Advocacy Group's Broadside Rebukes Bennett
Washington--Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's first 100 days in office have been marked by "an emphasis on right-wing ideology and an abandonment of any federal role in education except policing the curricula in local schools," charges a report released last week by People for the American Way, the civil-liberties organization founded by the television producer Norman Lear.
The report's release coincided with a series of education-related actions initiated by the group, including a call for the ouster of one Education Department official it says has mixed religious goals with education policy.
"Excellence and equity are both being sacrified in the name of ideology," maintains the report, "A Department at Risk: A Report Card on the Department of Education After William Bennett's First Hundred Days."
While the 20-page analysis lauds Mr. Bennett as a scholar, educator, philosopher, lawyer, and "eloquent advocate" for humanities instruction, it says the Secretary's first 100 days in office have been marked by "disturbing trends."
These include, according to the report, an "assault" on federal assistance programs, including low-cost loans, that help young people from middle- and low-income families attend college; a retreat from the federal government's historic commitment to civil rights and desegregation; and a trend toward staffing the Education Department with "far-right ideologues."
Official's Removal Sought
In a related development, People for the American Way last week called on Secretary Bennett to remove Thomas G. Tancredo from his post as the Education Department's Region VIII representative in Denver.
In its letter, the group charged that Mr. Tancredo has promoted "a pattern of questionable behavior in-appropriate for an official of the U.S. government," by promoting what it called "ultrafundamentalist socio-religious goals" in education-policy matters and attacking the public schools at taxpayer-funded conferences.
"The Department of Education is not a pulpit for Mr. Tancredo's religious views or anyone else's," said Anthony T. Podesta, president of pfaw "Yet Mr. Tancredo has repeatedly exploited his position as head of the department's Denver office to further the ultrafundamentalist Christian agenda."
Mr. Tancredo came under fire earlier this year when Representative Patricia Schroeder, Democrat of Colorado, requested an investigation to determine whether letters sent at taxpayer expense in which Mr. Tancredo criticized the "Godlessness" of public education in "this Christian nation," qualified as official mail entitled to government-paid postage. (See Education Week, Jan. 30, 1985.)
The Education Department had no official comment on the pfaw letter last week.
Investigation of Conferences
In a separate letter, pfaw also called on Senator Robert T. Stafford, Republican of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities, and on Representative Ted Weiss, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations and Human Resources, to launch an investigation into regional conferences sponsored by the Education Department.
Those conferences, called "Parents as Partners in Education," are designed to assist parents in participating more effectively in their children's education. But according to pfaw, the Denver-based conferences, coordinated by Mr. Tancredo, have promoted Christian schools, home schooling, vouchers, and creationism.
A staff aide to the House Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Rela-tions and Human Resources, reached for comment last week, said it was too early to respond to the letter.
Challenges to Materials
Participants at the fourth annual meeting of pfaw's May Group, an informal network of organizations concerned about threats to the First Amendment and public education, focused on the controversial Education Department regulations covering the Hatch Amendment, which gives parents more control over controversial subject matter in the public schools.
pfaw has documented challenges to curricular materials brought under the Hatch regulations in 34 states, according to Barbara Parker, director of the Freedom to Learn Project of pfaw
Education Department officials have indicated that six Hatch-related complaints have been filed with the department since the regulations went into effect, according to Claudia A. Mansfield, government-relations specialist with the American Association of School Administrators and a spokesman for the Hatch Amendment Coalition, a group of 26 education groups that oppose the regulations.
aasa, the American Civil Liberties Union, and pfaw have filed or are considering filing Freedom of Information Act requests with the department in an attempt to obtain specific information about the complaints. To date, those requests have been rejected and are on appeal, Ms. Mansfield said.
The Hatch Amendment Coalition has also developed guidelines for school districts that face challenges brought under the Hatch regulations, Ms. Mansfield told the May Group participants.
The document, which the coalition plans to mail to its member organizations for distribution and to a number of U.S. senators, includes background information on the regulations, steps districts can take to implement the guidelines, and a question-and-answer section to clarify the regulations.