Vermont Reform Expensive PR
campaign to make reform appear to be local but are aligned with NCEE
even if relationship terminated in 1995 for cost reasons. ACT 60,
Vermont's Equal Educational Opportunity Act spells out reform.
At least Vermont gave an excuse for terminating a formal relationship
with Tucker, but they appear to the only state I've heard of that
uses the New Standards test. Anybody know of any other states or
districts using this test? It appears to be WORSE than the WA
assessments, the flyer they'll send you has a coke bottle from hell
problem, you have to decompose a coke bottle into 4 cylinders, a 1/3
sphere, and a truncated frustrum and you're supposed to have
memorized the forumulas for the volumes. At least the SAT tells you
the formula for the area of a circle.
------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
From: Nanny 714
To: ZorroFRR@aol.com, RealSciGuy@aol.com, Gary.M.DeGasta@dartmouth.edu
Subject: Education Quality/Poor Elijah!!!
Date: Wed, 31 Dec 1997 10:18:23 EST
Organization: AOL (http://www.aol.com)
I hope that everyone reads and re-reads the following article
written for and published in today's "Valley News" by Peter Berger.
Peter is a language arts teacher at Weathersfield Middle School:
Beware of Sales Pitches For Tax, School Reform
by Peter Berger
Special To the Valley News
Poor Elijah's Uncle Lou was in sales. His chosen occupation was
hardly a well-guarded secret. In fact, it was as plain as the smils
on his face and the ever present business card in his hand.
Of course, the way Lou saw his job, he wasn't really selling anything. He
was simply supplying free information. The decision was always up to the
customer. "I just give them the facts," Lou would explain as he savored his
foot-long cigar. "I let the product sell itself."
This just-the-facts approach to sales and marketing didn't
exactly explain the circus clown and the free helium balloons on the
sidewalk outside his shoe store. It also didn't account for the two
blondes in bikinis he hired to promote convertibles when he ran a
"Window dressing," Lou would concede when you mentioned bikinis.
The truth is, every sales campaign blends the facts with a dose of
window dressing. As consumers we expect this. We also every so often
get taken in, especially when the window dressing covers most of the
This brings us to YOUR HANDBOOK. In case you don't live in
Vermont-and maybe even if you do-I should say I'm talking about the
16-page newspaper insert that got tucked in next to your Wal-Mart
circular in most Vermont daily papers a few weeks ago. YOUR HANDBOOK
is one volley in the aggressive "information" campaign currently
being mounted by Vermont's Department of Education and its friends
down the street at the Department of Taxes. Their mission is to
translate ACT 60, Vermont's Equal Educational Opportunity Act, into
simple language that ordinary Vermonters-including apparently a
number of ordinary legislators and state officials-can understand.
The campaign got off to an awkward start. Somebody decided it
would be a good idea to put a picture of school kids on the cover.
This move was consistent with standard operating proceedure in the
education world, where we justify anything that anybody wants to do
at school-however half-baked it may be-by declaring, "It's good for
Sometimes it even is.
Anyway, the problem was that the photo clearly wasn't taken in
Vermont. You could tell it wasn't authentic because only one in five
kids in the picture was white, and this doesn't happen very often in
classrooms here in the Green Mountains.
The problem wasn't racial, though. At least it wasn't for Poor
Elijah. It's just that its kind of hard to swallow an allegedly
homegrown Vermont education restructuring law that supposedly sprang
from the bosom of Ethan Allen when it comes wrapped in an ad campaign
that seems to spring from somewhere else.
It gets even tougher when the marketing operation that put
together YOUR HANDBOOK claims it used "the picture" because it didn't
want to spend "hundreds of dollars" of taxpayers' money on a photo
shoot. Indeed it spent $50 for a picture any Vermont school would've
given it for free. Incidently, YOUR HANDBOOK in its current printing
Cooler heads will remind us that ACT 60 needs to be judged by its
contents and not by its cover. Ane they're right when it comes to the
provisions of the law itself. They're also right that there's nothing
improper about a government agency setting out to explain a new
program or law to the people it serves.
The trouble is this isn't the first time our education department
has attempted to sell us ideas that it keeps insisting we came up
with in the first place. Remember the Help Wanted Campaign in 1994?
The logo back then was a map of Vermont emblazoned with the slogan,
"Education for a changing world." Help Wanted was billed as a chance
for Vermonters to share their views about reforming our schools. It
definately wasn't a public relations scheme. At least that's what our
Department of Education told us.
What it didn't tell us was that Help Wanted was part of a
national campign designed by a public opinion analyst. According to
this fellow, the experts and the public disagree about where American
schools should be headed. The experts want to continue restructuring
schools the way they've been doing it for the past generation. The
public wants a return to skills, content, discipline, and effort.
Help Wanted was intended to "bridge that gap" by circulating
articles, commentaries and press releases written by the experts.
Guess whose minds were supposed to change.
The there was the Goals 2000 Committee that former Education
Commissioner Richard Mills appointed a year or so later. Its task was
to convince the public that schools need to change while it
simultaneously informed teachers that they need to jump on the
bandwagon because the public wants schools to change. That kind of
forked-tongue assignment doesn't inspire confidence in our education
bureaucracy's ability or willingness to respect the will and judgment
of the people it's supposed to be serving.
And what about our famously grass roots Vermont Curricular
Framework, the statewide curriculum that Act 60 imposed on our
Did you know that most of the framework is lifted from the
performance standards of the New Standards Project, the assessment
arm of the New American Schools Development Corporation?
New American Schools is one division of an interlocking set of
national restructuring organizations. In 1995 Commissioner
Mills-himself a board member of New American Schools' parent
organization- informed us that Vermont was terminating its formal
relationship with New American Schools, owing to the excessive
expense involved. Yet here we are in 1997 mandating curriculum and
instructional practices statewide and paying to test every kid in
Vermont according to goals and objectives decreed by this same
national conglomeration, by means of the assessment package it sold
in the meantime to the testing giant Harcourt Brace.
Some folks may approve of where our schools are headed. I don't.
Some folks may not support local control of education. I do. But
whatever your position on either of these issues, please don't tell
me that the educaiton component of Act 60 was conceived in Vermont.
Our former commissioner brought it here from New Jersey, and he
lobbied for it throughout the course of his tenure. He also tacked it
on to Act 60's predecessor attempts at property tax reform.
You hear a lot about tax reform and counter tax reform, of poor
towns and gold towns, and the endless series of revised -meaning
innacurate -revenue projections. But this isn't the real tragedy of
Act 60. Because it's true that something needed to be done to redress
the real and gross disparities among Vermont's towns and what they
were able to spend on their schools. And in the end -once the
legislative dust settles -we'll probably end up with a scheme that's
fairer than what we had.
The sad thing is that all the understandable furor over the money
side of things has obscured what's happened in our schools.
You will hear from time to time how Act 60 hasn't forgotten our
kids -remember "the picture" and how we're all about to enjoy the
blessings of "new child-centered quality standards."
Don't believe it. All Act 60 does for schools is write into law
everything that's been going wrong in education for the last thrity
years. If you've liked where schools have been heading since 1970,
stay tuned. Becsue now, courtesy of Act 60, our resturctured -and
restructuring- experts at the Department of Education have the law on
their side. They mandate curricula, they prescribe the tests, and
they can close our schools down if they don't like our results or our
But that's a conversation for another day.
In the meantime, you're likely to hear more from the friendly
folks in Montpelier. They'll be handing out information -like Uncle
When they do, we need to bear a couple of cautions in mind.
First, information is good -as long as it's accurate- but the
government shouldn't be in the window dressing business.
Second, Lou believed that most folks don't really know what they
want. His job was convincing them to want what he was selling.
Maybe that's a fine way to work if you're selling shoes.
But it's no way to run a republic.