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Education Reporter


Certificates of Mastery vs. Diplomas

The following speech was given at a conference entitled "What Goals 2000 Means to the States" on February 12 on Capitol Hill.

by Representative Ron Sunseri

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What we're doing here is of critical importance to our entire nation. In 1991, I was a member of Oregon's House of Representatives when Ira Magaziner flew to Oregon to make a presentation to a joint session of the House and the Senate to usher in education reform in the state of Oregon.

He told us that all eyes were on Oregon, that we were leading the way in education reform. Actually, we weren't leading anything; we were just falling in lock step behind some of the other states.

But it is true that Oregon was to become absolutely unique. Oregon is the only state that mandates such "reform" in every school and on every child in our entire state. There is no choice in the state of Oregon.

All of our children will receive a Certificate of Initial Mastery and a Certificate of Advanced Mastery. There is no hope except in our private sector, and that's quickly eroding in the state of Oregon.

When I first heard about Outcome-Based Education, I was told that we were no longer going to be concerned with getting a child through a class, but that they would learn all the information presented in the class, and that's what is important, anyway. I thought, "Boy, that sounds pretty good. Maybe this is something good we need to investigate here."

And so I began to look at different states that had implemented parts of this to see what their outcomes were, since we were going to adopt Outcome-Based Education. Of course, I thought I would see math, science, history, and geography. But that isn't what I saw at all.

What I saw was group work, resistance to authority, collaboration, and understanding diversity. It was pretty clear right away that we were shifting from effective education, that is, reading, writing, and arithmetic, to affective education, dealing with attitudes and behaviors of socialization. The academics were simply secondary or ancillary to developing the attitudes and behaviors of the child.

Our state developed its eleven outcomes for the Certificate of Initial Mastery. Sure enough, they talked about self-directed learning and collaboratation and understanding diversity. And each of these outcomes focused on process, not on content. Clearly, it was an attempt to move our children into a place where their attitudes and behaviors were controlled. Very little was mentioned about academics, even though our law specifically stated that we were to have the best educated students in the world by the year 2000. The law frequently repeated the words "intellectual rigor." The rhetoric was there. What was really taking place was exactly the opposite.

We complained so loudly statewide that we got them to say, "Well, we're not going to have outcomes anymore. We're going to eliminate that. We're going to have effective learning skills." They just changed the name, but it's all exactly the same. Nothing had changed at all.

In 1991, they told us that there will be no more diplomas. Everyone will get a certificate. I didn't have any idea what that really meant on a grand scale. A Human Resource Development Plan for the United States says that all people that are in the workforce now will come back to these life long learning centers called schools and get all these same values and outcomes and pass the certificate before they go back into the workplace. It's all there, written by the National Center on Education and the Economy.

When we insisted on keeping the diploma, we were told that Oregon could keep it but that it is nothing more than a security blanket and has no meaning. And so they put a Certificate of Initial Mastery stamp on the diploma in the state of Oregon. As of 1995, our law requires that all of our students receive a Certificate of Initial Mastery.

As I looked at this further, I began to wonder what in the world the federal Department of Labor is doing dictating standards in education with the SCANS report. Clearly, the customer of education is now changing. The customer is no longer the parent and the child, but it is now the world of work. The employer is the customer of education.

Now it becomes clear why it is important to change attitudes and control the behavior of the child at an early age. The goal is no longer to give children a broad base of knowledge so they can make their own choices, but to compete with third-world nations under GATT and NAFTA. A compliant workforce facilitates this. And that's what I saw very clearly in the Certificates of Mastery. Our children are not spending 50 minutes a day, as we did, in math class. But don't think your kids aren't getting math!

I'll give you an illustration. In Oregon, a math requirement is to learn how to cut down trees in a quarter section. Students spend the first three weeks learning how to feel about cutting down trees. What will it do to our environment? To our ecology? Then they spend a week weighing a number of trees and subtracting this and that, and now you've got your math.

But what they have done is hone the attitude and behavior. This process is absolutely essential because a student can't go beyond his Certificate of Mastery until he's demonstrated that he has assimilated the philosophy of the outcomes.

The first Certificate of Initial Mastery ever issued in this country was in Cottage Grove, Oregon. This was the jewel in the Oregon Department of Education's crown. However, when it came out that one of the requirements for receiving a Certificate of Mastery was to demonstrate how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the Department of Education said, "Oh, [the school] got away from us, and they're doing their own thing, and we don't have anything to do with that, and it was a complete error, and they're way ahead of the whole program." It was a catastrophe. Of the 183 students in that class, 116 wrote a letter on their own initiative, begging the school district to no longer subject them to this kind of education.

What's happening to our children with these Certificates of Mastery is a tragedy. We're told that the academics are there, that we just have to be patient.

Forest Grove School District, one of our pilot school districts, declined 36 points in verbal skills and 17 points in math. You will find all manner of rationalization from the Department of Education as to why this happened, and all kinds of numbers trying to justify that this really didn't take place. But the bottom line is that they went down 17 points in math and 36 points in verbal skills.

At the Cottage Grove High School, they finally agreed to add some academic content by teaching Shakespeare to the 10th graders. After it was over, we found that they read two comic books and watched the video Roxanne with Steve Martin. So much for Shakespeare.

I just met with U.S. Bancorp to discuss education. They have been big monetary supporters of Oregon's education "reform." This company has had so many high school seniors come to be trained as tellers who can't add, subtract, or read instructions that they have had to send them back to high school. They're beginning to rethink this. Industry is not getting the product they thought they were going to get from this program.

Required Certificates of Initial Mastery simply lay the foundation. These certificates, or whatever they're called in your state, are the vehicle that pervade the philosophy. That's what is important. Once the children have had their philosophy shaped, they move to Certificates of Advanced Mastery, which determine the vocation the children will have for the rest of their lives.

Now what's sad about that? How many kids do we have in college at age 20 or 21 who haven't declared their major because they still don't know what they want to do? How many of you have changed directions, changed jobs? We're asking kids at 15 and 16 years old to choose the industry and vocation they'll be strapped to for the rest of their lives. Can they change? Well, yes, if there is room.

With the Certificate of Advanced Mastery, this transformational Outcome-Based Education becomes really intense. Grades are eliminated, all subjects are brought into one class, and the focus becomes "problem solving." Do you know any parents who don't want their children to be able to solve problems? Of course not. But what happens is that students focus on one problem, and the only academics they get are those that deal with solving that problem. What you don't get is a year-long, sequential presentation of math or biology that gives a basis of knowledge to reason into other subjects and the mental discipline to teach one's self to learn and to grow.

Such "learning" creates gaping holes in children's education, and it is showing up dramatically at the college level now. We just had the president of our local community college make a presentation to our educational committee, and he said that 30% of the kids coming out of high school have to be remediated at the community college level. Thirty percent!

In response, we pulled the bill into our committee that will allow the community colleges to charge the high schools for all the kids that they have to remediate. That blew the cap off the Capitol Building because it's millions of dollars. If the taxpayers paid for it already once, why should they have to pay for it again? We paid for those kids to be able to learn those very things. And that's not what is taking place. They're not learning things that are so important.

Testing is an essential, key part of the education overhaul. If you're in a state where you're moving toward assessments, then know that you're headed down the wrong road. Assessing is not testing. Assessment determines value or worth. It has nothing to do with norm-referenced tests where parents can measure the performance of their children to others in knowledge content.

Assessments are being sold as local control all across the country. But it isn't local control. If they're determining at the state level what the goals and standards are, and they're assessing them, how much local control is that? But you're told that it's local control, and you're expected to believe it. Just like you're told that there's academic content here.

There's so much deception going on with this whole thing. Reform is truly a misnomer. This is not education or reform. It is a paradigm with different goals and different purposes. Parents must understand this because they are the ones that are truly responsible for their children's education.

Ron Sunseri is a Representative in the Oregon State Legislature. His book, Outcome-Based Education: Understanding the Truth about Education Reform, is published by Multnomah Books.

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