setraStrengthening Research Through Education Act (SETRA) is a bill that  was passed by the Senate is is currently being considered in the U.S. House. SETRA allows the federal government to research and collect data on our children’s most sensitive psychological makeup. We wrote about it in January when the Senate was considering it. Now we must try to work on our House members to stop it. At the very least it must not be included on the consent calendar so that all our Representatives have to publicly take a stand and vote on it.

Emmet McGroarty of the American Principles Project and Dr. Karen Effram of Liberty Watch have been hard at work in the nation’s capitol educating House members on why the federal collection of data on our children’s social and emotional status is so dangerous.

This is the one pager they produced to bring the most salient objections to the foreground:


Liberty Counsel is an international legal, media and policy organization with an emphasis on religious liberties protected by the First Amendment. They composed a letter objecting to the inclusion of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) currently included in SETRA. The letter outlines various court cases that support the prohibition of such gathering as well as federal statute that prohibits the gathering of SEL data.  The letter states:

While “grit” and “desire for learning” appear to be benign terms on their face, other amorphous “mindsets” categories such as these have been used by activist educators in other surveys and material to reshape students’ moral and religious beliefs about controversial social issues such as “comprehensive sex education,” “gender roles” and the traditional family, and the normalization of homosexuality. The subject of “school climate” frequently arises relating to “anti-bullying,” which in turn is often a stand-in for the creation of additional “protected classes” such as “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” again to undermine traditional values. Education Week reports that:

These core areas [“grit,” “desire for learning,” “school climate,” “technology use,” and “socioeconomic status”] would currently be part of the background survey for all NAEP test-takers. In addition, questions about other noncognitive factors, such as self-efficacy and personal achievement goals, may be included on questionnaires for specific subjects to create content-area measures, according to Jonas P. Bertling, ETS director for NAEP survey questionnaires. (Emphasis added).

Highlights from Dr. Effram’s report on the responses they got to parents’ concerns are included below.

  • Congressman Chaffetz’s office (R-UT and Chairman of Oversight committee) – Seemed interested in pursuing statutory violations associated with assessing mindsets in NAEP and possibly in amending in stronger language to  protect from psychological profiling.
  • Congressman Amash’s office (R-MI – On Oversight Committee, in Freedom Caucus, and voted no on ESSA) – Seemed interested in objecting to SETRA if it comes to floor on a voice vote, stripping out the social emotional profiling, and possibly amending in protective language.
  • Congressman Steve Russell (R-OK – Ed Workforce and Oversight Committees and voted yes on ESSA) – Staffer was very nice and asked good questions. We stated that at a minimum we wanted the SEL language out of SETRA and the mindset assessments out of NAEP.
  • Jim Jordan (R-OH – Oversight Committee,  chairman of Freedom Caucus, and voted NO on ESSA) – This staffer was also very nice and genuinely interested in the issue.  We will keep in touch.
  • Congressman Tim Walberg’s office (R-MI – Both Education and Oversight Committees, voted yes on ESSA) – Thank you Deb DeBacker! Seemed concerned and shocked at invasiveness of surveys, curricula, etc. We explained while there was much debate and confusion about ESSA and what it did, this privacy issue is much  clearer and parents on all parts of the spectrum do not like what is happening.
  • Two professional staff members of the Education and Workforce Committee Came as a result of Congressman Russell’s staff. They were polite and called our information helpful.  They said they would be open to language suggestions. We again said we wanted social/emotional language out of SETRA and some psych protection language in somewhere.
  • No timeline for FERPA yet. No plans to fix PPRA where the current language is on psychological profiling. House wants to fix FERPA before SETRA, for which we agreed and thanked them.  Senate wants only SETRA.  They said there could be a FERPA/SETRA combination, which could be very dangerous if they don’t make any language changed

Members of Congress will be home on recess NEXT WEEK (May 10-13), which will be a good time to try to meet with your House member in district, especially if they are on the Education and Workforce Committee and the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to educate them on SETRA.

There are thankfully only 21 legislative days until the July/August recess and then 16 until they are off to campaign.  There is some concern that the House may ram it through in a lame duck session after the election.


If you would like further detailed information on this topic, check out the links below.

The War on Student Privacy by Emmett and Jane – Great discussion of social emotional learning in Common Core.

Liberty Counsel NAEP letter – Covers the constitutional, statutory, and parental rights violations in assessing mindsets in the NAEP.

Summary Response to US House Education and Workforce Committee March Hearing “Strengthening Education Research and Privacy Protections to Better Serve Students” – Summarizes the highlights (testimony by Cheri’s associate, a parent) and lowlights (had 3 other witnesses that basically said they were entitled to the data without consent) of the recent privacy hearing and offers conclusions (SEL is too subjective) and recommendations.

Examples of Social Emotional Standards, Assessments and Curriculum – covers assessments regarding gender identity and empathy for preschoolers and a middle school Spanish class in Florida

SEL and Child Mental Health Quotes and References – These are quotes and references showing how subjective the social emotional assessment, including quotes by Duckworth and Yeager, and mental health diagnostic criteria are



Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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