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Federal Funding of Vocational Education

Federal Funding of Vocational Education

Statement by FCTA's Arthur Purves to the School Board on
Federal Funding of Vocational Education - May 22, 1997

Madam Chairman, Dr. Spillane, and Members of the Board:

Good evening. Tonight I address you not only as president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance but also as a member of your Professional/Technical Studies Advisory Committee.

I urge you to not accept federal funding for vocational education; i.e., vote against the VEMS (Vocational Education Management System) application.

Our classrooms are the silent battlefields between two philosophies of education - traditional and progressive.

With traditional education teachers taught the disciplines of English, history, math, science, and foreign language through lectures, drills, note-taking, memorization, and homework. Traditional education does develop analytical skills and does emphasize the arts and sports.

Progressive education regards lectures, drills, rules, and homework as unimportant. It holds that socializing children, through volunteer work and mental health lessons for example, is more important than teaching knowledge. It encourages students to learn what they want when they want from each other, and not from teachers.

Today, progressive education dominates mainstream educational thought. Accordingly the Fairfax County Public Schools' administration has removed phonics from reading, drill from arithmetic, spelling and grammar from English, proofs from geometry, algebra from physics, geography from social studies, and research papers from history. It has added peer counseling, peer mediation, elementary guidance counselors, substance abuse lessons, mental health lessons, sex education, and promotes group learning.

Progressive education is not working. Over the past twenty years, while inflation increased 200%, Fairfax County per capita taxes increased 380% and per-student spending increased 450%. However, because of the so-called reforms of progressive education, Fairfax County's average SAT score is at the 65th percentile; its average score on College Board achievement tests is at the 50th percentile; and there is a 30 point minority student achievement gap. There has been no improvement in standardized test scores; student behavior is much worse; our schools are deteriorating and overcrowded; and every year brings a new budget crisis. This is the legacy of the outgoing administration's progressivist policies.

If the school board hires a new superintendent who is in the mainstream of educational thought, he too will be a progressivist and will perpetuate low test scores and the minority student achievement gap.

If you try to return to traditional education, which can raise achievement in diverse schools, the federal government probably won't let you. For example, in 1995-96, this school system accepted a federal School-to-Work transition grant. The resulting report states that schools will merge the vocational and academic tracks and focus on vague competencies such as "Understanding Self and Others", "Decision Making", and "Planning for Life." In the VEMS application you will also see on pages 26 and 28 the requirement to integrate academic and occupational tracks. You will see articulation agreements, but of what use are these to students who can't read and write?

The choice is yours. You can reject federal government funding and return to traditional education, or you can accept federal funding, continue progressivist reforms, and watch the Fairfax County School System continue to deteriorate.

Thank you.