The Choice Charade

A 3D Research Report

He who has an ear, let him hear.


The public has been misled to believe that “choice” in education means more parental freedom to determine the best educational placement for their children. This is not what “choice” means to education reformers. “Choice” to these reformers is a tool -- a tool to advance education reform from point A to point Z.

The public school system in America has maintained, until now, a representative form of government. Localities would elect a school board which had legal oversight over the curriculum, staff, budget, programming and planning of the community’s school, being directly accountable to parents, taxpayers, voters and citizens. Each new phase of education reform in the past three decades has adversely impacted this original system of accountability and oversight. But the worst is yet to come.

Parents traditionally have had the right to educate their children at a public, private, religious, parochial or home school. But this is not what the reformers mean by “choice.”. Their “choice” is a Trojan Horse entering society under the guise of vouchers, tuition tax credits, charter schools and their many hybrids. Reformers’ “choice” is not free choice. Reformers’ choice always places additional governmental structures between parent and child, voter and representative, citizen and state. The reformers’ “choice” will only reveal its true nature in the end, when it becomes manifest as a rigid, intrusive, and controlling plan for children, families and society.

This report will reveal what some leading education reformers have written, spoken and worked their entire lives to achieve. These reformers are change agents who intend to use “choice” to maneuver reform towards their pre-determined goals. This purposeful deception has been wildly successful. So successful, in fact, that some reformers have noted that they are well ahead of schedule in implementing their planned transformation. In a few short years this “choice” will be fully operational. All families with school-age children (public, private and home) will feel the brunt of this deception. Recall the title of the latest bi-partisan Washington education mega-bill, No Child Left Behind. No child will escape. Every child will be affected.

The “Choice” Charade

It is first necessary to understand the game that is being played. Reformers employ a variety of diversions in the media which perpetuate the illusion that they are talking about a parent’s right to choose the best education for their children. They do not want the public to figure out what they really mean by “choice.”

A primary ploy is to set up artificial turf battles based on political differences. “Choice” reformers have successfully staged a polemic battle in the press. Leaders of the Conservative Republican Right and Liberal Democrat Left enter a public boxing arena and routinely engage in verbal fistfights over an assortment of contrived economic (who pays) and political (who’s in charge) issues. While this public sparring is going on, Left and Right reformers have been working closely together behind the scenes for decades.

This polarization of the Right and the Left serves as a red herring. Speakers for each side swallow the indoctrination speech and grab a microphone to lambast the other side. “Rush is right” and that’s that. Those who have genuine concerns about civil liberties, parental rights and human rights are cut off from entering the debate. This is handily accomplished by labeling critics of “choice” as “radical fringe” or “extremist.” It is relatively easy to smear opposition by casting inventive aspersions about political sympathies, economic leanings and religious beliefs. Another tactic questions credentials. No critic of “choice” ever has possessed sufficient academic credentials to satisfy the elite.

In these orchestrated skirmishes over “choice,” reformers regularly posit issues in convenient molds, parameters which narrowly define the debate so as to avoid the real issues. Much tweaking over insignificant and incidental matters ensues. A long and protracted dispute over whether “choice” chocolate cake should be served on a blue plate or a white plate follows. These debates are intended to distract attention away from the bigger picture, which if examined closely would reveal a poisoned cake.

A major goal of the “choice” reformers is to maintain the appearance of status quo. In order to reassure the public that nothing major is amiss, Potemkin “choice” is propped up in the public square. It looks like real local control and conveys the illusion that everything is normal, safe and sound. In order for “choice” to progress on schedule, without alarming people as to its hidden purpose, it is essential that people believe these “choice” artifices.

What is this “choice” that the education reformers are planning? What does it look like behind the façade, devoid of the accoutrements and devices of deception? The answer to these questions is startling and alarming. It is time to set aside the distortions and look at the reality. Before it is too late.

PART 1: William Bennett’s Cyber Charter Express

Several years ago William J. Bennett, esteemed “Virtues Czar” and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, launched his own curriculum (K12) with great fanfare in the homeschooling community. Once his curriculum was firmly established, Bennett then launched a cyberschool charter concept which he called “virtual academies.” Cyberschools, or “e-schools” as they are sometimes called, are the latest manifestation of “choice” to enter the private education realm. Cyberschools hook children up to a computer with internet access, thus enabling them to become part of a “virtual” classroom. Bennett began his marketing effort by targeting homeschoolers.

Homeschoolers in key states across the nation were inundated with a lengthy series of advertising pieces. Sophisticated state-of-the-art direct mailing solicitations revealed that homeschool names were obtained through government databases, homeschool curriculum companies, and other unknown sources. Some homeschoolers were identified with names they only use on official government records. This minute tracking down of homeschoolers was the first red flag for a community that by and large seeks to protect its own privacy. This was not to be Bennett’s only blunder.

Bennett’s initial literature advertised that families would receive curriculum, computer, materials, “Placement, Planning, Progress, and Assessment Tools,” a teacher and outings (field trips or group activities). Pennsylvania homeschoolers received a mailing in May 2001 which stated: “As part of this comprehensive program, you receive – at no cost to you – a computer system….” Only later did mailings reveal that the computer was a loaner. A few rumblings could be heard within the homeschool community about Bennett’s apparent lapse in integrity, evidenced by his use of this common deceptive marketing technique.

Many homeschoolers had purchased or were familiar with The Book of Virtues: A Treasure of Great Moral Stories, edited by Bennett in 1993. The letters to homeschoolers built upon Bennett’s reputation as the country’s “Virtues Czar.” In the Pennsylvania letter, Bennett says, “I have devoted my professional life to improving education and writing books like The Book of Virtues and The Educated Child. This experience has influenced the development of K12’s curriculum every step of the way.” An Ohio letter to homeschoolers states, “As Chairman of K12, he has been personally involved in the development of the school’s curriculum.” The implication here is that the curriculum will be “classic,” religious, or philosophically and politically conservative, an obvious marketing appeal to homeschoolers who tend to be religiously and politically conservative.

In actuality K12 is based on a curriculum that was at the centerpiece of many education reform initiatives around the country this past decade, a curriculum aligned with the new national and state reform standards. K12 is based on University of Virginia Professor E.D. Hirsch’s “Core Knowledge” curriculum. Bennett had previously used Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy as part of the “core curriculum” for his Modern Red Schoolhouse Design Team. As background, in 1992 the New American Schools Development Corporation (NASDC) funded school reform experiments, which they called “design teams.” These experiments were to demonstrate by example how schools would meet the goals outlined in President Bush’s America 2000 education reform strategy. An emphasis was placed on creating “fundamental institutional change,” meeting “new national standards in five core subjects,” preparing “students for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment.” Bennett’s Modern Red Schoolhouse project was composed of individuals associated with the Hudson Institute, a policy institute committed to investing its resources into the transformation of education. Claims were made that this was “classic education.” The project was selected, however, because it so excellently fulfilled all of the requirements of radical education reform.

Bennett placed E.D. Hirsch’s curriculum as one of three curricular pillars in the Modern Red School House Design Team. In the mid 1990s debates over outcome-based education (OBE), Hirsch carefully positioned his curriculum as a “conservative” alternative, emphasizing academics and minimizing “outrageous” outcomes. Hirsch’s ideas about cultural literacy, however, bear much evidence of OBE philosophy.

The Core Knowledge Foundation is a non-profit organization founded by Hirsch in 1986. It is based on the idea that children need to share a common core of knowledge, which “makes up the common ground for communication and cooperation in society.” This “core knowledge” was arrived at through the process of “consensus” with “diverse groups and interests,” according to a Core Knowledge Foundation paper. (Some readers will recognize the managed consensus dialectic process in this description.) Hirsch’s “common knowledge” philosophy is based upon a communitarian ideal that “all” children should drink from one democratic cistern, and that without this inculcation of universal “truths” and “values” children will not be prepared for the global workforce community of the future.

Another curricular pillar for Bennett’s Modern Red Schoolhouse came directly from Bennett himself. As Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, Bennett authored the James Madison High School: A Curriculum for American Schools (Dec. 1987). While admitting that the “authority to mandate a secondary school curriculum for American students does not belong to the federal government,” Bennett acknowledged that he did use his position as a “bully pulpit.”2 Bennett wrote that “every American child has an equal claim to a common future under common laws, enjoying common rights and charged with common responsibilities. And there follows the need for a common basic education” (cover letter, dated January 1988). The introduction to James Madison High School states that

We want our students – whatever their plans for the future – to take from high school a shared body of knowledge and skills, a common language of ideas, a common moral and intellectual discipline…. And we want them to be prepared for entry into the community of responsible adults. (p. 4)

One can readily see the compatibility of the philosophies of Hirsch and Bennett in these statements. It is this inoculation of “classic academics” that misleads the public into thinking that these are conservative curricula. But both men believe there is a need for a “common” knowledge and “community” values. These beliefs have far more to do with the doctrines of communitarianism than conservativism, as shall be explained in depth later.

In 1992 the Bush Administration’s U.S. Department of Labor issued Learning A Living: A Blueprint for High Performance: A SCANS Report for America 2000. This controversial bi-partisan report became the third pillar of curriculum used in The Modern Red Schoolhouse. Skills for the workplace would become the major focus of education -- preparing children for lifelong labor and culminating in a “certificate of mastery.” A Hudson Institute brochure promoting The Modern Red Schoolhouse stated: “A distinguishing feature of the [SCANS] curriculum is its reliance on performance as the measure of student progress….” The other distinguishing characteristic of SCANS was a switch from traditional academic content to a workplace skills-oriented education. Current state and federal standards and assessments track back to this important SCANS report.

Bennett’s description of the K12 curriculum, in a document prepared for the Deparment of Education in Ohio, reveals that his curriculum must be aligned with the state’s academic content standards, which are aligned to the state’s assessment test. Ohio’s proficiency tests have been the source of widespread contention across the state for years. Constructed from the old “outrageous” outcomes of OBE (now called state “performance standards”), these tests delve into a child’s private attitudes and values. The Ohio state standards, from which the tests are derived, incorporate evolution, another hot button for religiously conservative homeschoolers. Bennett’s Ohio charter application lists five academic goals, three goals for “higher order thinking skills,” preparation for college, and music and art. Five additional “non-academic” goals to help “students develop into active, thoughtful and responsible citizens” and “build commonly shared values” are added. All of these goals effectively align Bennett’s curriculum to the state’s tests.

This New “Choice” Entity

The launch of Bennett’s K12 “virtual academies” was accompanied by controversy over misrepresentation. An August 2002 issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine featured a typical article about homeschooling, mentioning Bennett’s K12 “for-profit online service for homeschoolers.” The article featured a prominent picture of William Bennett, which gave the impression that he was a national spokesperson for homeschooling. A March 2002 curriculum review on The Old Schoolhouse magazine erroneously reported: “Some people mistakenly believe K12 is a charter school.” Letters and brochures sent to Ohio homeschooling parents failed to mention that the Ohio Virtual Academy was a charter school, saying only, “Because the Ohio Virtual Academy is publicly funded, there is no tuition.” Fearing that further serious misinformation could be disseminated at the dozens of public K12 open houses around the state, Ohio Home Education Coalition issued an alert:

Serious questions were asked of Bennett during his afternoon presentation on June 13 in Columbus, Ohio. Challenged to answer whether K12 was purposely trying to confuse the public that enrollment in OVA was homeschooling, he specifically said that OVA is a charter school and, therefore, students would be in a public school.

During the evening session, Bennett did not wait for the questions to arise on the distinction…. He made things perfectly clear right from the start…. Bennett said: “Make no mistake. If you enroll in the Ohio Virtual Academy, you will no longer be a homeschooler. You will be enrolling in a public charter school.” (August 2002)

Bennett originally planned to take his K12 show on the road to homeschool conventions. It was reported that he waived his customary speaking fees. The Christian Home Educators Association of California (CHEA) cancelled Bennett’s speaking appearance at their state convention. K12’s requests to be included in homeschooling conferences as a curriculum vender were denied in Ohio, California, and Illinois. In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer (8/25/02), Bennett stated, “I will not stop being a defender of home schoolers, even if they are being unfair to me,” in speaking about being “disinvited” to these three state conventions.

Then Bennett changed his strategy. He set up K12 open houses simultaneous with state homeschool conferences at competing locations in a obvious attempt to pull away homeschoolers. An alert from Christian Home Educators of Ohio last summer warns:

The CHEO Convention, as well as many other state conventions, have been declining K12 an opportunity to participate in their Exhibit Halls. However, in a visit to the K12 website, many people are finding that K12 will be in Columbus the same weekend as the CHEO convention. This is because they are piggybacking off of our convention and having an open house in a nearby hotel. However, they are NOT in any way associated with our convention.

Why would Bennett employ such an aggressive marketing strategy to recruit homeschoolers? Why would he risk his reputation as a man of “virtue” by purposefully using deceptive marketing strategies and techniques? This is not a situation where he could “pass the buck” and claim that someone else in his organization was acting without his authority. Rather, Bennett placed himself in the spotlight, promoting his virtual academy idea to the homeschooling community in person, live, at scheduled open houses.

Why would the homeschooling community go to such great lengths to distance themselves from Bennett, who asserts he is their friend? For one significant reason: Bennett’s K12 cyberschools are in actuality charter schools. Charter schools are public schools. Homeschoolers who enroll in Bennett’s program effectually give up their legal status as homeschoolers. Under the law they become public schoolers. Public moneys mean mandatory state testing, vaccinations, attendance records, and following state curriculum guidelines. No religious instruction is permitted, a fact which runs contrary to one of the few widely shared beliefs among religiously-motivated homeschoolers, that leaving God out of the curricula is a denial of Deuteronomy 6.

An article by Chris Moran in the San Diego Union Tribune (“Cyber Classrooms,” 11/10/02) explains some homeschoolers’ concerns:

Some home-school leaders see in K12 and other cybercharters a threat to the academic freedom that motivates people to home-school in the first place…. If too many homeschoolers are seduced by K12’s free computers, textbooks, art supplies and science equipment, “a lot of home-school freedom could be in jeopardy,” said Tom Washburne of the Home School Legal Defense Association. “What has made home schooling as successful as it is today is its wide freedom to do what’s successful for your children.” And if too many families are co-opted by the public schools, he said, there will be no constituency left to defend home-schoolers’ rights.

The confusion over charter, public and homeschooling arises in part because of the nature of Bennett’s virtual academies. Charter schools are publicly funded schools that operate outside of many normal boundaries and constraints. Bennett’s virtual academies are “cyber” charters. They represent a new breed of public charter schools that is unencumbered by “bricks and mortar” (buildings) and other traditional classroom expenses. Cyberschools, as the name implies, link children to a computer and the internet to join a “virtual classroom,” spanning distance barriers.

Cyberschools are not necessarily cybercharters. There are many private “virtual” classroom options available for homeschoolers. One can sign up for a cyberschool and still technically and legally remain as a homeschooler; however, one cannot sign up for a cybercharter without changing their legal status and becoming part of the public system.

The idea behind a cyberschool first came to the attention of the nation’s homeschoolers in another NASDC Design Team experiment, The New West Learning Community Project, which was proposed concurrently with Bill Bennett’s Modern Red Schoolhouse. The New West Design Team proposal included a plan and diagram showing how homeschools, alternative schools and private schools could be linked to the government school system through computers. The New West Design Team was the brainchild of William Spady, known around the country as the “father of OBE.”

Following the Money Trail

Cybercharters, like homeschools, take students off of the public school rolls. Homeschoolers don’t show up in the public coffers unless they are part of a hybrid public plan such as “dual enrollment.” Cybercharter schools, however, because they are public schools by definition, take existing public monies out of the public schools and pocket this money in the charter organization’s bank accounts.

At issue is the very definition of homschooling itself. Homeschooling is traditionally defined as a parent educating their child(ren). Some homeschoolers point back to Biblical foundations, church creeds and Scriptures which speak plainly to a parent’s direct responsibility, authority, oversight and accountability to God in this matter. Other homeschoolers point to Constitutional foundations and historical legal provisions in parental rights. Other “options,” fashioned in the last decade or so, have not been true homeschooling, but rather hybridized public school models. Cybercharters, while superficially appearing to be homeschooling are, in reality, public schools in the home.

One might think that traditional homeschoolers would be naturally wary of a plan that sucks them back into a public system, which most of them have fled or sought to avoid. In reality, cybercharters are very enticing to homeschoolers. A recent letter published in the Private and Home Educators of California’s Legal-Legislative Update newsletter (Jan./Feb. 2003)explains:

[Related to your questions about] ...”Charter Schools” and Public Schools ISP's, it is a staggering trend if the home educators in our church are any indicator. We feel helpless against the onslaught as most of our closest home educating friends are involved in one of these two governmental control options. It has been pointless to try to discuss the mater with them once they find out that they will be “given” money. There are always a variety of excuses why they have chosen this option.

We struggle financially every single month. So we understand. We see that many in our affluent culture just aren't used to not being able to give little Johnny and Suzie every class and activity that is available! But the Government will pay for it, so now they can. “All things are lawful,” Paul said, “but not all things are expedient.” Just because it is available doesn't mean we should be involved. The question when it comes to Charters and Public School ISP's (and now “Virtual” Charters i.e. K12) is not CAN we -- it isn't spelled out in Scripture -- but SHOULD we. And, why would we?

In a classic “carrot and stick” approach, cybercharters promise one-income, financially strapped families an easy way out with free curriculum, “free” computers, and professional assistance. The downside is that all of the state restrictions and requirements have to be met. Privately, K12 mothers have complained about the amount of time required on-line, the inability to have flexibility with the schedule and the curriculum, the lack of creativity, and the pressures to conform to rigid requirements. Many have regretted they didn’t ask the right questions before they signed on the contract.

The aggressive recruitment of homeschoolers into charter schools also poses challenges to public school officials. An article posted at, referring to cybercharters, explains that

These cyberschools take advantage of charter school laws. However, by appealing largely to homeschoolers, the cyberschools present unique funding problems and special concerns over whether tax dollars are being used for religiously based education.

Because homeschooled students are not counted in a public school district’s budget or oversight, critics charge that the cyberschools have become a new way to funnel public dollars into what is essentially a private education. The cyberschools increase the number of children receiving public dollars for education without necessarily increasing overall funding: in the process decreasing the amount of money available for existing public school students. (“Coming Your Way: Cyberschools” by Stacie Williams, Summer 2002)

Cybercharters are also lucrative for public schools. So lucrative, in fact, that public schools are jumping into the act wherever they can legally set up their own charters schools. School officials have begun to recruit the homeschoolers in their local district. By doing this, superintendents ensure that the monies stay “in house” and don’t go into the pockets of an outside corporate firm such as K12. An article from Pennsylvania, appearing in the Gazette News (“CASD to offer younger students online courses” by Terry Talbert, 1/22/03) demonstrates how this works:

The Chambersburg Area School District hopes by this fall to be able to offer at least some basic elementary/middle level courses online to parents of students in the district who are being homeschooled or are considering cyber school.

“Our homeschooling population is our target group,” [District Superintendent Eric Michael] said.

It’s hoped that parents will opt to take the online courses offered by the district, rather than use other source materials, or enroll their children in a cyber school, according to Michael.

The confusion over “cyber,” “charter” and “home” schools is exacerbated by the growing list of hybridized, nontraditional schooling. These include a mixed bag of homeschool co-ops and private dual enrollment options. Wherever the door has opened for charter expansion, some of these alternatives have jumped on board the cybercharter express, seeking funding help to underwrite their programs and cut back on expenses. Many of the most innovative schools, which started out as private ventures, have now submitted themselves to state oversight and regulations. A pot of gold lies gleaming at the end of the cybercharter rainbow -- or so they think.

In truth, cybercharters will come back to bite not only homeschoolers, but also the public schools that feed them.

K12 and Michael Milken

William Bennett is chairman of K12, a company which markets curriculum packages to private purchasers as well as his growing virtual academy empire. K12 began with $10 million in start-up money from Knowledge Universe. K12 is a majority shareholder in Knowledge Universe. Remember Michael Milken, the former “junk bond” whiz who spent time in prison? A Forbes Magazine account revealed Milken is now “sitting on the throne of a $1.75 billion private education empire” known as Knowledge Universe which “oversees nearly 50 companies, many of them interlocking. Employing over 14,000 persons worldwide, Knowledge Universe is already on the brink of dominating several sectors of what is being called the Internet’s next killer app: e-learning.” According to Forbes (“Master of the Knowledge Universe” by Stephen P. Pizzo, 9/10/01) “Knowledge Universe was born in 1996 with a $250 million investment from Milken and his brother Lowell and another $250 million from Oracle Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison.” Business Week tells the next part of the story:

When Lowell Milken and Ron Packard, executives at education investment company Knowledge Universe, approached Bennett in November, 1999, about heading up K12, Bennett insisted that he would chair the company only if Yale computer-science professor David Gelernter, a fellow computer-in-the-classroom skeptic, signed on as the company’s technical advisor.

…K12 was formed in February of last year, when Bennett signed up as chairman and Packard became CEO. (“Bill Bennett: The Education of an E-School Skeptic” by Alexandra Starr, 2/14/01)

The previously cited San Diego Union Tribune article credits Bennett’s “star power” and Packard’s determination to put Bennett’s name and philosophy behind the endeavor. Packard read Bennett’s book, The Educated Child and became enamored of its concepts. Business Week’s account of the arrangement notes:

Some industry analysts… caution that Bennett’s high profile will not be an unalloyed asset. “Having a prominent personality at the helm can have a downside,” says’s Stokes. “When the conversation ends up focusing on Bennett, it can eclipse the business.”

Milken’s philosophy of “cradle to grave” education is the driving force behind his current business ventures. Forbes relates

It is in early childhood development and K-12 that Milken has made some of his most daring and visionary acquisitions. Knowledge Universe has either started, acquired, or invested in an array of preschool through middle school companies that provide online curricula, testing, test preparation, tutoring, and even management of schools. The companies also share databases and resources and contract among themselves for value-added services. While providing education services for its companies, Knowledge Universe is also amassing what could become one of its most valuable assets: a data bank on childhood learning, skill levels, and online learning behavior.

A sidebar to the Forbes account details questionable ethics in several of Milken’s business dealings, especially in the acquisition of an on-line accredited university. It seems strange that William Bennett would associate himself with a man of such dubious integrity. Again, why would he risk his own excellent “virtuous” reputation by becoming part of an empire formed by a man whose name is so tainted?

The Forbes article, with accompanying graph, describes how Milken’s acquisitions are intended to work together to form a seamless lifelong education system, including college and workforce training. Beginning at the pre-school level, LeapFrog, a Knowledge Universe company, makes programmable interactive tutorial toys that link to online resources. This toy then feeds information to the company’s database “where the child’s skill level and progress are assessed and tracked.” The ultimate goal “is to engage children in lifetime learning provided by Knowledge Universe – even through their careers and into retirement.”

This brings to mind some serious questions. Will the children enrolled in Bill Bennett’s K12 virtual academies become part of Knowledge Universe’s “most valuable assets.” Will these children be in a databank with Michael Milken holding the key? Will a K12 student’s online learning behavior be monitored and tracked? Will this personal information be sold to outside vendors for other uses? The Ohio Virtual Academy charter application states that the “school will use technology in conjunction with traditional assessment techniques to assess student achievement.” In addition to participating in the Ohio Proficiency Tests, “a unique component of our on-line student learning system is its ability to generate detailed and ongoing data on academic achievement…. Data from the assessments will be collected and regularly analyzed and reported to parents, teachers, the school administration, and the board.” The online system “tracks the number of minutes logged each day in each school subject.” No guarantees of student privacy in Bennett’s proposal could be found.

Techno-Future Cyber Charters

It is no accident that K12 signed on David Gelernter as technical advisor. Gelernter may not be a household name to many, but he’s a big fish in the high tech computer pond. In 1996 Gelernter was the target of one of the Unabomber’s attacks and was seriously injured when a package exploded. The Unabomber addressed a letter to Gelernter which explained the reason for this personal attack: “…there are a lot of people out there who resent bitterly the way techno-nerds like you are changing the world….” How was Gelernter changing the world? He had just published a futurist book, Mirror Worlds (1991), which envisioned the internet as a collective stream of human consciousness, evoking the idea of a global, human community. He is considered to be “a leader figure in the third generation of artificial intelligence (AI) scientists.” (

Gelernter’s pioneering work has been in the area of storing and retrieving information, both independently and collectively, i.e. databanking. He has called for a new paradigm in computer usage which will permit one to index all (meaning every shred) of a person’s life data on what he calls “lifestreams,” entities which float in cyberspace and can be retrievable at any computer in the world when beckoned by a person with a proper ID. Gelernter describes his vision in an internet interview:

The Net is going to matter when I can rely on it to store the information I now keep in disk, and the computer is a completely transparent object. …I have my entire information life online, in chronological order, searchable from my electronic birth certificate onward. All the documents and pieces of information important to me are maintained by the Net…. (ibid)

Gelernter’s ideas are being implemented by Michael Milken’s Knowledge Universe and William Bennett’s K12. Press accounts bill Gelernter as one who hates computers for use in education. But within the high tech world his critics note a marked discrepancy between his public persona as a “reluctant computer nerd” and his cutting-edge software innovations which he is marketing on the internet. His critics also raise disturbing issues about the potential loss of freedom should Gelernter’s utopian ideas become widely implemented. If all the databases in the world were “indexed” using Gelernter’s technology, there would be a gargantuan storehouse of data, including every computer keystroke, archived in internet hyperspace for future access.

“Gelernter is a guy I listen to on these things. I read his stuff – even understand some of it,” Mr. Bennett said. “Gelernter told me that what has been done in online education is a scandal, and what could be done might just be the salvation of many kids.” (“A New Enterprise Joins Growing Community of Online Schools” by Margaret W. Goldsborough, New York Times, 1/24/01)

NEXT: Part 2: “Choice” Reform: Dollars, Disasters and Databanking

1. 3D Research Company distributes the deliberate dumbing down of America by Charlotte T. Iserbyt. This book is available at major online booksellers, or can be accessed on the web at: A full text of this report can be viewed on this website.
2. Bennett, William J. The De-Valuing of America, p. 69.

“Choice” Reform: Dollars, Disasters and Databanking

Part 2 of The “Choice” Charade, a 3D Research report

Reform Drives Profits

Former U.S. Education Secretary William Bennett might have set up his entire K12 operation as a private curriculum publisher in the homeschool venue. But K12 isn’t a simple curriculum vender. Students’ parents must enroll them in K12, because K12 is an online academy. At up to $1200 per pupil, per enrollment, per year Bennett could have easily realized profits. Based upon his well-cultivated image as Mr. Virtues, he could have made a decent income by enrolling a portion of the estimated 1.5 million homeschoolers nationwide. He could have fashioned an untarnished image as a benevolent godfather to homeschooling.

But Bennett has grander plans. Personally, he has decided to go for the more lucrative cybercharter income – straight from the public treasuries, a surefire way to anger public education proponents (a group he repeatedly insults with the moniker of “the blob” in his discourses on public education). Professionally, he has seized upon a theme he embraced during his earliest days in the “bully pulpit” as Secretary of Education – “standards” and “accountability,” an education reform agenda antithetical to homeschooling rights. Strategically, Bennett’s K12 is standing to benefit significantly from the well-heeled political connections of its founder:

Bennett says there is nothing specifically in President Bush’s education plans that will benefit K12 – although, if vouchers, increased funding for charter schools, and educational savings accounts become law, as Bush proposes, the company could be on the receiving end of federal cash. But Bennett, who would not reveal how much is being paid by K12, believes the Bush Administration’s focus on annual testing and accountability can only benefit his online enterprise. “That’s because, at the end of the day, people will say, ‘O.K., we’re for standards, we’re for outcomes,’” Bennett predicts. “And then they will ask: ‘Now how do we get there?’” Bennett, of course, hopes K12 will be part of the answer. (“Bill Bennett: The Education of an E-School Skeptic,” by Alexandra Starr, Business Week, 2/14/01.)

…K12’s creators remain hopeful that an assortment of tax credits, educational savings accounts and charter school mechanisms will eventually allow parents of any income level to afford their programs. (“A New Enterprise Joins Growing Community of Online Schools,” by Margaret W. Goldsborough, NYT, 1/24//01)

Last summer U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige embarked on a cross-country tour promoting the federal No Child Left Behind Act. On a stopover in Colorado at a forum on e-learning, which featured Bennett’s Colorado Virtual Academy, Paige touted the fact that “$700 million is available to states and schools in 2002 through the Enhancing Education through Technology program, along with $2.25 billion through the E-rate initiative” ( This is in addition to hundreds of millions of federal dollars for charter school expansion and development.

Indeed, Bill Bennett’s K12 Virtual Academy cybercharters have all appearances of becoming a financial windfall. His start-up costs include a loaned computer, curriculum, a teacher overseeing up to 40 pupils, and a few other items of nominal expense. Estimated expenses run between $1500 and $2500, depending on a number of factors. His profit is considerable. An alert issued by the OHIOEANDA (Ohio Equity and Adequacy of School Funding) entitled “Bill Bennett Strikes Gold in Ohio” (9/11/02) spells out the details:

According to the Department of Education website, Bill Bennett’s Ohio Virtual School received $398,347.04 in September based on an annual amount of $3,983,470.39. The annual amount along with the monthly payments will change as Bennett enrolls more students.

Some information and implications regarding this enterprise are:

1. Bennett told a nationwide TV audience (Fox News Network) last year that the cost of Virtual schooling is $895 per student.

2. Bennett’s Ohio Virtual School will possibly provide up to $1500 worth of instructional materials and services to students. Ohio taxpayers will pay Bennett on average more than $5000 per student. These payments are deducted from Ohio school districts.

3. Most of the money collected by Bennett will not contribute to Ohio’s economy. His operation is based in Virginia.

4. Bennett appears to have strong political ties to those who control Ohio’s purse strings. No doubt any changes in Ohio law regarding charter schools will provide additional benefits to the Bennett-type operations.

5. The home schooling community is seriously divided over Bennett’s tactic of targeting home schoolers.

The state of Ohio, which is far ahead of the rest of the country in “choice” implementation (charters, cybercharters and vouchers), provides a good window into the profits that can be made. As of January 2003, the Ohio Department of Education reported that Bennett’s Ohio Virtual Academy received $5,334,896.27 for the 2002-03 school year with a claimed enrollment of 1004. This enrollment is a 23.8% increase from October, 2002. Therefore, the average pupil funding is $5,314. And this figure doesn’t include the $500,000 start-up funding available to all charter schools in Ohio in the first few years, $50,000 from the state and $450,000 from federal funds. Nor does it include federal grants for budget line items such as “classroom size reduction,” an irony available to an “e-classroom” of one person in the family room.

Bennett is not apologetic about the profits, even if they do come out of government coffers.

Bennett answers critics who worry about profit motive in the K-12 educational system emphatically, “I am in favor of anything that works. I don’t think that profit motive is something to be afraid of. I recently gave a speech to a group of executives from a top auto company, and as I talked with them, the thing they kept focusing on was customer satisfaction. At the heart of customer satisfaction was giving their customers what they wanted – the very best performance and service available. Being customer-oriented means tremendous flexibility. We should have that in the classroom and throughout the nation’s education system. (“William Bennett: Education Philosopher,” by Stefanie Sanford, 9/01,

Profits and politics aren’t the only issues of relevance. Bennett backed “choice” while he was the U.S. Secretary of Education, a key cabinet position during the Reagan administration. During the next decade he trumpeted “choice” from his various positions on think tanks and public policy institutes. He wrote books and made speeches which promoted “choice.” All of this could be viewed as “insider trading” -- meaning that Bennett stands to profit directly from his prior pro-“choice” advocacy, and will continue to profit as an outcome of his political connections. However, less known, but certainly well-documented, is the fact that Bennett has consistently been one of the nation’s foremost cheerleaders for education reform. “Choice” is a key element of systemic education reform plans. Part 3 of this report will demonstrate that Bennett’s personal venture into “choice” has much to do with his ambitions to further the education reform agenda. In fact, Bennett’s cybercharters are the perfect vehicle to leverage key elements of education reform.

Cybercharters are pushing the limits on many fronts. They are riding the crest of the rapidly burgeoning e-school initiatives, propelling high-tech ventures into the potentially profitable education markets. They are deliberately altering the meaning of “homeschooling,” a term with legal status, by broadening its association to include public e-schooling. And, cybercharters are redefining “public” education to include partnerships, hybrids, blended, dual and other homogenizations of public and private.

A recent “blended” school project from Oskaloosa County Florida, which claims to be a model for the nation, is creating “a seamless educational plan for two groups of students: those that are schooled at home and students that are schooled at ‘government schools’ (public schools).” The project pivots on a purposefully expanded definition of homeschooling: “’an alternative form of education in which school-aged children primarily learn at home, under the supervision of their parents, rather than in a traditional school.’ (Ishizuka,2000, p.4).” Broadening the definition of a term to include the opposition can be a highly effective political ploy to engineer change. Indeed, this new “third choice” pilot program intends to lobby for substantive legislative changes which will irrevocably alter the legal parameters of homeschooling and push the boundaries on public “options.”

Charter schools unabashedly take money away from public schools and transfer it to private for-profit or non-profit corporations. This fact alone wreaks havoc on district budgets. Cybercharters do not have the overhead expenses and start-up costs that accompany the “bricks and mortar” charters, of which Edison is the most notable, yet in most instances they receive the same amount of money per pupil. Therefore, cybercharters stand to make quite a bit more profit than a traditional charter school. A statement by Tom Mooney, President of the Ohio Federation of Teachers on behalf of the Coalition of Public Education (8/29/02) voices concerns:

…Advocates have been all too successful in spreading the myth that charter schools are autonomous, community based schools offering unique instructional programs. In fact, the field is increasingly dominated by corporate chains offering cookie cutter curriculum with profit rather than proficiency as the primary motive. The profit margins in the corporate run virtual schools are particularly obscene.

Cybercharters are cash cows. The battle is already furiously raging over who will get the moneys. More money can be made by setting up cybercharters than “bricks and mortars,” and school districts that formerly opposed high-tech computerized education are now rushing to stand in line for the lush moneys. A recent news account illustrates the magnitude of this revolution in education:

Three western Ohio school districts are considering whether to convert all of their schools into charters schools in hopes of being entirely funded by the state. The state pays all $4,949 per-pupil spending for charter school students, but traditional public schools use local property taxes to pay a portion of that basic aid for students. (

Charter schools of all types – public, private, profit, non-profit, blended, hybrids, etc. – are currently on the receiving end of a literal flood of state, federal and private dollars.

Breaking the Mold

By design, charter schools “break the mold” of traditional education. In 1991 the U.S. Department of Education released its America 2000 education reform plan, which was the vanguard thrust towards achieving national education reform goals. The Bush Sr. administration, led by Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, proposed that “the definition of public schools be broadened to include any school that serves the public and is held accountable by a public authority.” State and federal legislation since that time has opened the door to new experimental “choice” models such as magnet schools, pilot schools, charters, and other experiments with a multitude of descriptive names.

It is important to note that this definition of “choice” is public education, and does not include private or homeschool choice. Public “choice” is best exemplified by the contrived choice of chocolate cake served on a blue plate vs. chocolate cake served on a red plate.* With the implementation of each new facet of education reform, there is a significant erosion of true choice. For example, private schools take a blow toward maintaining autonomy when they are legislatively required to administer high-stakes, state-mandated testing. Adherence to state standards and curriculum alignment to state assessments is characteristic of government school “choice.”

By design, “choice” schools are set up in such a way that they are several times removed from citizen voter accountability or oversight. There are “sponsors,” “authorizers,” “Educational Management Organizations” (EMOs) and other private and/or governmental entities that constitute a new governance structure. Some pro-charter arguments have held that parents would have direct input into their child’s education (so-called “choice”). In fact, citizens have to go through a labyrinth of bureaucratic hoops to make simple requests for public information.

The time-honored structure of education in American guaranteed that parents and local citizens elected a school board which was directly accountable to them for the education of their children. Since the early 1980s, with the advent of education reform measures, this representative form of government has been systemically dismantled. The role of school boards has changed with the passage of state and federal legislation. Traditional pathways for parental and citizen accountability have been restructured, so that what happens in the classroom is decreed from on high, not by local elections or teacher conferences. Site-based management structures have gradually replaced the role of school boards in matters such as curriculum decisions.

School districts on academic “watch” discover that the state now runs their daily operations. And the term “accountability” no longer means “accountable to the taxpayer.” In education jargon it has been redefined to mean student performance on assessment tests, which is the basis for evaluating student, teacher and school performance. “Transparency,” a new buzz word, means that “report cards” are publicly issued for each district, indicating performance on the assessments.

The Intentional Design Flaw

From the earliest days of education reform plans, charter schools and other “choice” experiments were designed to be unencumbered by the restraints placed on public schools so that they could be free to “innovate.” In order to create an environment where this creativity would not be stifled, reformers insisted on “waivers.” The America 2000 plan states:

We expect that the Design Teams will begin by erasing all conventional assumptions and constraints about schooling: the schedule (and calendar), curriculum, class size, the pace of learning, teacher/student ratios, adult roles, teacher recruitment, health and nutrition, discipline, staff development, organizational and management structures, resource allocation, students-as-tutors, the nature of instructional materials and much more (p. 30)

Waivers exclude charter schools from a significant chunk of state and local regulations, including many of those guaranteeing the safety of students. For example: waivers can grant charter operators the right to retain control over their own operations; eliminate enrollment caps, ease restrictions on employee qualifications; and exempt charters from state collective bargaining laws. The theory behind waivers for charters holds that “free market” competition would drive charters to the straight and narrow course and keep operators above board. This, of course, ignores that fact that education reform-style “choice” is not based on true “free market” economics.

Waivers mean that charter schools do not have to jump through as many bureaucratic hurdles. But waivers also mean that there are few safety nets in place when things go wrong. When charters are mismanaged, parents have discovered that they haven’t many options for complaint, and little power to rectify the situation. Should troubles develop, there are few, if any, avenues for parental appeal. Charter school operators, even though they are on the government dole, have been granted the unbridled authority to make decisions directly impacting students -- what grades to offer, the number of children to enroll, what textbooks to purchase, whom to hire, where to locate, the condition of the facilities, etc. All they have to guarantee is acceptable performance on the designated assessment test.

Charter schools often experience growing pains that create dangers for children. According to an article in the Akron Beacon-Journal a Columbus, Ohio, bootcamp style charter opened without a working telephone in the facility and with portapotties in the parking lot. The police were called 12 times in several months for disruptions, including one charge of sexual assault. In mid-October 2002, “350 employees of charter schools did not have criminal background checks completed, and 36 had not even applied to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification & Investigation. A month later, only two schools were in full compliance.” (“Parents have freedom of choice, but not freedom of information” by Doug Oplinger and Dennis J. Willard, Akron Beacon-Journal, 12/12/99.)

In another issue examined by the Akron Beacon-Journal, a chain of Ohio charter schools targeting children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) for enrollment was audited by the state for re-labeling students who enrolled with designations which included “severely emotionally disturbed.” According to a former teacher, the re-labeling was performed by school staff members who “were untrained to evaluate mental capabilities… [with] no parents present.”

The school gets about $13,000 in state and local funds for each student classified with a special education problem – nearly double the money it would get for educating a regular student or one with ADD.

And nearly every student at Summit Academy Akron is reported to have a special education problem, even though most of them didn’t carry that designation when they were enrolled in public schools.

Now, allegations that Summit Academy has intentionally misidentified students with special education disabilities have drawn unscheduled audits from the Ohio Department of Education at two schools. And Akron Public Schools officials have asked state Auditor Jim Petro to review Summit Academy’s special education records.

In question is whether millions in tax dollars that flow into the eight Summit Academy charter schools in Ohio owned by Peter DiMezza of Akron have been properly obtained and used. (“School fund sham?” by Reginald Fields, Akron Beacon-Journal, 5/12/02)

Bruno Manno, a well-known “choice” proponent, admits to one charter’s “accounting irregularities, governance tiffs, and overreporting of enrollments”:

The new D.C. school board moved during the 2001-’02 school year to close three other schools chartered by the previous board. They had an array of problems: overcrowded classrooms with little ventilation, high absentee rates, few textbooks and other instructional materials, abysmal academic results, and failure to file financial reports and to offer the advertised courses. (“Yellow Flag,” Education Next, Winter 2003)

Bruno Manno’s solution to the crisis cited above? The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, who will press for “results” and “accountability” in “choice.” “Results” and “accountability” are sacred to education reform ideology. It doesn’t matter how the results are obtained. It just matters that they are obtained.

Waivers are a crisis waiting to happen. This is by design. Troubles will erupt as a natural result of this intentional design flaw. It only takes one big headline disaster for a national push to institutionalize education reform mandates on all “choice” options, including the last bastions of truly free choice: homeschools and private schools. This is why it is so imperative for “choice” reformers to broaden the definition of homeschooling. Once there is a well-publicized calamity – say, for example, with a cybercharter that superficially resembles homeschooling -- the reformers fully intend to start the drumbeat for more onerous governmental regulations, oversight, and intrusions on all choice, not just public “choice.” No child shall be left behind.

Waivers for Favors

There is another convenient loophole in charter waiver design. Disasters, such as the ones cited above, surprisingly do not result in bad charter operators put out of business or their schools shut down. This is because waivers for “choice” always come with favors for “choice.” Politics is the name of the game. In return for being granted certain “waivers” which benefit business interests, the innovators turn their profits into political action -- especially highly financed, well-oiled political action committees. This political action translates directly into advocacy for education reform measures including, of course, more “choice.”

Stories have appeared in the press about enormous campaign contributions, political pay-offs, potential conflicts of interest and other sleazy political maneuvers. Private foundations, public policy groups, “choice” advocacy organizations, education officials and “choice” operators move back and forth across the “choice spectrum, serving in various roles and capacities which promote an agenda that profits them directly. (See for one pertinent story.) In exchange for political favors ($$$) charter operators have been granted business waivers ($$$).

The most notorious “choice” tycoon is David Brennan of White Hat Management. His saga, which traverses the “choice” spectrum from the Cleveland vouchers to charters, was recorded in a 1999 Akron Beacon-Journal article series by reporters Dennis J. Willard and Doug Oplinger (“In education, money talks,” 12/13/99). An examination of the campaign finance database at the Ohio Secretary of State’s website reveals that since the initial gubernatorial campaign of former-governor George Voinovich, an active “choice” proponent, the Brennan family has contributed over $1.8 million dollars to “conservative” Republican candidates, who in turn greased the political, legislative, legal, judicial and bureaucratic machinery that furthered a “choice” empire. Certain “irregularities” were winked at or ignored, which allowed Brennan to move with ease from a troubled voucher initiative directly into charters. In a PBS interview, Brennan reveals how the squeaky wheel got greased:

Combining all those reasons together we decided to close our voucher schools as of June [1999], and coincidentally, charter legislation permitted us to open schools in those same locations and that’s what we did. But I probably feel more forcefully than I ever have that vouchers are the answer for the problem. Charters are a way station on the way to getting full choice through vouchers. [emphasis added] (“The Battle Over School Choice, Frontline, 2000,

It is not a coincidence that Brennan’s White Hat Management has now created its own version of a cybercharter, the Alternative Education Academy (also known as OHDELA). OHDELA chose a target marketing strategy identical to William Bennett’s, i.e., capitalizing on the reputation of homeschoolers.

The “waivers for favors” system creates financial windfalls for charter operators, and there are immediate political repercussions. Mom and pop homeschoolers who live on one income can’t begin to compete with this Goliath. Perhaps this situation wouldn’t be very serious if, indeed, the cyberschool merchants were truly “friends” of homeschoolers. But, as the record will show (see Part 3), the very men who are proponents of “choice” are also sounding the loudest drumbeats for “results,” “standards,” “accountability,” and “assessments.” Their “choice” is not true choice – the choice that homeschoolers currently enjoy now. Their “choice” is government “choice,” which is no choice at all. And cybercharters are the perfect look-alike instrument with which to foist this reform agenda upon an unsuspecting and naïve homeschooling community.

The real threat to public education does not come from the tiny remnant of mom and pop homeschool families. The real threat to traditional public education comes from the new “choice” of the education reformers. Canned “choice” is activating key elements of education reform that will change local community-based public schools forever. It is the best tool ever devised for such a purpose because 1) it perfectly deceives the public, 2) it creates crises (through the use of waivers), and 3) pre-determined solutions are waiting in the wings.

“Choice” proponents knew all along that there would be fiscal and educational disasters with experimental schooling options. They even knew about personal safety and sanitation dangers to children. Nevertheless for over a decade now, “choice” proponents have been continuing their push for waivers, for innovations and “break the mold” schooling. To the public, the “choice” proponents cite guarantees of excellence in education, point to high “standards,” parental freedom to choose what is best for their children, and “free market” checks and balances. But, when they write amongst themselves in the higher echelons of public policy institutes, think tanks and education periodicals, they speak a different language – that of education reform. In the rarified air of education bureaucratic lingo, another agenda is at work

Tests Drive the Reform Engine

“Choice” is an acceptable form of education reform because it is part of the “system.” The reason it is part of the system is simple: the test. Before proceeding, it is necessary to review the basics about education reform. In a nutshell, education reform is a SYSTEM (womb to tomb) founded upon a METHOD (operant conditioning). The system runs via a FEEDBACK MECHANISM (assessment test) that is DATABANKED (computer-stored). STANDARDS set the criteria for measuring the degree to which rewards and penalties are bestowed to the child, teacher, school, district and state. The most essential component of a smooth-running education reform system is a well-devised assessment test. The test drives the entire reform engine. Little Johnny or Susie sit at their desk and answer questions on this assessment. These answers are then fed into a databank, processed, and regurgitated in the form of rewards or penalties to student, teacher, school officials, school building, and school district.

Since the 1980s, when the national testing agenda rose to prominence, testing has been one of the least understood aspects of the education reform plan. The public thinks they are getting old-fashioned achievement tests that measure academic progress. But the education reform tests “assess” a child’s progress not only on academics, but also their political correctness, worldview, beliefs, opinions, values and attitudes. These tests have state-prescribed “correct” answers to questions that formerly were considered private and personal matters. And these tests are now “high stakes,” which means that rewards and penalties are attached to them.

For perhaps thousands of years teachers and tutors have employed tests as a way to measure what a child has actually learned. Does Joey know that 2+2=4? A simple mathematical quiz will quickly reveal Joey’s strengths and deficiencies in knowledge of subject matter. A competent teacher will then review the material with Joey and make sure he learns the answers that he has missed. This type of academic test is non-standardized and purely academic. Curriculum-based tests used to operate the same way, simply identifying the degree to which the student had learned the subject matter covered in the book. The advent of standardized tests began to change all of this. Standardized academic achievement tests were an instrument that told parents and teachers how well their children were performing on certain subjects as compared to their peers.

Since the days of John Dewey, a certain segment in the upper echelons of education have sought to reform education so that it would become a vehicle to transform society, particularly towards a form of socialism. Today, the reformers will argue that education must socialize children, prepare them for the global workforce, teach them interpersonal skills and equip them for lifelong learning. All of these goals have attitudinal, values-laden components which are then embedded into the standards and assessments. Embedding these worldviews in psycho-social assessments ensures that they will become integrated into American life and culture within a decade or two. The obvious trouble with such a grand scheme is obvious – not all Americans share the same values, attitudes, opinions, beliefs and feelings. The assessment testing mandate ensures that the next generation of children will conform like clones to this government-prescribed mindset.

If little Johnny or Susie answers too many questions incorrectly, including the value-laden questions, he/she won’t pass the test. The repercussions for this will be felt all the way up the line. Make no mistake about it: the onus rests on the child. And children know it. Stories of children being frightened to the point of physical illness have been repeated around the country. News accounts have reported on teaching to the test, excessive preoccupation with test preparation, and even cheating on tests. Everything hinges on “the test.” This is what “accountability” is all about.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP, or “The Nation’s Report Card”) is the gold standard for all U.S. assessments. Under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) federal education reform act, state standards and assessments must become aligned with federal requirements. To make sure that this will be accomplished properly, the feds now carry a big stick. All states must have submitted accountability plans to the U.S. Department of Education by the end of January 2003. The law forces states to show improvement or face tough consequences, including loss of federal dollars. Everybody from Johnny and Susie on up will receive “report cards.” These report cards are peddled to an unsuspecting public as a reliable method of ascertaining a school’s academic progress. The report cards are used by everyone from mayors promoting communities to corporations, to real estate salespersons selling neighborhoods. In reality, however, the report cards are all based on the psycho-social assessment scores of little Johnny and little Susie.

High stakes testing is currently designed to hold a child’s school accountable for meeting state and federal standards. Under the NCLB Act, in the first year of poor performance, the school will have to improve itself. In the second year, children will be given the option to transfer to another school. Third and fourth year penalties become increasingly excessive and coercive. The second year of the penalties phase could be a windfall for charter operators. This is when parents, who are deceived by the “report card” scores (thinking them to be indicative of academic failure), or dismayed by the reduction in school funding, may throw up their hands in exasperation and decide to try charters or other vehicles of “choice.”

The “choice” promoters are waiting in the wings to receive little Johnny and Susie into their cybercoffers. These “choice” options, however, are not true “choice.” Charter schools give assessment tests because that has now become an essential part of the definition of “public” school. Therefore, children will not escape assessments, or the curriculum that produces “success,” simply by transferring over to a new school. But they might escape the penalties – for now. Children cannot escape the test. No matter where they go, the test will be there.

Databanking Devices

The scores from little Johnny and Susie’s NAEP tests travel to a databank – and beyond.3 How far beyond has never been divulged to the public. The key point is that the government, along with various contractors and subcontractors, all have access to the test question data of its citizenry from tests that are not simply academic, but also psycho-social in nature. Big Brother knows what your children are thinking, feeling, believing, and valuing.

Databanking the assessment results is the key to education reform. Everything hinges on the databank. Each year, or series of years, the databank is updated to reflect a child’s new scores. These scores are compared to prior scores, rewards and penalties are meted out, and the “progress” of children toward a national standard is recorded. Curriculum and educational processes that produce “success” are given the government’s stamp of approval as “programs that work” and federal dollars follow.

Groups of citizens have valiantly tried for several decades, legislatively and through the courts, without much success, to stop this flow of intimate information. Significantly, national “conservative” leaders and organizations have by and large not only failed to support these citizens, but have actually stood in their way or sabotaged their efforts. National “liberal” organizations have proven to be equally untrustworthy. While “left” and “right” mucky-mucks were locked in spurious battles over turf, semantics and outcomes, the real issue is the significant loss individual freedom and privacy, and the encroaching power of the state.

One might have assumed that the supposedly politically conservative “choice” proponents would oppose such a gargantuan governmental intrusion into the deepest recesses of the human mind, especially when it involves mass coercion on a scale not seen since Stalin. Such is not the case. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Chester Finn, a close colleague of William Bennett’s, and staunch “choice” advocate, has written:

For too long, U.S. education has lacked meaningful standards and avoided real accountability. Thankfully, this is starting to change.

The quest for educational accountability relies on a three-legged stool: standards, assessments, and consequences.

…How do we know if a student, teacher, or school is meeting the standards? Tests, directly linked to the standards, are critical.

…Finally, standards and tests must be coupled with consequences. (“Standards, Testing & Accountability,”

Dr. Chester E. Finn, Jr., is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation which is an education reform group specializing in “choice,” “accountability,” and “standards.” Finn was Assistant Secretary for Research and Improvement (OERI) at the U.S. Department of Education from 1985-88, during Bennett’s tenure as Secretary of Education. Finn has written exhaustively over the past decade about the use of assessment tests in education reform, focusing a great deal of attention on “accountability.” It was Chester Finn who is largely credited with authoring the original education reform plan, America 2000. Ironically, even though he has ironclad credentials as one of the chief architects and promoters of education reform, Finn is cast as a political conservative by the education establishment and the media. This is in part due to the fact that he is pro- “choice.” But he is also a master at writing “you have to do it this way” pieces that tweak liberal democrat positions.

In 1992 Finn wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Clear standards can be the centerpiece of radical change.” (3/23/92). A few years later Finn joined the chorus for “local control” and downsizing the U.S. Department of Education, a politically conservative rallying cry. He explains how this could work:

It's time -- past time -- to “send education home,” in Mr. [Lamar] Alexander's phrase. The schools cannot be fixed in Washington. They are the proper work of states, localities, teachers and parents.... What should remain in Washington? Not a lot: statistics; perhaps a bit of research; the assessment of student performance at the international, national and state levels.... [Emphasis added] (“A Primer for Education Reform,” Wall Street Journal, 1/13/95)

Colleagues William Bennett and Lamar Alexander, both former U.S. Secretaries of Education from Republican administrations, agreed on the same agenda in a speech before Congress:

The gathering, analysis and reporting of education statistics would be placed under the jurisdiction of the National Education Goals Panel, consisting of governors, legislators, members of Congress and senior officials of the executive branch. Assessment of student achievement at the international, national and state levels would become the unambiguous responsibility of a rehabilitated National Assessment Governing Board, overseen in turn by the Goals Panel. (Empower America, “Abolishing the Department of Education in Order to Liberate Parents and Schools,” A joint statement by former Secretaries of Education Lamar Alexander and William J. Bennett, delivered to a House committee, Jan. 26, 1995.

In short, everything would fall under a federal entity overseeing assessment testing. Three of the country’s foremost “choice” proponents – Alexander, Bennett and Finn -- were lauded across the country by Republican conservatives for their call to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education. In response, vitriolic pieces were written by education journals and public policy institutes from the Left, decrying this agenda. This artificial debate in the media masked the real plan that these men were advocating – the databank. This is what Finn, Bennett and Alexander wanted leftover after disbanding the U.S. Department of Education in Washington: the centralization of statistics, research and assessment performance results.

The federal databank is a hungry creature. There are children “left behind” whose assessment scores are not yet recorded. Bennett, Alexander and Finn promote “choice” because they know that charter schools function perfectly to fill in the gaps, catching more children in the web. When parents are enticed away from private schools and homeschools to place their children into charters, their children are then tested and entered into the government databank. Charter schools, because they are public schools, administer assessments to children. Charter schools promise to deliver better test scores, which means that they must teach in a way that meets or exceeds the new standards. Many, including Bennett, brag that their curriculum is aligned to state (meaning federal) standards.

Assessment test results feed the databank. As long as children become effectively indoctrinated with the proper academic and psycho-social attitudes, values, beliefs, opinions and ideas, the reform engine chugs along merrily, eagerly gobbling up new scores. Part 3 of this report will reveal the staggering extent to which these three men and their cohorts have engineered and advanced this facet of the education reform agenda.

The conclusion is inescapable. The purpose is control of an entire population of children, including their teachers, through the use of coercive and punitive government-sanctioned methods – based on the databanking of test scores. Leading education reformers have never hidden this agenda. But neither have they trumpeted it openly. One has to dig through the massive reams of reform documents, public policy papers, think tank reports and government papers to see the full picture. Excerpts from these key documents can be found in the deliberate dumbing down of America: A Chronological Paper Trail by Charlotte Iserbyt (

The No Child Left Behind Act has openly instituted the utopian (but totalitarian) systemic changes envisioned by the leading reformers of the past several decades. Fully implemented “choice” has the capability to change traditional public schools beyond recognition. Educators might agree now with the politically and ideologically “correct” assumptions underlying the psycho-social testing instruments. But will they agree with these ideas as they evolve in the future? What if they dislike the government-prescribed psycho-social-political curriculum of cookie-cutter schools in the future? Where will they be able to send their children when there are no more true choices?

Full “choice” intends to wipe out the remaining bastions of true choice. If homeschool and private school parents lose the right to truly choose an education for their children, then this right has been lost forever in America.

Part 3: William Bennett and the De-Valuing of America: Databanking and Accountability

*See “The Pizza Choice Game.”

2. See chapter 9, “’Cognitive’ versus ‘Academic’: A Critical Distinction,” Eakman, B.K. Educating for the New World Order (Portland, OR: Halcyon House, 1991), p. 65-69.
3. “When Johnny Takes the Test,” by Melanie K. Fields, Sarah H. Leslie, and Anita B. Hoge. See
4. Ibid.

Part 3: Bill Bennett and the De-Valuing of America: Accountability and Homeschooling

Part 3 of The “Choice” Charade, a 3D Research report

Those who set the standards and define the terms will rule the systems. Those who manage the resources and determine the consequences of failure will control their “partners” and enforce compliance. The promise of “local control” is meaningless when federal funding is tied to federal standards and policies.1

The Two Sides to William Bennett

William Bennett, like the Greek god, Janus, has two sides to his face. Bennett has carefully cultivated a persona in the media as Mr. Virtues -- a highly respected leader who is seen speaking out on behalf of fine character and strong academics. Bennett is the epitome, if not caricature, of the consummate moral conservative – always on some new quest to save America from moral decay. These moral crusades endear Bennett not only to the religious and political right, but enhance his reputation across a broad swath of mainstream America. Friends and foes alike assume that this side to Bennett’s face is the only side. But it isn’t.

The other face of Bennett/Janus is less public and not well known. The fact is that Bennett has always been a proponent of radical education reform – the same kind of reform first promoted by William Spady, Willard Daggett, David Hornbeck, Robert Marzano and others. Consistently, throughout his public life, Bennett has trumpeted stringent governmental controls. Bennett’s full record in these matters is only known by education reform insiders and “sold out” radical reform promoters. Teachers and parents do not know this. To learn the facts one must scrutinize the education periodicals and journals, government documents, and reports issued by public policy institutes and think tanks.

Bennett mixes his own brand of character, values and virtue with the heavy-handed measures of reform. Bennett and his reform colleagues probably hold sincere beliefs that the world will become a better place if they institute high standards, put in place accountability structures, and mandate measurable results. However, their plan also includes strong-armed penalties for non-compliance, something already previewed in the No Child Left Behind federal education reform legislation. This plan firmly places the locus of control into the hands of an omnipresent and intrusive state.

The less well-known side to Bennett encompasses far more than education reform. It extends into political, economic, philosophical and cultural issues as well. It involves a group of people who share Bennett’s ideologies and who work alongside Bennett to achieve their societal reform aims. This segment of the report will only focus on education matters. In particular, this section examines what Bennett has actually said and done pertaining to homeschooling, accountability, and values. Surprisingly, this has much to do with government schools, too.

“Choice” – A Catalyst for Reform

“Choice,” despite its pretensions, is a mechanism to empower the state, not the individual. An early state plan for education restructuring described “choice” as a “catalyst” for reform:

Choice is one way to initiate changes in the system…. Public school choice should not be considered an end in itself but rather a means to a variety of outcomes… catalyst for school improvement… research shows that for choice to be effective, it must first be linked to… other restructuring strategies and policy changes. (“School Choice Task Force Report,” HB3565 Oregon Educational Act for the 21st Century, 1/93, p. 2)

“Choice” intends to: 1) extinguish traditionally structured public education, and 2) eradicate homeschooling as it is currently legally sanctioned. An artfully contrived false dichotomy emerges when this kind of statement is made. There is cheerleading from the Left, from those who are more than happy to kill homeschooling rights. And there is applause from the Right, from some who believe that public education should falter and fail.

Let the homeschoolers beware! Let the public educators beware! Neither is the true enemy of the other! Yet, each is being manipulated by “choice” proponents to assist in the destruction of the other. In truth, “choice” is the real enemy. It is the sledgehammer to be used to drive a fatal stake into homeschooling. It will also irrevocably restructure the intrinsic governance of public education – amputating it completely from its life support system of parental and local control, severing teachers from the last vestiges of independence and self-determination.

The No Child Left Behind Act ensures that “choice” will be on the receiving end of public dollars and students when public schools begin to collapse under the weight of the severe penalties imposed in a few short years. Waiting in the wings to salvage the damage will be innovative “choice” structures such as charters, cybercharters, tuition tax credits, vouchers, and many deceptive and innovative hybrids. Eventually, these “options” will tether every child individually to the state, imposing “accountability” and “responsibility” mandates upon teachers, schools, districts, and families.

Within the homeschool community there are already a few families lining up for a “piece of the pie” – federal or state dollars in the form of tuition tax credits, reimbursements, scholarships, vouchers, charters, tutoring, and the many hybrids of these “choice” options. There is also an influx of non-homeschoolers arriving on the scene, borrowing the term but sporting brand new, publicly-funded trappings. The next few years are going to be treacherous and dangerous for homeschoolers. Traditional homeschoolers, who do not want state money, nor the accompanying “accountability,” are already finding themselves threatened by this new wave of “choice” coming in like a flood. It may come as a shock when homeschoolers see certain leaders exchange hard-fought homeschool rights and freedoms in favor of these new “choice” perks. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises will be William Bennett.

“More Teeth”

In an article entitled “Virtual Charter Schools Face Opposition From Unlikely Source,” published at a website on August 13, 2002, reporter Jessice Cantelon records that opposition to William Bennett’s K12 virtual academies (cybercharters) has come from both sides of the education spectrum – the National Education Association (NEA, teacher’s union) and homeschoolers. The NEA refered to Bennett’s K12 as “taxpayer ‘facilitated home schooling.’” Tom Washburne of the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a homeschool legal advocacy group, warned that “the political presence that you need to fight back the regulations on home education” would be undermined by virtual charters. Carefully treading a fine line between fact and distortion, a K12 official responded to Washburn’s statement:

Jeff Kwitowski, Bennett’s press secretary, dismissed that argument, insisting that government is only intruding on the K12 concept by requiring state funding and tests to measure student performance. Bennett is “not going to let any state politics or any education gurus come in and try to alter things and change things,” Kwitowski said.

In a radio interview with Mark Standriff of WSPD radio in Toledo, Ohio (August 16, 2002), Bennett described his view on publicly-funded “choice” after some objections were raised by homeschoolers. Note carefully how Bennett links public money to the concept of “accountability”:

… [T]he principle I’m defending, Mark, is school choice… parental choice. The objection that they have is that it shouldn’t be involved in public funding at all. It shouldn’t be involved with government schools, as they say. But, I’m not prepared to relinquish $400 billion and just say, well never mind, that’s not the money that I’m entitled to. Parents are paying that money in taxes, they should have an option within the public school system that gives them a chance to educate their children at home, but be publicly accountable as all public schools should be….

Bennett expounded on his view of accountability in the same radio interview:

B: …We’ve had some very good meetings in Ohio with your commissioner of education, Zelman, and others, who are saying, “Look, we need results. We have got to get results.” People are tired of defending a system which is, you know, not getting results. And, we can do that. We can provide results, because of the quality of the program….

S: One of the issues that comes up is, obviously, accountability…. And here in Ohio we have proficiency tests. Do the K12 students, the Ohio Virtual Academy students, get a chance to take those proficiency tests along with the public school students?

B: Yes they do.

S: Why are those administered?

B: That’s part of the accountability…. We want our kids to take those tests for two reasons. We think, since its public money, they should be accountable. This is public education. Second, we think the kids in the Ohio Virtual Academy are going to do very well on these tests and their parents are going to be very pleased that they put them through it.

These statements, made during the past year while promoting his K12 cybercharter concept, reveal Bennett’s philosophy about standards, accountability, and testing. At first glance these remarks could be chalked up to the assumption that Bennett, in trying to appease aroused public officials, was simply towing the reform party line. However, the record will show that Bennett has a lifelong public record of calling for “more teeth” – stricter standards, measurable results, accountability, high stakes assessment testing, and state-imposed rewards and penalties based on compliance.

In an article about the growing opposition to cybercharters around the country detailing “lax academic standards and financial accountability,” Bennett disclosed,

There are some crappy cyber schools setting up, and we are as interested as the states are in seeing that they don’t survive….The more scrutiny, the better…. Nothing will put us out of business faster than bad cyber charter schools. (“Cyber schools fill a niche for parents, kids,” V. Dion Haynes, Chicago Tribune, 12/01/02)

Bernie Hanlon, head of the California Virtual Academy, one of Bennett’s cybercharters, echoed these sentiments.

“There have been a lot of abuses in California,” Mr. Hanlon said during an interview…. “Any law that strengthens accountability in California is good. We’re just going to dance with it.” (“Calif. Charter-Funding Fight Hits Home,” Caroline Hendrie, Ed Week,

In an Ohio newspaper article pertaining to the K12 cybercharters, Bennett again linked public dollars to accountability.

Bennett said he would like to see “more teeth” in all school regulations. “I’d be happy to see more accountability and standards,” he said. “We’re using public money.” (“School program has big booster,” Kymberli Hagelberg, Akron Beacon-Journal, 8/24/02)

“Accountability,” as defined under education reform measures involves testing and meeting state-imposed curriculum standards. This is anathema to homeschoolers for a variety of reasons – most notably, but not limited to, deeply held religious, ideological and/or political beliefs. Bennett’s remarks demonstrate a total lack of consideration and respect for homeschoolers’ choices and convictions.

Homeschoolers see increased “accountability” – the reporting, approval, assessment, evaluation, and state supervision of their home education process -- as a means to strip away the freedoms which have made homeschooling so effective. Homeschoolers have been successful because they rely on time-honored, private accountability structures – “home-grown” collaborations which include local community, church, extended family, support groups, health care practitioners, private tutors, and the list could go on and on. Homeschoolers do not live under rocks, as many critics have supposed; rather they have built up complex and extended cultural networks. The fact that homeschoolers have been so openly engaged in society has actually served them well over the years, endearing them to many who formerly opposed the concept.

Homeschoolers have traditionally been a fiercely independent group: not on welfare, not on the public dole, not on the public roll, receiving charity from private sources when needed. All of this is set to change. The bait is set, the lure is cast. Will they bite?

Opening the Floodgates

New “choice” alternatives, such as William Bennett’s cybercharter concept, pose a direct challenge to traditional homeschooling in America. One homeschool leader expressed concern about the erosion within the homeschooling ranks:

Some public school opponents of private home education have openly stated that their desire is to get a majority of home educators to sign up under public school-controlled programs like the Charter Schools and the Independent Study Programs. They have further stated that when a large enough percentage have done this, that they will hopefully (in their eyes) have little problem in “cracking down” legally on those of us who home school privately…. The further popularity of charter schools… with home educators could help undermine the freedoms we all enjoy. (“Charter Schools and ISPs: Promise or Hidden Threat?”, Roy M. Hanson, Jr., CHEA)

Echoing this concern, the Ohio Home Education Coalition issued an alert in August 2002:

One school district official told a reporter at that Columbus meeting that there are 800 homeschoolers in his district. “If we can convince just 20% to participate in our version of e-schools, we will be successful.” Successful in what way? Is enrolling homeschoolers just about stopping the financial bleed? Or, successful in getting “homeschoolers” to cave in to state pressure where they heretofore have not? Successful in claiming a newly developing definition of “homeschooling” – a definition to be determined by the mere building and with officials imposing many of the same demands required when one is physically present in the classroom? Sucessful in dividing and ultimately conquering homeschooling?

Because homeschooling has traditionally been a movement of the religious faithful and/or extraordinarily dedicated parents, it may become earmarked for extinction as “choice” becomes more widespread and popular. Many fear that the mass entrance of families without strong convictions into home-based “choice” models, dilutes the strength of the movement. They have concerns about preserving the integrity of homeschooling and separating it distinctly apart from the new, publicly-funded, “choice” counterfeits. They also worry that those with lesser conviction are easier to sway, particularly when offered the “carrot” of money, such as tuition reimbursements, “freebies,” and other enticements. One educator, noting the shift in ideology, has remarked that “home schooling” is “now about parents spending quality time with their children and giving them the best opportunity for a quality education.” (Kelly Painter of Calvert, quoted in “Blacks turn to home-schooling,” Ellen Sorokin, Washington Times, 2/9/03)

It is now clear that not only are homeschoolers part of the targeted market for Bennett’s cybercharters, but public school students are as well. This expanded marketing could potentially have disastrous effects upon government classrooms. It could also bring in a huge influx of new, home-based, publicly-funded, cybercharter students into the ranks of those who call themselves “homeschoolers.” Education Week reported last fall (10/24/01) on K12’s cash-flow and investors, and the new need to focus on the public market.

Home-schooled students number about 2 million, said Jim McVetty, an analyst who tracks K12 for Boston-based EduVentures, an education industry firm. But that’s not a big enough pool, he argued. “Even if they’re looking at a quarter of that market share, that’s not a huge market,” he said….

The big prize, of course, would be to sign up sizable chunks of the 53 million [public students]. (“Bennett’s Online Education Venture,” Andrew Trotter)

A related but more recent article chronicles K12’s $20 million round of new financing, led by Constellation Ventures of New York:

Dennis Miller, managing partner at Constellation Ventures, said the K12 investment is consistent with all of his firm’s criteria. “K12 is a rapidly growing company focused on untapped markets with unique distribution systems,” Miller said. “William Bennett has an exemplary record in the education sector and he and the other premier individuals involved with the company have spent a lot of time developing a world class curriculum that can be delivered in a cost-effective way. The company has been on a significant growth curve during the last two years.

In the same article Peter Stokes, executive vice-president of EduVentures, confirms the new marketing strategy directed towards public students,

“There are indications from both the supply and demand side that suggest this is an emerging opportunity.”

…Stokes said that K12 had originally focused on the home-schooling market, but might find additional revenues from selling its content as a supplement for students in traditional schools.

About 1.5 million students are being home-schooled now, Stokes said. “That’s not insignificant, but it’s not huge,” he added. “The larger opportunity for K12 might be in providing supplemental Web-based content to families whose children attend traditional bricks-and-mortar charter schools.” (“Bennett-run startup gets $20M,” Tyson Freeman,

In launching the K12 virtual academies, Bennett has set his cybercharter oceanliner on a course towards the deep, dangerous and uncharted waters of education reform. He and his “choice” compatriots have intentionally roped on the tiny flotilla of homeschooling families, towing them on this voyage out to sea. The waves will come up and the waters will get rough. At some point the rope may be severed. Homeschoolers will have to make a decision. They can abandon their crafts and board the “choice” vessel. Or face life-threatening waves of “penalties.”

The definition of the term “homeschooling” is becoming so leaky, given the intrusion of cybercharters and their many publicly-funded hybrids that also claim to be “homeschooling,” that the tug on the tether to Bennett’s “choice” ship is beginning to be felt. Beware of friendly architects who attempt to board the homeschool ship and fix the “leaky” legal definition of homeschooling! The slightest error in the mending could sink the boat when it takes to water!

At the same time, the great Titanic of public education is now hurtling at break-neck speed through uncharted waters towards an iceberg of heavy-handed federalism. Even now, with implementation of No Child Left Behind, schools are beginning to feel the impact of the insurmountable standards, the crunch of impassable assessments, and the collision of federal mandates with human frailties and lack of funding. The lifeboats from this sinking ship all head in one direction – to “choice.”

Public school officials are understandably hot under the collar about the lack of state oversight of charter schools. They reason: If we have to bend over backwards to meet the onerous requirements of state and federal regulations, then why not everybody else? The drumbeat for more accountability for charter schools has already begun. Homeschoolers could be included in this call. One example lashes “home schooling” onto charters.

An unfolding “elitist” movement in U.S. education is a message that needs to be heard regarding charter schools and home schooling, says an Auglaize County Educational Service Center official.

Charter schools that have public accountability are not the issue, [the official] said; rather, the issue is when schools access the public’s money but don’t have to provide public accountability, he said pointing to home schooling.

“There’s no accountability,” the superintendent said. “Where we miss it – we don’t ask every kid in the state to pass proficiency tests.”

The institution of charter schools like home schooling tends to “divorce” the community from the pride of its schools, [the official] said. (“’Elitism’ worries official,” by Melissa Warren, Wapokoneta Daily News, 11/22/02.) [emphasis added]

The West Virginia Education Association issued a blunt alert on January 31, 2003, decrying the lack of accountability for homeschoolers. “Home school students should be tested just like students in public schools,” it read. This group urged their membership to “support a requirement that would mandate that students who fail to achieve standards for two consecutive years return to public schools.” ( Unfortunately, this state teachers’ union is shooting at the wrong enemy. The real threat to public education is posed by the new “choice” entities.

Homeschoolers should not look to Bennett for support when push comes to shove. It is true that Bennett has carefully cultivated an image as the virtuous friend and ally of homeschoolers. He has hobnobbed with the leadership of the homeschooling community for well over a decade now, schmoozing with the state and national leaders. An article in Ed Week even cited a favorable review of Bennett’s K12 by a notable homeschool leader:

“I think there is a new breed of home schooler coming into the movement who will find this kind of service attractive, especially as it expands to the older grades,” said Michael P. Farris, the chairman of the Home School Legal Defense Association and the president of Patrick Henry College, a small institution aimed at children who were home-schooled. (“Former Education Secretary Starts Online-Learning Venture,” Mark Walsh, January 10, 2001)

However, HSLDA has since published a strong admonition against charter schools (Jan./Feb. 2002), which unfortunately does not mention Bennett or his company by name ( The cover story, “Charter schools: the price is too high,” warned,

…virtual charter schools are supporting home schooling in name only. Parents who enroll their children in these virtual charter schools are actually creating small public schools in their home.

The accompanying article, “Charter schools: look before you leap!” worried,

…as the number of private home schoolers becomes smaller than those enrolled in public programs, we will see a new attack upon the precious freedoms so many pioneering private home schoolers and organizations worked so hard to establish and defend. There is a growing attempt to marginalize private home schoolers as a radical and unreasonable element of a larger “reasonable” group that understands the need for government help and supervision by certified experts.

Bennett’s eagerness to conform to state standards and requirements (not to mention state monies), in combination with his aggressive marketing strategies, could easily propel his cybercharters into a leading role as the champion of this more “reasonable” group. In late August of 2002, an Ohio homeschooler interviewed William Bennett after one of his public presentations promoting the Ohio Virtual Academy. In private correspondence to other homeschool parents, she wrote,

I asked him if he is at war for charter schools, is he willing to allow homeschooling to be a casualty of that war?

He didn’t answer directly, but again mentioned how much he loves homeschoolers. Hmmmm. Funny way of showing it.

Bennett’s Record on Homeschooling

Most homeschool parents do not scour William Bennett’s writings in the education journals, his public policy documents, or analyze his life’s work. To do so reveals the startling revelation that Bennett has never truly been a friend of homeschooling -- at least not the kind of homeschooling currently allowed by law across America. Rather, his concept of homeschooling has always come with tight government strings attached – aligning to state curriculum standards, requiring assessments, and being held accountable for state-determined results. The following historical record gives indication of Bennett’s enmity towards homeschoolers.

On January 2, 1986, then-Secretary of Education William Bennett was the subject of a lengthy interview by columnist John Lofton of the Washington Times. This interview was subsequently entered into the Congressional Record on March 7th of the same year. In this shocking interview, when asked specifically about his views on homeschools and Christian schools, Bennett responded,

A: I think in either of those cases the state does have a minimal interest in assuring that (a) the institution is an educational institution, that something that calls itself educational really is – and that cuts a lot of ways, putting a great burden on all sorts of schools – and (b) that the so-called school is not being used as something else – that is, that you draw a distinction between the homeschooler and the parent who wants to keep a kid out of school to do something that doesn’t have anything to do with the child’s education.

Q: But we know that what the state calls a “minimal interest” has a way of growing into a larger interest. Are you saying the state has a right to test those who go to Christian and home schools, and if the kids don’t meet the state’s testing qualifications, then the state can shut these schools down?

A: The reading and math test, yes. If enough of the kids are doing fine – reading at a level that is at least as good as the average in the rest of the state, however it is set up – that’s fine. Then you leave them alone.

Q: But you support the right of the state to set these testing standards?

A: Yeah.

Q: And if the Christian or home school falls beneath the state’s testing standards, then the state has the right to close these schools down?

A: I would say if you have a private school, in the home or under the auspices of a church, and your failure rate for students falls below the average in the state, I think the state could close them down, yeah. It’s not educating. Close it down.

These remarks provide an early example of Bennett’s advocacy of state-prescribed penalties for lack of “accountability.” When pressed on the legal concept of “minimal interest,” Bennett responded that “Some parents abuse their children. The state has a right to protect those children from those parents” – an astonishing statement which equates home and Christian education to child abuse. Bennett then proceeded to underscore these views:

Q: But why would you defend the right of the state to set testing standards when one reason a lot of parents want to send their kids to private school is because they reject the state’s standards?

A: For the same reason I send in the cops when I find out a kid has been locked in the closet for three months.

Q: But that is a criminal act. Why do you liken home schools or Christian schools that are not state-tested to a criminal act?

A: No, educational abuse of children – if you’re not teaching your children what they need to know to survive in this world….

This is horrifying revelation. Bennett, a Harvard-educated lawyer, responded to Lofton’s inquiry about “minimal interest” and state standards by likening homeschool parents to child abusers! The second answer reveals Bennett’s belief that it is “educational abuse” to reject state standards. He then likens educational abuse to child abuse and neglect – locking a child up in a closet! In a legal sense, he is saying that parents who reject state standards should be viewed in the same way as parents who torture or starve their children.

These words are chilling. Although an extensive search has been conducted, so far no record has been found to indicate that Bennett has ever distanced himself from these words, or repented of them. In the current education reform climate, where failure to meet standards and demonstrate accountability is laced with penalties, these words appear even more ominous. Should those parents who reject state standards be penalized under child abuse laws? Homeschoolers have every reason to be concerned.

Just to be sure that he heard Bennett correctly, Lofton followed up on his interview a few weeks later.

...I asked Mr. Bennett, again, the same question:

Where does the state get the right to shut down a private Christian school or a home school? And I got the same fuzzy answer.

When I pressed him three times on this alleged right of the state, Mr. Bennett said he would have some of his department’s lawyers give me the answer to this question. (“A threat to private schools?”, Washington Times, April 30, 1986)

The context of this interview, conducted in 1986, is of particular interest. A bit of historical background from the homeschool movement is necessary. Back in the mid-1980s, when homeschoolers comprised a fledgling group of separatists and homeschooling was by and large still “illegal,” jailing for violation of state truancy laws was considered to be an effective deterrent. In fact, many homeschoolers went to jail during the early days. Truancy laws fall within the realm of criminal court action and are protected by the constitutional provision that one is innocent until proven guilty.

When simple truancy laws proved to be an ineffective deterrent to homeschooling and the movement continued to grow, a more drastic experiment to snuff out homeschooling was then tried in the state of Iowa. A court case (“Barry Bear”) and subsequent pilot legislation attempted to re-categorize homeschooling parents as “child abusers” and their children as “in need of assistance” due to “lack of supervision.” Child abuse laws fell under juvenile court jurisdictions where the deterrent was an ever-present threat that the child would be removed from the home by social workers to become a ward of the state. (Sam Blumenfeld, a noted author and researcher on homeschool issues, published a series of newsletters in the late 1980s and early ‘90s documenting the details of the Iowa situation.2) During the years that the Iowa experiment was being launched, using the Archie Bear family residing on a remote Indian reservation as guinea pigs, William Bennett was secretary of education in the Reagan cabinet. How much did he know about the Iowa plan? Was he instrumental in its formulation?

Perhaps coincidentally, an article was published a year after Bennett’s interview with Lofton, written by the legal counsel for the Iowa Department of Education during that turbulent homeschool era. She expressed views similar to those espoused by Bennett:

Any law that would allow Christians to teach their children without oversight or interference from the state would also allow parents with less worthy motives to lock their children in a closet, use them to babysit for younger siblings, or have them work twelve hours a day in the family hardware store. Opening the door for the lamb allows the lion to enter as well….

Certified teachers are state-mandated child-abuse reporters. When children are allowed to be kept at home, there may be no outside contact, no help for the abused child….

The precarious balance of parents’ rights versus children’s rights should never be struck in favor of the parents. (“Children Are Not Chattel,” Kathy L. Collins, Free Inquiry, Fall 1987)

Bennett on Truancy

Iowa homeschoolers report that during those years the state went to extreme lengths to create further court case precedent to re-define truancy as child abuse, especially targeting families that were presumed to be marginalized (bi-racial, e.g.). Each attempt was thwarted, sometimes in ways that were nothing short of miraculous. Finally, in desperation, state officials created a “phony” homeschooling family. A Vietnam veteran with residual problems was encouraged to begin schooling his children at home by enrolling in “The Des Moines Plan,” an early public school program where children were taught by parents in the home. This somewhat dysfunctional family was obviously not well-suited to educating their children at home. Officials prepared to take the family to court for alleged “truancy” violations, but intended to switch gear in court and charge them under state child abuse laws based on “lack of supervision.” Being forewarned of this intent, the family fled the state in the middle of the night and escaped this action.

This strategy remains a viable option to this day. Cybercharter operators and supporters have freely borrowed the term “homeschooling” even though they are publicly-funded schools that may occur in the home. The stage is being set for homeschoolers to be linked to any crisis that may arise from the highly unregulated charter industry – guilty by association simply because of the expanded use of this term to describe every possible variant of publicly-funded, home-based education. When the regulations, and demands for “accountability” come down, as they inevitably will, homeschoolers could eventually be forced into the public system.

For example, a number of charters specialize in dropouts, truants and otherwise troubled teens, many of whom have been in the juvenile court system. Three charter schools starting up in Toledo, Ohio, target “actual and potential dropout student,” “chronically expelled, suspended, or truant,” and “pregnant students or those with children.” (“Sponsorship of 3 charter schools OKd,” Toledo Blade, 3/24/03). Because these types of cybercharters frequently employ the use of the term “homeschooling” to describe their publicly-funded education, there is growing confusion. A recent article from an Ohio newspaper underscores the mix-up that occurs when homeschoolers are linked to charter schools, dysfunctional families, and child abusers.

[State Senator John Carey] worries that parents who might be guilty of child abuse could be escaping identification and prosecution by pulling their children from public schools under the guise of “home schooling.”

He said it’s possible that parents who believe they are being scrutinized by public school teachers – and could be reported to police or children services authorities for abuse investigations – could pull their children from school to avoid intervention….

Ohio knows almost nothing about its home-schooled children. There may be 60,000 in the state…. And if children in online charter schools are included, the number is much larger….

Akron has received national attention twice in the last two years because of abuse of children who happened to be home-schooled.(“Legislator sees risk in home schooling,” Dennis J. Willard and Doug Oplinger, Akron Beacon-Journal, 05/02/03.)

On whose side will Bennett fall when push comes to shove, and the homeschoolers begin to feel the threats of more state control? Consistent with Bennett’s earlier expressed views on truancy, and perhaps shedding light on his underlying philosophical rationale, is an excerpt from his The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories (Simon & Schuster, 1993). “Plato on Responsibility: From the Crito,” is a dialogue between Socrates and the law, representing the supreme state. Socrates begins by suggesting,

Imagine that I am about to play truant, and the laws and the government come and interrogate me.

The law/state responds,

In the first place did we not bring you into existence. Your father married your mother by our aid and begat you. Say whether you have any objection to urge against those of us who regulate marriage?…. Or against those of us who after birth regulate the nurture and education of children, in which you also were trained?

When Socrates answers in the affirmative, the law/state contends,

Well, then since you were brought into the world and nurtured and educated by us, can you deny in the first place that you are our child and slave, as your fathers were before you? And if this is true you are not on equal terms with us; nor can you think that you have a right to do to us what we are doing to you.

After a bit more dialogue, the law/state then asserts,

And he who disobeys us is… wrong; first, because in disobeying us he is disobeying his parents; secondly, because we are the authors of his education…. (pp. 246-247)

Bennett introduced this passage by commenting that Socrates’ “decision to die remains one of history’s great examples of an individual who believes his first responsibility to his community, his family, and himself is to follow the dictates of a reason-directed conscience.”

Over the years, legislative and court threats have continued to attempt to link homeschooling to truancy, and truancy to child abuse and neglect. Just this year the California legislature is considering SB 950, which

…would add “habitual truancy” to the categories of child abuse and neglect.” SB 950 would result in Child Protective Services (CPS) social workers investigating private homschooling parents any time their children were alleged to be habitual truants (5 absences) by a public school official. (Legal-Legislative Update, Roy M. Hanson, Jr., Private and Home Educators of California, Mar/Apr 2003)

Could “penalties” for noncompliance with education reform mandates be broadened to include the cruel act of removing children from home under child abuse laws? This possibility has already been raised by social reformers, who introduced family “outcomes” in the early 1990s, proposing that these standards be linked to rewards and penalties for parents. There is now a renewed call for parental rights and responsibilities legislation3 – legislation often naively sponsored by homeschool groups – which could set up government-prescribed standards mandating parental “responsibilities,” while at the same time empowering the state with “compelling interest” in parental “rights.” This legislation, in combination with other reform measures, could potentially open a “Pandora’s Box” of new “penalties” for homeschoolers who refuse to meet state standards.

The Drumbeat for Accountability

Over the years, Bennett has consistently expounded upon the theme of “responsibility,” and applied it liberally to parents, children, teachers, administrators and schools. The 1986 Lofton interview reveals that Bennett was an early advocate of the major tenets of education reform – higher standards, increased accountability, widespread assessments, and rewards and punishments. In the context of an extended discussion about a pilot voucher program, Lofton asked,

Q: A recent article in the Texas Law Review suggested holding public schools legally accountable for failure to educate kids in reading, writing and arithmetic. How does that sound to you?

A: I need to think about that. They certainly should be held responsible. But legally responsible? I’d like to pause on that because I don’t know that we need more litigation. Schools that fail to do the job should be closed and boarded up. Those that do the job should be rewarded.

This is another early indication of Bennett’s resolve to issue penalties. In 1987, Bennett called for “more federal spending,… accountability measures,… merit pay, magnet schools and dropout prevention….” He said that the

lack of accountability is the biggest obstacle to improving U.S. schools. The country has stiffer and more immediate penalties for serving rotten hamburger in a restaurant “than for furnishing a thousand school-children with a rotten education.” (“Bennett: Look at how candidates stand on U.S. educational issues,” by Christopher Connell, AP, 9/8/87)

Bennett was an early champion for the outcome-based education model.

But the focus should also be on outcomes, or student achievement – what students actually learn. (“Bennett: fewer books, more brains,” AP, 9/6/87)

It is interesting to note that prior to his appointment as Secretary of Education in 1985 Bennett insisted, “There are few things in which I have less interest than dismantling the Department of Education,” to the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources (“Bennett says he won’t kill Education Department,” Carol Innerst, Washington Times, 1/29/85). In this same article, Bennett called for tuition tax credits and magnet schools, typical “choice” options. Many supposed that the pro-“choice” Bennett would be working to dismantle the U.S. Department of Education, based upon widespread grassroots Republican lobbying of President Reagan. However by 1989, Bennett

told a congressional critic that “largely because of me” it was likely the education slot would stay in the Cabinet. “I made a hell of a commitment,” he said at a Senate hearing, storming back at a liberal Republican who complained about budget cuts. “You just didn’t like the direction. I was damn successful.” (“Bennett’s job could position him well for 1990s,” Walter R. Mears, AP, 9/11/89)

A few years later, Bennett continued on the same themes. Note carefully in the excerpts below how Bennett intertwines “choice” with more accountability.

I believe that to be effective, reform should attack three fundamental flaws in public education: a soft curriculum, a general lack of accountability for results, and a lack of parental choice. (The Devaluing of America: The Fight for Our Culture and Our Children, Summit Books, 1992, p. 61)

A radical reform of education through national standards, merit pay, alternative certification, a core curriculum and, most important, allowing parents to choose the public, private or religious schools to which they send their children. (“America needs cultural renewal,” 4/18/93)

With the publishing of The De-Valuing of America, Bennett continued his call for more accountability through the imposition of education reform measures:

A second key education reform is providing for much greater accountability. Today, there are greater, more certain, and more immediate penalties in this country for serving up a single rotten hamburger than for furnishing a thousand schoolchildren with a rotten education…. [emphasis in original, note the similarity to earlier remarks, ed.]

...[W]e must have ways of identifying and rewarding schools that work, methods that work, and principles and teachers who work. We should… hold them all accountable for the results they achieve. We must have ways of identifying and, if necessary, moving out those who fail to do their jobs and of identifying and rewarding those who do their jobs well…. To determine results we must have true reliable national standards. Students must be tested to those standards and the results (by state, district, and school) should be made public. (pp. 62-63)

At the Department of Education I tried to broaden the public discussion on education reform and get the reform movement out of the hands of the educrats and into the hands of the public. I tried to bring attention to the right issues: high standards and basics, competency for teachers, educational choice, strong curriculum content, homework, sound moral education, and accountability. (p. 68)

These quotes on accountability unveil another side to the face of William Bennett. This is a side that is rarely seen in the media, and seldom examined by the public. This brief synopsis reflects his overall views on education reform. These remarks were not pulled out of context. Rather, they reveal his lifelong commitment to education restructuring – a commitment that bears remarkable resemblance to the most radical of reformers.

How can this be? one might ask. Hasn’t Mr. Bennett been the epitome of the “conservative” voice in education and family matters, including civic virtue? This is the side that Bennett presents to the public. In fact, one could pull from the previous quote, the phrase “strong curriculum content, homework, sound moral education” and think they were on the same page as Bennett. One can glean what they want to hear from Bennett’s words. This is because he consistently delivers a mixed message, including “virtues” with the loaded language of education reform, and this mishmash turns out to mean something else entirely. One educator, a critic of Bennett, has remarked on his effective use of this strategy:

Because Bennett knows [the] public so very well, he makes frequent use of such juicy phrases as “content, character, and choice.” It is ironic that a public so unsupporting of intellectual and artistic endeavors responds so favorably to Bennett’s calls for more culture and more classics in the schools. Perhaps I ought to point out, though, that the volume of this call depends somewhat on the audience that Bennett is addressing.

Significantly, this teacher rejected Bennett’s promotion of the Pizza Hut reading-incentive program, so popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This program, based on rewarding children with pizzas for reading, was a foretaste of modern reform mechanisms that penalize children, teachers and schools for failure to attain good “report cards” based on assessment results. Cutting to the heart of the issue, she remarked,

I see the use of extrinsic rewards to motivate children as cutting to the very core of the American value system. Teachers must help children find intrinsic rewards: reading for reading’s sake. When you offer bribes, you debase both books and children….

Experienced and savvy teachers know that when you keep a scorecard on reading, whether it’s gold start or pizzas, children start paying more attention to the scorecard than to the books. Even worse, they start lying about the number of books they’ve read, and they read easy books so that they can read more in less time. Instead of encouraging reading, participation in such schemes ends up encouraging the development of moral monsters. People who promote such schemes have faith neither in children nor in books. They also lack faith in the ability of teachers to bring good books and children together without gimmicks. (“A Not-So-Tearful Farewell To William Bennett,” Susan Ohanian, Phi Delta Kappan, Sept. 1988, see

This teacher’s remarks, full of clarity and common sense, stand in stark contrast to Bennett’s views, expressed in The De-Valuing of America:

Are we willing to reward excellence…? Are we willing to penalize failure…? Are we going to insist on high standards (making the receipt of federal student aid or receipt of a high school diploma contingent on passing a qualifying test with real national standards?) (p. 70)

When one connects this strong call to “reward excellence” and “penalize failure” with Bennett’s assertions about “education abuse,” some serious questions must be raised. If parents choose the “wrong” type of education for their child, would this constitute “educational abuse”? What if the child does not score well on an assessment? Could that constitute “educational neglect”? Just how severe could the penalties component of education reform become? And, just how far and wide could penalties be applied?

Accountability and Virtue

Bennett fails to recognize, for whatever reason, that religious, private and homeschool families may have strong philosophical reasons for not wishing to meet state-prescribed standards, and that demonstrating accountability on assessments may, in fact, violate their religious faith. This is a key omission characteristic of the education reform model as a whole. Under this ideology one can believe whatever they want, but they do not have a right to practice their beliefs – especially when it comes to the education of their children. Bennett holds the view that “every American child has an equal claim to a common future, under common laws, enjoying common rights and charged with common responsibilities. And there follows the need for a common basic education.” (cover letter, James Madison High School, 1/98).

It is clear that what he means by “common basic education” is state-prescribed, state-directed education. But his version also includes “virtue.” For over a decade Bennett has publicly championed a return to Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman virtues, morality and ethics, based on the premise that these are values held in “common” in American culture. Bennett has said,

Religion is a well-spring of civic virtues that democracy requires in order to flourish. It promotes hard work and responsibility. It lifts each citizen outside himself and inspires concern for community and country. It is a call to kindness, decency and forgiveness. Neutrality to religion guarantees neutrality to those very values that issue from religion. (“Divine guidance for young scholars,” Washington Times, 10/27/92)

This is the “Mr. Virtues” image that most Americans recognize whenever Bennett is mentioned. It is this appeal to Judeo-Christian values that endears Bennett to the religious homeschoolers. In fact, during Bennett’s many “culture wars” he often took the education elite to task for not supporting the values of western civilization and the Judeo-Christian tradition. Some education reform leaders held to an entirely different set of “common” values, some of which are blatantly derived from eastern mysticism. These culture wars were often magnified by Bennett himself. One astute observer noted that

Bennett’s hypotheses are not presented for dissection or discussion; they are designed instead to push preset emotional buttons, to stir up deep-seated frustration with what isn’t working in our nation, to touch the basic mood of the people…. Such polemics play well on the nightly news, and that’s all that matters. Typical of the dichotomist, Bennett takes a complex situation and divides it into two poles. If you aren’t for him, then you must be against him. And, as Bennett has cleverly constructed his position, if you are against him, then you are against decency and morality, against married motherhood and deregulated apple pie. (Ohanian, ibid.)

Lost in these culture wars, unfortunately, is the overarching moral dilemma: Should the state have the right to prescribe “common” values? Bennett himself answered that question affirmatively on many occasions, especially in the chapter entitled “The Great Cultural Divide” in his book, The De-Valuing of America.

Bennett takes the state one step further into legislating values, however. And this shift represents a significant shift beyond simple law and order; i.e., punishing evildoers. Should the state be empowered to reward citizens who hold “common” values and punish citizens who do not hold to these “common” values? Bennett has consistently intertwined moral and cultural issues with accountability:

“If we want out children to possess the traits of character we most admire,” he said in an address sponsored by the Manhattan Institute, “we need to teach them what those traits are. They must achieve at least a minimal level of moral literacy….” (An emphasis on moral literacy,” William Raspberry, Star, 11/11/86) [emphasis added]

And who defines “moral literacy”? From Mr. Bennett’s perspective, the state, of course. Should “moral literacy” be included on state assessments? Should rewards and punishments be doled out based on a child’s answers to the “moral literacy” questions? Should homeschoolers be required to take these tests?

Reaching one step further, a final, vital question must be raised: Should state-prescribed punishment for psychological/attitudinal questions such as these be based on the results of a single assessment instrument? Complex testing issues alone belie this misuse. Especially concerning children, whose natural vulnerabilities expose them to every potential pitfall of an imperfect testing process! Yet, the “accountability” and “assessment” drumbeat has been pounding incessantly for over a decade now, including within the walls of academia, and all march in step to the new politically-correct tune. Bennett has often been seen leading the pack.

Bennett has been a lifelong champion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which was examined in some detail in part 2 of this report. While Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education he was directly responsible for launching the NAEP in its present form, a test which monitors a child’s threshold of conscience, integrating hypothetical moral dilemmas into its content. This test has become known as the “Nation’s Report Card” and is the foundation for all state assessments. According to Anita Hoge, a parent who filed a federal complaint during the 1980s against the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Educational Quality Assessment (EQA), which was a forerunner to the modern NAEP,

These [NAEP] outcomes include measuring such basic life skills as personal finance and consumer protection skills, health maintenance skills (how to wear a condom?), interpersonal skills, family responsibility skills, and career development skills (ED 139819, NAEP, May 1977 [Contract Agency, NCES, Contract No. OEC-0-74-0506])

Hoge eventually won her case, filed under the federal Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, after years of obfuscation and obstruction at the highest levels. It exposed the extent of federal involvement in curricula, testing and evaluation which was primarily designed to change children’s attitudes, values and beliefs. One former Department of Education official has observed that

Anyone following or involved with the Anita Hoge/Pennsylvania case will tell you that the U.S. Department of Education – under Secretaries of Education William Bennett and Lamar Alexander – pulled out all the stops, at every level, to thwart Hoge’s efforts and those of other parents who tried to use this law. Such an assault on those who paid the bills – and provided the children (“resources”) upon whom they experiment even today – was, and is, criminal. (the deliberate dumbing down of america: A Chronological Paper Trail, Charlotte Iserbyt, Conscience Press, 1999, p. 221.)

In fact, Hoge received no help from Bennett. Writing about her experience with Bennett and Lamar Alexander, she said,

…Mr. Bennett (Mr. Virtues) was Secretary of Education when I filed my federal complaint. Mr. Bennett made no attempt to respond to my letters or appeals from others close to him in the Reagan administration about resolving the most documented complaint of psychological abuse ever lodged in the U.S. Department of Education using the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment…. My files prove that Mr. Bennett could have stopped this abuse long ago… and he did not….

When both former Secretaries of Education, Lamar Alexander and William Bennett, testified before the House Economic and Education Opportunities Committee (1/26/95), they were very bold about expressing their expectations of “responsibility, authority, and accountability flowing toward families, schools, communities and states.” However, in the same breath… they embraced the very reforms that have created such turmoil in our communities.

Lamar Alexander… was named Chairman of the committee to expand the NAEP… in 1986 to state by state comparisons, therefore standardizing the state assessments to mirror the NAEP. He and Mr. Bennett were also instrumental in providing the impetus and the grants to upgrade and expand the national data bank for the collection of microrecords, individual records on individual students and teachers. (“Lamar Alexander and William Bennett,” The Christian Conscience, March 1996, p. 42)

Concluding Remarks:

During the Reagan administration all of the reform groundwork was laid for what later became America 2000/Goals 2000 and ultimately the No Child Left Behind Act. In September 1986, Bennett’s Department of Education issued First Lessons: A Report on Elementary Education in America, an early project in school reform. In chapter IV, “School Policy,” a boxed quotation states that

The first requirement for a good school is that it rest on values that are good. The second requirement is that it be efficient in promoting the good values.

On the same page, the report calls for “fair and rigorous standards” and states that children should know that “advancement will not take place until those goals have been reached, those standards met.” In addition,

Tests are important means of determining whether children have acquired enough knowledge to move on, and it is essential that fair, complete, and periodic assessments take place.

Susan Ohanian, the teacher who has dared to be a critic of Bennett, wrote about her disappointment with Bennett’s appointment of only one teacher to the group of 21 “Distinguished Americans” serving on the Elementary Study Group which prepared the document, First Lessons. Discussing the frustration with teaching values, she observed,

One is left wondering how Bennett would go about instilling good character and values in the youth of a nation where shampoo gets its own aisle in the supermarket but the number of thoughtful periodicals keeps decreasing….

When Bennett suggests that all school-children should memorize “Ozymandias” because this poem will “build character,” his audience nods in agreement, though not one person in 1,000 has the vaguest acquaintance with the poem. And no reporter ever points to the irony that the same public that pays enthusiastic lip service to the need for children to read the classics – in school – is keeping Sidney Sheldon and Stephen King and Lee Iacocca and Elizabeth Taylor’s diet book at the top of the best-seller list. People who fill their homes with “Wheel of Fortune,” and who rely on teachers to provide character lessons for their children while pulling them through Tennyson and George Eliot, are indeed putting a lot of faith and hope in the schools. (ibid.)

Bennett has consistently added values to education reform, mixing them with standards, accountability and assessments. Homeschoolers and others may presume to agree with Bennett regarding which values are important. But that presumption could be based more on the media image of the “Virtues Czar,” and not founded upon fact. One can glean a sense of Bennett’s values and virtues by reading The Book of Virtues. Read the story “Baucis and Philemon” (p. 303) and especially take note of Bennett’s preface:

The ancient Greeks understood that the health of the community depended on how well its individual citizens treated one another. To them, Zeus, the king of the gods, was both the guardian of the state and the protector of human relations among civilized men. All social institutions, including the family, lay in his care.

Read “Insincere Honesty” (p. 647) which ends, “If that be honesty, ‘twere better to be dishonest.” Or, turn to page 810, where “The Path of Virtue” is said to be Buddha, and page 812, “Man’s Nature Is Good” by Mencius, a “Chinese Confucian sage.” Or, read page 815, “The Way to Tao.” When Bennett calls for assessing a child’s “moral literacy,” just whose morals and values will rise to the surface to become the “common” values of our culture?

At the conclusion of The De-Valuing of America, Bennett states: “At the end of the day, somebody’s values will prevail.” (p. 258)

Shall the state prescribe which of these values should be taught to children; and not only taught, but tested; and not only tested, but rewarded and punished?

Part 4: Chester Finn and the De-Valuing of America


1. Berit Kjos, http://www.crossroad,to/articles2/2003/homeland.htm.
2. A copy of two of these newsletters can be obtained by sending $2.00 to Iowa Research Group, PO Box 449, Ravenna, OH 44266-0449.
3. South Carolina House Bill 3102, for example.
3. “Not So Vital Statistics on William Bennett,” New York Times, 9/27/85.

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