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Education Reporter

Basics In, Feds Out -
What Parents Really Want from Public Schools
WASHINGTON, DC - Surveys consistently show that parents send their children to school to learn basic knowledge and skills that will equip them for a successful life. These surveys also show that parents favor local control of education over increasing interference from the federal government.

Last December, National Capital Strategies, Inc. (NCS), a leading research company based in Washington, DC, announced the results of a comprehensive research project that support previous findings. The study was commissioned by a coalition of prominent business leaders, activists, representatives from grassroots groups, and other concerned citizens.

NCS researchers found that more than 71% of Americans believe that the number one goal of education in the primary grades should be to teach basic reading and writing skills. Nearly 2/3 approve of ending social promotion, and 92% believe that a greater focus on academics would raise student achievement.

The study also showed that eight in 10 adults prefer having their public education tax dollars collected by state governments rather than by the federal government. When asked, "If the federal government spends taxpayer money on education, should the federal government be able to tell local schools how to spend the money and how to teach their students?" nearly 69% stated that the federal government should not be able to tell local schools how to spend the money or how to teach. Nearly three quarters, 73.8%, approve of providing businesses with a corporate tax credit for public and private school projects certified by local communities for hiring new teachers, buying new equipment, renovating existing schools and building new schools.

A Nation Still At Risk "A Nation Still At Risk"  
The NCS report is called "A Nation Still At Risk," in reference to the famous document "A Nation at Risk" issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education in April 1983. That report detailed the failure of public education in America and sounded an urgent alarm. Public officials at all levels responded by vowing sweeping, innovative reforms.

NCS reports that, since 1983, the downward spiral in academic achievement has continued "at a truly astonishing pace." The Third International Mathematics and Science Study done in 1998 pointed out these alarming facts: Approximately 10 million American children have reached the 12th grade without having learned to read at a basic level; more than 20 million are unable to perform basic math and, more than 25 million remain ignorant of the essentials of U.S. history.

"A Nation Still at Risk" shows that it is not our children who are failing - it is our system, our government, that is failing them. The research reveals "a burgeoning intrusion" of the federal government into public education, with 760 separate federal programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education.

Federal Control & School-to-Work 
NCS found that the School-to-Work program (STW) raises particular concern among Americans. Accordingly, researchers devoted considerable time, attention and resources to investigating STW. Among their findings:

  • Federal rules mandate that STW be required for all students - an example of Washington bureaucrats dictating a "one-size-fits-all" program for America's children. 
  • STW requires states to establish partnerships among educators, businesses and labor unions to coordinate regional education programs with workforce requirements. The result is Workforce Development Boards with unprecedented powers to project future job needs and coordinate school curricula. 
  • STW legislation is in part a result of the SCANS (Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills) Report issued by the Department of Labor. Some of the essential skills dictated by the SCANS are highly subjective (behavioral) skills including self-esteem, honesty, teamwork and sociability. Evaluation and tracking of these traits by public schools opens the door to government abuse. 
  • Federal STW rules direct states to compile elaborate and detailed computer records on every student. Eventually, schools will be required to transmit these records to potential employers and others. Abuses of privacy are unavoidable. 
  • Some STW architects hope to one day replace high school diplomas with "Certificates of Initial Mastery," which reflect a student's ability to perform job-oriented skills but are not an indication of broad-based academic knowledge. 
  • STW moves public education's mission from the transfer of academic knowledge to training children ("future human resources") for specific jobs. Those jobs will have little or nothing to do with students' dreams, goals and ambitions. 
  • Most of the jobs in the STW program involve menial tasks such as washing cars and grilling burgers. Students are removed from the classroom at a time when academic achievement in America is declining at a perilous rate. 
  • Many states have implemented STW through executive orders by governors, frequently bypassing state legislators and local officials in the process. This has occurred even as citizens clamor for a return to local control.

The origins of School-to-Work are found in the famous 18-page letter from Marc S. Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), to Hillary Clinton dated November 11, 1992. The letter spells out the details of the STW plan, many of which have since become federal law. The good news is that NCS research has discovered pockets of opposition to STW across America from diverse groups and interests.

The New Mantra 
Because government officials, educators, district officials and intellectuals recognize that the schools they administer are failing to teach students, they have determined that accountability, standards and assessments are "the fix." Tough "national standards," "meaningful assessment" of student performance, and "school accountability" became the mantra at the National Education Summit held in Palisades, New York last fall.

NCS research disagrees. Its report states that "national one-size-fits-all standards are not a good idea. No one can agree on what 'accountability' means, and there is so much debate on how to assess performance and achievement that it is highly unlikely that any constructive change will occur."

Americans want their schools controlled at the local level, the report notes. "They (parents and students) want reading, writing and arithmetic. They want freedom of choice. Therefore, it is more important than ever for parents, business leaders, activists, and others concerned about the nation's future, to get involved and force needed corrections and change."

About the Research 
NCS obtained information and data from a variety of government agencies, private organizations and foundations. John McLaughlin & Associates, a premier polling company, conducted the survey research.

"A Nation Still at Risk" includes a first-ever comprehensive study of all 50 states to discover the extent to which various federal programs have been implemented. More than 500 people were involved in the development of the study, which is available from NCS on a state-by-state basis or as a single-volume, national study.

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