The Real Reason Your Child is Being Psychologically Profiled at School

In an article from May in the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Aida Cerundolo warned parents that public schools may be psychologically assessing their children without consent.

“The mental-health information teachers are now obtaining, storing and tracking…is equally as sensitive as that which is collected in a pediatrician’s office,” Cerundolo says.

And she’s right.

Tests like the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment, which ask teachers to rate students on how often a child “carr[ies] himself with confidence” or  “cope[s] well with insults and mean comments” are being used with increasing frequency in public schools across the country, without parental consent or adequate privacy protections.

But where did this sudden interest in assessing children’s “social and emotional” skills come from?  Is it really nothing more than a “noble” endeavor, meant to identify students in need of intervention, as Cerundolo claims?

Or is there more to it?

As with most education fads that sweep the nation, there is much more to the story – and be forewarned: it gets ugly.

When the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – now called ESSA – was reauthorized in 2015, a provision was included encouraging states to include non-academic performance measures in their accountability plans.

“[The] law calls for … a shifting away from the narrow focus on academics,” explained Ulrich Boser, author of “Learning Mindsets and Skills: An Opportunity for Growth with the Every Student Succeeds Act,” in an article in NEA Today.

As a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP), Boser is fully aware of the value of this non-academic data.

CAP is one of the nation’s leading drivers of Social Impact Bonds (also called “Pay for Success”) – a system in which private lenders provide upfront capital for social or educational programs, in return for payment with interest when programs reach agreed-upon “outcomes.”

These bonds, while still in the early stages nationwide, are already generating big payments for banks like Goldman Sachs – and investment groups are preparing to launch a derivatives market on top of the bonds.  It’s a market that experts predict will reach into the trillions of dollars over the next few years.

And investors are already turning their attention to the “value” social-emotional (SEL) data can play in making these bets.

Using dubious statistical analysis to claim that big financial rewards are possible from social emotional programs, groups like the “Social Emotional Learning Alliance for Massachusetts” are now lobbying aggressively for the advancement of social impact bonds.

Nationwide, the drive to promote and standardized “social and emotional learning” outcomes is being driven by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).  Led by Timothy Shriver of the Aspen Institute (another organization heavily promoting social impact bonds), CASEL recently made headlines when a high-profile academic, Angela Duckworth, pulled out of its multi-district experiment in promoting “social emotional” learning.

Duckworth – famous for her research on “grit” – wrote in the New York Times that she had “contributed, inadvertently, to an idea [she] vigorously opposes: high-stakes character assessment.”

But the SEL experiments and data collection continue to ramp up, with ed-tech investors and developers seeking their piece of the pie by developing games and apps meant to assess social-emotional skills.

A report from the World Economic Forum called “New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning through Technology” calls on developers to “creatively embedding SEL features into products that support foundational academic skills,” and to use “innovative new technologies – such as wearable devices, virtual reality and apps – [that] enable students to master important social and emotional skills.”

(You didn’t really think “social emotional learning” meant investing in things like lower teacher-student ratios or school counselors, did you?)

And what of the social-emotional skills themselves?  Who or what organization decides what types of skills to embed in digital apps?

Industry leaders have taken the reigns on that too, calling for a workforce with skills like “grit,” and “self-discipline.” Skills that generate financial return are the ones get included, the rest are tossed aside.

Even long-time reformers like Chester Finn are questioning the social-emotional skills now being promoted in schools:

“Dig into social-emotional learning’s five core competencies, as laid out by CASEL,” Finn wrote in a recent article in Edweek, “and you’ll spot—among 25 skills students are supposed to learn—just one feeble mention of ethics and none whatsoever of morality. You won’t even find such old-fashioned virtues as integrity, courage, or honesty, and certainly nothing as edgy as patriotism.”


If all of this —  investors using kids’ psychological profiles to gamble on the results of social programs, while using technology to generate a compliant, productive workforce — sounds like a dystopian nightmare to you, know that you are not alone.

But here’s the thing: they can’t do it without the data… so opt your child out of this type of profiling today.



Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

18 thoughts on “The Real Reason Your Child is Being Psychologically Profiled at School”

    1. It only seems as if everything is moving fast but the road was paved back in the late 1800’s – our children are to be considered human capital and all the legislation and documents are out there for you to read. Thye have been very sly, but the using our children through their education to pull off the lies and scam of the sustainable development green lies comes from their mouths – you just have to pay attention and for God’s sake, check those backpacks every day when they come home. You never know what you will learn.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Reblogged this on Poetic Justice and commented:
    It is all happening so fast – how do we keep up with this “high stakes character assessment” scheme to take our children away from us and hand them over to the gods of the holy dollar?

    Many thanks to Emily for keeping up with this madness.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Time to STARVE THE BEAST. It is too late to save education but we still can save our children. We can no longer turn a blind eye to what is happening. If you care at all about your kids you will do whatever is necessary to get them out of the system and allow it to implode upon itself. They only need one thing to accomplish their evil agenda……..our children. Take away the kids the beast dies.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Whoa! Appreciating the reactivation of your blog, Emily!

    Doris Santoro Associate Professor and Chair Education Department Bowdoin College 7400 College Station Brunswick, ME 04011 207-798-4309 @DorisASantoro

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Glad you are back in the saddle, Emily. Indeed, mama bear is engaged again. I was just talking about all of this very issue…need to be pro-active. Well done!
    I agree, children are what feed the beast…need to rescue them from this FAST moving train.

    Liked by 1 person

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