Invasive International Survey Targeting Pre-K Students Is Coming to U.S.

March 15, 2019

by Karen R. Effrem, MD


Not apparently content with the extent of invasive personality profiling discussed last year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is expanding it psychological profiling to 5,000 young children each in the U.S., England, and Estonia. The assessment is titled the International Early Learning Survey (IELS). Dubbed by some as “Baby PISA” (after the Program for International Student Assessment, an international assessment for fifteen-year-olds also conducted by OECD), this assessment is disturbingly comprehensive in the data it seeks to mine from young children and their families. Here is a description of the assessment in 2016 and early 2017 in the Federal Register seeking comments:

The IELS focuses on young children and their cognitive and non-cognitive skills and competencies as they transition to primary school. The IELS is designed to examine: children’s early learning and development in a broad range of domains, including social emotional skills as well as cognitive skills; the relationship between children’s early learning and children’s participation in early childhood education and care (ECEC); the role of contextual factors, including children’s individual characteristics and their home backgrounds and experiences, in promoting young children’s growth and development; and how early learning varies across and within countries prior to beginning primary school. [Emphasis added.]

It is important to note that this assessment will be conducted via digital media.

The comments submitted by Education Liberty Watch about this study outline several major problems:

1.) The compelling evidence of ineffectiveness and or harm (also here) of early childhood programs, especially government-sponsored ones, as admitted even by proponent researchers, renders the need for yet another taxpayer-funded study completely moot.

2.) As extensively discussed in our new research paper, “Social-Emotional Learning: K-12 Education as New Age Nanny State,” there is significant subjectivity in the questions asked of these young children and very thin to non-existent scientific support for social-emotional assessments and SEL programs in general in young children. After all, SEL has been a prominent part of Head Start and early childhood programs for many years, yet many studies have shown early childhood programs to be at best ineffective and at worst harmful, as described above.

3.) There are clear ties of SEL to Common Core, which hundreds of early childhood experts have rightly declared developmentally inappropriate.

4.) The data privacy concerns are extremely significant, as the U.S. Department of Education (which houses the National Center for Education Statistics that will be conducting this study) has shown itself utterly incapable of protecting student data, and this data on sensitive SEL parameters will be shared with a large international organization (OECD), which does not comply with even the weak, outdated data privacy provisions of FERPA.

5.) This data gathering violates multiple U.S. Supreme Court precedents placing parents in charge of the raising, education, and other care of children, including social-emotional care.

Early childhood experts have criticized this effort globally. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Early-childhood experts from at least 25 different nations oppose OECD’s IELS, questioning “whether political and corporate profit interests are being privileged over valid research, children’s rights and meaningful evaluation.” They also argue that “the motives and interests driving international standardised assessment and its underlying assumptions need to be questioned at all levels.” They “disagree with an approach that conceptualizes and instrumentalises early childhood education and care mainly as preparation for the following stages of formal education, and as tool [sic] for achieving long- term economic outcomes—which are in itself questionable or unsubstantiated.”
  • According to Education Dive, a very pro-early childhood and workforce education reform publication, another early childhood expert questioned whether social-emotional skills can be measured through digital media. “Once again, we have opened Pandora’s box,” he wrote. “If more and more countries participate in this study — as I expect will happen in the long term — we will see a further narrowing and standardization of early-childhood education. There will be no room for culturally and contextually sensitive comparison and discourse.”

There is clear evidence that these assessments represent OECD’s goal to expand student surveillance beyond the school and into home and family life. This extremely disturbing OECD document is the admission that the sensitive data gathered from this surveillance will be used to impose government-favored SEL standards and skills on families:

Policy makers, teachers, parents and researchers can help expand children’s growth potential by actively engaging in skill development within the domains that they are responsible for. However, given that “skills beget skills,” education policies and programmes need to ensure coherence across learning contexts (i.e. family, school and the community) and stages of school progression (i.e. across primary, lower secondary and upper secondary schooling). This is an important way to maximise the returns to skills investment over the life cycle. [Emphasis added.]

As discussed, there is little to no evidence from scientific or outcome studies that either preschool or SEL programs are helpful for young children. It is appalling in the extreme to have an international organization like OECD presume to be able to have its member governments, especially the United States, control the upbringing of children via a standardized program. Parents of the world should refuse this global nanny state interference, and American parents should especially rise up and remind those in Congress and at the Education Department that it is parents, not bureaucrats or corporations, that own the store when it comes to the raising and education of children.


Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

Archive: Karen R. Effrem, MD

4 comments on “Invasive International Survey Targeting Pre-K Students Is Coming to U.S.”

  • KATHY MCHAN says:

    While I agree that for most children the primary source of social emotional learning is, and by right should be, coming from children learning in families at home, programs like head start often focus on children from backgrounds where basic social and emotional needs are not being met. If a child’s needs were being met at home, a early childhood intervention program can and often is harmful, but in those occasions where the child comes from a neglectful environment, having structure and consistency is a huge blessing for them. It isn’t quite fair to compare children in early education programs without some information on the type of care they recieved at home. I definitely would not support any invasion into the efficacy of my personal child rearing, and I wouldn’t suggest the government performing such assessments on any family not part of the child welfare system. It it’s really difficult to draw a line when some kids need some kind of early intervention. Offering ‘free childcare’ that includes evaluation and instruction in social emotional areas should allow parents to opt in. The real infringement would happen by making it mandatory.

    • Dr. Karen Effrem says:

      We cannot create policy by crisis or by catering to the minority. By the U.S. government’s own data (see http://edlibertywatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Effectiveness-Research-from-the-U.pdf), Head Start has been a colossal failure in both the SEL and academic realms. Instead of propping up failed, invasive programs like Head Start, our nation should be working to reverse the government-created crisis of single parenthood. Loads of research and common sense show that two-parent families are far more effective at ameliorating SEL problems than government programs will ever be.

  • Karen Bracken says:

    PISA was rewritten a couple of years ago by none other than Pearson to align with Common Core. To me we shouldn’t need to know anything else about Common Core. This proves it is global not American.

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