Issue Number 30 - February 20, 2003

Testing Head Start to Death
by Mark S. Johnson-Lewis













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Note: "The Marble Jungle" is a euphemism for the layers of bureaucracy in the federal government in Washington D.C. which too frequently hide the truth. From time to time will be presenting commentaries and analysis pieces whose purpose will be to cut through the political policy rhetoric in order to focus on what is really happening rather than what we are told is being done.

For those of you who thought the Bush Administration is "all war, all the time," and that his domestic priorities are getting short-changed, think again. In his most recent assault on public education, and in particular, the education of children of color, Mr. Bush is once again showing his true agenda: Leave No Child Untested.

Head Start, the most widely praised program to emerge from the Sixties War on Poverty, is about to be sorely tested. Since 1965, Head Start has been unparalleled in promoting the social, emotional, and cognitive development, as well as health services, for children in poverty. While Head Start has survived innumerable political and ideological battles through both Republican and Democratic administrations, the challenge from the Bush crew is unprecedented. They threaten to test the program out of existence.

Under the political guidance of Right ideologue Wade Horn, "the Bush administration intends to require each of the 500,000 4-year-old's in the federal Head Start program to sit for a standardized examination measuring such information as how many letters and numbers they can recognize, and whether they know how to hold a book right side up," according to the December 4 New York Times.

Horn appears singularly skeptical of the program's mission. Before being named Assistant Secretary for Children and Families, Horn headed the National Fatherhood Initiative, an outfit that prescribes matrimony as the antidote to most inner city ills. The full skew of his views on issues educational and otherwise is available in the archives of his columns for the Jewish World Review. JWR is renowned for being the soapbox from which a number of the better-known right-wingers proselytize, including Ann Coulter, Thomas Sowell and David Horowitz. In a March 2000 article, Horn questioned the essential value of academics to Head Start-age children.

My advice is to wait and then choose a part-time preschool experience that emphasizes developmentally appropriate activities over academics. Remember, 2, 3, and 4-year-old children learn more by pretending to fix the pipes, build a house, cook dinner, or be a policeman, doctor, mommy, or daddy than they will ever learn from preschool reading lessons.

Blanket statements such as this can only lead one to challenge Horn's commitment to the entire concept of Head Start. If his writing is not enough, consider his resume: He has been a board member for the Independent Women's Forum and a fellow at the Hudson Institute, two of the most significant organizations in the right-wing pantheon. The Independent Women's Forum serves the Right by spinning women's issues into the service of white men, while the Hudson Institute is one of the premier right-wing think tanks (though, not quite as prestigious on one's resume as the Heritage Foundation.)

Horn's baby, the National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI), is currently headed by Wharton MBA and Black GOP poster-child Roland C. Warren. Before becoming the chief at NFI, Warren worked as a financial consultant at Goldman, Sachs, and Co. helping wealthy folks hang on to their money - which appears to be acceptable Bush credentials for re-writing welfare law. One priority of NFI and Mr. Warren is to make sure that the reauthorization of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families "must explicitly focus on reducing out-of-wedlock births and the importance of marriage."

Granddaddy of "men's movement"

Don Eberly, founder of the NFI, now serves as Deputy Assistant to the President for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. Eberly's rise from marginal critic of federal policy to leading political bureaucrat demonstrates that the Right's battle against the social safety net has come full circle. As this article goes to press, Eberly remains on the speakers list for the right-wing Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Founded by former Reagan Secretary of Education William Bennett, the ISI supports conservative college newspapers and college-based Young Republican Clubs across the country, and is partially responsible for the rise of such right-wing emissaries as Dinesh D'Souza (who was on the ISI payroll before he got his choice assignment in the Reagan White House.) As overseer of a faith-based initiative that is "the centerpiece of Bush's grand plan to reap political profit from the economic and social devastation of Black America" ( January 2), Eberly mixes grassroots right-wing agitprop with bureaucratic mischief making at the highest levels of the Bush government.

Craig Ramey has been identified as head of the group that is designing the "assessment" of Head Start. The co-director of the Center on Health and Education at Georgetown University explained his mission to the Washington Post, this way:

"'What we are bringing to Head Start is not different from what you encounter when you go to buy a car,' he said, noting that car buyers trust that companies maintain quality from plant to plant."

One suspects that the Bush operatives who selected Ramey would prefer that Head Start be recalled and sent back to the drawing boards. Still, it's nice to hear that Quality is Job #1 for the Feds. But it brings up an interesting point of clarity: The men charged by Bush to lead this effort are solely focused on two things - punishing children for not having fathers, and bringing a capitalist sensibility to quality control. Which leaves at least one question hanging: After we've tested Head Start out of existence, what are we going to do with all those kids from single-mothers who just plain refuse to get married?

Extremely political "science"

Bush's purported pursuit of all things scientifically testable was again brought to light January 30, 2003, when the Department of Education released the names of the individuals who will be guiding the assessment of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or as Bush re-named it, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The intent of the Congress was that NCLB be grounded in "scientifically based research." What this means in practice is that any program that the Department funds is supposed to be able to prove its validity using scientifically recognized methods. However, Bush's bureaucrats have placed science at the service of their own brand of politics. For example, Bush's lackeys in Education recently decided that the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (which had been around since the beginning of the Department of Education) didn't focus enough on scientific research. So OERI was axed - only to be replaced by the Institute of Education Sciences, which does the same things OERI was doing before. Only these guys are better at utilizing the language of science to defund public education.

Title I of No Child Left Behind begins with the section, "Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged." While there are plenty of reasons to be angry at the passage of this bill, our Report from the Marble Jungle is about what happens after the legislation is passed, which is often the most important part of all: implementation.

After a bill becomes a law, not only does the money have to get appropriated to fund the implementation, but regulations must be written so that the agency responsible for the implementation has guidance for what's expected of it. The "regs" for No Child Left Behind were accepted with little fanfare here in DC, for the most part because the law itself is so scary that implementation is hard to even imagine. But the other reason the Bush Tricksters were able to slip their own agenda into the bill's implementation regulations is because the nation has been preoccupied with something else: Bush's so-called War on Terror. Fireworks are great for distracting the masses.

Panels like the one appointed to address Title I of No Child Left Behind are critical to getting business done in Washington. Their constituent "experts" are assembled to perform the appointed tasks, then return to their full-time vocations. (I've served on a couple, myself.) But the problem at the Department of Education is: no one knows what they're doing. In the real world, this means that the "experts" on the Title I panel have an opportunity to politically shape implementation of the legislation.

There are a few legitimate education leaders on the panel, among them Christopher Cross, who currently works at the Center for Education Policy. However, other appointees have no business serving on a panel designed expressly to look at scientifically based evidence. Two panelists in particular need to be scrutinized closely: Kaleem Caire of the American Education Reform Council (AERC) and Tasha Tillman of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS).

Targeting charter schools

Kaleem Caire used to head the Black Alliance for Educational Options. BAEO is the premier Black voucher front group bankrolled in large measure by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and now partially funded by federal grant moneys, as reported in the November 14 issue of . Caire is now at American Educational Reform Council, an organization that shares personnel, money, and funders with the voucher advocate BAEO.

AERC's primary funder appears to be the Walton Foundation. As a 501(c)3 organization, AERC can't spend money on political campaigns, but they can spend millions on "issue ads." AERC played an important role as propagandist for the anti-affirmative action initiatives in California and Washington state. The American Education Reform Foundation serves as the AERC's lobbying arm.

The American Education Reform Council has been in hot water in Washington, DC before. In 1997, well-known Black activist Sterling Tucker was on their payroll to support a voucher program designed by GOPers on the Hill. Tucker was able to get the support of several local Black ministers, until someone leaked where the money was coming from.

Clearly, the Right has positioned itself to take advantage of the $756 million earmarked for "choice" programs in the nation's public schools. In Washington, the privatizers inch ever closer to places of influence among charter schools where, they believe, the money is.

Tasha Tillman is Director of School and Community Relations at Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS). FOCUS is a relatively new nonprofit in Washington, DC that supports the burgeoning charter school movement. But its presence points to the maturing of the movement here in Washington, and may in turn signal the future tactics of the voucher movement. What's slightly different here is that FOCUS is clearly not a "Black" organization (the BAEO's membership and board are African American) and is not outwardly focused on vouchers; it claims to represent the 35 charter schools in Washington, DC. So why did they hire a pro-voucher activist from Colorado, and accept at least $150,000 from the voucher moneybag Bradley Foundation, the same deep pocket that virtually invented vouchers as a public policy issue. (See , "Fruit of the Poisoned Tree.")

It has become quite obvious that the Right is circling and penetrating the public schools, using stealth as a tactic. In the same way that the language of No Child Left Behind doesn't explicitly mention vouchers, there's a mountain of money available for "school choice" which they want you to believe means public schools. Meanwhile, Tillman can toil away quietly behind a curtain of public school choice, all the while working to promote the Bradley Foundation's vision of what public schools should look like.

Privatizers on the prowl

According to the FOCUS website, Ms. Tillman used to be vice-president of the Colorado Springs Chapter of BAEO, where she also received an M.A. from Colorado Christian College and was founder/coordinator of the Children's Tuition Fund for the Association of Christian Schools International (ASCI). As recently as last year (2002), while she was still in Colorado, she was appointed by the Bush Administration to sit on the negotiating committee for Title I. This is the body responsible for the bulk of the rule making which we reviewed above. She was appointed to represent "student interests." ASCI represents the interests of private Christian schools.

A couple of things need to be pointed out about Ms. Tillman's former employer, and where she was living. First, there have been a number of bills and ballot initiatives in Colorado around vouchers, which is why Ms. Tillman would have been hired to work for BAEO in Colorado Springs. I think it also curious that the headquarters for ASCI happens to be right down the block from James Dobson's Focus on the Family, another ultra-Right outfit. Colorado is a good place to run a voucher campaign - there are significant pockets of conservative Christians who don't want the government to run their schools (but it's OK if the government pays for their schools). Given Ms. Tillman's background, I'm surprised that FOCUS doesn't have a more explicit conservative Christian agenda. Then again, maybe they do, and they're just not talking about it.

Kaleem Caire, President/CEO of BAEO, was a featured guest at the September 24, 2001 launching of the ASCI Children's Tuition Fund, the organization that Ms. Tillman used to head. But the "vast right-wing conspiracy" gets deeper. Ms. Tillman's former boss at ASCI, Vernard Gant, executive director of what they call "Urban School Services," serves on the editorial board of one of those ominously named, Trojan Horse entities known as the Urban Education Journal. The editorial board for this flack publication reads like a who's who among black pro-voucher conservatives, with prominent representation from BAEO and AERC. The current issue includes a column by none other than Tasha Tillman.

The Black Alliance for Educational Option's spot on the journal's board is currently filled by Barato Britt who, as best as I can tell, does whatever Ms. Tillman did in Colorado Springs when she worked for BAEO, only he's in Indianapolis. Remember that name. Britt has been communications director for an outfit called Greater Educational Opportunities (another one of those bastardized names) in Indiana, but given that he's now got a board seat in one of the national network organizations, I'd wager that he's a rising Black star in the Right's stable of racing steeds.

If you combine the Bush administration's reward to BAEO of a $600,000 grant, reportedly to pay for pro-voucher marketing in the Black community, and the prominent panel appointments to individuals clearly not qualified for them, the broad outlines of the Republican agenda become visible. Bush will continue to thrust his band of Voucher Tricksters into positions of influence over public education policy, while pursuing schemes to test venerable programs such as Head Start out of existence.

Title I, Public Law 107-110, also know as No Child Left Behind, begins:

"The purpose of this title is to ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging State academic achievement standards and state academic assessments."

While the language sounds impressive, it in fact serves as a smokescreen for the Bush Junta to push for the legalization of segregated schools, and the privatization of public education.

Mark S. Johnson-Lewis is an education consultant living and working in Washington, DC.

To see who else is on the Bradley payroll and what other kinds of activities they fund, go to:

For more details on the American Education Reform Council and the American Education Reform Foundation can be accessed through People for the American Way and their report on the voucher movement, go to].

Vouchers: Who's Behind It All?
American Association of School Administrators

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