a place where you send your kids to become adults, and if the only knock against John Dryden is that he speaks to his students like they are adults then I want every single one of my kids taking his classes. I can’t wait for the day that we get to vote in a new school board, I’ll be right there with a bull horn and list of names to oust.”

Feds may track college students’ success

The Student Right to Know Before You Go Act would let the Education Department track students through college and into the workforce, creating a federal database of remediation and graduation rates, salaries by major and program and success rates for recipients of Pell Grants and veterans’ benefits. Policymakers and consumers want to know. Privacy advocates hate the idea and some colleges oppose it too.

It’s all going on your permanent record

Data mining kids crosses the line, argues Joy Pullmann, a Heartland Institute fellow, in an Orange County Register commentary.

The U.S. Department of Education is investigating how public schools can collect information on “non-cognitive” student attributes, after granting itself the power to share student data across agencies without parents’ knowledge.

The feds want to use schools to catalogue “attributes, dispositions, social skills, attitudes and intrapersonal resources – independent of intellectual ability,” according to a February DOE report, all under the guise of education.

To get stimulus funds in 2009, states had to agree to share students’ academic data with the Education Department, Pullmann writes. But federal databases could expand to include ”health care history, disciplinary record, family income range” and more — potentially lots more.

The department recommends schools start tracking and teaching kids not just boring old knowledge but also “21st Century Competencies” – “recognizing bias in sources,” “flexibility,” “cultural awareness and competence,” “appreciation for diversity,” “collaboration, teamwork, cooperation,” “empathy,” “perspective taking, trust, service orientation,” and “social influence with others.”

What will the feds do with all this information? It’s a “disturbing question,” writes Pullmann.

Data miners can figure out your intelligence, sexual orientation, politics, religion and more by looking at what you “like” on Facebook, according to University of Cambridge researchers. Men who “like” Glee tend to be gay! Who knew? People who “like” curly fries tend to be intelligent. That’s because curly fries are tasty.

‘College for all’ spurs backlash

As debt-laden college graduates wait tables, mix drinks and push brooms, the backlash against the “college for all’ idea is growing. But defenders, led by President Obama, say they never wanted everyone to go for a bachelor’s degree.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Human sexuality students at Western Nevada College are required to masturbate, keep sex journals and write a term paper on their sexual histories, according to a federal lawsuit filed by a former student who charged invasion of privacy and sexual harassment.

The Ravi rethink

An 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers, Dharun Ravi bragged on Twitter about using a webcam to spy on his gay roommate and his male date, inviting friends to watch a second date. In a New Yorker story, Ravi comes across as immature, attention-seeking jerk, but not a homophobe. The roommate, Tyler Clementi, joked with a friend about a ”five sec peep,” unplugged Ravi’s computer to prevent spying and asked to switch rooms. Then he committed suicide.

Ravi now faces 10 years in prison and deportation to his native India. A New Jersey jury convicted him of invasion of privacy and “bias intimidation,” a hate crime. That’s prompted a mass rethink. Ten years?

Make the Punishment Fit the Cyber-Crime writes Emily Bazelon in a New York Times op-ed.

According to New Jersey’s civil rights law, you are subject to a much higher penalty if the jury finds that you committed one of a broad range of underlying offenses for the purpose of targeting someone because of his race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation.

The idea of shielding vulnerable groups is well intentioned. But with the nation on high alert over bullying — especially when it intersects with computer technology and the Internet — these civil rights statutes are being stretched to go after teenagers who acted meanly, but not violently. This isn’t what civil rights laws should be for.

It was a “hateless hate crime,” writes Jacob Sullum in Reason. “Before the trial the prosecutors offered him a deal that involved no jail time and a chance to avoid deportation, which suggests even they do not believe he should be punished as severely as a violent felon.”

I doubt the verdict will stand, if only because the defense wasn’t allowed to see Clementi’s suicide notes, which were judged “irrelevant.”  Ravi wasn’t charged with causing the suicide, but it was very relevant to the decision to charge him with a hate crime, not just invasion of privacy.

Teens need to know that cyberbullying is a crime, counters Gregg Weinlein, a retired teacher, in an Ed Week commentary.

Too often, teens flip off the word “bully” as childish, knowing that assailants today are much more vicious than the playground bullies of the previous century. Teenagers today must fend off the silent assassins of the digital age, who operate with phones and tablets and plant emotional land mines in social-networking sites. The harassment and text assaults perpetrated by some teenagers should have a criminal connotation if we are to see a shift in how older students perceive and understand this abusive behavior.

In this case, “criminal connotation” means prison and deportation.

The great questions

By cartoonist Signe Wilkinson