by Karen R. Effrem, MD
Happy New Year! Here is a brief update on federal education issues we were following before Christmas and some predictions as 2018 begins. As always, the contrast between policies that uphold the Constitution, academic excellence, parental rights, and data privacy versus those that expand big government control and corporate interests, using student as mere widgets in the labor supply pipeline, is stark.
Thanks to you raising your voices amidst the rush to complete work before the Christmas break, the Senate, after completing the tax bill, did not, as some had feared, take up the Orwellian, de facto national database-creating Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act (S 2046 – FEPA). For now, no new meetings of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee have been scheduled to hear the bill in 2018.
The House Education and Workforce Committee did take up the Higher Education Act, which they dubbed the PROSPER Act. Although the bill thankfully did not incorporate the College Transparency Act (CTA) — a provision which would have removed the ban on the student unit record allowing life-long data monitoring of individual students without consent — the PROSPER Act still has some significant privacy concerns.
Unfortunately, there has not been any significant effort to strengthen and update the main federal student privacy law, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). A FERPA bill proposed by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) in the last congress that made some improvements in data security, but no real changes in data and psychological privacy, has not been re-introduced. And despite many efforts to get President Trump and the Department of Education to undo the regulatory gutting of FERPA and support privacy as he promised during the campaign, there is currently no news from the administration.
Also not re-introduced is the reauthorization of the Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA) that wanted to impose federal social emotional research. That this was held up for an entire session of Congress was clearly related to strong parental opposition.
2018 Prediction: With this year being a congressional midterm election year, elected officials are less likely to make drastic overt changes in privacy law. Currently, the most dangerous bill is FEPA, because it creates such massive data sharing and its House sponsor is Speaker Paul Ryan — though the political calculus in the Senate is more difficult, because the sponsor there is Democrat Senator Patty Murray. Although it is still possible the bill could be brought directly to the Senate floor, that seems less likely now according to discussions with committee staff, but this bill still must be closely monitored due to its dangerous privacy implications.
Changes in state programs or implementation of some of the privacy-invading and SEL programs in ESSA are still possible — as was predicted recently by James Wilson. Regardless, it is critical that citizens remind their elected officials of the problems with these various bills and programs. One very important and immediate step for activists is to let your two U.S. senators know about the dangers of FEPA by using social media to send them information about the bill available here, the link to this video interview, or the executive summary of the myths and facts about the bill.
Language supporting this machine-based learning system with near constant assessment, data mining, and social emotional profiling is prominently featured in the PROSPER Act (passed by the House Education & Workforce Committee) and the Carl Perkins Career and Technical Act (passed by the House).
2018 Prediction: It is now up to parents, teachers, and the public to try to stop these centralized government planning bills before they are completed in the Senate. Whether they pass will depend on how responsive Congress is to the electorate as the midterms approach compared to the moneyed interests pushing for these controlled economic ideas that have been utter failures everywhere they have been tried. Given that parents in several school districts have been able to reject the CBE platform pushed by Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerburg and the record numbers of parents fighting SETRA and FEPA, my money is on parents.
This invasive program that sends government agents into homes to tell people, including military families, how to parent their children by government standards, has currently expired. And while the House passed a 4-year reauthorization bill last year, the Senate version has not yet come up in committee and is unlikely to do so until later this month. Ironically, the program, despite cries of proponents, is very ineffective and should not be renewed at all. As Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins point out, supporting this program is a litmus test of FEPA. If home visiting is renewed despite its decided lack of supporting evidence, then it will be extremely clear that FEPA is not really about evidence-based policymaking, but rather about gathering more data on the American people.
2018 Prediction: The tardiness and disunity about reauthorization between the House and Senate combined with the Trump administration’s efforts to cut the federal budget and decrease the size and scope of government give me some hope that this program may stay expired.
This is a favorite program of Democrats and, sadly, some big-government Republicans. Head Start is many years overdue for reauthorization and is another disturbing example of the endurance of a federal program despite hundreds of studies showing ineffectiveness and even harm. The Trump administration wisely budgeted a decrease in funding for Head Start.
2018 Prediction: Unfortunately, there is not enough political courage in Congress to even decrease funding for, much less eliminate, this Johnson administration dinosaur, especially in an election year. In addition, because Congress recklessly added a $250 million new program of preschool development grants as a boon to corporations and foundations in ESSA, the federal nanny state role is likely to continue as is.
Although the federal juggernaut appears to be relentlessly rolling forward, the efforts of parent and grassroots activists have been successful, especially in the realm of student privacy, and can be in 2018. When once asked in an interview why I keep up this “David and Goliath fight,” I responded, “Because David won!” Hang in there, keep up the great work, and don’t give up!
Photo credit: US Department of Education via Flickr, CC BY 2.0