Pork and Publicity
Copyright 1988 Editorial
Its appropriations ceiling is $750,000, and the federal contribution must be matched by private donations.
But legislation to reauthorize the program turned into a $70-million proposition that was defeated by the House after conferees attached provisions authorizing their own education-related pet projects.
"We're not talking pork barrel here, we're talking pork warehouse," said Mahlon Anderson, acting director of public affairs at the Education Department, which planned to ask President Reagan veto the bill.
The projects' supporters would still have had to fight for appropriations in the next budget cycle. But having authorizing legislation would have given them a leg up in fighting for specific projects.
Higher-education institutions dominated the queue at this trough, which contained such projects as a law library for the University of Mississippi.
But the bill also authorized funding for three "Star Schools" proposals, including a $10-million project proposed by the Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications, the organization that prompted the program's sponsor, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, to introduce it.
The Senate approved the bill by consent last week, but the House voted 256 to 131 to kill it on a procedural motion after several members lambasted it.
As federal programs go, the National Assessment of Educational Progress barely rates a blip on the political radar screen.
So when the abc newswoman Barbara Walters asked the agency to help prepare a network documentary on the state of students' knowledge, officials jumped at the chance.
"We wanted to get the word out that there is a huge data base here,'' said Archie E. Lapointe, naep's executive director.
According to Mr. Lapointe, Ms. Walters approached the testing agency after reading What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?, the 1987 book by Chester E. Finn Jr. and Diane Ravitch.
The agency, which is run by the Educational Testing Service, conducted a test for the network and worked with the show's producers to ensure that the results were analyzed accurately.
But although the recent program mentioned naep prominently, the agency did not exactly get the publicity it desired. According to Mr. Lapointe, naep received more than 100 calls after the broadcast--but the callers asked for "the abctest."--jm & rr