Despite $2 million in federal appropriations voted so far and an additional $1 million likely, the Rev. Jesse Jackson has failed to convert the high ideals and inspirational message of his PUSH-EXCEL movement into a systematic, workable public school program, according to a new government report.
Jackson, a powerful speaker often described as charismatic, was associated with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and later became a civil rights leader in his own right, founding the national PUSH movement. In the mid-1970s, the basic PUSH-EXCEL movement was developed, with Jackson carrying his message to high school audiences, churches and community meetings.
The report is of special significance here because Washington is listed as one of several cities in which an expanded PUSH-EXCEL project may be tried.
An evaluation of the PUSH-EXCEL effort in six cities, made by the American Institutes for Research under contract to the government's National Institute of Education, said Jackson's theme of inspiring disadvantaged students to attend school, pay attention and strive for excellence, all backed by "support" mechanisms from parents and community, is powerful and meaningful.
But it said the national PUSH-EXCEL headquarters in Chicago has failed to get the program into a workable, tangible form.
Instead, said the report, "National has focused more on program promotion and expansion than on sustained efforts to make it work.
"Formal guidelines for implementing PUSH-EXCEL are yet to appear. The agenda and materials for training sessions reflect neither programmatic activities nor issues of what community liasions, advisory councils or teacher-advisers should do or now," the report said.
Repeated efforts to reach Jackson and the director of the National PUSH-EXCELL program for comment were unsuccessful. Frank Watkins, an aide to Jackson, said Jackson was unavailable and he himself couldn't comment because be hadn't seen the report.
The goal of the PUSH-EXCEL movement is to create an orderly school environment, inspire students to learn, and get the full backing of the community for a special effort.
After Jackson and aides come into a community and explain the concept, the community may opt to go into the program, the report said, and at that point PUSH strives to create a structure that includes some of the following:
Students, parents and teachers sign written pledges to perform certain acts -- for example, parents pledge to monitor their children's study times, visit the school at report-card time, pick up test scores, restrict TV-watching.
Students compete in academic games, organize PUSH-EXCEL clubs; community leaders choose "role models" to work with students and inspire them to better efforts; parents and teachers set up systematic contacts to keep track of children's progress and activities.
Although the initial decision to go into PUSH in a community often starts with considerable fanfare, Jackson's organization has been weak on follow-up, the report said. Specifically:
It has failed to develop a complete "how-to-do-it" manual that tells parents and teachers what they must do day to day. There are no detailed, step-by-step descriptions of activities to attain the goals.
Local staff and school districts cite delays in receiving funds from the national PUSH-EXCEL office in Chicago; personnel have frequently been switched, leading to loss of continuity; training and in-service workshops for staff at the locality "seldom go beyond presentation of the program philosophy and airings of the implementation problems."
"Internal evaluation, at either the local or the national level, does not exist."
There is virtually no monitoring by the national office of whether the program in a particular area is being carried out, virtually no spot checks and spot visits to give advice and leadership.
As a result, the program is sporadic and not fully implemented in the sites examined (Los Angeles, Memphis, Kansas City, Denver, Chicago and Chattanooga). In Memphis, most students signed a pledge, but only one school was checked later to see what the students actually did. In Chattanooga, 10 to 61 percent signed in various schools, but there wasn't any follow-up. Virtually everywhere, the signing of the pledge wasn't followed up.
Kathlyn Moses, project officer at the Office of Education, said a special-project team is working with Norman Johnson, PUSH-EXCEL director in the Chicago office, to try to remedy some of the problems.