Invasive Plan to Data Mine Preschoolers Globally Draws International Criticism

December 11, 2017

by Karen R. Effrem, MD


Back in February, both Education Liberty Watch and American Principles Project warned about and submitted comments to The Federal Register opposing U.S. participation in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) latest ill-advised and invasive International Early Learning Study (IELS). This is a new scheme to extend international standardized testing, social emotional profiling, and data mining via tablets. Here are the details about this assessment from The Federal Register:

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]

Here is a diagram of what will be gleaned from the young lab rats children:

This next assessment is being dubbed “Baby PISA” by critics, after the K-12 international assessment done by OECD, the Programme for International Student Assessment.

Details of our objections are available at the above links, but here is a brief summary of our concerns at the time:

…there are already dozens of studies showing that preschool is minimally effective, that beneficial effects fade with time or is academically and emotionally harmful. Social emotional assessment, especially for young children, is extraordinarily subjective and unreliable, violates parental autonomy, and the private right of conscience of free American citizens. This is especially true when data security within the U.S. Department of Education is so poor.

Condemnation of the IELS has also been long-standing and widespread from the early childhood community. A 2016 letter was published in the International Critical Childhood Policy Studies Journal that was signed by nearly 200 early childhood experts from more than 20 countries.

Just recently, Helge Wasmuth, an associate professor of early childhood and childhood education at New York’s Mercy College and a signatory of that letter, wrote an article published on the ECE Policy Matters website listing more concerns about IELS. Here are some important quotes from that article mirroring many of the concerns listed in our comments (emphases added):

  • “Or is it another piece to open up public education sectors to corporate interests?”
  • “The disregard of the early childhood community is concerning enough. Don’t even get me started on the collection of child-based data on a global scale without the consent of children, parents, or practitioners. Or with assessing five-year-olds on a tablet. How flawed and meaningless are the results. How do you assess trust and empathy, or the complexities of learning and development?”
  • “Everyone should be clear about their goals of creating a common framework with benchmarks and assessing learning outcomes. Early childhood education will be reduced to what can be measured: literacy and numeracy.”
  • “Pedagogical compliance will follow, along with teaching to the test—especially in countries, such as the U.S., with many private providers of early education, who will use their outcomes to win new customers. As in the case of the Common Core, a new market will be created, “Aligned to IELS” the new trademark.”
  • “The quest for predictable outcomes leaves no place for the hallmarks of early childhood—for uncertainty, experimentation, surprise, amazement, context, subjective experiences. OECD values and measures what can be measured, but not necessarily what is important.”

Wasmuth referenced the OECD effort with the IELS to be part of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), which he described as follows:

Key features of GERM, addressed in a double issue of the Global Education Review, which I edited with Elena Nitecki, include increased standardization, high-stakes accountability, predetermined learning outcomes, control over teachers, business-based management models, and privatization.

GERM, in the realm of early childhood, has been led by the United Nations and UNESCO for a very long time. Here are a few examples:

  • Learning begins at birth. This calls for early care and initial education. These can be provided through arrangements involving families, communities, or institutional programmes, as appropriate.” (World Declaration on Education for All – 1990, emphasis in original)
  • “In 2000, ten years after Jomtien, the World Education Forum (Dakar, Senegal) confirmed the World Declaration on Education for All, and agreed to six new goals in the Dakar Framework for Action: To expand and improve comprehensive early childhood care and education…” (Education for Sustainability – 2002)
  • UNESCO is also facilitating the international Education for All (EFA) program that aims to develop and implement national education action plans, enable capacity development in early-childhood, primary and science education, and catalyze new approaches to family education as well as citizenship, peace, multicultural and environmental… (Education for Sustainability – 2002)

GERM is also very much into the early childhood data gathering of the type that OECD is doing with the IELS. The preschool indicators from a 2017 UNESCO education data report to implement UN Sustainable Development Goal for education, which has evolved from several previous UN agreements, now says, “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” They, like the IELS, promote significant invasive data gathering of the home environment. These indicators also seem to promote the UN idea that preschool should be compulsory:

Fortunately, much of the international early childhood community is refusing to participate in this latest global boondoggle. According to Wasmuth, the early childhood communities of Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all lodged major protests and their governments have refused to participate. Very sadly, the only two participants are the powerful countries of England and the United States.

However, hopeful developments in the U.S. include opposition from the American early childhood community, from the testing and opt-out movement represented by leaders like Diane Ravitch, and the grassroots conservative and parental rights groups and organizations already mentioned. Additionally, President Trump has made the very wise decision to remove the United States from UNESCO. Hopefully, his administration will see the parallel folly of the educational meddling of OECD and, at the least, stop American participation in IELS. Please, as you contact the White House about the other data issues and bills we have been discussing, add this one to the list.


Dr. Karen Effrem is trained as a pediatrician and serves as president of Education Liberty Watch and the executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition.

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