On April 10, 2003, the U.S. Department of Education issued a draft
statement of work for the ERIC system for the next contract period,
which begins January 1, 2004. By all accounts, the proposed changes
to the ERIC system as we know it are earthshaking. Instead of the
current 16 subject-specific ERIC Clearinghouses, the new plan would
be for a single, centralized, fully automated Clearinghouse or database.
This would mean no subject-specific Clearinghouse Web sites, no live
content experts to answer questions and perform searches, no further
ERIC Digests and no bibliographies.
I recall when in 1983 I did my first ERIC search, using a modem hook-up
where the telephone receiver was actually inserted into the modem. Over
the years, I have benefited immensely from access to ERIC information,
and I can appreciate the human intelligence and area-specific expertise
required to make the ERIC system so logical and relevant.
Under the new plan, any additions to the automated ERIC database will
be made by a group of clerks from a pre-approved list of journals, conferences,
associations and organizations. Expert monitoring of the quality of research
acquired for the database will be eliminated and important contributions from
many colleges and independent scholars will no longer be part of the database.
My favorite ERIC Clearinghouse, on Language and Linguistics, published my
Masters research in early 1985, making it possible for me to immediately join
the professional discourse regarding my topic--the use of flowcharts to teach
conversational skills in ESL. Again, in 1988, when I spent a year at my alma
mater (Kansas) between teaching stints in Ecuador and Japan, my research
on rhetorical approaches to teaching reading, writing and conversation skills
made it into ERIC for wider dissemination of my ideas.
At our professional conferences, I have met many of the people who actively
seek out new research on behalf of ERIC Clearinghouses. These individuals
provide an essential function in the education profession. Now that I am
working as a teacher educator in Western Kansas, I can appreciate the value
of their contribution to our field even more deeply. I know that there are other
regions in the United States where the ERIC Clearinghouse for Rural Education
and Small Schools is like a lifeline.
In the context of No Child Left Behind, and increased pressure on schools
and districts to perform (or get their students to perform) well on high-stakes
yearly assessments, it does not make any sense for the U.S. Department
of Education to dismantle the most relevant service it now provides to
support educators on the ground across America. I know Secretary Paige
just visited Alaska schools earlier this week and is well aware of the
tough conditions faced by rural educators as they strive to meet the
new requirements of NCLB. He is further aware that there is a bill,
H.R. 1350, which has passed the House and is now before the Senate,
which guts the funding for special education services which districts
are legally and morally mandated to provide.
In some states, teachers working with English language learners are
working under further constraints from English-only state mandates.
Without the expert guidance available from the ERIC Clearinghouse
for Elementary and Early Childhood, the ERIC Clearinghouse for
Language and Linguistics and the ERIC Clearinghouse for Reading,
English and Communication, these teachers could be missing
important new research on strategies for making English immersion
There are many more examples of the crucial role the ERIC
Clearinghouses play in the lives of teachers and students in
Now, let me get this straight. Congress is busy trying to decide
between a $300 billion and a $500 billion tax cut, while at the
same time the Department of Education is preparing to drastically
scale back ERIC Clearinghouse services for millions of teachers
who are already contributing their own personal funds to shore
up gaps caused by federal negligence. Districts are struggling
to meet new federal mandates such as those under NCLB,
yet states and local communities are being forced to foot more
and more of the bill themselves as federal funding is reduced.
Every child in the United States has a right to a free public
education of the highest quality; while paying lip service to
that principle, politicians--Democrats as well as Republicans--chip
away at schools' ability to educate every time funding
is stripped from mandated services.
I believe that Secretary Paige has a golden opportunity
today to tell Congress and the Administration that there
is no more blood to be squeezed from this stone. It is time
that someone in Washington stood up for teachers and
schools and the vital role they perform in educating the
next generation of this precious American democracy.
Thousands of educators have contacted the Secretary
leading up to today's deadline for public comment on
the new ERIC contract. One viable alternative has been
presented by Robert M. Hayes, Professor Emeritus at
UCLA, who suggests that there should be two contracts:
one for operating the comprehensive ERIC database and
the other for managing the ERIC Clearinghouses, to
preserve their current functions including selection
of new materials for the ERIC database.
Perhaps the threat of reductions in ERIC services has
awakened educators and reminded all of us not to take
for granted the tools and resources we depend on in
exercising our profession. Perhaps the responses from
shocked and concerned teachers will be heard by
our political leaders in Washington. Yet we should
be asking serious questions about the competence
of those leaders who came up with the idea of scrapping
ERIC in the first place. This ranks right up there with
Ronald Reagan's threat to abolish the Department of
Education, or Rod Paige's [Reid Lyon: See correction
on Letters page] comment that he'd like to
blow up all the schools of education in America.
Ted Kennedy is one of the primary instigators of
this latest effort to dismantle ERIC.
At the very least, each of us ought to carefully consider
the commitment to education of those campaigning for
Congress and the presidency during the next 18 months.
Let's make this round of elections "high stakes" for
politicans who may have grown complacent about the
public servant nature of political office.
Report by Robb Scott, Hays, KANSAS
2003 ESL MiniConference Online