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Critics Target Goals 2000 in Schools 'War'

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Columbus, Ohio

Some 250 parents, children, and other Ohioans gathered on the Statehouse grounds here last week to declare war on the U.S. Education Department.

Troubled by the Clinton Administration's school-reform agenda, embodied in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the ralliers kicked off a campaign to fight implementation of the law in their state and to raise the visibility of their opposition.

The concerns raised by these critics are similar to those of other national and local groups that in recent months have gone on the offensive against Goals 2000.

And the opposition, at least here, has had an impact.

"Thanks to these voices, we're going to be more systematic and careful in the consideration that we give," Ted Sanders, Ohio's superintendent of public instruction, said in an interview. "I would guess at another place and time we would've taken the planning money and gone from there."

Goals 2000, enacted last spring, provides school-reform grants to states and school districts in exchange for their agreement to set high content and performance standards.

Opponents of Goals 2000 contend, however, that the standards-based reforms it encourages will erode local control over schools and lead to government mandates on how to raise children.

In addition, critics have linked the reform strategy to outcomes-based education, which has become a prime target in Ohio and across the country among parents, particularly conservatives, who say it is intended to instill in students state-sanctioned attitudes, values, and beliefs.

"It does not take a whole village to raise a child," one parent, Chris Helms, told the rally here, disputing an African proverb that is widely quoted by school reformers. "We did not sign over our rights to the village or to the Department of Education. This is war and to the victor goes the minds of our children."

Lon Mabon, the president of the Oregon Citizens Alliance, also sought to inspire the attendees, who sported T-shirts reading "Repeal Goals 2000" and hoisted placards with such messages as: "Educate. Not psychoanalyze" and "We want local control of our schools."

"You are a part of this war," Mr. Mabon said. "You are in this thing and you need to make a commitment, because if you don't, they win."

After the 90-minute rally, about three dozen protesters took their message to the state board of education, which was meeting nearby.

When space restrictions allowed only a handful of the group inside the building, the rest picketed.

The events here last week--organized by groups founded in opposition to Goals 2000 as well as by local chapters of the Eagle Forum, the Christian Coalition, and the U.S. Citizens Alliance--were only the latest grassroots maneuvers against the new law.

Local and National

In several states, opponents are speaking out at public forums or state board meetings, calling the news media, and organizing local opposition groups.

For example, Al Burkhalter, a Sioux Falls, S.D., teacher, has been speaking around his state in opposition to Goals 2000 as well as sending letters to newspapers.

He began opposing state-based school reforms in 1993, and added Goals 2000 to his hit list when it became law last spring.

In Texas, the state board voted to seek Goals 2000 funds, but only after hours of rancorous debate by conservative members who linked the program to outcomes-based education and school health clinics.

At the same time, such national conservative organizations as Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, the Eagle Forum, and the Christian Coalition are using their publications and membership networks to drum up opposition.

"There is a populist flavor to this," said Bob Morrision, an education policy analyst at the Washington-based Family Research Council. "We're not initiating anything, but we've put out alerts to all of our contacts about our concerns."

Aiming For Inclusion

Clinton Administration officials say they are aware of the opposition and are taking steps to explain the law to people they say have misinterpreted it. Officials have addressed state meetings on the issue and made overtures to some of the organizations that have been alerting their members about Goals 2000.

"What you've got in the opposition is, first of all, a small but well-organized group of people who are opponents," said Michael Cohen, a senior adviser to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley.

"There is also another group of people who are not political, not ideological, that just care about kids," he said, "who oftentimes may be frustrated with schools or feel shut out of schools or have questions about school reform."

Mr. Riley has been reaching out to these opponents over the last several months through a campaign to increase parental involvement in schools. In each of his public speeches on the issue, Mr. Riley is careful to note parents' concerns.

"We're ... saying to people wherever they are--in their churches and synagogues, in their community groups, in their schools--'Let's all begin to talk about the parents' role in education and in their children's growing up and character building," Secretary Riley said in an interview. "No one is excluded from that."

His work is also an attempt to build support for school reform.

"Real school reform will not take place unless parents and families are a part of it," Mr. Riley said. "That's been a problem in some states. It's been top-down."

But some opponents remain skeptical. The tone of Mr. Riley's speeches, said Linda Page of the Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family, "is more like, 'Let's all join hands and ignore the issues.'"

Others say that when school officials reach out to parents, they are trying to co-opt them into a school-reform process that is proceeding on a narrow path.

"I don't buy the strategic-planning committees," Penny L. Sisson told the Ohio state board. "I don't buy any of it because I see the work is all done."

Partisan Undertones?

Administration officials and other Goals 2000 advocates say the recent visibility of school-reform opponents belies the broad-based, bipartisan support that standards-setting and Goals 2000 have gathered over the past few years among business officials, educators, and politicians--as well as parents.

"These laws come from a truly bipartisan effort, and we don't need to squabble," said Kevin Walker, the president of Project Appleseed, a St. Louis-based organization attempting to build parental support for school reform.

Opponents of Goals 2000 and outcomes-based reforms have seized the moment, he said, because proponents have not systematically built public support, even though it exists.

Mr. Walker and others also contend that much of the opposition is being fomented by political opponents of the Clinton Administration and by religious conservatives.

"A lot of these groups simply hate Bill Clinton," Mr. Walker said. "This is an ideological battle that is taking place in the public schools."

And opponents of Goals 2000 have succeeded in enlisting in battle some concerned parents who had not been politically active.

Kathryn Wyemura, the mother of two teenagers, said at the Ohio rally that she has pulled both of her children out of public schools. The trip to the Statehouse was her first.

"I've never protested anything in my life," she said.

Susan Adams, who has a 2-year-old daughter, was also attending her first protest. She has been gathering information on outcomes-based education and Goals 2000 for the past several months, and said she plans to join the Eagle Forum.

Pointing to lesbian activists who disrupted the rally because it was held on the gay and lesbian National Coming Out Day, Ms. Adams said: "That's another thing that bothers me. They all think we're right-wing fundamentalists. We're just concerned parents."

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