Over the last few months, I’ve been involved with surveys and heard reports of surveys being given to students. A Title IX survey was given to our secondary students (developed by the company Second Step as part of the Social Emotional Learning curriculum in PE) and a social and emotional health survey (developed by the company Panorama) at selected Elementary schools.
While the rationale promoted by our schools for administering these surveys is to “better our schools”, defining objectively what “better” is hasn’t been provided. When asked to define this objectively, our schools have responded that they will have to look at the data received to determine how we are doing so that they can implement changes. The companies providing these surveys to our schools (some for a fee) do so in many other school districts across the country, which results in comparing how our students are “doing” against data from other areas outside of New Hanover County. Additionally, these companies promote and sell professional development products for our teachers that will be required to be used by them to implement any changes the data from these surveys recommend.
We know how overworked and underpaid our staff is and adding additional duties that may not directly improve the academic experience for all of our students is suspect at best. So what is the issue? While social and emotional health is important to the growth of children, having a set curriculum and for profit data collection that places all children on the same “growth track” and standards crosses the lines for parent rights. My job as a parent is to raise my children how I best see fit. The school board on June 8, 2021 updated policy 4720 and adjusted it to include “If the school system collects such information from students for the purpose of marketing or selling the information to develop, evaluate, or provide educational products or services as described above, upon request, parents may inspect any instrument used to collect the information before it is administered or distributed to a student.”
Policy 4720 is about surveying students. The seemingly subtle change from having to gain consent from parents or guardian prior to the administration of these surveys to now defaulting to an “opt out” option allows the school system to intentionally or unintentionally bypass parental involvement so that data can be collected and changes implemented in our schools. I too would like to see positive change in our schools, but is reducing parental involvement as a partner in education the best answer? I don’t believe it is. In my opinion, it is not a coincidence that on June 8, 2021 this policy was updated and that change was made and now we have witnessed multiple surveys being administered to our students without receiving parent consent first. While the new policy states that parents can “see” the surveys ahead of time as well as “opt out” if they choose to do so, this is not being communicated effectively to parents and instead if a parent isn’t proactive, they will likely not be aware of these surveys and be provided a genuine opportunity to determine if they are appropriate for their children.
The school my children attend was one of 11 Elementary schools selected to use the Panorama developed survey, and when I asked about viewing the survey prior to it being used, I was told I had to come to the school office to see the survey in person. This was my first red flag and since everything is done electronically, why does this seem to appear as though there is some secrecy behind it? When I was able to review the survey in person, the survey had two things on it that stood out and appeared odd. First, the word “sample” was watermarked across the whole document and second it contained the words “for demo purposes only”.
What does that mean? Let me tell you, what that means is that those questions are not the questions being used. I followed up about this issue since I found it very odd and alarming. After additional conversations with the school, I was told “those are the exact questions”. This is the first Panorama survey being given. While Panorama offers the surveys free of charge, they have developed a national database repository with survey results from schools all over the country. They also provide an opportunity to “interpret our data” as well as offer paid professional development services.
Would it shock you to know this did not come from our school improvement team (S.I.T.)? At every school there is an ongoing discussion about ways to help our students grow academically. In my opinion this should be our district focus, so I find it odd that a district initiative would not be utilizing S.I.T. for growth, but rather another piloted district initiative. I only know of 2 of the 11 schools and those schools have little parental involvement. After observing how our school district operates, pilot programs typically become district initiatives, so I encourage ALL parents to speak up about this.
How can we change this?
Glad you asked. Policy 2410 allows for any group to bring up to the superintendent any policy that they want to look at, adopt or change. This must be brought to the policy committee prior to a board meeting discussion. As a community, we need to request a change in the policy 4720 Student Surveys. Policy 4720 was updated June 8, 2021 and in order to change this policy we as a community of parents need to speak up about having intentional consent, rather than implied consent. While I support our schools efforts to improve academic growth, I do not support surveys that will shape what kind of curriculum my children will be learning about social emotional health without my knowledge and direct consent. I do not like the seemingly intentional divide schools are creating by not requiring consent, and then asking personal questions, which can be viewed by request only. Our state requires social emotional health to be addressed, but mandating a curriculum for all is not in everyone’s best interest. We know as parents our kids learn at different levels and social emotional development is even wider than academic development.
In addition to readdressing this policy, our school board needs to push back on the state level mandating social emotional learning curriculum. That way parents who WANT to opt in will be allowed and families not interested do not have to partake. This will also take a much needed load off of our teachers and we can redirect funding to help eliminate academic learning loss.