E.D. Scraps Funds for New English Standards Project

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The U.S. Education Department announced last week that it would not finance a new standards-setting project for English-language arts.

The decision, in essence, means the two professional groups that earlier lost their federal funding to develop voluntary national standards are likely to craft the only document for a nationwide audience that will outline what students should know and be able to do in the discipline.

Although the Education Department left many questions unanswered in making the announcement, federal officials attributed the decision in large part to letters they received over the summer that supported the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association--the groups whose financial backing was withdrawn.

"All of the comments on English basically had the same advice--to point out that i.r.a. and n.c.t.e. were proceeding [and] would be done in the spring," said Michael Cohen, an adviser to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. "We were urged not to fund an additional set of standards, and by the time our money came out, they would be done," Mr. Cohen said. "We listened to the advice we got from the field, and we followed it."

The department will proceed "in some fashion" to pay for the development of standards for economics, Mr. Cohen said, but no decision on timing has been made.

Until the groups that represent English-language-arts teachers were told about the department's decision last week, they had been considering a partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers on the project.

The council had planned to serve as the administrator of the project and tentatively had planned to submit an application to the department if a new proposal request had been issued.

If the department were to issue such a request, "the council can help the organizations conduct the job of completing the standards effectively," Ramsay Selden, the director of the council's state-education-assessment center, said before the Education Department's announcement last week.

Funding Dried Up

After giving nearly $1 million to the two groups and the Center for the Study of Reading at the University of Illinois to develop content standards for English-language arts, the department's office of educational research and improvement notified the groups in March that no money would be coming for the second half of the three-year project. (See Education Week, 03/30/94.)

In a letter to the University of Illinois, the o.e.r.i. said that the project had made insufficient progress, that the proposed standards were vague, and that the standards focused too much on process instead of on defining what students should know and be able to do.

At the time, education officials said they expected to have another group in operation by fall.

Project leaders disagreed with the department and said many of the cited deficiencies would have been overcome had the department allowed them to finish.

Since then, the n.c.t.e. and the i.r.a. have each put up $500,000 to complete the project. (See Education Week, 05/04/94.)

"While this is interesting, and not wholly unexpected, we're going to keep going," Terry Salinger, the director of research for the i.r.a. who heads up that group's standard's project, said of last week's announcement.

A Different Look?

At this stage, each group is developing its own independent document. When that process is finished, the n.c.t.e. and the i.r.a. plan to merge the documents into a single set of standards.

They hope to produce a final document by summer.

"One of the things we learned in the previous effort is the writing process gets too difficult and too complicated if [the writing group] is too large," said Alan E. Farstrup, the executive director of the reading association.

The standards the two associations are drafting are likely to look at least somewhat different from those the Education Department rejected.

In part, the changes can be attributed to advances the groups have made in preparing the documents. But there are signs that the associations have taken some of the criticisms of their earlier drafts to heart. For example, the current n.c.t.e. draft still contains opportunity-to-learn standards--which the department had said were unauthorized--but they are apparently not as prominent as those in the original draft.

A Broader Constituency

The groups also seem to be more attuned to the political culture in which they are working.

"One of the perceptions of the previous project was we were too busy examining our own navels; we didn't pay enough attention to the broader world," Mr. Farstrup said. Now, he said, the groups are building into the review process a large number of constituencies, including policymakers.

But while both groups expect the final standards to be more specific than they were in the rash of drafts, they still envision them more as underlying principles rather than as a checklist.

Vol. 14, Issue 14

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