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July 9, 2007

S.761, America COMPETES (poorly) Act
Will more federal involvement in education help America compete?

        No wonder public confidence in Congress is at an all-time low. Last April, the U.S. Senate passed S.761, a bill with the bizarre title of "America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act," or the "America COMPETES Act."  The supporters claim S.761 will make America more competitive in math and science. The fact is, it will do just the opposite.

        For example, S.761 would double funding for the National Science Foundation from $5.6 billion in 2006 to $11.2 billion in 2011. The fact is that the NSF has been highly destructive to math education in America's schools. The NSF has spent $1 billion subsidizing fuzzy math. The Fordham Foundation's publication, The Education Gadfly of March 4, 2004, stated:
"No single institution in the United States has caused more damage to the mathematical education of our children than...the National Science Foundation."
        Money to the NSF is actually damaging to our math performance, not beneficial.

        Overall, S.761 assumes that spending more money on math and science is the solution. Numerous studies demonstrate there is no correlation between federal education spending and achievement. S.761 doubles spending for the Department of Energy's Office of Science over the next ten years to $5.2 billion. Private schools spend far less on education with generally better results. Improving America's competitiveness might begin by removing the politically correct obstacles to school competition. The big issues that matter are ignored in S.761, like genuine school choice and the aggressive promotion of traditional math.

         At a time when the public is deeply disaffected with the federal power grab of No Child Left Behind, the America COMPETES Act uses NCLB as its stepping stone to amass ever more centralized power. More federal money goes to states to align curriculum from pre-K through post-secondary, creating a single monolithic education system. All states will be pressured into the same mold, as would every post-secondary institution, including private colleges. This pressure will ultimately determine acceptable college course content and acceptable college entrance tests.

        The "alignment" of all curriculum is a backdoor federal curriculum. S.761 claims its purpose is to prepare students for college without remediation, but this purpose is actually undermined by allowing grant money to be used to teach ě21st century learning skills: critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, global awareness, and business and financial literacy." These are not primarily academic. They are beliefs and values. They are the classic transformational education agenda that federal programs have been pushing for thirty years. For this reason, the actual nature of the bill is contrary to its stated purpose.  
         Allowing "alignment" money to be used for the purposes listed above also effectively extends the scope of this legislation beyond math, science, engineering and technology into every single course of study. The federal government is extending itself into the entire curriculum.

         S.761 establishes a ěpromising practicesî panel. When it comes to math, federal involvement has been harmful. (See "If we Really Hope to Improve Math Education.") For example, in October 1999, the US Department of Education released a report designating 10 mathematics programs as "exemplary'" or "promising." These were integrated math curricula which had been sharply criticized by mathematicians and which had been demonstrated to be inferior for math achievement.

        Over 200 university mathematicians signed an open letter to US DOE Secretary Richard Riley urging him to withdraw those recommendations. Signers included seven Nobel laureates and winners of the Fields Medal, the highest international award in mathematics. Mathematics department chairs of many of the top universities in the U.S. were included, as were state and national education leaders.
         Mirroring the ěpromising practicesî math panel of the 90's, S.761's "promising practicesî panel is composed primarily of educrats, not professionals in those fields. The DOE is then directed to publicize the panelís findings, lending the federal stamp of approval to specific curricula.

         Congressman Hoekstra (R-MI) sponsored a motion last April to remove a similar panel in another bill, H.R.362. His motion eliminated a federal panel to provide "recommendations" on curricula, because they would essentially be endorsements. The Hoekstra motion passed by a vote of 389-22.  Following the vote Republican Minority Leader, Cong. Boehner (R-OH) issued this statement: "Curriculum decisions should be made at the state and local level, not by politicians in Washington, D.C." 

        Congress has a history of funding national standards and textbooks that reconstruct history, redefine our founding documents, and undermine our national sovereignty. (See FedEd : The New Federal Curriculum & How It's Enforced.) Should we expect something different?

         S.761 not only subsidizes IB, but the money comes with a requirement that the states subsidize it, too, with 200% matching funds. S.761 also prioritizes states that have a "statewide strategy" for expanding IB.

        By its own admission, IB is primarily about beliefs and values. (See "The International Baccalaureate Curriculum" and " Terrorism as Taught by International Baccalaureate.") IB requires that all curricula in IB schools promote its beliefs and values. By its own account, the primary document that defines the IB beliefs and values is the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is inconsistent with the American Creed expressed in the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. For that reason and many others, IB has been called " un-American."
        IB math curriculum is also inferior to Advanced Placement. One reason for that is that IB "integrates" its politicized social studies curriculum (from global warming to radical feminism and class struggle) into its math classes, leaving less time for real math. In fact, the money spent on IB results in significantly less resources available for AP. IB always piggy-backs on the good reputation of AP. Subsidizing IB is no formula for increasing American competitiveness.

         S.761 institutes a single federal data tracking system for children from preschool through college, something colleges have resisted in the past. Data collection is a massive intrusion of federal authority over states, schools, individuals, and teachers. Promises of restricted use and confidentiality are less reassuring all the time. The federal government should get out of the business of tracking our kids though the schools.

         S.761 also organizes a high-profile Summit and a brand new federal bureaucracy. The Summit will come up with a "comprehensive plan" to oversee what states will do, what schools will do, what NGOs will do, and what the private economic sector will do to get Americans to compete. It will coordinate its plan with the National Economic Council and the National Security Council.

        Central planning and bloated bureaucracy actually destroys creativity and innovation. Expanding unlimited powers to federal agencies undermines success. We could go a long way toward improving America's competitiveness by re-valuing and encouraging independent, competitive qualities that nurture innovation. Classrooms routinely belittle traditional values of individualism and competition. Preschool outcomes include teaching toddlers early that being a member of a group is of far greater value than individual success. Is it any wonder we have fewer innovators, people willing to launch out on their own and move out of the crowd?

         Eight Senators had the clarity and good leadership to penetrate the fog of disinformation and vote no on S.761. Please tell them thanks (202-225-3121). They are: Allard (R-CO), Coburn (R-OK), DeMint (R-SC), Graham (R-SC), Gregg (R-NH), Inhofe (R-OK), Kyl (R-AZ), and Thomas (R-WY).

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952-361-4931 www.edwatch.org - edwatch@lakes.com

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