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Education Reporter

Fear of Phonics 
NCLB mandates worry educrats
Rumblings are emanating from the education establishment about the growing encroachment of the federal government into the public school classroom. Objections are being raised to the mandates of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law impacting curriculum.

"There is more federal muscle around curriculum and other aspects of school than heretofore has been thrown around," Larry Cuban, professor of education at Stanford University, commented in Education Week (2-5-03). University of Florida Education Professor Richard Allington has charged the federal government with "intrusion" into local affairs and with the coercion of state departments of education.

Are critics really worried about preserving local control and ensuring the right of parents and local school boards to direct the education of children? Are they concerned that, since 1965 and the passage of the first Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the rights of parents and local educators have gradually been stripped away by the enactment and re-enactment of increasingly burdensome and controlling federal education laws? Are they fearful that, with the passage of Goals 2000, School-to-Work, and the soon-to-be reauthorized Workforce Investment Act (WIA), America is in danger of losing not only our locally-controlled public school system but our free market economy as well?

From all indications, the source of these educrats' fears is none of the above, but rather, that old bugaboo - phonics! While NCLB incorporates the system of federalized education established by the above-mentioned laws, it also ties the federal purse strings to the teaching of phonics reading programs. If the Bush Administration has its way, phonics will replace guessing at words, and children may also learn to write and spell.

Supporters of phonics instruction have traditionally been accused of promoting ideology, and some critics are currently leveling that accusation against the federal government. "Right now, we have one voice and one perspective about reading," Deborah A. Dillon, professor of curriculum and development at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and president of the National Reading Conference, told Education Week. "The stakes are high, and if you don't follow that perspective . . . that means you won't get funding."

Some educators are worried that the basic-skills trend will spread to mathematics and other subjects as well. As Education Week noted: "Critics suggest that a $400,000 U.S. Department of Education grant to researchers who back basic-skills math curricula signals that the administration may eventually set its eye on the math curriculum in the same way it has with reading."

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