Mental Health Merged With NCLB Standards/Tests

By Karen R. Effrem, M.D., EdWatch Board of Directors

August 3, 2004


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Sadly, the state of Illinois has rapidly proven EdWatch’s prediction true that mental health would be used as the enforcement mechanism for the psychosocial, non-academic standards and aligned assessments of the federal curriculum required in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), Goals 2000, and the 1994 version of NCLB. (See
The state of Illinois held a series of public hearings beginning July 18th on implementing the Children’s Mental Health Act that passed the legislature nearly unanimously in 2003.  This law requires mental health screening for all Illinois children through age 18 and all pregnant women.  The mental health assessments will be tied to assessments of their academic standards required by NCLB.  (See
The new law and the draft implementation plan require the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership (ICMHP) to “work with ISBE [Illinois State Board of Education] in drafting social and emotional development standards for incorporation into the Illinois Learning Standards.” These two entities are to “develop a framework and developmental scope and sequence of social and emotional competencies as a basis for developing social and emotional development learning standards,” and “… develop[ing] assessments to measure children’s progress against social and emotional development standards.”  These assessments are to include “performance assessments for measuring student progress on mastering social and emotional skills.” (Emphasis added.)
With the help of federal education and mental health mandates, the state of Illinois has managed to destroy knowledge based academic education, freedom of thought, and parental control of their children’s education and health in one fell swoop.
DESTROYING ACADEMIC EDUCATION:  This Orwellian state law is based on the findings and recommendations of the New Freedom in Mental Health Commission described in our recent alert (see link in the first paragraph of this alert.), as clearly stated in the draft implementation plan ( and the state report that was the foundation for this law (  As we also pointed out, there are plenty of mental health programs that fit with the ideas in the New Freedom report and this law, including screening, in No Child Left Behind (NCLB), particularly in the Safe and Drug Free Schools section. 
It is important to remember, however, that the idea of mental health screening is a bipartisan disaster, and reared its ugly head in the Safe and Drug Free Schools section of Goals 2000 legislation of 1994 when the White House and Congress were all controlled by Democrats.  Despite congressional protestations to the contrary, the structure, ideas and consequences of Goals 2000, as explained below, continued in NCLB even though the references were gone.  (See and
It was in Goals 2000 and the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), NCLB’s predecessor, that federal interference with local education began in earnest, by demanding the imposition of state standards based on the eight goals of Goals 2000. 
Goal number one of Goals 2000 says, “All children will start school ready to learn.”  As we have documented, this mandate, disguised as a goal, has given rise to the metastatic growth of early childhood programs across the country.  In these programs, “ready to learn” has little or nothing to do with preparing young children to learn academic subjects and much to do with indoctrination of our very youngest and most vulnerable children in the most radical of ideologies.  Even if accepted by some parents, it is completely wrong to teach ideology to three, four and five year old children. The ideas being promoted include: earth worshiping environmentalism, radical feminism, engendering fear and hatred of our military, and acceptance of homosexuality. (See It is these principles that are taught to young children and considered part of  “social and emotional” development.
Social and emotional development is a large part of another mandate within Goals 2000.  Goal eight says, “Every school will promote partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children.”  Notice that academic growth is the lowest priority on that list.  That relegation of academics to such a low priority has resulted in an emphasis on work based and service learning out of the classroom, group projects, whole language, fuzzy math, and civics that undermine the principles of freedom within the Declaration of Independence. 
The merger of the social and emotional with the academic has elevated vague, subjective psychosocial concepts to an equal or even higher plane than academic knowledge. It has also confused what is academic and what standard must be met to succeed in school.  Is learning that if 4 birds are in a nest and 2 fly away that 2 are left more important or is learning how to empathize with the birds that are left in the nest? Is it more important to learn tolerance for all lifestyles and behaviors or that certain behaviors have serious physical and emotional consequences?
Since social and emotional growth has now been defined for preschoolers as acceptance of the radical ideologies described above, how can we prevent social and emotional definitions from including the other tenets of the federal curriculum taught in K-12, such as are taught in the We the People civics curriculum? For example, the Declaration principles of national sovereignty and unalienable rights are already considered irrelevant or outmoded in the national civics standards. 
Acceptance of these un-American ideas is considered academic success, as evidenced by their incorporation into state standards and assessments and the NAEP. What is to prevent educational architects from defining acceptance of "world citizenship" or income redistribution as normal social and emotional development?
It could be argued that this has already begun.  One of the ten learning areas under Minnesota’s old Profile of Learning was called Diverse Perspectives.  The proponents of this radical system might well see it as reasonable to equate having “diverse perspectives” with having normal social and emotional development.
The Big Lake, Minnesota high school syllabus for this course said, “Diverse Perspectives is a study of oppression and social justice which completes the Diverse Perspectives Graduation Standard.”  The textbook for this course, Oppression and Social Justice: Critical Frameworks, contains many of the themes of the federal curriculum, as well as those in the preschool standards discussed above.  According to parents who were able to review the textbook and some classroom activities, Columbus was portrayed as a rapist and murderer, a pillager and a terrorist.  The textbook was reported to contain anti-military, anti-gun and anti-big business themes, as well as endorsements of United Nations policies, gay and bisexual agendas, and group rights.  (See    
We are headed down a steep and slippery slope.  Academic, knowledge-based education is already being replaced with education to transform students' values and involve them in advocacy and political action. In the mental health approach, social and emotional development becomes a major tenet of academic success. It results in the complete destruction of knowledge-based education. 
OBLITERATING FREEDOM OF THOUGHT:  Accurately assessing the mental health of children, especially young ones, is already difficult enough because they are experiencing numerous and rapid developmental changes.  But merging academic concepts with mental health in the standards that have been required since 1994 and continued in NCLB will allow mental illness diagnoses to be used as an enforcement mechanism for the political orthodoxy contained in the standards and / or pushed by the schools in general.
Lest one think that the last statement was political hyperbole, here are several examples:

 -- “School officials in Ithaca, N.Y., are requiring that first-and second-graders there be graded on their tolerance,reports the Cornell Review. The kids will get grades based on how well they ‘respect others of varying cultures, genders, experiences, and abilities.’ The grade will appear on report cards under the heading ‘Lifelong Learning Skills.’  It appears well before social studies, science, reading, or writing.”(,2933,42242,00.html
Lifelong Learning is part of Goals 2000, a program said to be repealed at the time this incident took place.

--  A unit on the Muslim religion taught in thousands of American classrooms requires students to say Muslim prayers and recite verses of the Quran in class.  A California district judge threw out a lawsuit challenging that curriculum, declaring that the unit does not promote religion and therefore does not violate the establishment clause.  This is the same state where saying the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was declared unconstitutional. (

-- “Using funds provided through the Department of Education, Safe and Drug Free Schools program [formerly part of Goals 2000 and now part of NCLB], middle school students can now be taught how to spy on classmates and turn them in to the local police. …students will be trained to observe, monitor, and report other students based on their words and actions…Comprised of three students and two faculty advisors, the teams will report incidents of ‘racial, ethnic, sexual, religious, and homophobic slurs.’” (David Bresnahan 7/22/02)

-- Another school violence prevention program funded by the federal government called Early Warning, Timely Response lists “intolerance for
others and prejudicial attitudes” as an early warning sign for violence and mental instability, saying, “All children have likes and dislikes. However, an intense prejudice toward others based on racial, ethnic, religious, language, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and physical
appearance ­ when coupled with other factors ­may lead to violent assaults against those who are perceived to be different.”  

MAKING PARENTS IRRELEVANT:  The report that serves as the foundation for the Illinois law recommends on page 33 to “change the state mental health code to increase to twelve the number of times adolescents age 12-18 years can receive mental health services without parental consent.” (Emphasis added.)   That this state allows any time for mental health services such as screening, using subjective criteria, stigmatizing labels, and the initiation of drug therapy with dangerous and ineffective drugs, all without parental consent, is outrageous enough.  Increasing the number of those times is simply ridiculous.
And what of parents’ rights to refuse this government benevolence of screening and treatment?  Nothing is mentioned of informed consent, protection from having consent overridden, or protection from child abuse and neglect charges.
The implementation plan reveals the true status of parents in this system, demoting them to mere partners in the education and health care of their children.  It says that the state should “develop a mental health system for all children ages 0-18 years that respects, supports and treats families and caregivers as partners.”
This same tired, unconstitutional rhetoric is found throughout the old Goals 2000 and the current NCLB laws. These laws ignore or merely pay lip service to hundreds of years of legal tradition and many Supreme Court cases that clearly state that it is the parents who are in charge of their children’s education and health care decisions.  The Supreme Court decision in Pierce vs. Society of Sisters sums up the situation quite well, saying, “The child is not the mere creature of the State: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right coupled with the high duty to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”  Both Illinois and the federal government would do well to learn and remember this concept.
In addition, since the Illinois statute involves using federal dollars, its screening and assessment sections violate the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA), which was one of the very few freedom affirming parts of NCLB. PPRA states that any survey or non-emergency examination that asks about, among other things, “mental or psychological problems of the student or the student’s family;” “illegal, anti-social, or demeaning behavior;” or “critical appraisals of other individuals with whom respondents have close family relationships.”  Mental health screening by its very nature does one or more of these as a matter of course. Illinois’ blatant violation of PPRA should result in revocation of their federal funding..
OTHER ISSUES:  The lack of accuracy of diagnoses, the dangers and ineffectiveness of psychiatric medication, and the failure of screening to prevent suicide are other key flaws in this legislation.  They are described in detail at the following links: and
1)      If you are an Illinois resident, let your state legislators know your extreme displeasure at this abrogation of freedom and parental rights. Inform them that your support for them in the next election will depend on whether they pledge to repeal this monstrosity at the first opportunity.  Work with like-minded groups in Illinois to bring this political pressure to bear, groups like Illinois Eagle Forum (see and the Illinois chapter of Concerned Women for America (see

2)      Outside of the state of Illinois, please make it perfectly clear to your state legislators that you will not tolerate this outrage in your own state.  Speak to your Members of Congress during the August recess and suggest congressional hearings and repeal of funds for the New Freedom Commission and defunding of mental health screening in the Safe and Drug Free Schools section of NCLB.  Remind them that the HR 4799/S 2634, the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act for suicide prevention is full of the same kind of mandates and should be stopped or significantly changed.   

Copyright 2004 Karen R. Effrem, M.D.. (Biography) Posted with permission.

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