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November 3, 2022

Data-Mining Our Kids

School surveys and social emotional learning present yet another challenge for parents regarding their children’s education.

Public schools were once a place where children went to learn reading, writing, and math. For children across our country, these days are no more.

Many students now start their day with a daily check-in survey that notifies their teacher about how they are feeling that day. Other students may take a “student well-being survey” twice a year. The surveys will allegedly help school administrators measure the school’s climate. In Tennessee, student well-being surveys begin in the third grade, include 50 questions, and take about 10 minutes to complete. Tennessee students in high school complete a 104-question survey that can take about 20 minutes to complete. Hamilton County schools in Tennessee ask harmless questions such as, “Once upset, how often can you calm yourself or relax?” and, “During the last 30 days … how well did you get along with students who are different than you?”

In contrast, the Washington State Health Youth Survey asks middle schoolers questions such as, “During the past 12 months, how many times did you attempt to attempt suicide?” and, “How old were you when you had sex for the first time?”

As demonstrated, the questions range from harmless to invasive, and most parents don’t know their child participates in such surveys. When parents become aware and take steps to opt their child out, they are often met with pushback from administrators. Why do invasive surveys take valuable class time when more than half of American public school students cannot read at grade level?

The answer is social emotional learning (SEL).

The push for SEL in public schools has replaced academics with feelings. When SEL first took form, it was meant to promote skills such as emotional awareness, goal setting, and empathy. There is no question that these skills are monumental to creating productive citizens, but who is responsible for teaching children these skills — the parent or the state? To further understand the need for surveys and SEL in schools, we must follow the money.

School districts across the country hold contracts with a data collection company called Panorama. The company recently made headlines when it was discovered that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s son-in-law is a cofounder of Panorama. According to Forbes, Panorama “sells surveys to school districts across the country that focus on the local ‘social and emotion climate.’” Furthermore, “These surveys are then used as justification for new curriculum from other providers that some parents call critical race theory and find objectionable.”

Panorama contracts range from $80,000 to over $100,000 and often include language that states Panorama does not partake in data mining, but when data is entered to its database it is owned by Panorama. Other included language also considers the parent a third party. This language is concerning to parents because they do not know what happens to their child’s data or who has access to it.

If the public school system in America can be saved, we must stop the data mining of our children, and instead we must prioritize academics.

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