Monday, January 23, 2006

Power Grabbing For School Curriculum Standards Under Cover Of Secrecy --

This comes from a blog called Jim Downey's Rants and Raves. Also check out Jim Horns' post on the same subject.

...Amidst a 774-page budget bill, tucked deep into the body of the document without fanfare or publicity, was a $3.75 billion initiative that puts the federal government in charge of ranking the 18,000 high schools. Not only will the federal government rank each school; it will now have a major role in determining curriculum standards, a role that has traditionally been the province of local school boards and state departments of education.

Most of what he talks about is what he perceives as a "federal power grab" but it is his facts that I find most interesting:

The Bush-backed measure would provide inconsequential grants (up to $1,300) to low-income college freshmen and sophomores having completed "a rigorous secondary school program of study." Larger grants, but equally inconsequential given the cost of most college tuition, will be available to juniors and seniors studying math, science and other critical fields.

Although this part of the budget bill has to yet pass the house, it empowers the secretary of education to define the criteria of what constitutes rigorous and allows the DOE to set standards for high school curriculums in order to qualify students for these grants.

Being aware that the initiative could be seen for what it is a grab for power reserved to state and local authority members of the Bush administration, the Republican leadership and the DOE have vowed to consult with governors, state departments of education and local school boards. Such promises smack of the same trust me approach Bush and his cohorts have used in terms of other grabs for power, including the secret spying by the NSA. The Bush administration has earned a lot of credibility offering up the trust me defense of such actions. NOT!
However, sensible minds have taken notice that the fed, under the small governmentRepublican banner, is indeed trying to usurp power and gain control. Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, stated that this initiative "involves the federal government in curricular matters in a way that opens a new chapter in educational history. Hartle added, I'm very sympathetic to the goal of getting more students to take more math and science courses, but this particular plan has the potential to turn the Department of Education into a national school board."
This initiative would have some profound effects on schools. While we can conjecture that most schools would strive to qualify as having a rigorous curriculum (however vaguely defined by the DOE), what would happen to the overall curriculum for students not bound for college? Even with recent increased percentages, the national average for those completing a 4-year college degree is only 20-25% for high school graduates. (National Center for Education Statistics and US Census Bureau). While these averages increase for suburban communities and places of affluence, the overall average is only 20 to 25%, depending upon the source of the data and the method used to collect that data. Interestingly enough, that statistic represents a dramatic increase. In the early 1990s the range was only 15 to 18%.

So what would this initiative do for schools that do not ordinarily produce a lot of college bound graduates? Many rural schools produce graduates that want a career in agriculture. Many inner city schools have a lot of students that pursue vocations in the so-called trades.Would students graduating from a technical-vocational high school be left out of this initiative? What would happen to inner city schools that have a disproportionate number of learning disabled students? There is a certain amount of elitism built into this initiative. There is also a lot of discrimination against schools that do not have students that are focused on college while in high school. What will happen to students that want to pursue college through one of the community colleges rather than start off in a four-year program? This initiative is way out of balance in far too many ways.

Bush has drawn from his days as the governor of Texas and attempted to bring forth a model that has not worked effectively in Texas. Like the No Child Left Behind law, there is great promise but no substance. NCLB has not been properly or fully funded. NCLB is also out of balance with the realities faced by many schools. The NCLB model and the model of this new initiative places all schools, all teachers and all students in a pigeon-holed box that does not allow for differences of learning, needs of different school populations, and the individual needs of students.
The only role the federal government should have in education is funding and supporting the effort states and local boards make toward striving for excellence, leaving it to the states and local authorities to determine those standards.

Unfortunately the push right now is for a National Curriculum.necessarilyhis is neccasarily a bad idea but right now in this current climate with this particular administration I'm scared of what it would look like.
All this when they have just made major cuts to continuing education funding including money for vocational programs and grants and loans to those in need as well as raised the interest rates on the loans that are still available. What do all these mixed messages mean? What do you think?


Scott W. Somerville said...

The fat lady hasn't sung on this bill yet... but I'm still trying to find out more specifics than the NYT seems to be willing to provide. WHICH bill are we talking about? WHERE is it in the political process?

Scott W. Somerville said...

I've finally tracked down this story, and there's a LOT more to it than the New York Times felt fit to print. I've got a post up at

NO said...

Thanks Scott but after reading your post and the comments I'm more confused than ever. got to look in to this myself. JF