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|NUMBER 166||THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS||NOVEMBER 1999|
By Donna Hearne
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) called the "Students Results Act of 1999" (H.R. 2). A companion bill, the Straight As Act (H.R. 2300/S.1266) has also passed the full House. These bad bills were made worse by amendments and additional mandates. For example, the final version of H.R. 2 includes a $1.5 billion increase in Title I funding, and adds science to the disciplines that require state standards and assessments. It includes the Mink (D-HI) amendment, which restores funding for "gender equity" to the tune of $5 million. H.R. 2300 has been watered down to a 10-state pilot program, and the final version includes additional government mandates.
H.R. 2 masquerades as an effort to return America to a nation of knowledgeable, independent thinkers, but it falls dangerously short of this goal. Although the phrase "Goals 2000, Educate America Act" has been removed under Section 1113, the essence of this unpopular 1994 legislation remains intact.
The first indication that H.R. 2 is the same old Goals 2000 appears in Title I, Section 1001(c)(5), which states that the purpose of "Federal education assistance is . . . to help ensure that all pupils, especially the disadvantaged, meet challenging standards for curriculum content and pupil performance." (emphasis added.)
"Challenging standards" are defined under Section 1111(b)(1)(A-D) as "content" and "performance standards" that are "the same" for "all schools and children in the state." These standards "shall include the same knowledge, skills and levels of performance expected of all children" (emphasis added), and are to "specify what children are expected to know and be able to do." The aligned state performance assessments will enable the state to label students "below basic, basic, proficient or advanced, [as the assessments] determine how well children are mastering the material in the state content standards."
Whats wrong with standards and assessments? The answer is, plenty! Some state standards and performance assessment questions are ideological. The uproar that took place in Kansas when the locally-elected members of the state school board removed evolution from the state standards and aligned performance assessments is a good illustration. The resulting firestorm emphasized the little-known fact that most states have similar ideological standards and assessments that include controversial topics such as evolution, overpopulation, global warming, endangered species, and feminism.
A state-by-state review of education reform reveals the powerful influence of the three 1994 federal laws: Goals 2000, School-to-Work, and the ESEA reauthorization (then H.R. 6). As these laws worked their way through state education departments to the local level, schools moved away from knowledge-based academics that were objectively tested, and towards ideological curricula aligned with subjective assessments based on attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors.
During the following five years, controversy boiled around the terms "Goals 2000" and "Outcome Based Education." However, few Congressmen and Senators looked beyond the verbiage to discover that Goals 2000 sets up a system of state stanards (or outcomes) based on attitudes and beliefs, not on academics, and that the resulting state assessments are subjective and often ideological. The teaching of knowledge-based, objective truths found in traditional mathematics, classical literature, original historic documents, etc., is becoming increasingly rare.
Children are no longer required to prove by objective examinations that they have acquired certain basic facts in the traditional disciplines of science, English, mathematics, and history. Instead, the key word is "performance" e.g., how a child behaves (performs) so as to reveal the substance of his worldview on an open-ended test. Students answers are subjectively assessed by paid graders who are not necessarily teachers and whose pay is often determined by how many tests they grade per hour.
A majority of states are using identical "embedded test questions," which allows them to compare their students to those in other states, a subtle form of national testing. Local options do not exist. In fact, Section 1111(b)(4)(A) of H.R. 2 notes that all states must have "yearly student assessments" that shall "be aligned with the states challenging content and student performance standards . . . [and that] the same assessments [are to be] used to measure the performance of all children." Additionally, the state is allowed to mandate local "curriculum content" per Section 1111(b)(3)(B). If local schools fail to meet the states many demands, Section 1116(b)(9) legalizes the takeover of those schools by the state.
Federal Data Collection
H.R. 2 falls into the political trap of separating students into categories of race, gender, ethnicity, income, and disabilities [Section 1111(h)(2)(A)], based on the false assumption that members of these groups cannot make it on their own, but need the help of the "Government Nanny."
The government is collecting data on each student according to the parents or guardians income level. A fair question to ask is: How are they getting this information? By asking the students? By comparing data from state revenue departments or the IRS? Isolating low-income students means that the state must have information about the income level of every students family. One must have the whole pie in order to carve out one piece.
The Straight As Act
H.R. 2300 purports to give local communities control of education and academics. Section 2(2) reads ". . . give states and communities maximum freedom in determining how to boost academic achievement . . ." Yet the very next line, which reads "to hold states and communities accountable for boosting the academic achievement of all students . . . ," negates local control. Additionally, a reality check of state and federal assessments reveals that students are not being tested for academic achievement. The stumbling block to "freedom" is accountability, which is spelled out in Section 3(c)(5).
Everyone wants accountability, but to whom are students and schools ultimately accountable? The Straight As Act implies that education can be locally controlled and at the same time must be accountable to the state or federal government. How can this be? The answer is, it cant. At the moment we hand over our hard-earned wages via taxes to the government, a shift in power and control occurs. Government agents take our money for their projects and, under force of law, use it to force us to do something we may not want to do.
For example, if mandatory state assessment tests written in collusion with federal agents demand answers to questions that assess a students worldview and reveal how he acts and feels, the student becomes accountable to the federal agents for his feelings and actions, instead of to mom, dad, and teachers.
Straight As requires that the state certify to federal agents under Section 3(c)(5)(A)(i) that local schools are using the "state content standards, state student performance standards, and aligned assessments" a la Goals 2000, or at least are using the "aligned assessments" to measure the "degree of change from one school year to the next . . . " In the same section, item (C)(i) requires that the state, not the local school, decide what is a "satisfactory" assessment, and that the state set "performance objectives for all students . . . " (emphasis added.)
Donna Hearne is president of the Constitutional Coalition and a former official in the U.S. Department of Education.
Section 3(D) mandates that each state must have "developed and implemented a statewide system for holding its local educational agencies [schools] accountable for student performance." This eliminates local choice and mandates that each school use and improve each year on the state/federal governments choice of assessment tests.
Because of funding, the federal mandate that every child master the "state content and student performance standards and assessments" becomes the primary focus of education. To demand mastery of ideological state standards is to demand "state speech." It is interesting that Section 1120(a)(2) of H.R. 2, as it refers to private and religious schools, requires that all state and federal materials and services be "neutral, secular and nonideological."
Although H.R. 2 exempts home schools and private and religious schools from state mandates, the use of uniform state tests and the move toward Certificates of Mastery and other state-authorized stamps of approval for entrance into college and the job market belie that exemption.
"Teach the Test?"
The 400-page bill (H.R. 2) gets worse. Section 1119 provides funding for teacher training to ensure that all students master state standards. In other words, funds will be provided to teach teachers how to teach the tests. Because local schools are dependent on state and federal dollars (our tax dollars), they must demonstrate improvement each year or risk having the state take over the school.
The following three scenarios are already occurring: (1) Teachers are forsaking intellectual, in-depth teaching in favor of test content. State education bureaucrats are instructing teachers across the U.S. how to raise student test scores. Teachers report that they are being told to forget everything else and, "Just teach the test!" (2) Some teachers are advising "intellectually challenged" (i.e. slower) students to stay home on test days. After all, if their pay is tied to an increase in test scores, they will be motivated to find ways to increase the scores. (3) Teachers are using the eraser to change answers. There are currently a number of cases where teachers have been caught doing this and are under indictment.
Add to this mix the fact that funds are tied to assessment test scores that are not objective, but are subjective, and you have the potential for gross injustice. Is it fair that the test scorers opinion can make or break the future of a child, a teacher, or a school? Particularly onerous is the Straight As mandate (6)(A)(v) that "all students in the state . . . make substantial gains in achievement." (emphasis added.) Who defines "substantial"?
Section 1118(b) of H.R. 2 provides funds to "assist" parents to "understand the states content standards and state student performance standards . . . [and] state and local assessments." But parents are forbidden to see the tests their children are taking, and the U.S. Department of Education is still the ultimate education authority. Its the "same ol- same ol federal control. To paraphrase President Reagans famous quote: "There they go again!"
Our nation is, was, and will continue to be free only when our government is based on the following forgotten principle in our Declaration of Independence: Men are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights . . . That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
The forgotten principle that government is accountable to the citizen, and tat the citizen is accountable to God, not government, must be reintroduced. We should make our Congressmen and Senators aware that the Straight As Act and the ESEA reauthorization not only violate this crucial premise of freedom, but also the wisdom of traditional education. Parents and classroom teachers, not government agents, are the best judges of whether Johnny is learning academics. Accountability must be to them.
The House and Senate Education Committees would be true to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution if they would replace all sections of the Straight As Act which say "accountability to state and federal agents" with "accountability to parents, guardians and the local school." The only requirement for receiving state and federal money should be a "full disclosure to parents and citizens by the local schools of the results of locally-selected, academic, objectively-measured, intellectual, knowledge-based achievement tests."
Why have we allowed government agents the power to demand that we be
accountable to them, using our money as the enforcement stick? Accountability of
government to its citizens preserves freedom; accountability of citizens to
government leads them into slavery. The Straight As Act is a perversion of the
word "accountability." For our childrens sake, we must define accountability the
way the Declaration and Constitution do, and thereby preserve our freedom.
Donna Hearne is president of the Constitutional Coalition and a former official in the U.S. Department of Education.
Editors note: Bill section numbers may have changed in the final versions, which were not posted as we went to press.