Who Really Wrote
America 2000?

by Wayne Wolf

"To those who want to see real improvement in American education, I say: There will be no renaissance without revolution."(1-i)

With those words president George Bush began a publication entitled "America 2000: An Education Strategy". Whether his particular statement is correct or not, it at least indicates the massiveness of the changes being suggested in the whole arena that can be collectively referred to as "education reform".

What is the nature of the changes being proposed by America 2000? Who developed them? And what will be their consequences? It is these and other crucial questions that this article will attempt to answer. We begin our analysis of America 2000 by studying how it is being presented to the public.

"Sounds Good To Me"

Probably the most recognizable part of America 2000 is what the media almost always presents when it does stories on the subject: The Six National Goals. Developed by the National Governors' Association, they provide the umbrella under which America 2000 operates. And they also are an example of one of the more commonly used tactics in public relations, as an analysis of the goals will show.

The Six National Goals are:

1. All children in America will start school ready to learn.

2. The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90%.

3. American students will leave grades four, eight, and twelve having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, history, and geography; and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, furthur learning, and productive empolyment in our modern economy.

4. U.S. students will be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement.

5. Every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

6. Every school in America will be free of drugs and violence and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.(1-3)

There. That didn't hurt, did it? Actually, those goals sound pretty good, don't they? So then what's the problem?

That's where public relations comes in. On the surface, taken literally, these goals probably wouldn't pose much of a problem for most people. Because we assume they will be implemented in the ways we have historically done things.

But is that assumption accurate? Is there any evidence that the education system will attempt to attain these goals in ways that are different from what the public would think or support?

And do these goals mean what we think they mean?

Those may sound like odd questions, since we all speak English and live in th same society, so we would assume we share meaning and methods. But let's look deeper into the roots of America 2000 and see if we're being given the whole picture.

Where Did America 2000 Come From?

As was mentioned earlier, we were told America 2000 was the consensus of the National Governor's Association. The Governors being elected officials from all 50 states, we can then assume that America 2000 represents educational goals mandated by a broad cross-section of Americans, right? Unfortunately, as we study the roots of America 2000, a different picture emerges.

One of my favorite research tools can be found at many public libraries. It is a computer that contains a listing of all of the articles contained in the major magazines, organized by subject. Just type in the subject, and out comes the listing. On one of my excursions, I asked for all the articles on America 2000. One was to provide the key to who is really behind America 2000.

Every listing includes an abstract, or a brief description of the article. One in particular stood out. It stated "The Bush Administration's true education philosopher is Chester Finn Jr., a professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University. Finn is the chief architect of Bush's plan to fix the nation's schools."(2)

Hey, wait a minute! I thought the governors came up with these ideas after a hue and cry from people across the nation. Now we find out these ideas are the brainchild of one person. What's the deal?

But that was only the tip of the iceberg. My curiosity having been piqued, and having the most efficient research tool since the magnifying glass right in front of me, you guessed it, I just typed in Mr. Finn's name, and voila!, out came some of the most disturbing reading material I had seen in years.

The bombshell came right off the bat. Another article's abstract said "In 'Reinventing Local Control', Chester E. Finn Jr. contends that school boards are no longer capable of running schools, that the boards are superfluous and dysfunctional."(4)

Now, I've had my share of disagreements with school boards, but not because their structure is inherently flawed. Any elected body is only as good as the people of whom it's made. If you've got stinkers on your board, your board will stink. No way around it. But the answer is not to do away with the board structure, just get new board members.

Finn seemed to be suggesting just what we shouldn't do. But let's not jump to conclusions. Let's see what he's suggesting as an alternative. Maybe he's on to something. We don't have to look far.

Another abstract stated "At a time when radical alterations are needed throughout elementary-secondary education, school boards have become defenders of the status quo. The tradition of local control may need to be altered to admit the influence of external force change agents."(6)

Well, there's our answer. No mention of some alternative elected body more sensitive to the will of the public. In fact, Finn denigrates "local control", in favor of "external force change agents", whatever the heck they are.

Fortunately, we don't have to guess what change agents are. They are clearly defined in the 1979 book "Change Agents in the Schools" by Barbara Morris. A critic of the concept, Morris quotes many education insiders on their definition of education and change agents.

One of the clearest indications of the general direction of education can be seen in a statment by Harold Drummond in the December 1964 edition of 'Educational Leadership'. His article 'Leadership for Human Change' states, "The basic goal of education is change--human change in desirable directions...This issue...focuses attention upon the school as a change agent--and the specific focus is on changing people."(8-48,9-147)

How many people would agree with that definition of education? Isn't the goal of education to impart knowledge of basics like reading, writing, math, science, etc.? And how can "desirable directions" of change be defined in a society that, we are constantly reminded, is highly pluralistic?

To indicate that the desired change is not academic, but social, Morris quotes a federally funded study published by Michigan State University entitled "Feasibility Study: Behavioral Science Teacher Education Program" (B-STEP). Its first goal is "Development of a new kind of elementary school teacher who...engages in teaching as clinical practice...and functions as a responsible agent of social change."(8-54)

Well, there it is. The intentional re-direction of education away from academics and toward "social change". But maybe the change agent is just implementing change supported by the public. Unfortunately, suggested tactics don't reinforce this trusting attitude.

In an article appearing in 'Journal of Teacher Education', Larry Palmatier gives the innovative teacher ten guidelines, including:

"Keep the door closed...The successful teacher...innovates quietly and without fanfare.

Use a special vocabulary...avoid 'change', 'fun',...'new'...'sensitivity', 'students' rights', 'students' choice'...publicly stress instead 'mastering basics', 'students' responsibility', 'hard work','respect','traditional values','proven','discipline' and 'results'.

Enlist the students in your game plan...Make a rule and gain students' agreement that they will not ask other teachers why they do not do what you are doing...

Carry a book around...potential blockers will give you more latitude to operate if you appear to know what you are doing...

Name your program as early as you feel you can...Use titles which will not alienate the general public."

And after these sugestions advocating sneakiness and deception, the author ends with this encouragement to the teacher: "You too can become a change agent".(8-59,10-60)

Is this the type of person that Finn feels is more qualified to make decisions for local schools than elected boards?

One Nation Under Finn

The periodical search revealed another position held by the developer of America 2000 that should raise many questions. The abstract for an article by Finn entitled "Why We Need a National Education Policy" states "America needs national goals and norms for education in reading, witing, math, science, history, geography, civics, literature an foreign languages. Minimum levels of achievement should be established by a consensus of national leadership, but the methods of achieving these standards should be left to accountable educators."(11)

Here Finn supports national curriculum and national testing, which we will deal with later, but notice again how Finn leaves out public control. He says the minimum levels of achievement should be established by "national leadership". Here in Iowa, outcomes are being determined by the Iowa State Education Association (the teachers' union), the Iowa Association of School Boards, the School Administrators of Iowa, the Business Roundtable, and other private groups. Will the national offices of these groups determine Finn's minimum levels? If not, why didn't he say the U.S. Congress and Senate, or the president? They are the appropriate decision-makers on public issues and funding, being elected representatives of the public.

The last interesting abstract simply confirms Finn's advocacy of national curriculum, just more blatantly than the previous one. The abstract for an article by Finn appearing in 'Education Week' states "Chester E. Finn, Jr., former head of the Department of Education's research branch, has stated that he favors the development of a 'national curriculum' for the nation's schools."(13)

This abstract not only confirms Finn's support for a national curriculum, but also tells us he was the head of the USDE's research branch.

So what else can we find out about Finn? If the abstracts of Finn's articles tell us this much, one would have to wonder what the articles themselves show. As it turns out, they contain even more interesting revelations.

The Toch article on Finn (3) gives the real scenario of how America 2000 was developed. It says "President Bush labeled himself the 'education president' throughout his campaign, and he has appointed as his secretary of education Lamar Alexander, once known as an 'education governor'. But the administration's true education philosopher - and the chief architect of Bush's master plan to fix the schoolhools - holds no political office. He is a professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University named Chester Finn Jr."

"Finn, 46, was Alexander's principal advisor on the key elements of the new "America 2000" plan: a national examination system, a network of experimental schools and public funding for private education. He wrote the early drafts of the blueprint, and he accompanied Alexander to the White House in March to sell it to the president."(3-46)

The references to Lamar Alexander should not be glossed over. The article on Alexander found elsewhere in this edition indicate his philosophical perspective.

In addition, we see furthur indication that America 2000 did not come from the Governors' Association, but rather from an education insider. A comparison of the six goals versus how education reform is being implemented at the local and state level reveals a much different agenda than is indicated by th six goals alone. We will cover those differences later.

Goodbye Local Control

The other highly revealing article is by Finn himself, entitled "Reinventing 'Local Control'"(7). The whole thrust of the article is his advocacy of abandoning the concept of schools being controlled by locally elected boards. But on the way, he makes some provocative points.

On the federal role in education, Finn states, "The Constitution, of course, is silent about education. By not being assigned to the federal government, this function was left to the states, and state constitutions are where we find spelled out the duty of the commomwealth to furnish education to the citizenry."

First of all, the Constitution is not silent about education. The 10th amendment says "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution...are reserved to the states..." This is as legally binding as the first amendment. Since the Constitution nowhere gives the federal government the power to involve itself in education, IT IS AS ILLEGAL FOR THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO SPEND ONE PENNY ON EDUCATION AS IT IS FOR THEM TO SHUT DOWN A CHURCH OR A NEWSPAPER. Then why does Finn advocate federal testing and curriculum? Maybe it's because for much of his life his salary has been paid for out of the federal till. In any event, he grossly understates the unacceptability of federal involvement in education.

But that's small potatoes (and yes, there's an "e" in the plural. I looked it up) compared to this next bombshell. In his own words he says "Breathe deeply. What if we were to declare local boards and superintendents to be archaic in the 1990's, living fossils of an earlier age? If one set of important decision and duties moves up to the state (or even the nation), and another set shifts down to the individual school (and to parents), what is the 'local education agency' except another instance of middle management of the sort that most modern organizations are stripping away in the name of efficiency and productivity?"

First of all, does your local board and superintendent know that the author of America 2000 wants to eliminate them altogether? Apparently the Association of School Boards and the School Administrators weren't let in on that particular idea, or it would be hard to imagine they would be able to support America 2000.

And in case you think this isn't a part of America 2000, look at page 21 of the Hornbeck Report to the Iowa Business-Education Roundtable (16), or page 6 of the January '91 report of the New Iowa Schools Development Corporation (17), "the missing link...to connect America 2000 with local schools"(p.3). Both refer to site-based decision-making, which reduces the role of school boards in decision-making. More on that later.

But notice the power shift Finn recommends. If the boards are eliminated, who makes the decisions? The state ("(or even the nation)") and the individual school. But why is the state any more qualified than local boards to make decisions? In fact, they're less qualified. They are furthur removed from public accountability, and are less sensitive to the needs of the community.

And what of the "individual school"? Finn parenthetically adds "(and parents)", but the Hornbeck report suggests that the local committee be made of a majority of teachers. And there are districts across the state where the parental component of the "school-based committee" is made up of spouses and relatives of teachers. So where is the public accountability there?

Finn's analogy to middle management in business is totally invalid. Government is not a business. Businesses are private organizations with owners and stockholders who place decision-makers at the top and implement down through as many layers as necessary to get the job done.

Government is meant to have as little power at the top as possible and still perform its necessary functions (remember the 10th amendment), and shift the majority of the powers down to lower levels in the heirarchy, such as state, county, school district, etc.

The "middle-management" Finn disparages is the very form of government Thomas Jefferson supported when he said "The way to have good and safe government is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to (perform best). Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police and adminsitration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward (township) direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics, from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man's farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best.

"What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body, no matter whether of the autocrats of Russia or France, or of the aristocrats of a Venetian senate."(15)

We have never needed Thomas Jefferson more than right now. It's almost enough to make a person wish the New Agers were right about reincarnation.

Finn then salts the wound by saying "Local school boards are not just superfluous. They are also dysfunctional. They insulate education decisions from voters, taxpayers, and parents". Does he think the state and teachers will be more sensitive to public opinion than locally-elected school boards? Either Finn is living in a fantasy world, or he's being intentionally deceptive. The latter seems more likely.

Radical Power Shift

Finn's closing statements yield a wealth of information, not only about his own views, but also about the way power is going to be distributed in our educational system:

"We need change agents in charge of those schools, not preservers of entrenched interests and encrusted practices. If the states discharge their part of the job satisfactorily specifying the 'ends' of education, furnishing resources, and managing the information feedback and accountability systems; if responsibility and authority over the 'means' are devolved to the school-building level; and if parents are encouraged to pick any school in the state that, in their judgment, will work well for Matt or Jessica, we coul readily dispense with the extra layer.

"Local control is dead. Long live local control."

This last phrase is appropriate. It is a take-off on the old "the king is dead. Long live the king", which was used when one king died and another took his place. Indeed, power is being transferred, and Finn is telling us how it is being done.

First, notice his support for the previously mentioned 'change agents'. He not only supports their input, which is questionable, but he takes it a step furthur and says they should be 'in charge'. Not elected officials at the state or local level.

But then Finn gives a look into the future in terms of who decides what in education. And the future is now, if you look at what is happening in Iowa.

The scenario Finn paints is a dual power structure which represents a total shift from the way we've educated in the past, which incidentally produced probably the best educational system in the nation. Finn clearly defines who will be responsible for what, which can simply be defined as the state determining the "ends" and the local change agents the "means". Notice that locally accountable elected officials are left out of the picture altogether.

This is exactly the direction Iowa is going. Already Marshalltown has been set up as the pilot school in Iowa for "site-based decision-making", where Hornbeck suggests decisions be made by a committee "with a majority being teachers".

And that Iowa is having the state determine the "ends" of education, or the results, is seen in several situations. One is the current process of the state determining "outcomes" described in the article elsewher in this issue. Another is the statement by Dr. Lepley referred to in the article on global education, where he indicates that it is the job of the state to determine the end results desired, but implementation is left to the districts. Lepley and Finn agree completely.

In the overview, then, we see what can be described as a "vertical" and "horizontal" power shift in education. Horizontally, at the local level, power is shifted away from elected school boards and toward unelected teachers and administrators. Vertically, power is shifted from school boards to the state level, primarily the Department of Education. In both cases, the recipients of power are unelected, and have varying degrees of isolation from public control.

Folks, if you thought it was tough to get school boards to respond to your concerns about Human Growth and Development, Quest, or any other questionable program, if this trend continues, it's only going to get tougher. The solution? Monitor your local district, and if they're beginning to look into site-based decision-making, or are already implementing it, get involved and get your school board information about the direction things are really heading. They probably don't know. And if they do know and agree with it, maybe you should consider getting a new school board.

While these articles give reason enough for concern about the beliefs of the "architect of America 2000" Chester Finn, this is by no means all there is to know about his education philosophy or how the components work together. Fortunately, Mr. Finn has been gracious enough to elaborate fully on the entire scope of his "big picture". In his 1991 book "We Must Take Charge: Our Schools and Our Future", Finn orients his entire view around his "ten precepts" of education. Let's look at them in their entirety, and then consider their implications.

1. Let us always recall that we operate an education system for the benefit of its consumers, not its proprietors or employees.

2. We must organize, manage, and judge the system in relation to the outcomes that we seek from it.

3. In the United States in the 1990's the outcome we must concentrate on and gauge our success by is cognitive learning.

4. Civilian control of education is meant to ensure that we don't let the first three precepts tarnish with time.

5. Though the ends of education are the responsibility of society in general to prescribe through the familiar processes of democratic government, the means by which we reach those ends are the province of expert professionals.

6. We should revitalize the delivery system by vesting management authority and responsibility in building-level educators.

7. Education's individual consumers - children and parents - bear ultimate responsibility for meeting the system's norms and fulfilling its expectations, and they must therefore have the right to choose how they will do this.

8. It is time to put in place a rich, solid core of common learning for all young Americans and an effective means of determining how well it is being learned.

9. Because people differ in their educational and career aspirations, in their intellectual acuity and commitment, and in their cultural values and religious beliefs, the education system needs to respond accordingly.

10. At every level of the education system (child, classroom, school building, locality, state and nation) we must demand a steady flow of reliable information about student achievement and other important outcomes.

A typical first reaction might be to be appalled at a few of these precepts, such as 5, 6, 8 and 10, agree with a few, say 1, 3, 7 and 9, and not really know what in the world they mean by 2 and 4. Notice the structure. Start out with ideas that we either all agree on, or are phrased in jargon. Then move on to the stuff the public would disagree with.

But we must be careful not to let what we agree with neutralize our concern about what is intolerable. And let's face it. If a state bureaucracy and local committees dominated by unelected teachers make all the decisions, what we agree with won't be implemented anyway. So the primary concern must be to oppose changes that cause that power shift.

Let's look more closely at several of Finn's precepts. First, the most dangerous are 5 and 6. They assume that education goals are set by a democratic process. But when did you vote for Dr. Lepley or the State Board? They are appointed, and are thus isolated from direct public accountability.

Then based on his false premise, Finn suggests it's appropriate for the "experts" to control implementation. But isn't that what got us into the messes of Global Education and Human Growth and Development? And if you thought it was hard to change objectionable content now, wait until these reforms get through. It will be virtually impossible.

Precept 8 refers to national curriculum and national testing. We referred to Finn's support for national curriculum earlier. He and many others in education are increasingly supportive of this idea. Few concepts would be more effective in removing the control of education from the hands of local taxpayers and parents, so its danger is obvious.

National testing is synonymous with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). It is specifically mentioned in the America 2000 literature on page 32 ("we will ask Congress to authorize the rapid deployment of an individual version of tests used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress) and page 46 ("This year (1991) for the first time, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) will collect data on student performance on a state-by-state basis ... The Governors urge the National Assessment Governing Board to begin work to set national performance goals in the subject areas in which NAEP will be administered.)

We have not said much about the NAEP in this issue, but it is a vital component in the scenario, and we will deal with it in greater depth in the future, and keep you updated on its Iowa implementation.

Precept 10 refers to a national database which, contrary to the denials of educators, will indeed extend down to the level of the individual child. More general information of that type already exists, and there is every indication that the intent is to massively increase the scope of such data.

Point 2 refers to outcome-based education, which may seem harmless in and of itself, but as our front-page article indicates, OBE has the potential to totally reshape our educational system in a way which will not have public support.

So far from being the "Indispensable Ten" Precepts Finn advocates, his educational philosophy actually boil down to what could be called the "Fatal Five":

1. National Curriculum

2. National Testing

3. National Database

4. Outcome-Based Education

5. Site-Based Decision Making

As you study the education reform movement in the media, professional journals, legislation and public events at the national, state and local levels, you will find these concepts consistently pushed. They will indeed be "Fatal" to public control of education.

In closing, let's remember the words of one of the most effective revolutionaries in human history: "When an opponent declares 'I will not come over to your side', I calmly say 'Your child belongs to us already. What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community'."

The date was 1939. And the man was Adolph Hitler.

You would be amazed to know how many times people have come up to me and said they had read, or had German relatives who said, that Hitler accomplished his radical "transformation" of Germany virtually overnight by controlling education. And the behavioral and ideological content of our schools is heading us in a similar direction.

We must stop the social engineers from taking our schools hostage for their own purposes. If we fail, everything we value is at stake.


1. "America 2000: An Education Strategy", 1991, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

2. Abstract of periodical listing for reference #3

3. "The Wizard of Education", Thomas Toch, U.S. News and World Report, July 15 1991, p. 46

4. Abstract of periodical listing for reference #5

5. "Local Control and 'Organizacrats'", Thomas Shannon, Education Week, Feb. 13, 1991, p. 31

6. Abstract of periodical listing for reference #7

7. "Reinventing Local Control", Chester E. Finn, Jr., 'Education Week', Jan 23, 1991, p. 40

8. "Change Agents in the Schools", Barbara Morris, 1979, Barbara Morris Report, Upland CA

9. "Leadership for Human Change", Harold Drummond, Educational Leadership, Dec. 1964, p. 147

10. "How Teachers Can Innovate and Still Keep Their Jobs", Larry Palmatier, Journal of Teacher Education, Spring 1975, p. 60

11. Abstract of periodical listing for reference #12

12. "Why We Need a National Education Policy", Chester E. Finn, Jr., Education Digest, April 1990, p. 8

13. Abstract of periodical listing for reference #14

14. "Former Federal Research Chief Backing 'National Curriculum'", Reagan Walker, Education Week, Feb. 22, 1989, p. 16

15. "Writings of Thomas Jefferson", Bergh, 4:421

16. "First Draft of Recommendations on the Iowa Initiative for World Class Schools", David Hornbeck, Sep 19, 1990. Iowa Department of Education

17. "An Educational Barn-Raising in America's 'Field of Dreams'", New Iowa Schools Development Corporation, January 31, 1992

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