If it smells like Soviet-style social engineering...
January 22, 2006
College Aid Plan Widens U.S. Role in High Schools
By SAM DILLON
"When Republican senators quietly tucked a major new student aid program into the 774-page budget bill last month, they not only approved a five-year, $3.75 billion initiative. They also set up what could be an important shift in American education: for the first time the federal government will rate the academic rigor of the nation's 18,000 high schools.
The measure, backed by the Bush administration and expected to pass the House when it returns next month, would provide $750 to $1,300 grants to low-income college freshmen and sophomores who have completed "a rigorous secondary school program of study" and larger amounts to juniors and seniors majoring in math, science and other critical fields."
"The Constitution outlines no role for the federal government in education, and local control of schools is a cornerstone of the American system. But Washington's role has grown since Congress began financing college studies for World War II veterans. Several laws increased federal aid to education, including the landmark National Defense Act of 1958, but specifically prohibited federal officials from assuming supervision or control over programs of instruction. And while President Bush's education law, No Child Left Behind, imposed mandatory testing, it allowed the states to choose their own tests.
Like the No Child Left Behind law, the new grants are largely an effort to take a Texas idea nationwide. The legislation is modeled on the Texas Scholars program, begun during Mr. Bush's governorship, which enlisted certain Texas high schools and encouraged their students to take a "rigorous course of study," defined to include four years of English; three and a half years of social studies; two years of foreign language; and a year each of algebra, geometry, advanced algebra, biology, chemistry and physics."
"The new one-year grants, designed to supplement the broader, $13 billion Pell Grant program, range from $750 for low-income college freshmen and $1,300 for sophomores to $4,000 for juniors and seniors who are pursuing majors in the physical, life or computer sciences, mathematics, technology, engineering or certain foreign languages. Applicants must have a 3.0 grade point average to be eligible as sophomores, juniors and seniors.
The administration's original proposal would have been simple to administer. But under the proposal approved by the Senate, Department of Education officials would need to scrutinize high school courses of study and discuss curricular matters with local officials to a degree that Washington officials never have."
...and (this is important)...
"Even in states like New Jersey and Connecticut, where the State Scholars program is operating, however, it may be politically awkward for federal officials to declare programs of study at a few high schools to be rigorous while withholding that designation from others, educators said. In New Jersey, for instance, just 35 of 300 high schools participate in State Scholars. In Connecticut, 4 of 180 public high schools participate.
Another problem is that private school operators believe that the legislation renders their graduates ineligible by saying applicants must have completed a "program of study established by a state or local educational agency and recognized by the secretary." The bill "would inadvertently exclude over 5.3 million private K-12 school students," the National Association of Independent Schools, which represents some 1,200 private schools, said in a letter to senators last month. The same legislative language may also exclude parochial and home-schooled students."