Parents Want Goals 2000 Funds Returned
PANA, IL - In a small town in central Illinois, 526 parents signed a petition to the school board demanding that "all Goals 2000 funds be returned" and that "the school district implement strict academic standards which include systematic phonics, traditional math, English, science and a factual history curriculum." The town of 6,000 residents has been drawing 500 to 600 parents to school board meetings.
Forty-six children have been removed from the four public schools in Pana, IL, by their parents in favor of homeschooling or placement in one of the community's four private religious schools.
The controversy began over the administering of intrusive psychological tests and counseling in Pana's two elementary schools, junior high, and high school. At the beginning of the school year, the Pana School Board hired Debra Blumthal, a counselor from Charleston, IL, as "Pana Community Unit 8 School Counselor." A letter to parents stated that she was "planning and coordinating classroom 'guidance activities' and events" to "foster healthy relationships and enrich school life." A few of the "guidance activities" listed included "conflict resolution, self-motivation, wellness, and self-esteem" programs. At the bottom of the letter was a permission slip for parents to sign to allow their children to participate in the activities.
Most parents had no idea that, by signing the permission slip, they were opening up a Pandora's Box of intrusive psychological testing and counseling, designed to mold their children's attitudes and gather personal information about their families. Most were also unaware that one element of the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 is the gathering of personal information on teachers, administrators, and students to be fed into databases to build dossiers for future "student career planning."
Information about children's attitudes, philosophies, likes and dislikes, how they interact with their parents, whether or not their parents argue, own guns, and other extremely personal information is being gathered through questionnaires and classroom assignments across the nation.
At the beginning of the school year, Pana junior high students, as well as all teachers and principals in the school district, were given a "Personality Inventory" questionnaire. The school district's counselors also began going into classrooms, instructing students to visit them at any time, and performing group as well as one-on-one counseling sessions. Many parents became concerned over the personal nature of the questions asked.
In a 9th grade English class, students where given an assignment to complete a "Profile Paper" which included a section labeled "Personal Information." The section contained 15 questions ranging from what the students liked and disliked about their appearance to what type of vehicle their parents owned.
Third-graders were assigned a "Bio-Poem" consisting of questions with blanks that the children were to complete. The "poem" was designed to obtain very personal information. On Line 6, the children were asked to write "three people or ideas" that they were "Lover[s] of."
According to a report in the October 3rd Pana News-Palladium, kindergarten students were counseled and told to keep their sessions with counselors "secret" because, according to Blumthal, "not many kindergarten students understand the word 'confidential.' "
On September 26, five Pana parents attended an education seminar held at the First Baptist Church of St. Louis. Featured speaker at the presentation was Mrs. Berit Kjos, a nationally known expert on the subject of Outcome Based Education (OBE) and author of the book Brave New Schools.
Kjos explained the global effort to change the way children think in America: "Outcome Based Education, also known as mastery learning, performance- or standards-based education, is not about teaching children to read, write and do arithmetic. It's about molding the minds of children, at the earliest possible age, to think collectively - it's about replacing traditional values with a worldview where there are no absolutes.
"OBE is about replacing individualism with group or consensus thinking and decision making which centers on what is best for the state, as opposed to the individual. Children who hold to traditional Judeo-Christian values will have no place in the new world order for which they are being psychologically conditioned through OBE programs in our public schools."
Materials brought back from her presentation and reports from her speech from those in attendance spread quickly through Pana.
By the end of the first week in October, parents had pulled a number of children out of Pana's public schools. Parents were then invited to attend a Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO) meeting on October 7. Over 250 parents attended expecting to get answers to questions about what is going on in the schools.
When discussion of the counseling situation began, parents fired questions at school officials regarding the invasive counseling program and classroom assignments.
Seated in front were Donna and Bill Hutto, Troy and Monica Karback, Joetta Deutsch, Kathy Bland, Jackie Foil and several other parents, who later formed an organization called Concerned Taxpayers of Pana (CTP) to demand the return of Goals 2000 funding and rid the district of OBE programs.
Tempers flared when questions were skirted. At one point, Donna Hutto held up a copy of the Grassley Amendment, stating, "If the school board can't get Goals 2000 out of our district, then we can vote out the school board!" School Board President Jim Michael rushed to the microphone and, in an unprecedented move, called a special school board meeting for October 15. Michael stated that all would have an opportunity to voice their concerns and that the board would listen to questions.
On October 11, leaders of the newly formed CTP met to organize, form a plan of action, and start a petition to have the school board return Goals 2000 funding and return to a "basics" curriculum. Plans were also made to hold an informational seminar for parents to bring them up to speed on OBE programs, Goals 2000, and School-to-Work (STW), and to offer alternatives for parents interested in removing their children from public schools.
An estimated 300 to 400 parents and children attended CTP's first information seminar on October 14, the night before the special school board meeting.
On October 15, approximately 500 parents showed up for the special school board meeting. The atmosphere was tense and two uniformed Pana police officers were on hand. Board President Jim Michael started the meeting by telling the audience that the board was not going to answer any questions, just listen to their concerns.
The president of the Pana Education Association (PEA), a chapter of the National Education Association teachers' union, stated that the counseling program was a valuable tool to prepare youth to become productive members of society and that her organization wholeheartedly endorsed the present K-8 developmental counseling programs.
Troy Karback, spokesperson for CTP, explained that parents were not angry with the board, administrators, or teachers, but they were very angry about the curriculum currently in use. He then read a petition signed by 450 parents demanding that the school board return all Goals 2000 funding and implement strict academic standards including systematic phonics, traditional math, English, science, and a factual history curriculum.
Board rejects parents' concerns;
On October 21, at the school board's regular monthly meeting, about 20 people packed a small meeting room. About half the seats were filled by members of the Pana Education Association (PEA) and the remainder were filled by board members, including President Jim Michael, Superintendent Larry Marsh, and George Pintar of Professional Education Management Agency, Springfield, who was hired as a consultant to implement Goals 2000 programs in the district. Also present was Dr. Don Davis, who is believed to be associated with Pintar's consulting firm.
Some 75 to 100 parents had to stand outside in the hallway. Despite protests, Michael told them that "they'll just have to listen hard" to the meeting.
After roll call, Michael called for "Visitors' Considerations," which affords those in the audience the opportunity to address the board with questions or comments. However, people in the hallway couldn't hear the announcement. When no one spoke up, he moved quickly on to the next agenda point, which was "Delegations."
First on the docket was PEA President Lynn Rochkes. Rochkes told the board that her organization wanted the school board to support what was currently being done with the Goals 2000 program in Pana's schools.
Troy Karback, spokesperson for CTP, was next. After thanking the board for the opportunity to speak, he proceeded to present Michael with another petition demanding that Goals 2000 funds be returned to the state. The petition represented an additional 76 signatures to the 450 given to the board on October 15.
Karback then informed the board that citizens were still adamantly opposed to the Goals 2000 program and CTP was gathering more opposition to the program all the time. He asked about the status of the questions posed at the October 7 meeting. Only after Karback's repeated inquiries did Michael reply that Pintar and Davis, from "the consulting firm we have had for two years," would answer the questions.
George Pintar, the district's Goals 2000 consultant, gave a presentation on the '97 Goals 2000 grant proposal. Pintar stated that 50% of the grant money could be used to purchase computer equipment and the remainder could go to pay for staff (teacher) training, program research, development, evaluation, and consulting. The projected cost or amount of the grant was never mentioned.
The school board then voted to approve the application for the Goals 2000 grant, and Brenda Washburn was the only member who voted no.
Following the vote, there was a closed executive session. As board members left the meeting, Washburn was seen leaving in tears. Parents suspect that Washburn was lectured on breaking ranks by casting her no vote against the grant.
After the meeting, Donna Hutto stated, "No one could believe that the board actually voted to approve the grant after all that has transpired. Apparently, they intend to ignore our demands and continue implementation of Goals 2000 programs regardless of parents' and taxpayers' concerns."
On November 5, the Pana taxpayers defeated a $6 million bond issue to add additional classrooms to existing schools, build a new middle school, and retrofit the junior high to "support needed technology" and "new teaching methods."
by Jim Day, Publisher of the St. Louis MetroVoice.
1996 Elections Show Mixed Results
According to a poll taken by the Washington Post before the November elections, education topped the list of Americans' worries. Over 60% of respondents agreed that the "American educational system will get worse instead of better."
However, voters handily defeated reform-oriented initiatives on state ballots on November 5.
Sponsors of two school choice initiatives for vouchers and charter schools in Washington state suffered defeat by a 2-1 ratio. Opponents, including the Washington affiliate of the National Education Association, argued that the proposals would lower standards and lessen accountability of charter and voucher-redeeming schools. Similar voucher proposals also failed in Oregon, Colorado, and California.
In an upset, Colorado voters defeated a fiercely debated ballot measure on parental rights. Amendment 17 would have amended the Colorado Constitution to guarantee parents' inalienable right "to direct and control the upbringing, education, values, and discipline of their children."
Opponents of the Parental Rights Amendment said that it would stifle educators, put child health and welfare workers on the defensive, and backlog courts with lawsuits against state agencies. Of the People, an Arlington, VA, -based parents' rights organization, sponsored the measure. President Jeffery Bell blamed its defeat on opponents' state-wide efforts to misrepresent the amendment and wrongly portray the word "discipline" as child abuse.
Voters in Arkansas approved a constitutional amendment to equalize per-pupil spending across the state. In Oregon, voters rejected a measure that would have required annual testing of all students' verbal and math skills in grades 4-12. North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved a $1.8 billion state-wide bond issue for school construction - the largest in the state's history.
Robert F. Chase, president of the National Education Association, saw state election results, combined with President Clinton's reelection, as a mandate to concentrate on improving public schools.
Despite millions of dollars and thousands of volunteers, national teachers' unions failed to overturn the Republican edge in Congress. Of 103 union-supported candidates, only 18 won. However, union leaders expressed optimism that GOP leaders will retreat from their 1994 promises to cut federal education funding and abolish the Department of Education.
Rep. Bill Goodling, a Republican moderate from Pennsylvania and co-sponsor of the defunct CAREERS bill, hopes to persuade his colleagues to soften the conservative rhetoric against federal spending that dominated the 104th Congress. Goodling is expected to retain the chairmanship of the Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee.
Mock Elections Ignite Controversy
First graders received a sheet stating that President Ronald Reagan was either a liar or "didn't have the political fortitude that Clinton showed by forcing the opposition party to back down" on the issue of a balanced budget. Another sheet passed out to high schoolers, supposedly listing the positions of Dole and Clinton, stated that Clinton supported Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and education, while Dole opposed all four.
A nationwide survey released in October by the National Center for Education Information found that 42% of teachers are registered as Democrats, 30% Republicans, and 24% as independents.
However, 35% of teachers identify themselves as conservatives, 39% claim to be moderates, and 25% say they are liberal. The survey reported that teachers' opinions are markedly different from the general public's: 82% of teachers versus 54% of the public oppose school choice; 42% of teachers versus 25% of the public oppose a constitutional amendment permitting spoken prayers in school; and 71% of teachers versus 47% of the public oppose allowing private, profit-making corporations to run public schools.
Homeschooling Mom Acquitted in Criminal Case
ANNAPOLIS, MD - A District Court judge has acquitted a mother charged with failing to educate her child. The case was the first of its kind in Maryland.
On October 23, Judge James Dryden found Cheryl Anne Battles of Anne Arundel County not guilty of failing to comply with Maryland's compulsory-education law. Prosecutors had charged that her seven-year-old daughter, Emily McCann, was being short-changed because Mrs. Battles refused to allow school officials to monitor her home education.
Maryland's state board of education bylaws require homeschoolers to present a portfolio of school work to public educators semi-annually or otherwise register with a private or religious school authorized by the state to supervise the child's instruction.
While Mrs. Battles may have violated certain regulations, Judge Dryden ruled that she nonetheless complies with Maryland's compulsory-education law by providing "a regular and thorough" education for her daughter. A violation of regulations, continued the judge, does not deserve criminal penalties, which would have resulted in a 10-day jail term and a fine of up to $1,000. "That just seems to me to be too much," he said.
Brian D. Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute, testified on behalf of Mrs. Battles, pointing to Emily's above-average test results in reading, language, and math.
Conflict with the 72,000-student county school system arose in 1994 when school officials attempted several visits and calls to the Battles home. Mrs. Battles sued the system on the ground that such intrusions violated her constitutional rights as a parent. She said that officials insisted that she teach evolution and other topics which she opposes for religious reasons.
Mrs. Battles felt that complying with the state bylaws "would be going into a partnership with the school district in the education of her child that was offensive to her religious beliefs," said David Gordon, a staff lawyer at the Home School Legal Defense Association, a Purcelville, VA, group that represented Mrs. Battles.
Prosecutor Andrew V. Jezic argued that, although Mrs. Battles may be properly educating her child, acquitting her would diminish the state's power to ensure that all children are being well educated. The decision disappointed prosecutors and county school officials because it sets a precedent for the 11,000 other homeschooling families in Maryland to resist supervision.
"Other parents could follow Mrs. Battles' path," lamented Darren Burns, attorney for the Anne Arundel County public school system.
Jezic predicted that a flood of parents, as a result of the decision, will refuse to cooperate with school districts or provide proof that they are adequately educating their children. He said that the only way to enforce state regulations would be to file individual cases and coerce parents into court.
A school board in Morrisville, NJ, voted 6-2 to oust Planned Parenthood speakers and pamphlets from sex education classes and start teaching abstinence. A Planned Parenthood representative to the school district was shocked by the decision, who insisted that the 8th and 10th graders who take the required class must have "options" and "information" if they choose to have sex.
The U.S. Supreme Court again passed up an opportunity to clarify the rights of students to deliver prayers at public school activities. The high Court let stand lower court rulings that prevented a 1994 Mississippi law authorizing "nonsectarian, nonproselytizing student-initiated voluntary prayer" during school events from taking effect. The courts left intact a portion of the law permitting student-led graduation prayers, but rejected portions covering sporting events, and assemblies.
Teachers at Valley View Elementary in south Phoenix have split over whether to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in class. Some teachers contend that the U.S. flag is a symbol of discrimination, while others argue that "we're citizens of the world and not just the United States."
The "entity" created by the National Governors' Association as a successor to the controversial National Education Standards and Improvement Council in Goals 2000 legislation has been named "Achieve." Achieve will function as a new national information clearinghouse and resource for states and business leaders who want to "achieve better educational outcomes." With $5 million in donations already collected from private foundations and businesses, 30 states have already submitted their testing tools and standards to the electronic clearinghouse.
Carnegie Report Pushes for Universal Preschool
NEW YORK, NY - The New York-based Carnegie Corporation's Task Force on Learning in the Primary Grades has released a report that says all children need access to two years of high-quality preschool to be successful students.
"Academic self-image is shaped between the ages of 3 and 10," says the report. "Children who take an early dislike to school work or have doubts about their academic worth face disadvantage in all future learning."
Shirley Malcom, co-chairman of the task force, is convinced that universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds is an achievable goal. "You know, 40 years ago, there was no universal kindergarten either," she said. Citing the diversity of publicly funded preschool programs supported by churches or employers, Malcom added, "The kids live in a Humpty Dumpty world. All of it is fractured - the pieces don't hang together."
The report recommends that this patchwork of educational experiences needs to change. Preschool programs should complement not only what parents try to teach their children, but also with what kindergarten and elementary teachers will want to teach at school. Preschool should also work in conjunction with television programs and community activities, including church.
The report also recommends:
Critics point out that it is a long-time goal of the public school establishment and the National Education Association to lower the mandatory school age and get children in school at younger and younger ages.
BOOK OF THE MONTH . . .
The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., 1996, Doubleday, 317 pp., $24.95 cloth. 1-800-323-9872.
Those who want to learn more about how the public school system has failed disadvantaged children and thereby fosters social inequalities should read E.D. Hirsch Jr.'s new book called The Schools We Need. The author of the best-selling Cultural Literacy has produced an impressive critique of our public educational system which, he says, is "among the least effective in the developed world."
The American education "Thoughtworld," as Hirsch calls the dressed-up yet decades-old ideas of the education establishment, "is a juggernaut that crushes the independence of the mind." The faulty, anti-knowledge theories originating in the early 20th century have been merely recycled to formulate the impressive-sounding jargon that "experts" use today. These entrenched slogans have "led to the total absence of a coherent, knowledge-based curriculum, but are nonetheless presented as novel theories based on the latest research and as remedies for the diseases they themselves have caused."
Hirsch defines the public schools' deceptive vocabulary. He makes a broadside attack on the prevailing pedagogical fads that "process" should take priority over the acquisition of knowledge, that teachers do not need to know the subjects they teach, and that it is unnatural and unfair to challenge children academically through content-based curricula.
Hirsch argues that requiring children to learn a core curriculum, using methods that emphasize hard work, learning facts, and passing tests, is the best and probably the only way to reduce social and economic inequalities. Neither more money nor "school choice" will do the job. The children from disadvantaged families need a core curriculum with real content if they are to become successful citizens in the information-age civilization.
A child's mind is hungry for knowledge, stimulation, and learning, and it is a tragedy that schools fail to provide these things. Educators would do well to heed Hirsch's convincing and well-documented conclusions.
PSAT Altered to Appease Critics
NEW YORK, NY - Despite denial that the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT) is biased against girls, the College Board and the Education Testing Center of Princeton, NJ, have agreed to try to help girls improve their scores by including a multiple-choice section on writing skills beginning next year.
FairTest of Cambridge, MA, and the American Civil Liberties Union Women's Rights Project filed a federal gender-bias complaint in 1994 with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights because girls tend to score lower than boys on the PSAT. As a result, 45% of boys taking the PSAT are awarded 60% of National Merit Scholarships, for which PSAT scores are the primary determinant. The groups allege that girls are thus denied equal opportunity to receive college aid.
FairTest and the ACLU would also like to see the importance of the PSAT scores diminished in the National Merit selection process. They want grades and class rank to receive more attention. Girls tend to receive higher grades in school, but those statistics do not take into account the difficulty of the courses taken.
Donald M. Steward, president of the College Board, said the selection process already attempts to compensate for girls' lower math scores by counting the verbal scores twice and the math score only once.
"The problem in the test is the math," he said. "We would hope than women would do better in the math through education and socialization that will remove the math anxiety that many of them feel. But we can't discriminate against men in the process."
Diane Ravitch, a senior research scholar at New York University and a former assistant secretary of education, blamed the parties involved in the settlement for caving in to what she calls "political manipulation."
"What gave the SAT and PSAT value was the sense that they're objective," Ravitch said. The College Board is now saying "we can rig the results to try to pacify our critics."
The test is given each year to over one million high school juniors and is used to award approximately 7,000 National Merit Scholarships worth a total of $27 million.
College Frees Itself from Federal Purse Strings
GROVE CITY, PA - In an unprecedented move, Grove City College will end its participation in federal student loan programs at the end of the current academic year. The college is the first institution of higher learning to forfeit such monies from the federal government.
This will free the small, private liberal arts college from 7,000 intrusive and burdensome Department of Education regulations as specified in the Title IV [student aid] of the Higher Education Act.
"Our decision to withdraw from the last link to the federal program was not made lightly," said college president John H. Moore. "There's a huge range of regulations we could have become subject to and that could have led us to a lot of cost, but the reason we did it was principle. We wanted to maintain our independence."
Currently, 800 of Grove City's 2,300 students receive federal student aid. A privately financed loan program underwritten by PNC Bank will replace the federal loan program. While students may borrow up to $2,625 per year in federal loans - and in some cases $4,000 per year - the Grove City College Freedom Student Loan will allow students to borrow up to $7,500 per year.
Grove City College made its decision after the Department of Education announced a recertification process intended to scrutinize more heavily colleges with high loan default rates.
"So they are trying to get more information from colleges," said Lee Wishing, director of communications for Grove City College. "Unfortunately, with government programs, it's one size fits all. We have one of the lowest default rates in the country, and they were trying to get information from us that we didn't want to give out - the college's financial statements, for example. We're in excellent shape, but we feel it's our private business."
"All this information the federal government wanted, in our opinion, did not pertain to the loan program," Wishing continued. "All it does is drive up the costs of education because we have to pay people to gather this information for the government." Wishing said an audit showed that the length of time spent on the form ranged from a minimum of 200 hours to a maximum of 2,000 hours.
Should Public Schools Teach Character?
LANSING, MI - In a vote of 6 to 1, the Michigan State Board of Education has adopted a controversial and long-debated character education policy that includes teaching respect, responsibility, caring, trustworthiness, civic virtue, and citizenship.
The policy states that "we are in the grip of a moral crisis, a crisis of individual character. The formation of character, both individual and societal, is the responsibility of all of us." The text draws from the words of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other American leaders.
Board President Clark Durant said he hopes schools will use the model policy to teach students about what motivated America's founders. The board hopes that the four-page document will help restore civility and moral fiber to Michigan's youth.
The preamble has drawn fire for its references to religion, which are quotes taken from speeches given by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The document closes with a statement about "maintaining the separation of church and state."
In protest, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lobbyist Wendy Wagenheim said, "Making a clear distinction between religious values, moral and ethical principles, and character education is not always easy. But I think it your duty as the state board of public education to explain and reinforce that distinction."
The only dissenting board member expressed concern over whether the policy could inject religion into the schools.
Parent Kimberly Fuga worried that the policy infringes on parents' rights. "Teaching character is a parent's privilege and responsibility and a right I personally do not delegate to this state."
The policy will be sent to schools to use as they see fit.
Teacher Hits Jackpot in Profanity Case
ST. LOUIS, MO - A federal jury has awarded $750,000 in damages to teacher Cissy Lacks, who had been fired for allowing students to use profanity in a classroom assignment.
Lacks and her lawyer, Lisa Van Amburg, sued the Ferguson-Florissant School District after the school board voted 5-2 in March 1995 to fire her for violating the student conduct code against profanity. At issue were four skits that Lacks' 11th-grade English students performed and videotaped in October 1994.
At issue before the jury of six women and one man was whether the firing violated Lacks' right to free speech and whether she was a victim of race discrimination. Lacks, who is white, alleged that she angered black school officials by permitting her black students to use inappropriately raw language.
The jury awarded Lacks $500,000 for the claim that a ban on classroom profanity served no legitimate scholarly purpose and that district officials failed to give her reasonable notice of steps that led to her firing. Lacks also received $250,000 for her claim of racial discrimination.
Lacks said the jury "made a really important statement" on behalf of teachers. U.S. District Judge Catherine D. Perry said the schools' broad authority to prohibit student profanity did not cover students' foul language "regardless of the context."
The district plans to appeal the jury awards, as well as the mandate to re-hire Lacks.
The district's lawyer, Frank Susman, told jurors that the skits contained a profanity every 12 seconds, on the average. "We're talking about poems and videotapes you'll never see reprinted in the newspaper or shown on television," he said. "We all know what's acceptable behavior and what isn't."