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Flap Over English Standards Sparks Strong Words

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Washington

Some teachers, angry over the removal of two professional associations from the federally financed project to set national standards for English, are threatening to ignore standards drafted for that subject by any other group.

Letters submitted in response to an Education Department request for comment on proposed standards projects for English and economics contain many such warnings, both implied and outright. The department is considering whether to request proposals from organizations seeking to draft voluntary standards for the two subjects.

In March, the department refused to extend its contract with the N.C.T.E., the I.R.A., and the University of Illinois after 18 months of work. Department officials cited what they said was a lack of progress and other deficiencies for terminating the relationship. (See Education Week, March 30, 1994.)

The N.C.T.E. and the I.R.A are continuing work on their own standards project, at their own expense.

The Education Department placed a notice in the Federal Register in July, soliciting comments on its "proposed priorities" for fiscal 1995--content standards for English and economics.

While the comments indicated strong support for department financing of both projects, many of the letters about the English standards warned that teachers may not cooperate in the effort.

"We will only support standards-creation efforts in which the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association are involved," says one letter, from Lois Stover, the president of the Maryland Council of Teachers of English Language Arts.

"You will not get my services to work with [the replacements] nor those of most other educators from San Diego County," wrote Will Lindwall, an evaluation specialist for the San Diego schools.

'Enemies of Children'

Several of the nearly 50 letters received by the Aug. 15 deadline also raised concerns that a new standards-setting project would be based on traditional English and overlook cultural differences.

But the most stinging indictment came from Kenneth S. Goodman, a professor of language, reading and culture at the University of Arizona in Tucson and a leading proponent of whole-language instruction. He is an outspoken critic of efforts to create national standards. (See related story from this issue.)

Mr. Goodman wrote that he hopes the department will receive "no credible responses" to any future request for proposals.

"I believe that your office has already decided to award this contract to far-right ideologues and enemies of children and teachers," he wrote.

Alan E. Farstrup, the executive director of the I.R.A., said late last month that his group and the English teachers' council have set a target deadline of next June to issue a document.

Mr. Farstrup said that under some circumstances his group would consider working with others involved in a federal project. "If we can find ways to link up productively, we'll do that," he said.

Almost lost in the controversy enveloping the English standards is the department's movement toward providing support for economics standards.

The department is considering such a project because economics was defined as a core subject under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act.

Favorable Comments

A contract for drafting standards in economics would bring to eight the number of such projects underwritten by the federal government.

Though few in number, the comments received about economics standards were universally favorable.

"It is exceedingly frustrating to struggle with the apathy of school districts and teachers in offering this subject matter to their students," wrote Abbejean Kehler, the president of the Ohio Council on Economics(See ducation. A standards project, she added, would create an "enormous impetus" for curriculum change nationwide.

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