I received an email from my child’s school yesterday that had me gritting my teeth. It provoked me into writing about the dangers of social emotional surveys, and the tech platforms that unjustifiably collect this data, such as Panorama Ed.
The principal doesn’t spare a single syllable in getting right to the point—the school wants to know all about your child:
“In order to learn more about what our students need in order to thrive, we will be asking for your child’s feedback via an online survey that will be completed at school. Our students’ feedback will provide valuable insight into their experiences and help our district adapt to current needs. The survey will ask students to self-reflect on their social skills, dispositions, and emotions, as well as the support that they receive in and outside of the classroom.”
A preview of the links to the survey content confirmed my conclusion that our schools have lost their ever-loving minds. Here’s just one excerpt from the survey, and it’s enough to convince me that the phrase “nunya” (as in, “none of your business”) needs to make a comeback in our parental vocabulary when dealing with the public education system.
How did we ever get to this point where the schools deem it their duty to delve into the personal psyches of our children? Let’s give Panorama Ed, the source of this exploitative exercise, some of the same scrutiny it’s trained on our children.
Panorama Ed, the Social Emotional Learning platform of choice for approximately 350 Utah schools, bills itself as an “independent education technology company that partners with schools and districts to support student literacy and social-emotional learning (SEL).” Schools and districts use the Panorama Ed platform to shape, track, and measure your children’s emotional, psychological, and behavioral dispositions.
If you haven’t received the memo by now, academic performance is not the main priority of public schools, despite lip service to the contrary.
Educators use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the Covid-19 debacle, and “equity” initiatives to advance the severely misguided and personally invasive idea that students’ thoughts, attitudes, belief systems, and values must be quantified and measured continually to screen for “at-risk” factors that may interfere with their learning of the Pythagorean Theorem and punctuation.
This rationale conveniently ignores the fact that the Albert Einsteins, the Abraham Lincolns, the Maya Angelous, and other accomplished individuals managed to somehow contribute invaluably to Western society without the unblinking eye of the state peering over their shoulders to monitor, extract, and inventory every thought and feeling experienced.
In Utah, we have the disastrous Student Intervention Early Warning Program bill HB404 of 2017 to thank for the expansive implementation of data surveillance of our children through the Panorama Ed platform.
In the development of this “early warning system,” the legislature broadly defines a host of criteria that schools and the state can use to collect student data on, including “behavior,” “responses to tiered intervention,” and “other criteria.” This legislatively-sanctioned intrusion of privacy can be used by schools to justify the collecting of any type of data, on any child, for virtually any reason, on behalf of a student’s “own good.”
The data gathering allowed by 53F-4-207 is astonishingly open-ended, and raises concerning ethical questions about why schools are in the business of not just collecting, but also creating, subjective psychosocial information on children that cannot be reliably replicated or validated.
It’s even worse when you realize that the data collected is used to generate a social-emotional-behavioral profile of your child, a type of “report card” of his or her attitudes and dispositions that can affect the type of treatment he or she receives from teachers and schools throughout every grade. Interventions can be deployed to compel student compliance in any situation where an educator has determined that the student’s behavior indicates attitudes that don’t conform to institutional “expectations.”
Essentially, Panorama Ed has found a way to make good on the old school threat of “This will go on your permanent record.”
The mechanism for implementing this invasion of privacy is tech, which gives teachers and administrators the tools to monitor and assign scores to individual student behaviors and to analyze those behaviors, as can be seen in this image of a Panorama Ed data dashboard from Ogden High in 2020-2021.
In this image, students are assigned individual scores on their non-objective aptitudes, such as:
- Social Awareness
- Sense of Belonging, and
- Classroom Effort (which encompasses Emotion Regulation, Engagement, Learning Strategies, and Social Perspective taking)
The information for these scores is collected through multiple modalities: student surveys, student check-ins, teacher observation, and student information system (SIS) integration.
Educators and any other authorized third-parties designated as education officials under FERPA can disaggregate these behaviors using Panorama Ed’s data dashboard, pictured below. The disaggregation capability of the platform advances the “equity” goals of social change activists, who assert that a student’s educational experience is inseparable from “identity” markers such as race and gender.
Racial and ethnic divisions are manufactured through survey questions that are worded in such a way as to inform student expectations of “acceptable” racial or cultural interactions.
That there is a transformational agenda that goes well beyond a student’s academic performance is clear from Panorama’s alignment with CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning. Panorama Ed uses the student SEL data collected to set national benchmarks for social emotional learning. Simply put, Panorama establishes a standardized baseline by which our children’s unique emotions and temperaments are to be scrutinized and compared.
Panorama Ed claims these measures are meant to provide informal teacher-student feedback, and not intended to serve as a “grade” or “assessment,” although the scored student profiles appear to contradict this assertion.
Though SEL scores are a deeply troubling aspect of such a platform, Panorama Ed’s issues don’t stop there.
Another disconcerting issue is that the Panorama Ed data dashboard prejudices educators toward drawing a direct connection between a student’s academic performance with his socioemotional data—in other words, educators may be falsely attributing a student’s academic difficulties with socioemotional factors that have nothing to do with that student’s struggle to understand the differences between adverbs and adjectives, as one example.
Teachers are expected to read into the numerical scores a sort of mystical understanding of a child’s cultural influences upon her learning and then divine the proper, multi-tiered interventions accordingly. Little Sally’s struggle with reading becomes about Sally belonging to a historically marginalized racial group, not about the fact that the Acadience Reading program used by the school employs dull and pedantic reading selections that fail to inspire imagination or speak to anything novel beyond the student’s experience. Sally is struggling to read because she is bored, not because she is black.
For all its sophistication, the Panorama Ed platform can’t solve for educators succumbing to this form of the Fundamental Attribution Error, in which a child’s behaviors are overattributed to his or her social identity or dispositions, and underattributed to that child’s context or situation. The net effect of hyperfocusing on a student’s social identity or dispositions as the root of academic shortcoming is that the public school system gets absolved of any professional obligation to properly teach students academics. A Panorama representative acknowledged that the platform does not have any “predictive” capacity, nor does it prove any causal links between the socioemotional/behavioral data and actual student performance outcomes.
Altogether, the Panorama Ed ecosystem is crafted to inform and change student belief systems and behaviorally condition their social responses according to CASEL’s vision of culturally transformative learning.
A presenter in a Panorama Ed district leadership seminar conducted in June of this year expressed that educators are to act on the data to improve student “outcomes.” Another presenter gushed that the Panorama platform enables teachers to see that behaviors are changing, right down to the “time of the day.” A third speaker said that creating a sense of belonging is “intentional.”
Can we see what is happening right in front of our own eyes? The amount of scope creep in the public schools’ scholastic mission has expanded the tentacled reach of the state into the most personal of personal spaces—our children’s minds and hearts.
It should go without saying that parents must exercise their right to opt-out of SEL surveys and the like, but opting-out doesn’t change the fact that the system has devised many ways to extract and inject the same corrupt data from and into our children all the same. Parents have ceded too much control in the name of “being nice” to people who are doing some very not nice things to our children.
Reasonable adults can agree that allowing others to manipulate our children’s souls in the name of safety is simply wrong. Author C.S. Lewis was on to something when he wrote:
“Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive… those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”