America 2000, National Achievement Testing, and Revolution in Education: How is Home Schooling Affected? by Inge P. Cannon
The Original Proposal
On Thursday, April 18, 1991, President Bush promised the nation a “revolution” in education. Working hard to achieve a credible reputation as “The Education President,” Mr. Bush proclaimed the need for “new schools for a new world.” Titled America 2000, the new education strategy would:  establish “world class standards” in five core subjects through a system of voluntary national examinations;  make schools the “site of reform” and force them to make American students number one globally in math and science by the year 2000;  promote parental choice for parents and students;  recognize outstanding achievement by teachers, administrators, and students; and  provide $550 million for at least 535 “New American Schools” that “break the mold” of existing school design.
The Subsequent Legislative Debate
On Wednesday, May 22, 1991, President Bush followed his initial presentation of America 2000 with a legislative package for Congress. He announced this massive effort with the words, “From now on business-as-usual will be very unusual. We're talking about breaking the mold…reinventing—literally starting from the bottom up to build revolutionary new schools—not with bricks and mortar but with questions and ideas and determination.” The legislative package authorizes at least $1.2 billion over the next five years.
In response, Senator Ted Kennedy [D-MA] has introduced at least five other education bills into Congress, which his aides claim are designed to “plug holes in Bush's plan.” The bills provide grants to put social services in schools, restructure urban and rural schools, plan programs to increase parental choice of public schools, establish new scholarships for at-risk students, and smooth the transition from high school to work.
Senator Kennedy has taken up several issues with the America 2000 proposal, not the least of which is his focus on early childhood training. He stated, &ldqupo;The most serious omission [from the president's proposal] is the lack of any real commitment to the goal of school readiness. Unless we do what it takes to meet [the school readiness] goal, the chances of meeting the other goals are minimal.” In light of Senator Kennedy's introduction of S.911 early in May, which would ensure that all eligible children are served under Head Start, it is clear that he is directing the Senate committee he chairs toward increased social service programs in the nation's schools.
Education Daily reported on May 24, 1991 that “some of Bush's less-controversial proposals, such as merit schools and alternative teacher certification, could be meshed with similar Democratic bills and passed this year. However, the more controversial elements of Bush's bill, such as school choice and voluntary national testing, are unlikely to pass this year.”
The Six National Goals
Colorado's Governor Roy Romer has launched the first statewide effort to reach the six national education goals adopted by President Bush and the nation's governors over a year ago. These six elements are woven into the America 2000 plan and actually spearhead some of the potentially objectionable thrusts of the program's implementation.
Governor Romer stated that this Colorado 2000 “campaign is designed to mobilize Colorado communities to make education their first order of business,” and President Bush responded with praise for Romer's efforts: “Those who think education problems can be solved in Washington ought to know better.” Governor Romer heads the National Education Goals Panel, a group of governors and federal officials charged with measuring progress toward the goals.
In many ways the goals are worthy ones, particularly in light of the desperate need to improve America's schools so that our society can return to productivity and even sanity in its attitudes and responses. The home-schooling community has been consistently and creatively meeting these goals for years.
The National Achievement Tests
The only way anyone can know if progress is being made in reaching goals is through the use of a well designed assessment program with accompanying recommendations for course correction when it becomes clear that progress is falling short. On June 5, 1991, the House Education and Labor Committee passed a bill that would create a council to study the feasibility of national student achievement standards and tests.
H.R.2435 authorizes $1 million to create the National Council on Education Standards and Testing, a 32 member, bipartisan group that would render an opinion by the end of the year on whether standards and testing are worthwhile and practical. This bill was passed in the House on June 10, 1991, with a voice vote. Representative Steve Gunderson [R-WI] commented, “I will admit that this is a major departure from how Americans have viewed education in the past. Concerns have been raised about creating national standards and a voluntary national test.” The National Education Association opposes nationwide achievement tests because they fear that teachers will be evaluated on the basis of their ability to produce students who succeed in the assessment.
Other groups oppose a pencil and paper assessment because of the concern that multiple choice questions are drastically limited in scope of measurement. Private schools and home schoolers are justifiably concerned that mandated achievement tests end up driving their curriculum options, i.e. you have to teach what the test will measure lest your failure jeopardize your right to continue.
The issue of national testing is a thorny one with two clearly marked perspectives which must be satisfied. If public education is ever to be improved, accountability must be applied to the process. However, autonomy in curricular decisions must be protected. If it is not, what we will have in the United States is a national school board located in Washington, D.C. with tentacles of bureaucracy that produce massive costs and oppressive controls.
The Net Effect on Home Schoolers
Many home schoolers wonder how their educational choice will fare in the massive effort being generated in the nation's capital. The focus of the new thrust is clearly reformation of America's public school system. It remains to be seen what impact the “choice” debate and the “national standards test” will have upon alternate educational programs once the federal government's plans are in place and states have the responsibility to develop regulations to implement the “efficient” use of federal funds.
In many ways, America 2000 faces much more bi-partisan debate before it can take form. Several congressmen and senators are claiming that the proposed strategy is a new campaign ploy, designed to carry George Bush through the 1992 election without having to answer too many questions about where his domestic goals are.
The bottom line, however, is that public schools are in desperate need of change. The proverbial everybody wants credit for good things which are offered—nobody is responsible for the “unresolved” problems and is there anybody who will give more money to salvage the bankrupt system?
These are important days for home schoolers to be alert. Nothing should be taken for granted. Specific exemption language should be written into each legislative thrust, no matter how harmless it may seem, to ensure that the focus stays on public education. While our best defense is to do what we do well in training our children, there is no substitute for eternal vigilance legislatively.
The Six National Goals
- By the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn.
- By the year 2000, the high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.
- By the year 2000, American students will leave grades four, eight, and twelve having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science history, and geography; and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our modern economy.
- By the year 2000, U.S. students will be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement.
- By the year 2000, every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
- By the year 2000, every school in America will be free of drugs and violence and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.
The Myth Debunked: Spending Not the Cure-all for Schools
Education Update Fall. 1990, p.1.
In both New York City and Milwaukee, only a fraction of the money spent on education actually reaches the classroom. Fordham University professor Bruce Cooper found that of the $6,107 New York spends per high school student annually, only $1,972 goes for classroom services; the rest feeds the city's bloated high school bureaucracy, including a staff of 4,000 in central headquarters. In Milwaukee, a study by teacher Michael Fischer found that of the $6,451 spent per elementary student each year, only $2,970 actually reached the school, and only $1,647 was spent on instruction.
Reprinted with permission from Eagle Forum News and Notes.