Official Denies Improper Influence In Rejection of Holocaust Program
Shirley Curry, formerly the director of the office of educational research and improvement's recognition division and now in another department post, was called to give testimony before the House human resources and intergovernmental relations subcommittee.
Under intense questioning, she denied charges that the review process had been improperly influenced by conservative groups such as Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum.
Ms. Curry, a political appointee in the department, was formerly a member of the Eagle Forum's board of directors. Last week, she was transferred from the OERI to the department's office of management, where she will serve as special assistant to the deputy undersecretary until the end of the year.
Bruno Manno, acting deputy assistant secretary for operations, said the decision to transfer Ms. Curry was made by Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos as a part of an internal review of the NDN grant process.
But Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, charged that the transfer "was to avoid political embarrassment and essentially give Ms. Curry a paid vacation for the next two months."
Embroiled in Controversy
The NDNprogram, dating from the 1970's, makes grants to the designers of "innovative" curricula to help them replicate their techniques in other schools.
The curriculum in question--"Facing History and Ourselves"--uses the experience of the Holocaust as a means for exploring questions of morality, human behavior, law, and citizenship.
It became the center of a storm of controversy last year after it was first denied the dissemination funding, which is granted to a relatively small number of select NDN projects.
"Facing History" had been given low marks by review panelists who others later charged had been selected because of their conservative views. The comments of one reviewer, who criticized the program because it failed to present the viewpoints of the Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan, received national media attention. (See Education Week, Aug. 4, 1987.)
The curriculum's developers reapplied for NDN funds this year and received much higher marks from reviewers, with an average score of 89 out of 100.
But the program was not eligible for funding this year because Ms. Curry had made a decision not to fund projects in the "History, Geography, and Civics" category.
Sources in OERI, who requested anonymity, said the decision not to fund the category had been made solely to deny "Facing History" a grant. (See Education Week, Sept. 14, 1988.)
At the hearing last week, Ms. Curry denied that charge. She said the category was not funded because there was more "educational need" for programs in other areas. Limited resources, she said, had forced the department to leave certain categories unfunded.
Supplemental Funds Denied
But Representative Ted Weiss of New York, a Democrat and chairman of the subcommittee, asked Ms. Curry why, when additional funds became available, she had made a second decision not to fund "Facing History" in spite of staff recommendations to do so.
An Aug. 10 memorandum to Ms. Curry from the NDN's director, Lee E. Wickline, noted that additional funds were available and suggested that the Holocaust program be the first choice for receiving the money.
Ms. Curry responded that she had used her "professional judgment" in deciding to stick with the categories already funded. She noted that, ultimately, her decision was approved by the department's former assistant secretary, Chester E. Finn Jr.
Conversations With Kristol
Mr. Weiss questioned both Ms. Curry and Mr. Manno extensively, however, in an attempt to determine whether the decisions had been influenced by others in the department, particularly William Kristol, who was staff director for former Secretary William J. Bennett.
Ms. Curry admitted that she had talked with Mr. Kristol about the program and about Ms. Schlafly's objections to it.
On Aug. 13, 1987, shortly after the controversial review comments were made public, Mr. Kristol received a letter from Ms. Schlafly stating her objections to the curriculum's use of student journals and other discussion techniques.
"Such psychological manipulation, induced behavioral change, and privacy-invading treatment are unacceptable in federally funded or federally approved curricula," Ms. Schlafly wrote.
Mr. Kristol has denied that outside influences played a part in the grant-review process or that he intervened on Ms. Curry's behalf when others at OERI were unwilling to go along with her decisions.
But Margot Stern Strom, executive director of the Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation, testified she had at one time broached the subject of funding obstacles with Ms. Curry and asked her what to do. According to Ms. Strom, Ms. Curry said, "Call Phyllis Schlafly."
Brutalized by Comments
"We have felt brutalized by comments about our program," said Ms. Strom, who, along with Max McConkey, head of the National Dissemination Study Group, has charged that some review panelists were hand-picked for their conservative views.
In addition to the Nazi and KKK objections, some of the reviewers--who were chosen by Ms. Curry--have called the curriculum "leftist, anti-war, anti-hunting, and offensive to fundamentalists."
Ms. Curry denied at the hearing that she had specifically chosen panelists with conservative viewpoints, however, and said she did not agree with their remarks. Mr. Manno added that the department had "distanced" itself from the remarks by publicly disclaiming them.
But Representative Frank sharply criticized department officials for publicly disassociating themselves from the remarks while at the same time allowing the reviews to stand.
"I don't think you are entitled to say that you repudiated these views when wacko, offensive opinions were given full weight in scoring," Mr. Frank said. "Shame on the department."