September 18, 1997
House Republicans -- along with a number of Democrats -- voted to ban funding for national educational standards. Elizabeth Farnsworth provides excerpts from the three hours of debate. Followed by a discussion with the NewsHour's regular panel of regional commentators.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Last January, in his State of the Union Address, President Clinton proposed two national tests. The President wants all fourth graders to be tested in reading and all eighth graders in math. The administration's plan set off a political firestorm culminating this week in the House of Representatives.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
September 17, 1997
Online NewsHour Forum:two Senators debate national education standards.
September 8, 1997:
Are standardized tests the best route to better grades?
August 12, 1997:
Chicago Public Schools are taking a hard look at the current curriculum.
February 11, 1997:
President Clinton has announced his intentions to create national standards to measure the country's educational system.
February 10, 1997:
President Clinton's State of the Union Speech highlights his goals for education.
January 16, 1997:
Margaret Warner and a panel discuss a report which criticize America's public school system .
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Education.
For three hours Tuesday evening the House of Representatives debated a question that most members would agree goes to the core of public service--what's best for America's children?
REP. STENY HOYER, (D) Maryland: Mr. Chairman there was a book written by Jonathan Kozol some years ago. The title of that book was Death at an Early Age. The premise of that book was that we do not have high expectations of some young people--minority. young people--educationally deprived young people, economically deprived young people. And because we do not have high expectations that they will perform, guess what, they meet those expectations. They are low ones.
But if we had a way to assess all of our students, then their parents would know that our expectations were not high enough for their children or that our performance in getting them to our expectations were not successful.
Rep. Goodling leads the opposition.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: At issue was President Clinton's plan to develop a standard national reading test for fourth graders and a math test for eighth graders. The tests would be voluntary. States and local school boards would have the option of participating.
REP. BILL GOODLING, (R) Pennsylvania: Nonsense! What federal program do you know, once it was started, is voluntary?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Republican Bill Goodling spoke from 22 years of experience as a teacher, principal, school superintendent, and school board president.
REP. BILL GOODLING: As soon as School A decides to do the test they are going to demand that School B does the test and then School C is going to demand that they get what School B got, and it won't be long until as a matter of fact it will be a national individual test.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Goodling's voice has been the strongest in Congress opposed to national testing, and on Tuesday, he was lining up support for an amendment to the education spending bill that would ensure no money could be spent on the President's plan.
REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) South Carolina: Take some time to find out how much money is being spent at the local level and see if this $100 million program does any good, or we should take the $100 million and give it to the classroom teacher, who will actually meet their child every day and see if they can help produce a better result.
Test supporters cite children falling behind.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Throughout the evening members came to the floor to highlight the merits of national testing and expose its shortcomings.
REP. JAMES MORAN, (D) Virginia: Today we are behind other nations in educational achievement. 40 percent of our children are not reading at the level they should be; 20 percent of our 8th graders are not even taking Algebra. We know these statistics because we recently conducted studies comparing the achievement of our students with those in other countries. This analysis is a valuable tool for educators and the administration is trying to conduct a similar analysis to determine how local school districts compare nationally. It is the same kind of approach to find put what we need to be doing to better serve our students.
REP. CALVIN DOOLEY, (D) California: And what the voluntary testing will allow--will allow that parent and those schools to gain a greater understanding of whether or not they need to be doing a better job; whether or not they ought to be making some improvements in the way they're trying to educate their children and how they make them more proficient in reading. We're going to be doing a better job in giving schools and again parents the information they need to know whether or not they ought to be doing something and trying to develop some of the basic math skills which are critical to an individual's future success.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: One of the one of the main arguments against national testing was fear of expanding the federal government's role in education.
REP. CHARLES NORWOOD, (R) Georgia: What this debate is really about is not testing, but it is about curriculum. Testing is just the next step in a liberal agenda for Washington to seize control of our local schools. My folks at home don't want that. They don't think the Department of Education should run their local schools. If the federal government established testing on which all of our school systems are judged, the next step will be for the federal government to establish a national curriculum to match the tests.
REP. ASA HUTCHINSON, (R) Arkansas: We need to keep control of our children's education in the hands of the local people who work daily with our children and our parents to properly educate them. They are the most qualified to assess their educational needs. We do not need to justify an even more bloated and unmanageable Department of Education. Let's invest the money in our children, not in our administrative paperwork.
Congressional Black Caucus say tests could stigmatize minorities.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Republicans were nearly united in opposing national testing, but they were joined by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which resulted in an interesting debate among Democratic liberals.
REP. MAXINE WATERS, (D) California: The CBC cannot support any testing that may further stigmatize our children and force them into lower educational tracks and special education classes. I recently reviewed the test results of a test in California. It may have been the achievement test. And it told me what I already knew; the kids from Beverly Hills did very well, the kids from Compton and from Watts did not do as well. Our children are failing because, in many cases, there's just plain lack of resources in districts that are poor, that don't have the resources.
REP. MAURICE HINCHEY, (D) New York: Some of said that testing establishes a stigma. Well, what kind of stigma is worse than the stigma of not being able to do simple mathematics, or what kind of stigma is worse than the stigma of not being able to read and write, to be able to communicate properly?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But Republicans held solid. And with the support of some 70 Democrats, they easily approved Bill Goodling's amendment blocking any funding for national testing. However, the House vote sets up a confrontation with the Senate, which last week just as easily approved funding for national testing.