lena accountability
Would you volunteer to have a private organization (under public school contract) track your parental conversation with your child aged 0-5?


Parental conversations with children, with the permission of the parents, will be recorded and analyzed by a private company under a contract with the Huntsville City School District.  From Geek Palaver:

During the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education meeting last night, the board, without asking a single question, approved Dr. Wardynski’s recommendation for a 24 month contract with the LENA Foundation for $93,500.

For a two-year contract, this one is actually rather small, but it will have far-reaching implications. Basically what the LENA Foundation does is collect data on the amount of time parents spend speaking to their children in order to help reduce the language gap that typically exists between children born into poverty and those born into homes above the poverty line.

In order to collect this information, the district will be seeking parents of young children to give the district and the LENA Foundation the right to record every incident of conversation between the parent and the child.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Russell Winn provides some history on the company:

The LENA Research Foundation is located in Boulder, CO and is headed by a person who until 2013 was working for Lockheed Martin.

According to Dr. Wardynski, this is the first time that the LENA Foundation has worked with a school district. He excitedly proclaimed that the district would be able to “work hand in glove, even before they get to school, to make sure kids are school ready.”


I wonder if Dr. Wardynski is correct in his statement as it shows from the LENA website that it is working with several school districts from around the country:


Lena Pro uses the same video recorder used in the Huntsville contract with LENA Start.  Instead of evaluating small children in an institutional setting, LENA Start will be able to track young children in their conversations with parents.

(click on graphic to enlarge)

lena pro

LENA system

He writes that the Board agreed to the contract with no questions or public comment.  He lists what is known about the contract/program and then asks some unanswered questions:

  1. This contract calls for the recording of children/parent interactions beginning in May 2015.
  2. The program is designed to work with children from ages 24 to 48 months
  3. The district is working with “new parents and community sponsors” to send a text message to parents reminding them to talk to their new children.
  4. We do not know who these “community sponsors” actually are.
  5. Helen Scott, Director of School Readiness, (the Pre-K program) will be overseeing this program.
  6. It seems, therefore, that the district will be encouraging our Pre-K children/parents to participate in this program.
  7. Huntsville City Schools will be serving as a beta-test site for rolling out this program. Once again, the district is completely fine with using our children as guinea pigs for a start-up corporation’s benefit.

What we still do not know: 

  1. How will the district be “encouraging” parents to participate in such an intrusive/invasive program that records private conversations between children and parents, as well as any other background conversations in the home within range of the recorder? (The recording device is capable of recording television sounds and distinguishing them from human speech or even human singing.)
  2. Will the district attempt to require 50-60 parents who are already participating in the Pre-K program to also participate in this recording program as a part continuing to allow the child to remain in the Pre-K program? (Dr. Wardynski has regularly stated that attending Pre-K in this city is a privilege that can be taken away.)  
  3. Will the district attempt to require other students who receive, let’s say, Speech Therapy as a part of their IEP to also participate in this recording program?
  4. Since the LENA Foundation’s website is internally self-contradictory concerning what happens with the recordings, how will the district address parental concerns about being recorded in their own homes? (Perhaps a better phrasing of this question would be, “Will the district attempt to address parental privacy concerns at all?” They haven’t in the past.)
  5. And finally, what parents, in their right minds, would ever consent to allowing conversations with their child to be recorded?

To the final question, I have absolutely no answer. While addressing the 30 million word gap is certainly important, sending a text message to parents to remind them to talk to their children is a non-starter.

To the other questions, I also have no answer. You see, I am not a board member, and I was not asked during the board meeting last night if I had any questions.

And not one single board member asked a single question about this plan to record private conversations between parents and children either.

It’s so nice to know that they are looking out for us, isn’t it?

Once again, Dr. Wardynski has board approval to spy on our children.

Here’s a LENA video from parents who report they have gone through the program.  They all are well-spoken and don’t seem to be parents who wouldn’t be talking to their children inappropriately in the first place.  Listen beginning at the 3:37 mark when the mom mentions that her daughter is only one year old and is going through the program. Even though this is a video touting the wonders of recording conversations with children, analyzing young children with parents’ personal conversations seems a bit invasive.  Do the parents know/care if and how this information is being shared with organizations other than LENA and the sponsoring institution?



Disclaimer: I’m the mother of a hearing impaired young adult.  I was told by early educators that hearing impaired children needed a lot of language and vocabulary from the parents. So that’s what we provided in our family.  We wouldn’t have wanted our conversations recorded.  The educators gave us a suggestion and it was up to our family to either act on that suggestion or not.  They did their job to provide information and we did our job to follow through on that suggestion.  Are parents today so ill equipped (self absorbed, uneducated or not cognizant of the importance of conversation) to not be able to provide appropriate conversation without this type of computer intervention and the desire for accountability? What would happen if a language delayed child is just not ready for speech? Is that the parent’s fault for not doing enough?  Do schools then need to provide video cameras to record daily life so they can get a more complete idea of the conversation?  Where does the tracking stop?  Is it ever appropriate in a home setting in any manner?

Perhaps the Huntsville School District believes it will find out the answers to these type of questions through volunteer parental recorded conversation and when children come to school with stronger vocabulary, the schools can then close the achievement gap via technology.  What happens if/when the parental conversation is deemed ineffective and not up to the desired standards?  If increased vocabulary isn’t the magic bullet for closing the achievement gap, what new programs will then be instituted to correct other family issues that impact a child’s learning?  Will a child’s/family’s failure in vocabulary acquisition then be an opportunity for the Division of Family Services to become involved in the child’s upbringing?  I wonder if the School Board has questioned that possibility.


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