Terrel Bell Says E.D. Must Promote
Washington--Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell told educators meeting at the National Diffusion Network's (ndn) annual conference here last week that the federal government cannot afford to promote programs that delve into the "affective domain" of students at a time when improving academic achievement has never been "more critical to our future."
"Our highest possible priority in this era needs to be academic excellence and achievement, areas that are central to the existence of schools," Mr. Bell said. "We've always needed better schools, but we need them now more than ever."
Mr. Bell's comments on federal educational priorities were made in light of the recent disclosure that Donald J. Senese, the Education Department's (ed) assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, has ordered the discontinuation of funding for 13 ndn-approved programs because, in his opinion, they were not "in the best interest of the federal government."
Directors of four of the 13 programs cited for a cutoff of funds have filed suit against Secretary Bell and Mr. Senese in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J., claiming that the assistant secretary's action was "arbitrary and capricious" and in violation of the Education Department General Administrative Regulations (edgar).
Directors of two of the programs that have have filed suit to block the proposed cutoff of funds said after Mr. Bell's speech that the Secretary would be hard pressed to prove that their programs do not improve students' academic achievement.
They also said that selective elimination of ndn funding for certain categories of educational programs would severely weaken the ndn's goal of providing teachers with the widest possible choice in the type of program that they would like to adopt.
The ndn provided 84 grants last year to a select group of "exemplary" educational programs that were created at the local level. The federal grants allow the programs' developers to produce methods that will enable other schools to adopt the programs' effective-schooling techniques.
Several recent studies of the ndn, including one by the General Accounting Office (gao) that was released last September, have commended the program for its effectiveness in stimulating schools to install exemplary programs, a point that Mr. Bell did not ignore in his address.
"It is significant that [the] gao study was so complimentary of the ndn," he said. "I don't mean to insult the gao, but it's not like them to compliment the programs that we run."
Despite his own praise for the ndn, Mr. Bell told the group that he had "a few concerns about our diffusion efforts that relate to priorities in these times in which we struggle."
"Public schools have been getting a lot of criticism, some of it just and some of it a bit unfair," he said. Much of that criticism, he continued, has been due to the lingering impression that the schools have been doing a poor job of educating the nation's youth in the basic skills.
In an address delivered later in the meeting, Assistant Secretary Senese added that the public schools also have been guilty of overexpanding their curricula to the point of "including even the kitchen sink.''
"Schools are offering their students a taste of this and a taste of that without even bothering to offer them a single substantial meal," Mr. Senese said.
"As educators," Mr. Bell told the group, "we concentrate on what some of us call the 'affective domain,' because we realize that attitude development is important for learning, that feelings are critical in the classroom.
"I know we do it because one of the biggest challenges when teaching and learning take place is the challenge of motivation," he continued. "But the feeling that I've had from my years of experience is that the best way for a child to be motivated, that the best way for the learning of proper attitudes to occur, is for the learner to learn and for the learner to recognize that he is learning."
Therefore, Mr. Bell said, the advancement of academic achievement should rank as the highest ndn spending priority. "I'm sure that I'd have little disagreement with you on that," he said.
Several persons attending the ndn conference, however, said that they were quite concerned by Mr. Senese's move to cut off funds for programs that he felt were not in the federal government's best interest.
"Some of us have programs that strongly resemble the ones that he selected for the cutoff," said one project director. "You cannot help but wonder why your program wasn't chosen this time and whether or not it will be singled out some time in the future."
Funding Cutoffs Questioned
Two project directors whose programs were singled out by Mr. Senese for discontinuation of ndn funding also said that they could not understand the rationale that the assistant secretary used in reaching his decision.
"Our program specifically relates to science-related social issues and has helped hundreds of students gain a better understanding of scientific topics," said Barbara A. Barchi, director of Project creation (Concern Regarding the Environment and Technology In Our Nation/Neighborhood), an interdisciplinary environmental- and social-science program developed for high-school students at LaSalle-Peru Township High School in LaSalle, Ill.
Students in the program, which focuses on topics including land use, pollution, urban management, and energy, must meet predetermined performance standards and cannot move forward in the class unless they demonstrate that they have mastered objectives set out for them by their instructor, Ms. Barchi explained. Since 1978 the program has been adopted by more than 100 school districts in 18 states.
"Mr. Senese could not have looked at the data that we had to present; he never looked at the true content of the program," she claimed.
Artie Kearney, director of the ME/ME Drug Prevention Program for elementray-school students in Appleton, Wis., added that she believed Mr. Senese made his decision to cut off the program's funds "without even looking at our materials."
In papers filed with the Federal District Court in Trenton, Ms. Kearney said, the assistant secretary "indicated that he feels that a good drug-education program should deal with the harmful effects of drugs."
"This program does that," she said. "He also said that our program presents no evidence of reducing drug abuse among children, but the main purpose of this program is to help prevent drug abuse among children by helping them" develop problem-solving and decision-making skills.
"Earlier today, Mr. Bell said that we should strive for academic excellence as educators," Ms. Kearney said. "That certainly is an important goal. But when a teacher is faced with a roomfull of children who feel terrible about themselves and may have serious drug problems, none of that means a thing. Education does not occur in a vacuum; there's a lot more at work there than simple drilling in the basics."