Conservative Group Urges Congress to Oppose ‘Social and Emotional’ Student Data Collection Bill

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

The conservative Washington, D.C.-based American Principles in Action (APIA) is urging Congress to oppose the Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA), which the group states would extend federal psychological profiling of children through increased research on “social and emotional learning.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate education committee, sponsored the legislation, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) is a co-sponsor.

Although SETRA, S. 227, is scheduled to be voted on Wednesday in the U.S. House, it has not yet been voted on in the Senate. APIA states Republican leaders intend to call a vote on the bill in both chambers without holding hearings.

APIA observes three primary problems with SETRA:

1. SETRA reauthorizes ESRA, the Education Sciences Reform Act, first passed in 2002, which facilitates intrusive data collection on students. ESRA began the idea of state longitudinal databases, which created the structure that would facilitate a de facto national student database. ESRA also eliminated previous penalties for sharing and otherwise misusing student data.

2. SETRA allows for psychological profiling of our children, raising serious privacy concerns. Section 132, page 28 of SETRA: “…and which may include research on social and emotional learning, and the acquisition of competencies and skills, including the ability to think critically, solve complex problems, evaluate evidence, and communicate effectively…”
This means the federal government will continue to promote collection of students’ psychological information. APIA does not support allowing the federal government to maintain psychological dossiers on our children.

3. SETRA depends on FERPA to protect student privacy, legislation that is now outdated and has been gutted by regulation. FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, passed in 1974, and is no longer sufficient to protect student privacy in the age of technology. Even worse, the Obama [a]dministration gutted FERPA so that it no longer offers the protections it once did.

According to the bill’s summary, SETRA would “update the uses of funds and data collection” at the national education research data centers, facilitate “coordination with public and private entities,” and increase “evaluation authority” of the U.S. Education Department secretary.

“SETRA is dangerous legislation that would expand federal psychological profiling of children through expanding research on ‘social and emotional learning,’” asserts Jane Robbins, senior fellow at American Principles in Action. “It would facilitate sharing of education statistics across states and agencies. It would continue to rely on the now-gutted FERPA statute to protect student data. SETRA must be defeated to protect student privacy rights.”

“The Strengthening Education through Research Act (H.R. 4366) will make it easier for states and school districts to access useful data that can help raise student achievement levels in the classroom,” states the bill’s Fact Sheet.

Among the supporters of the measure are the American Association of School Administrators, the Center for Education Research, the Data Quality Campaign, the Workforce Data Quality Campaign, and the Council of Chief State School Officers – one of the creators and owners of the Common Core standards.

Emmett McGroarty, Director of Education at American Principles in Action, said, “Leadership is betraying the Constitution and the American people by rushing this bill through. Having so blithely disrespected the American people, it is difficult to see how they will ever regain their trust.”


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