Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote to confirm US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, marks the first time in history that a VP has issued the deciding vote to officiate a presidential cabinet appointment. The contentious opposition votes have expressed that among their concerns are conflicts of interest between Secretary DeVos’s federal powers and her multimillion-dollar investments in a biofeedback corporation known as Neurocore, which provides neuroscience treatments for retraining cognitive habits through stimulus-response conditioning.
In a letter to Chairman Lamar Alexander of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), ten Democrat members of HELP, including Bernie Sanders, formalized the following request for extended investigation of DeVos’s corporate investments: “We believe it is important to ask her questions around companies she will continue to own that are directly impacted by the Department of Education and this administration’s education agenda.”
Although DeVos announced her resignation from Neurocore’s board of directors upon her confirmation to the office of US Secretary of Education, she has refused to sell her shares in the company. By refusing to divest her financial interests in Neurocore, DeVos has incited concerns that she may use her federal influence to advance Neurocore’s controversial biofeedback therapies as government-approved interventions for students who suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other cognitive-learning disabilities.
Former White House ethics adviser, Richard W. Painter, who served under the George W. Bush administration, has criticized DeVos’s conflicts of interest:
[t]his is not an appropriate investment for the secretary of education . . . How schools respond to attention issues is a vitally important policy question and ties right into achievement. In my view, there should be support, including financial support, for alternatives to ADHD drug treatments that are covered by health insurance whereas alternatives often are not covered. . . . The secretary would be barred from participating in that important policy decision if she or her husband owned an interest in this company.
Nevertheless, touted as the cutting edge of operant conditioning psychotherapy, Neurocore’s biofeedback treatments could be readily advocated in the halls of academia by behaviorist pedagogues and Skinnerian educational philosophers if given the nudge from a DeVos Department of Education. At the same time, Neurocore’s hi-tech occupational biofeedback therapies may be eagerly promoted by corporatists at the new White House Office of American Innovation (OAI) who are seeking to capitalize on DeVos’s “competency-based” workforce education initiatives under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Finally, as an alternative medical procedure, Neurocore stimulus-response conditioning could potentially be institutionalized as a publicly subsidized treatment for cognitive-learning disabilities classified under ESSA Sections 2103 and 4108, which will be amplified by state-level P-20 fusion of education and healthcare through fascistic public-private partnerships.
In sum, as President Trump’s OAI drives hi-tech workforce training initiatives that capitalize on ESSA/P-20 medicalization of privatized workforce education, DeVos’s Neurocore Corporation could exploit a windfall of burgeoning biofeedback niches for hi-tech innovations in education, healthcare, and corporate business. The prospects of such quid pro quo cronyism will be exacerbated by the fact that Neurocore CEO, Mark Murrison, has announced that the Michigan-based corporation is branching out into “national expansion,” beginning with the opening of two new Brain Performance Centers in Florida last year.
If you think that a DeVos-financed healthcare corporation would never be charged with exploiting federal programs for profit, it should be noted that Billionaire Betsy has earned capital gains dividends through investments in Universal Health Services (UHS), which is a nationwide chain of psychiatric hospitals that is currently under federal investigation for Medicare and Medicaid fraud.
The School as Psychological Laboratory from Behaviorism to Operant Conditioning
Although some critics dismiss Neurocore’s brain-training treatments as “quack[ery],” biofeedback therapies are rooted in the behaviorist methodology of stimulus-response psychological conditioning. According to licensed biofeedback psychologist, Dr. Christopher Fisher, biofeedback is actually a form of B. F. Skinner’s operant conditioning behaviorism. In fact, the Neurocore website states that it uses the operant conditioning techniques of “positive reinforcement and repetition” to retrain brainwave frequencies to conduce better attention and memory spans.
As such, Neurocore’s Skinnerian conditioning therapies are grounded in the very same stimulus-response psychological methodology that has been the scientific basis of American education pedagogy for over a century. Throughout the early 1900s, the proto-behaviorist laboratory method of schooling was bankrolled across the nation by Secretary Abraham Flexner of the General Education Board (GEB) of the Rockefeller Foundation philanthropies, which funded teaching labs across America, including labs at the premier Columbia University Teachers College (Lionni 72-81). It is worth noting that the Rockefeller Foundation was also funding the biofeedback research of Norbert Weiner as early as the 1920s.
In The Leipzig Connection, Paolo Lionni documents how Rockefeller’s GEB propagated stimulus-response pedagogies through financing the research of such academic figureheads as James McKeen Cattell, James Earl Russell and Edward Lee Thorndike at Columbia University Teachers College where Thorndike adapted his stimulus-response experiments on animal behaviors and applied them to human youths (Lionni 30-41, 64-65).
Based on these proto-behaviorist animal training experiments at Columbia Teachers College, E. L. Thorndike systematized teaching as “the art of giving and withholding stimuli with the result of producing or preventing certain responses. In this definition of the term stimulus is used widely for any event which influences a person,—for a word spoken to him, a look, a sentence which he reads, the air he breathes, etc., etc. The term response is used for any reaction made by him,—a new thought, a feeling of interest, a bodily act, a mental or bodily condition resulting from the stimulus. The aim of the teacher is to produce desirable and prevent undesirable changes in human beings by producing and preventing certain responses” (qtd. in Lionni 32-33).
Compare Thorndike’s methodology here to Neurocore’s biofeedback brain-training procedures: Neurocore reprograms ADHD by utilizing quantitative electroencephalography to monitor brainwave responses to video stimuli; whenever the ADHD patient exhibits an undesirable brainwave response that indicates distraction, the video stimuli is halted or altered until the patient exhibits a focused brainwave response that indicates concentrated attention. Hence, the only difference between Neurocore’s biofeedback science and Thorndike’s “art of giving and withholding stimuli” is that the former aims to condition the autonomous nervous system while the latter targets more of the voluntary nervous system.
Fast-forward to as recently as 2007, and Columbia Teachers College is still practicing this art of stimulus-response conditioning through Comprehensive Applied Behavior Analysis in Schools, a new behaviorist instructional methodology that was developed by Skinner’s protégé, Doug Greer, who is Professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia.
Buttressed by this hundred-year institutional tradition of stimulus-response educational psychology, Neurocore’s behaviorist therapies for learning disabilities are primed to be legitimized by the intelligentsia of US academia if incentivized by a DeVos Department of Ed.
At the same time, biofeedback conditioning is being advocated through numerous scholarly journal publications authored by contemporary educational psychologists such as the Chair of the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Kansas, Steven Wayne Lee, and the Director of the Doctoral Program in Counseling Psychology at the Boston University School of Education, Steven N. Broder. With such support from current leaders of university education departments, the biofeedback neuropsychology underlying Neurocore’s cognitive-behavioral therapies is already being advocated in the disciplines of educational methodology and pedagogy.
A History of Outcomes-Based Behaviorism for Workforce Education
Neurocore is also likely to be promoted by captains of industry who seek to capitalize on the company’s occupational biofeedback therapies. The Neurocore website states, “[m]any . . . business professionals also use neurofeedback to improve mental performance and productivity through increased focus and better stress management.” With these neuro-behaviorist applications for businesses to enhance workforce output efficiency, Neurocore’s operant conditioning therapies could be promoted by corporate lobbyists as government-subsidized treatments for occupational-learning disabilities that are paid for by employer-based health insurance. To be sure, Neurocore procedures are already covered by certain insurance providers.
Such subsidies for employer-funded biofeedback therapies would help business partners to fulfill “outcomes-based” workforce education contracts under public-private partnerships that are being championed by DeVos and the Trump administration. After meeting with seventeen CEOs from megacorporations such as IBM, GE, Walmart, General Motors, PepsiCo, and the Cleveland Clinic during Trump’s April 11th Strategy and Policy Forum Listening Session, Secretary DeVos released the following statement from the Department of Ed:
[t]he best workforce is an educated workforce, and this Administration is committed to increasing access to career and technical education for college students and adults alike. By encouraging public-private partnerships, we can help connect students with prospective employers and provide those students with the necessary skills to find a good-paying job in their communities.
To achieve these corporate-fascist workforce planning outcomes, public-private partnerships between businesses and educational institutions will implement a form of outcomes-based education (OBE) methodology, which is deeply rooted in the stimulus-response method of psycho-behavioral conditioning that is the core of Neurocore science. The rationale for outcomes-based workforce education asserts that public-school funding should be contingent upon student attainment of predetermined career-readiness outcomes that can be quantified through standardized tests or performance-based assessments. What better way to control workforce learning outcomes than the scientific method of behaviorist psychological conditioning? Indeed, OBE for workforce training has a long pedagogical history of stimulus-response psycho-behavioral conditioning.
In an article titled “The Death of Free Will (Part 2 of 5),” former senior policy advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement for the US Department of Ed, Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, explains that “[t]he type of so-called education being promoted throughout the United States is not truly ‘education.’ It is a system of Skinnerian/Pavlovian group-oriented, collectivist, brainwashing/training in lower level skills and the necessary attitudes and values for the workforce, using the computer (the operant conditioning machine) in conjunction with ‘programmed’ learning (mastery learning/direct instruction) software.” Iserbyt elaborates that “[t]his is the same Skinnerian Outcomes-Based Education rat lab program . . . that was funded by my old office in the U.S. Dept. Of Education” under President Ronald Reagan.
If the Trump Administration lives up to its many historical comparisons to the Reagan Administration, OBE behaviorism for workforce education will be a cornerstone of Trump’s education policies. So far, the comparisons have proven to be apt; the University Herald reports that “Betsy DeVos has acknowledged the significant role that community colleges will play in the advancement of President Donald Trump’s workforce agenda.” At the National Legislative Summit of the Association of Community College Trustees, DeVos stated that community colleges are “absolutely essential engines of workforce and economic development — locally and regionally . . . [Community colleges] help identify and close the skills gap between employers and job seekers, so U.S. businesses and industries can thrive and expand.”
Secretary DeVos’s commitment to both Trump’s workforce education and Neurocore’s biofeedback behaviorism is likely to stir up a recipe for revamping Reagan-era OBE workforce behaviorism that was perpetuated under former President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB). An example of OBE behaviorism during the reign of NCLB is described in a 2006 scholarly journal article from the School Psychology Review. In this peer-reviewed article titled “Integrating Frameworks from Early Childhood Intervention and School Psychology to Accelerate Growth for All Children,” educational psychologists evaluated “patterns of child performance over time and in response to certain stimuli, [so that] conditions, and consequences can be quantified. . . . to improve child outcomes in a more efficient fashion through iterative problem-solving attempts . . . [by] determin[ing] what additional supports and services might be needed and . . . whether the additional supports and services are meaningfully accelerating child growth”. (VanDerHeyden and Snyder 530)
Clearly, this stimulus-response method of outcomes-based teaching is merely a revision of not only Skinner’s operant conditioning, but also the proto-behaviorist psychology of Wilhelm Maximillian Wundt. The founding father of psychological science, Wundt created the world’s first experimental psychology laboratory in Leipzig, Germany, where he evangelized a cadre of American psychologists, such as G. Stanley Hall, James McKeen Cattell, and Charles Judd, who returned to the United States to propagate proto-behaviorist pedagogies for workforce training curriculums (Lionni 1-27; Sutton 63, 85-87, 101-102, 107-109).
By 1948, at least 689 postgraduate students were awarded psychology doctorates from these three Wundtian disciples, Hall, Cattell, and Judd (Sutton 91), many of whom were bankrolled through Rockefeller’s GEB funds for school laboratories designed to develop stimulus-response conditioning methods for corporate-industrial workforce training (Lionni 43-89).
In the 1916 GEB publication Occasional Papers No. 1, Chairman of the GEB, Fredrick T. Gates, professed the corporate-fascist directive of Rockefeller-financed laboratory schools: “[w]e shall not try to make these people or any of their children philosophers or men of learning, or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, editors, poets, or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have an ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is . . . to train these people as we find them to a perfectly ideal life just where they are . . . and [to] teach them to do in a perfect way what their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way, in the homes, in the shops and on the farm.”(6). Stated differently, Gates’s mission as GEB Chairman aimed merely to condition the working-class masses to adapt to America’s economic evolution from “imperfect” manual labor into “perfect” mechanical labor managed by corporate industrialization for mass production.
A major recipient of GEB funds was Teachers College at Columbia University where E. L. Thorndike conducted stimulus-response experiments on animals such as mice and monkeys to refine proto-behaviorist conditioning methodologies for collectivist workforce training (Lionni 29-41, 61-65, 72, 78-81). Thorndike asserted that “we believe it will be found that the best interests of the individual and society will be served by providing a certain number of pupils least gifted in intelligence with the equipment needed to begin their vocational career by the completion of the junior high school period or even earlier in a few cases. Other individuals will advance their own welfare and that of society by securing but one more year, others by two, others by three additional years. Thus although the great majority of children should spend some time in the junior high school, not all of them should be expected to continue to the completion of the senior-high-school course. Each child should have as much high+-school work as the common good requires” (qtd. in Lionni 40).
Fast-forward after one hundred years of GEB funding, and compare Thorndike’s early system of vocational “tracking” to current “career pathways” curriculums, which DeVos is promoting as Secretary of Education. The US Department of Ed issued a press release stating that, on May 9th, Secretary DeVos visited Granite Technical Institute in Salt Lake City, Utah, in order to “highlight innovative career pathways for high school students made possible through strong business-education partnerships.” In my article entitled “Corporate-Fascist Workforce Training for the Hegelian State.” I expound how career pathways are nothing more than job-specific workforce-training curriculums that are assigned to students whose learning outcomes “track” them out of traditional academic curriculums for university preparation.
Once students are tracked into prescriptive career pathways, Wundtian-Skinnerian stimulus-response pedagogies are applied to achieve workforce planning outcomes in accordance with workforce development mandates under federal laws such as the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), and the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act (or Perkins III).
Under such federal workforce planning laws, even education administrators are psycho-behaviorally conditioned to attain workforce development outcomes through operant-conditioning management incentives. According to a 2005 scholarly journal article published in New Directions for Institutional Research, educational institutions receiving federal aid under the provisions of WIA and Perkins III must “report outcome data to a central state administrative agency that in turn aggregates these data and reports them to the U.S. Department of Education. Both laws introduced potential rewards and consequences for states that do or do not improve student performance” (Kent 60). Adding another layer of administrative operant conditioning, these financial “rewards [‘positive reinforcement’] and consequences [‘punishments’]” impel educational institutions into regimenting operant conditioning pedagogies in the classroom to achieve government-mandated workforce-training outcomes.
Will DeVos compound yet another layer of stimulus-response conditioning into this corporate-fascist stratagem by using her cabinet position to push Neurocore’s occupational biofeedback therapies as government-subsidized treatments for cognitive-learning disabilities that impede federal workforce-training outcomes? To be sure, the Neurocore Corporation does, in fact, provide specialized biofeedback therapies for corporate clients through the Neurocore Pro website, which offers biofeedback procedures that can catalyze “higher productivity for a business unit.”
On the “Corporate Health” page of the Neurocore Pro website, it describes the company’s “Corporate health program, Core Health . . . By optimizing the autonomic nervous system, . . . we improve productivity and performance in a manner most corporate wellness programs cannot. . . . We have seen incredible change in the professional athletes, executives, politicians, and entrepreneurs who run our program. Now, we are introducing this program to entire executive teams and business units.” If green-lighted by a DeVos Department of Ed, such Neurocore treatments for entire corporate staffs could be adapted to treat entire classes of learning-disabled students who are being trained in career pathways courses to fulfill federal workforce planning outcomes.
Competency-Based Workforce Training and the Medicalization of Hegelian Education
Currently, corporate-fascist workforce planning under the Trump-DeVos Administration is shifting away from OBE rhetoric and switching to “competency-based education” directives under the new ESSA legislation. In particular, the ESSA law stipulates federal provisions for “the development of comprehensive academic assessment instruments . . . that emphasize the mastery of standards and aligned competencies in a competency-based education model.” Admittedly, competency-based education is simply a rendition of OBE workforce training. According to a 1994 whitepaper titled Outcome-Based Education: Final Report, which was published by the US Department of Ed, “Competency-Based Education (CBE), originally conceived to ease the transition from school to work, contained elements of OBE. . . . Rather than being accepted as a holistic approach to school reform, CBE survives chiefly as a vocational training program.” Indeed, when conducting a peer-reviewed journal search for the simple phrase “competency-based education” in the EBSCOhost Academic Search Complete research database, over 70% of the articles in the first 40 search results are tabulated with the key-phrase “outcome-based education” in the detailed record.
Attorney Jane Robbins, who is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project, concurs with this comparison between OBE and CBE workforce schooling. In a recent Federalist report, Robbins exposes cronyism between Secretary DeVos and Jeb Bush’s CBE lackeys from his “school choice” nonprofit, the Foundation for Educational Excellence. The article, entitled “Why ‘Competency-Based Education’ Will Deepen America’s Education Crisis,” demonstrates how “CBE is essentially the same thing as outcome-based education (OBE) . . . OBE and now CBE posit that the government should establish outcomes it wants students to achieve and then work backwards, setting interim benchmarks along the journey to that goal. Students would work at their own pace to establish ‘competency’ at each benchmark.” In a subsection titled “Plugging Kids into a Planned Hole in a Planned Economy,” Robbins explains “that the entire CBE/Common Core scheme is designed for workforce development. When the government has such intensely personal algorithms on all citizens, it’s easier to slot those people into the workforce needs of politically connected corporations.” As I document in my article titled “Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Big Data, and the Public-Private Planned Economy“, hi-tech data-mining of America’s student body is integral to tracking students into competency-based career-pathways algorithms that are programmed for corporate-fascist workforce planning under DeVos’s Department of Education.
Robbins’s analysis of OBE-CBE workforce planning under Secretary DeVos is affirmed in the ESSA bill. Subsection 4205(a)(14) stipulates federal provisions for “build[ing] career competencies and career readiness and ensur[ing] that local workforce and career readiness skills are aligned with the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (20 U.S.C. 2301 et seq.) and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (29 U.S.C. 3101 et seq.).”
Currently, the trend in OBE-CBE workforce education is hi-tech training for healthcare job competencies needed to operate the IT and other digital technologies that are being increasingly integrated into the new national healthcare system. It should be noted that Billionaire Betsy’s husband Dick DeVos, who is also heavily invested in Neurocore, campaigned for the governorship of Michigan in 2006 by pledging to upgrade the state’s healthcare technology infrastructure. According to Chimes, the official student news publication of Dick’s alma mater, Calvin College, Mr. DeVos promised “[t]o combat rising health care costs . . . [with] a streamlined system that utilizes technology to reduce hospital errors by making medical records more efficient.”
While Dick has been pushing hi-tech healthcare at the state level, the enactment of Obamacare has been rolling out federal provisions for OBE-CBE workforce training that cultivates medical technology competence.
In 2010, the RAND Corporation published a whitepaper study titled “Use of Outcome Metrics to Measure Quality in Education and Training of Healthcare Professionals.” This document examines “the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) stipulat[ions] [for] the establishment of a National Health Care Workforce Planning Commission to undertake comprehensive workforce planning in healthcare and so help synchronising federal investments into workforce development.” That same year, the Annual Review of Public Health published an article entitled “Outcome-Based Workforce Development and Education in Public Health,” which “recommend[s] a framework for workforce education in public health, integrating . . . competency-based education . . . This framework provides a context for designing and developing high-quality, outcome-based workforce development efforts and evaluating their impact, with implications for academic and public health practice efforts to educate the public health workforce.”
To streamline this national healthcare workforce, Betsy DeVos is promoting educational institutions that are pioneering innovations in healthcare technology, such as Arizona State University. On May 9th, at the 2017 Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley Summit in Salt Lake City Utah, DeVos lauded ASU’s Entrepreneurship (PLUS) Innovation program for its invention of the G3Box, which re-engineers shipping containers into portable medical clinics that can be transported anywhere at relatively inexpensive prices. To facilitate such new healthcare technology infrastructure, OBE-CBE initiatives are commencing specialized training for competencies in hi-tech treatments for all patient populations across the lifespan from pediatrics to geriatrics.
A 2015 issue of the scholarly journal Pediatrics published an article entitled “Blueprint for Action: Visioning Summit on the Future of the Workforce in Pediatrics.” This article studies the “need for outcomes-based research” so that “the field of pediatrics and its workforce [can] adapt to meet challenges created by such changes” resulting from “[t]echnology and electronic medical record (EMR) systems” as well as other “health care delivery system” changes.
In 2011, the Journal of the American Society on Aging printed an article titled “A Competency-Based Approach to Educating and Training the Eldercare Workforce.” This article explores “ongoing initiatives that address geriatric workforce competency and how these efforts support and can be supported by the goals of the ACA [Affordable Care Act]” (Mezey et al. 53). More recently, a 2015 issue of the same journal published an article entitled “Ensuring Care for Aging Baby Boomers: Solutions at Hand.” In this peer-reviewed article, the authors recommend eldercare initiatives that “maximiz[e] how we deploy our existing [eldercare] workforce, [by] incorporating quickly evolving technology” (Bragg and Hansen 96). In particular, the authors recommend workforce competencies in geriatric-care technologies such as “robot caregiver[s],” “health information technology,” and “smart technolog[ies],” including “telephone-based symptom monitoring system[s]” as well as “personalized apps, wearable sensors, and social networks that encourage behavioral change” by recording and sharing “health status in real time” (94, 96).
This “cradle-to-end-of-life” education of the healthcare workforce parallels the “cradle-to-career” charter schooling system for corporate-fascist workforce training that is being pushed by the Trump-DeVos Administration. Likewise, this cradle-to-grave system of healthcare workforce planning at the national level parallels the public-private P-20 (preschool-to-age-twenty) council systems of workforce education at the state levels, which are already merging public education departments with public health and human services agencies. For a thorough breakdown of the P-20 fusion of public schooling and public health, see my following two articles: “National Charter School Fascism” and “Corporate-Fascist Workforce Training for the Hegelian State“.
As I explicate in the latter article, this public-private collectivization of clinical medicine and public education stems from the Hegelian roots of corporate-fascist political-economic planning in the United States. Moreover, in “Billionaire Betsy DeVos, Big Data, and the Public-Private Planned Economy“, I document how Carnegie-funded national learning benchmarks for outcomes-based workforce education are rooted in the Hegelian ideology of Skull-and-Bonesman Daniel Coit Gilman, who was the first President of the Carnegie Institution. Gilman, as the first President of Johns Hopkins University, fused Hegelianism with Wundtian proto-behaviorism by appointing the Wundtian Hegelianist, G. Stanley Hall, to the Chair of Psychology and Pedagogy at Johns Hopkins (Sutton 82, 90, 101).. Thus, the public-private merger of clinical healthcare and public schooling for OBE-CBE workforce planning is the culmination of over a century of Hegelian-collectivist philosophy steering classroom implementations of Wundtian stimulus-response psychology techniques that have been propagated by Robber Baron capitalists to manage the health of the Corporate State.
ESSA, IDEA, WIOA: Neurocore Therapies for Disabled Workforce Incompetency:
As privatized P-20 collectivization of public education with public health blurs the lines between traditional classroom learning and “community-based” lifelong learning, educational institutions will incorporate more clinical approaches to conditioning student learning/cognition and psychosocial development for workforce competency. In time, under sections 1005, 1008, and 4108 of the ESSA law, a student’s workforce incompetency could be pathologized as a cognitive-behavioral disability that requires psychological and/or biomedical intervention, which could be administered through Neurocore biofeedback therapies.
Clause 1008(b)(7)(A)(iii)(I-III) of the ESSA legislation obligates schools to “‘(iii) address the needs of all children . . . at risk of not meeting the challenging State academic standards, through activities which may include—‘(I) counseling, school-based mental health programs, specialized instructional support services, mentoring services, and other strategies to improve students’ skills outside the academic subject areas; ‘(II) preparation for and awareness of opportunities for postsecondary education and the workforce, which may include career and technical education programs . . . ; [and] ‘(III) implementation of a schoolwide tiered model to prevent and address problem behavior, and early intervening services, coordinated with similar activities and services carried out under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.” In simpler terms, this clause authorizes the employment of various psycho-behavioral health support services to accommodate the workforce handicaps of students with cognitive-learning disabilities and “problem behavior[s]” that impede their competencies in “career and technical education programs.”
Clause 1005(b)(2)(B)(vii)(II) mandates that assessments of workforce competencies must “(vii) provide for— . . . (II) . . . appropriate accommodations, such as interoperability with, and ability to use, assistive technology, for children with disabilities (as defined in section 602(3) of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1401(3))), including students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, and students with a disability who are provided accommodations under an Act other than the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq.), necessary to measure the academic achievement of such children relative to the challenging State academic standards or alternate academic achievement standards described in paragraph (1)(E).” In other words, this clause permits the use of “assistive technolog[ies],” such as Neurocore’s biofeedback technologies, that can reduce the symptoms of cognitive-behavioral disabilities that hinder a student’s competencies in “alternate academic achievement standards” such as workforce training through career-pathways curriculums.
In fact, charter schools are already experimenting with assistive biofeedback technologies, such as emWave PC®, for reducing student stress and anxiety levels that result from scholastic pressures to achieve academic competency outcomes. In a 2015 issue of the academic journal Biofeedback, Steven C. Kassel of the Biofeedback and Family Therapy Centers in Santa Clarita, California, published an article entitled “Stress Management and Peak Performance Crash Course for Ninth Graders in a Charter School Setting.” Kassel reports the findings of a study in which “[s]eventeen 9th-grade students at [an undisclosed] charter school were selected to participate in a 3-week stress management/peak performance training program that integrated biofeedback into the overall educational schedule. . . . Students were guided through relaxation exercises and . . . worked with the emWave PC®, a heart rate variability biofeedback instrument. . . . The students showed mild to moderate improvement on test anxiety and behavioral measures. . . . This study suggests that . . . integration of [biofeedback] relaxation techniques into a secondary school setting can improve important measures of students’ scholastic achievement” (90). At the collegiate level, student support services are currently offering counseling sessions that utilize StressEraser, RESPeRATE, Healing Rhythms, and other assistive biofeedback technologies at colleges such as Northwestern University, the University of Notre Dame, and Iowa State University.
In the business world, occupational biofeedback therapies have already been implemented to improve healthcare workforce outcomes at companies such as BlueCross BlueShield. Employees at the Tennessee branch of the corporation underwent HeartMath biofeedback conditioning to reduce “stress [that] can affect businesses in the form of employee health problems, retention troubles and decreased productivity,” according to a 2008 issue of Workforce Magazine.
Altogether, there are already several precedents set for the application of assistive biofeedback technologies in the corporate world and academia to improve the workforce and scholastic “competencies” of employees and students. Hence, as the lines are faded between traditional academic education and job-specific workforce training, public-private/school-business partnerships can combine cognitive-learning therapies for students and occupational therapies for employees into singular biofeedback treatments for students who are tracked into career pathways curriculums that partner with specific corporations.
To administer such assistive biofeedback technologies and other psycho-behavioral accommodations for disabled students, subsection 4108(4-5)(B)(i-ii)(I-II)(bb-cc) of the ESSA legislation stipulates requirements for “ACTIVITIES TO SUPPORT SAFE AND HEALTHY STUDENTS,” which “(4) may be conducted in partnership with an institution of higher education, business, nonprofit organization, community-based organization, or other public or private entity with a demonstrated record of success in implementing activities described in this section; and (5) may include, among other programs and activities— . . . (B) . . . (i) school-based mental health services, including . . . appropriate referrals to direct individual or group counseling services, which may be provided by school-based mental health services providers; and (ii) school-based mental health services partnership programs that—(I) are conducted in partnership with a public or private mental health entity or health care entity; and (II) provide comprehensive school-based mental health services and supports and staff development for school and community personnel working in the school that are— . . . (bb) coordinated (where appropriate) with early intervening services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq.); and (cc) provided by qualified mental and behavioral health professionals who are certified or licensed by the State involved and practicing within their area of expertise.”
Translation: publicly funded educational institutions are permitted to basically “outsource” their mental/behavioral-health accommodations for students with disabilities by employing public-private partnerships with private healthcare corporations, such as Neurocore, and other community-based healthcare nonprofits.
In sum, the implications of these three ESSA clauses authorize private biofeedback corporations, like Neurocore, to capitalize on federal education funding by partnering with public schools through P-20 councils and other State-level public-private partnerships which provide mental/behavioral health treatments for students with disabilities that hinder academic and workforce competencies.
It would not be the first time that a presidential appointment, such as DeVos, finagled personal corporate holdings into government contracts. Recall the employment of Dick Cheney’s Haliburton Corporation to support military operations in Iraq during his vice presidency under George W. Bush. Considering this historical precedent, there should be little surprise if DeVos’s Neurocore Corporation scores government contracts to treat public-private charter-school students who have academic/workforce incompetency disabilities.
Nonetheless, one thing is for certain: competency-based education under Secretary DeVos will perpetuate America’s long history of conditioning the student body with stimulus-response methods of psycho-behavioral programming.