FEDERAL EDUCATION REFORM IN ARIZONA:
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE TUCSON SCHOOL BOARD
by Debbie Niwa
To: Tucson Unified School District Governing Board, candidates for Arizona Governor cc: Parents, candidates for TUSD Governing Board
From: Debbie Niwa
Re: Federal education reform in Arizona's Public School System
October 28, 2002
As a parent and citizen, I am concerned about leadership and community awareness regarding the federal restructuring of the public school system; and, the alignment of school district policies and state laws to support the agenda. Contrary to our children's best interests, education restructuring is turning public schools into government-controlled workforce training facilities -- funded by taxpayers. The results: watered-down academic curriculum, restricted local school governance, coerced spending, contention within school communities, exclusion and harassment of educators who do not want to adopt a herd-mentality, and much more. Federal measures are at the heart of Arizona's education and financial ills, as well as those of other states. To predict other approaching problems, one needs only to follow the mounting troubles in states that are ahead of Arizona's restructuring.
Questionable accountability measures are resulting in school takeovers. At the extreme, entire school staffs have been fired. And at a higher cost to taxpayers, schools were turned over to "private for-profit school management companies" who have done no better even though they were allowed greater freedom than the previous administration. A buildup of "underperforming schools" /takeovers has led to the end of elected school governing boards, followed by the creation of appointed boards controlled by city and/or state government.
Attitude and behavior "standards" water-down academic course contents, thereby increasing academic remediation needs. In January 2000, Arizona adopted "Functional Workplace Skills Standards" that "are designed to be integrated into the traditional curriculum taught in schools at all levels..." These attitudinal and behavioral standards hail from the U.S. Department of Labor; in TUSD they are listed under the "Profile of the 21st Century Graduate" (also integral to TUSD'S 4th Partners-in-Education, but called the "21st Century Graduate Profile"). Certain "standards" increase demands on teachers to engage in social-engineering (which is also being done to educators through professional development and mentoring). This includes personality, attitude and behavior assessments, and invasive probing for personal and family information -- done under the guise of self-esteem and character building. Other standards related issues: mandatory volunteerism and/or work service during school hours -- part of course work or graduation requirements; reduction in teaching to encourage self-directed learning; team projects to produce a collaborative worker, that discourages individuality and encourages herd-mentality; suicide and death education (see Columbine High School, Colorado); and promotion of alternative living styles under the guise of diversity; and many others.
In 1994, School-to-Work (STW) and Goals 2000 (G2000) legislation launched efforts for a nationwide conversion of education into workforce training and human resource management. The outcome: in Arizona, a June 2001 report for the Arizona Department of Commerce School-to-Work Division states: "For all grades: There is no reliable evidence that STW programs increased student achievement or reduced the dropout rate."  Despite this finding, STW concepts and workplace skills standards are still prominent in Arizona's public schools. Connected to workforce preparation are sixteen industry/career clusters -- Arizona adopted six of the sixteen. Each state school system -- including charter/private and home schools, and higher education -- is expected to cater to state industry clusters. If this plan is not challenged, at some point every Arizona 8th grader will be assigned or forced to pick one of the six "career paths" that dictates and narrows his or her education and job options. This is happening to every Minneapolis (Minnesota) public school 8th grader -- and it can happen in Arizona. Through federal/state measures -- Career pathways, Workplace skills standards, Electronic portfolios, Student Accountability Information System, etc. -- the groundwork is being laid for our children and grandchildren's futures to be sealed before high school.
"Workforce preparation" is sold as the path to "high skill, high wage jobs." But a report by the Arizona Department of Commerce and the Office of Workforce Development Policy says: "Arizonans would probably agree that spending public training dollars to prepare people for high-wage occupations provides a better return on their investment. The problem lies in the fact that there are typically more opportunities for employment in low-wage than in high-wage jobs."  While STW and G2000 funding ended in 2001 and 2000 respectively, the workforce preparation framework remains. Taxpayers are now under greater pressure to cover the full cost of federal mandates: ongoing assessments; data collections; professional development to indoctrinate educators into the mindset of "workforce preparation" and "planned economy"; and extraordinary amounts of technology (needed by government to create and support a national data collection infrastructure). The cost to build and maintain a nationwide preschool/kindergarten-12/16/20 vocational training (workforce preparation/ STW) system is straining education budgets. How big is the strain? While state appropriations vary, a U.S. Department of Education report based on Ohio's 95-96 school year lends some insight: the per pupil expenditures for vocational schools is "4.1 times as much as elementary schools and about 3.2 times as much as high schools" and "Administrative expenditures are both absolutely and relatively higher in vocational schools than in regular schools." 
In 2002, as states accept tiny federal carrots through the No Child Left Behind Act, other funding needs will be added. And the national workforce preparation system -- where government dictates the availability of careers, defines all job qualifications and controls certification -- will expand. This benefits government-industry partnerships, not our children. All these and more will continue until we take back our schools and stop our children from being used as human capital to support a planned economy. This concept has failed to improve quality of life, employment options, and economic levels in other countries where education is aligned to meet the needs of a government-controlled society -- yet this is being set up throughout the United States. As long as federal laws dictate the function and contents of our school system, genuine improvements cannot occur. And any parents, teachers, administrators, business and elected leaders that participate in manipulated consensus building to promote federal education restructuring, must become aware of how their good intentions are being used in the demise of education. Martin Luther King said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Please learn about the "social restructuring" using the school system and do not be silent.
P.S. Enclosed: more information, including facilitation tactics used to bring about group consensus (to create the illusion of partnership/ownership for participants). This information is critical for those who want to uphold their principles during facilitated consensus building. Feel free to circulate this information, and go to www.EdAction.org if you want to learn more.
 Workplace Skills Standards Rationale, Arizona Department of Education. [11/6/02 clarification added by writer: Arizona Department of Education adopted "Workplace Skills" content standards (for K-12) on March 24, 1997 and adopted "Workplace Skills" functional standards (for ages 3-21) on January 24, 2000]
2] "A School-to-Work System for Arizona: Final Evaluation of the State and Federal Initiative," Rebecca L. Gau, Morrison Institute, June 2001, p.12.
 "Arizona's Workforce Development System -- Comprehensive Plan, Jan. 1, 1998-Dec. 31, 2000," May 1999, p.15.
 "Measuring Resources in Education: From Accounting to the Resource Cost Model Approach," Working Paper No. 1999-16, National Center for Education Statistics, June 1999, p35-36.