3. The Sandia Report On Education: A Perfect Lesson In Censorship

Sources: PHI DELTA KAPPAN; Date: May 1993, Title: "Perspective on Education In America,"* Author: Robert M. Huelskamp; THE EDUCATION DIGEST, Date: September 1993, Title: "The Second Coming of the Sandia Report," reprinted from Phi Delta Kappan; U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, Date: 10/18/93, Title: "School choice: Its time has come," Author: Michael Barone

SYNOPSIS: One of the most thorough investigations into public education did not produce the expected results and instead, ended up being censored.

When state governors and President George Bush set national education goals after the 1989 education summit, the administration charged Sandia National Laboratories, a scientific research organization, with investigating the state of public education.

In 1991, Sandia presented its first findings to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation. While the response from these government agencies should have been one of some celebration, instead it was one of silence -- a silence compounded by the national media. The results did not reveal a seriously deficient educational system in dire need of profound changes such as a nationwide voucher program. And the report was suppressed.

Briefly, the Sandia Report did find the following: on nearly every measure employed in the survey, a steady or slightly improving trend was identified in public education. Overall, the high school completion rate in the U.S. at 85 percent ranks as one of the highest in the world. The dropout rate is inflated by a growing immigrant school population. SAT results often reported as falling do so not because of decreasing student performance but because of increased participation from students in the lower percentiles, a factor not always found when comparing results to other countries. One quarter of young people will achieve a bachelor's degree. Spending on education, often characterized as out of control, has risen by 30 percent but this has gone into special education programs, not the "regular" classroom.

Areas of concern raised by the report focused on the performance of minorities who were still lagging behind whites. Also, it suggested that a cycle of low esteem among educators posed a threat to future educational progress. And a lack of training in the workplace, compared to countries such as Japan and Germany, threatens productivity.

Given the range and insights that the Sandia Report produced, it was remarkable this information did not form the basis for the 1992 education debate. The lack of coverage of the report, and the rancor with which the report was met from government departments and, more importantly, from the "Education President," George Bush, was astounding. Clearly, the findings of the report contradicted the political philosophy of "deregulating" public education and would have seriously weakened the "choice movement." The fact that eight of the 10 Nobel winners announced this year in economics, medicine, physics, chemistry, and literature were Americans similarly failed to give the anti-public school group much ammunition.

The Sandia Report is so threatening to the anti-public-school lobby that those supporting school choice initiatives still refuse to acknowledge its existence. In an impassioned plea for "school choice," published in US News & World Report, writer Michael Barone cites the 1983 "Nation at Risk" Report while ignoring the more recent Sandia Report.

While the appeal by Sandia researcher Robert M. Huelskamp for a "Second Coming of the Sandia Report" may be ignored, the deliberate withholding of the Sandia Report for political ends surely deserves the public's attention.

SSU Censored Researcher: Gerald Austin

COMMENTS: Given the reception Project Censored received when we contacted Sandia National Laboratories for follow-up information (as we do with all original sources), we are hardly surprised that the media have not given the Sandia study more coverage. At best, we can say that Sandia doesn't want to discuss the study in any way.

When we contacted Bob Huelskamp, author of the Phi Delta Kappan article, he said that Sandia was not interested in replying to our questionnaire and that all further inquiries should be directed to a public information official by the name of Al Stotts.

When Mr. Stotts didn't return our call of December 13, we tried again on the 16th and were told that he was on vacation until after New Year's day. But we were told to contact Jerry Langheim who would be able to help us. As it turned out, Mr. Langheim was out ill and wouldn't be back until after the first of the new year. But we were told to contact Rod Geer who would be able to help us.

We were finally able to reach Mr. Geer on December 17.

When I explained the Project to Geer, he responded, "We're not going to fill out the form and send it back to you.... It was published in the Phi Delta Kappan...and we consider ourselves finished with that business."

Geer then went into some background on how the study came about. In brief, he said that the report did not originate from a Department of Energy grant to do a study on education in America, but was primarily an in-house effort to help Sandia improve its own educational outreach. Geer suggested that the media had overblown the importance of the study.

When it became obvious that Geer was not going to comment further on the study -- "The study now has been published in the Kappan and that finished it." -- we asked whether this indicated that Sandia is repudiating the results of its study.

Geer said, "We continue to support what the article says."

After further non-productive jousting, Geer said it was "fine" for us to reprint the Kappan article; thus it appears in Appendix D.

Given the potential significance of the Sandia study in terms of a national debate on educational policy, one has to wonder why the study is being handled so delicately by Sandia personnel. Regardless of what Geer says, the research study was performed at Sandia National Laboratories and was supported by taxpayer dollars from the U.S. Department of Energy. It would appear that there is still more to this story deserving of media attention.