Senate Takes Giant Leap Forward to Nationalize Public Education

Author: Paul Likoudis


"This is a step forward. It is a small step forward"--Sen. Paul Simon.

Goals 2000 "leads logically to a system where federal influence in the design and methodology of teaching our children ... will be expanded in an exponential way.... This bill puts us on a very slippery slope which ... leads inevitably to a dramatic expansion in the role of the federal government, in a dominant way . . . in the education of our children"--Sen. Judd Gregg.

"We would do well to ask whence came this official delusion. Is it evidence of a dysfunction in the political world far more portentous than that in our high schools? Are we in fact legislating an official lie? That is a goal governments achieve all too readily. Goals ascend as standards decline"--Sen. Daniel Moynihan.

WASHINGTON, D.C.--With nary a word from the press and virtually no public awareness, the federal government took a giant step forward to nationalize America's public schools. On Feb. 8th, the U.S. Senate passed Goals 2000, a $400 million-a- year program (with additional funds "as necessary") that promises to make America's schoolchildren the smartest in the world in math and science, to ensure that every child is ready to learn by kindergarten, to raise graduation rates to 90%, to increase adult literacy and improve citizenship skills, and to guarantee that every school by the year 2000 is free of drugs, guns, and tobacco smoke.

The vote was 71 to 25, with four abstentions.

The bad news is that this ambitious educational initiative will create three new federal bureaucracies and a new office in the Department of Education, impose federal mandates on teachers and curricula development, saddle local and state school systems with a smothering blanket of new regulations and mandates known as "opportunities to learn," establish a national "school-to- work" program, and open a litigation gold mine for lawyers.

If you fear the United States is an overly litigious society now warned New Hampshire's Sen. Judd Gregg, leader of the floor fight against the bill, Goals 2000 is a tool "for lawyers to sue to take away autonomy from local governments and local school boards....

"It takes away the autonomy of the school board and gives it to a court and allows lawyers to use the standard set here in Washington ... and insist that the [local] school board change their curriculum, redesign their buildings, not certify a teacher whom they have certified to teach," and so forth.

The good news is that Goals 2000 will be impossible to achieve, as New York Sen. Daniel Moynihan observed--though he voted for the bill--and it is such a massive dose of "more of the same" governmental intrusion that it might prove lethal to public education, which most senators agree is extremely sick.

Before Goals 2000 can become law, differences between the House's more prescriptive version of the bill and the Senate's more cautious version must be hammered out in conference. As of the Wanderer's Feb. 15th deadline, the House conference committee had not yet been named; each of the 18 senators on the Labor and Education Committee will participate in the final conference.

According to a spokesman in Sen. Gregg's office, it is likely an agreement will be forged, the Senate will pass the final bill with the same majority it passed the Feb. 8th version, and President Bill Clinton will sign Goals 2000 into law.

When passed, it will represent a tremendous victory for the Carnegie Foundation-funded National Center on Education and the Economy, formed in the 1980s under the direction of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Robert Reich (current secretary of labor), and Ira Magaziner (now Mrs. Clinton's director of health care reform).

Their goal was to reorient American public education away from the cultivation of intellect through academic discipline to the formation of politically correct attitudes essential to the creation of global citizens and good workers.

According to Senate staffers who spoke with "The Wanderer", there was almost no public awareness that this bill was before the Senate. While the mail from public school teachers and administrators poured into Senate offices urging senators to approve Goals 2000, mail from parents who are not employees of the public schools was negligible.


The four-day debate and discussion on the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, opened Feb. 2nd, with Senators Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and James Jeffords of Vermont, floor managers of the bill, S. 1150, stating that the purpose of the bill is to "create a better overall system."

Jeffords complained the "educational system in this country does so much for too few, while doing too little for so many. Goals 2000 puts us on a path toward reversing this trend."

Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island who was responsible for moving the bill through the Senate's Labor and Education Committee, urged support because it "establishes clear, high expectations for every student, school, and community . . . [and] it strengthens the linkage between the school and the workplace. Goals 2000 is clearly a mandate for change."

Sen. Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas insisted that Goals 2000 would not displace local control over schools, but instead "provides support for innovative thinking and experimentation in the way we educate our students."

Employing a phrase which would be used by every proponent of Goals 2000, she said the legislation provides "bottom-up education reform."

Also speaking for the bill in the opening discussion were Senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, who praised the bill for the way it involves parents in education reform, and Paul Simon of Illinois who praised it for its "voluntary standards. "

Sen. Gregg of New Hampshire led the opposition, charging that the bill represents a "significant power grab by the federal government to obtain control . . . in the manner and methodology of education ... in the elementary secondary school system....

"The fact is that this is not voluntary. It is only voluntary in words, but in practice it is substantially a directive....

"This bill and the language in this bill will create in the area of designing and defining the methodology of teaching, the methodology of education . . . the methodology of curriculum....

"Once the federal government, under this national NESIC (National Education Standards and Improvement Council)--which is the sub-board of the National Goals Board--once NESIC has set up the standards which they determine to be the best way to teach a kid in the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth and through the twelfth grade, once they have set up those standards, no matter how specific they are . . . they become the benchmark for the litigation community in this country....

"Clearly, clearly, it is going to become the anvil upon which the hammer of activist lawsuits directed at local communities . . . is struck.

"So, voluntary this is not. It is politically nice to call it voluntary. I understand that. Because you would not want to say you were mandating something on the states, would we. That might be truth in packaging."

Gregg faulted the bill for undercutting the role of state governors in education, and charged that the bill's oft-used phrase "opportunity to learn" is a euphemism for federal control over education.

"If you are going to be accurate," he insisted, "opportunity to learn" means the government will set mandates for "the methodology of how people teach and what they teach and what they are taught and the atmosphere in which they are taught."


Sen. Conrad Burns of Montana followed, insisting that the last thing the United States needs now is another bureaucracy--let alone three, which Goals 2000 establishes.

"When are we going to learn around here that when you create these new bureaucracies . . . they are nonresponsive and unelected faces, and they will not respond to the likings of our people?....

"The unelected bureaucracies will be in charge of approving plans that states develop to improve education. I have a problem with that, too. That is saying that somebody on the banks of the Potomac is smarter than my school board at home in Montana, and I cannot believe that....

"In order to qualify for a piece of the $393 million in federal money that is being dangled in front of them . . . states will agree to have their reform plan approved by these bureaucrats. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

Furthermore, the use of the word "voluntary" in the plan 75 times is suspicious. "While some might say this is to emphasize the need of voluntary . . . I think it is mentioned many times just to lull folks into a false sense of security."

He, too, criticized the "opportunity to learn" mandates, which impose federal standards on school buildings, teacher-student ratios, and spending per pupil, pointing out that the states such as Montana and South Dakota have the highest SAT scores, and the lowest per pupil spending and teacher salaries.

"And so we know that money is not the answer."


Tom Harkin of Iowa spoke, thanking all those who helped write Goals 2000, especially Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, and he noted that everyone in the Clinton administration "is strongly committed to improving American education, and this bill reflects that commitment."

His particular focus in speaking on behalf of the bill was to stress its "voluntary" nature, and he also thanked Sen. Simon for his amendment which deals with "opportunity to learn" mandates guaranteeing that every child "ought to have access to quality facilities, quality educational facilities."

Dianne Feinstein of California said she is a strong supporter of Goals 2000, but was concerned the bill does not address her main worries, that education has become too centralized, too bureaucratized, too ineffective, and too inefficient, and that this bill does nothing to strengthen local school boards, principals, and teachers.


Sen. Kennedy then opened the debate on the various amendments.

The first crucial amendment debated was put forward by Sen. Gregg; it would have eliminated every reference to "opportunity to learn" standards, which he charged is "basically a grand scheme to design a national curriculum and create a national methodology."

That phrase, he said, would mean every community with a school more than 30 years old would be required to build a new school.

If his colleagues supported his amendment, "you will make it clear beyond question that the goals are to be obtained by energizing local communities--the parents, the teachers, the principals, and the school boards--and not by having some federal group designing a plan that the local communities feel they must adopt."

Sen. Jeffords opposed the amendment, saying, "We do not have the time to wait and see if local governments will have the ability, without assistance from a purview or review of national standards and national ideas and all, to get the minds that are working on this project to sit down and develop the kinds of standards that are necessary to ensure that when a child is in school, he or she will receive the education necessary to attain the goals."

Gregg's amendment was defeated 52-to-42.

Two amendments offered by Sen. Jesse Helms, one to prevent the federal government from funding condom distribution in schools and the other to cut federal funds to schools that prohibit constitutionally protected prayer, sparked the greatest debates on Feb. 3rd.

Helms opened his school prayer amendment by referring to that morning's address by Mother Teresa, and asking that her full remarks on the sanctity of life be printed in "The Congressional Record."

Sen. Helms then sharply attacked the federal government's policy of handing out condoms to schoolchildren while banning the Bible from classrooms and school libraries. He said the country's decline can be dated from the moment Madalyn Murray O'Hair began her assault on school prayer. He urged the Senate to approve ,his amendment, which simply stated that any school system would lose its federal funding if it prohibited student- initiated, constitutionally permitted, voluntary school prayer.

The first to speak against the Helms amendment was Sen. John Danforth of Missouri, a former Episcopalian minister, who worried that the amendment might become a license for Satanists, sects, and cults to say prayers in school.

Howard Metzenbaum and Paul Simon also spoke against it, but it was Sen. Kennedy who tore into Helms' proposed amendment, asserting that prayer belongs in families, not in schools, and that the Senate would be neglecting its responsibilities to impressionable youngsters if it exposed children in the classroom to such ministers as David Koresh and Louis Farrakhan's aide, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, whom the Senate had just censured.

And Kennedy attacked the late Fr. Charles Coughlin, "who was a member of my faith and who was known for his racist and anti- Semitic positions. And that individual preached in churches. I do not know whether he did in schools or not. But there was no question he had a wide following.... If those individuals who followed him were to speak in certain schools, and others said that those teachings were racist or anti-Semitic, and therefore not appropriate teachings, those individuals would say, 'Oh no, no, this is prayer. This is prayer.' What would be the impact of this?"

Debate continued with Trent Lott of Mississippi offering a modest revision of the wording of the amendment, which ultimately passed with a vote of 75 to 22.


Helms' other amendment sought to prohibit the Department of Education or the Department of Health and Human Services from employing any federal funds "to support the distribution or provision of condoms or other contraceptive devices or drugs to an unemancipated minor" without parental consent.

Sen. Helms opened by blasting Kennedy for leaking his amendment to HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, "who is known around this town as Madame Condom, and HHS began to solicit letters opposing my amendment from every possible advocacy group in town.

"That is not fair play," cried Helms.

Helms accused the Clinton administration of hypocrisy, speaking about "values" at one moment, and handing out condoms to children at every opportunity.

"Where and why did this city, the nation's capital, start to carry its values in its crotch?," wondered Helms.

Kennedy and his liberals assailed Helms.

Sen. Kennedy accused Helms of "trying to take this country back to the dark ages when young people learned about the biology of reproduction on street corners or by reading dirty books. The public health problems of AIDS and teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease are too serious for us to take that step backward."

Kennedy asserted that the Helms amendment would be a catastrophe for family planning programs in America, because it would also prevent teenagers from learning about contraception in school.

Claiborne Pell spoke against the amendment, claiming that school based health clinics address the needs of "hard-to-reach" adolescents, and "promise important health benefits."

Sen. Jeffords said it was unrealistic to expect that young children would try to obtain parental consent prior to asking for condoms, and so "we want to make sure that the option to use condoms is there."

Helms' amendment was defeated.


The other major amendments were Indiana Sen. Dan Coats' request for $30 million to fund a pilot school choice program including parochial schools, and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley's amendment to put teeth into the 1978 law passed by Sen. Orrin Hatch protecting students' privacy rights.

Coats, assisted by Connecticut's Joseph Lieberman, urged his colleagues to support funding for six pilot programs which would provide assistance to parents in the country's poorest urban areas, enabling them to send their children to a private or parochial school.

It's time to try something different, Coats said. "The public school systems have tried all different kinds of innovations. We have reduced the size of school classes increased the length of the school year, raised teachers' salaries, lowered expectations, painted buildings, encouraged ethnicity, and focused on self- esteem and feeling rather than fundamentals.

"The bottom line is that most of these changes have not made a difference."

The program is strictly experimental, strictly voluntary added Lieberman, and its "focus is on children."

Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia stated that he has always been skeptical of funding any school "choice" program, but maybe, considering the horrible condition of public education, Coats' amendment was worth a try.

Jeffords attacked the proposed amendment, warning his colleagues that "we do not load this bill down with demonstration programs," and crying poverty--that is, at a time of austerity, $30 million would be an unnecessary waste of public funds.

Sen. Dodd boasted of his top quality Jesuit education, and said the Senate must remain focused on helping public education.

Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio charged that Coats' bill was "the nose under the tent" and it "would set a dangerous precedent and open the door to unlimited expansion of funding for private and religious schools....

"This amendment would divert scarce federal resources to private and religious schools at a time when public schools throughout our nation are facing serious financial problems."

Patricia Murray, a Catholic from Washington, said she was "convinced" school "choice" was a bad idea.

Ernest Hollings from South Carolina, said vouchers and choice programs were a threat to public education.

"After the federal government has spent 200 years urging states to build, maintain, and improve a public school system, let's not put termites in the foundation."

Kennedy also spoke against the amendment, arguing there was no evidence parents wanted school choice or vouchers; rather, they wanted public schools improved.

Coats' amendment was rejected.


The most crucial amendment the Senate adopted to Goals 2000 was proposed by Sen. Grassley, which seeks to protect parents' rights and students' privacy from inquisitive educators.

Affirming that "parents' rights are being trampled on" by state and local government through its public schools, and students' privacy rights are violated through assorted values and attitudes tests, sexual and self-concept surveys, Grassley's amendment strengthens the 1978 Hatch amendment, which has been rendered inoperative through bureaucratic red tape and regulations.

Grassley included in the "Record" dozens of surveys and illustrations of how parents' and students' rights have been violated, and his amendment--though it will not prohibit such tests and surveys--mandates that parents be informed beforehand, in writing, that the tests will be given, and that they have the legal right to deny their children permission to complete them.

(Parents with children in public schools and other interested parties will want to obtain "The Congressional Record" for Feb. 4th, 1994, which contains this amendment and Grassley's documentation of the invasive surveys masquerading as educational research).

Grassley's amendment passed.

Unfortunately, there was no debate on the most troublesome part of Goals 2000, the "school-to-work" program, which intimately unites the local school with the Department of Education and the Department of Labor, links schools to businesses, provides each student with a government facilitator to follow him through school and guide him into a job, and creates an enormous big brother to monitor students.

For example, Title VII of the General Provisions, Section 3 C (13) mandates that each student will have a "school site mentor," a "professional employed at the school who is designated as the advocate for a particular student, and who works in consultation with classroom teachers, counselors related services personnel, and the employer of the student to design and monitor the progress of the School-to-Work Opportunities of the student."

Section 202 VII B 4 of the bill also mandates that state officials demonstrate how its School-to-Work Opportunities system will function, in "obtaining the active and continued involvement . . . of employers and other interested parties such as locally elected officials, secondary schools, and post secondary educational institutions (or related agencies), business associations, employees, labor organizations, or associations of such organizations, teachers, related services personnel, students, parents, community-based organizations, registered apprenticeship agencies.... "

Schools will be responsible not only for designing structures to administer the school-to-work program, but will be responsible for recruiting businesses, establishing partnerships, marketing plans to promote school-to-work, providing guidance, training, and technical assistance to make workplaces student-friendly, "designing challenging curriculums," etc., etc., etc.

All of this "school-to-work" initiative, the bill declares, is part of "reinventing government."

The single most important factor in a student's educational progress, Sen. Daniel Moynihan told his colleagues on the floor, is having two parents.

Rather than doing anything to support the family, the Senate has embarked on another massive program, a takeover of local education, which, as Moynihan sharply pointed out, is doomed to fail.

"Why," he asked, "are we in a state of denial about this?"

(Senators who voted against Goals 2000 are, in alphabetical order: Robert Bennett, Utah; Hank Brown, Colo.; Conrad Burns Mont.; Dan Coats, Ind.- Paul Coverdell, Ga.; Larry Craig, Ind.; Al D'Amato, N.Y., Robert Dole, Kans.; Lauch Faircloth, N.C.; Charles Grassley, la.; Judd Gregg, N.H.; Orrin Hatch, Utah, Jesse Helms, N.C.; Dirk Kempthorne, Ind.; Trent Lott, Miss.; Richard Lugar, Ind.; Connie Mack, Fla. John McCain, Ariz.; Mitch McConnell, Ky.; Frank Murkowski, Alaska; Don Nickles, Okla.; Larry Pressler, S.D.; Bob Smith, N.H.; Malcolm Wallop, Wyo.; and John Warner, Va.)

This article was taken from the February 24, 1994 edition of "The Wanderer", 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107