A new government evaluation of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's PUSH-EXCELL school experiment gives Jackson poor marks on the task of converting his concepts into a systematic, workable public school program that can help low-income students learn better.
Although the report, the second unfavorable evaluation this year, indicates that PUSH-EXCELL has made some progress in recent months in creating a usuable structure of educatioin practices for participating communities, it concludes: "PUSH-EXCEL in 1979-1980 did not constitute a 'program' as that term is usually meant." Rather, the report said, the PUSH-EXCEL school effort, being financed in part by $3 million in U.S. funds, is still predominantly an inspirational movement, with the development of specific activities and administrative practices undertaken "in fits and starts . . . or not at all."
The study of the program was done by the American Institutes for Research under contract to the Department of Education's National Institute of Education.
It focused on 12 of the 39 schools in six cities participating in the federally funded demonstration project. The cities are Chattanooga, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Kansas City and Memphis.
The report said Jackson has been "highly successful" in inspiring students -- through personal appearances -- with an initial interest in learning. But it said followup activities on the scene had most often been "ad hoc episodic steps [that] did not add up to a program."
The earlier report, issued last April, specifically criticized Jackson aides for failing to develop manuals of activity routines, and implementation and program guides that could be followed by teachers and parents who were participating in a local school system.
The latest report, which is not final, says there has been some improvement along these lines, with the programs in Chattanooga and Denver beginning to put together "an increasingly explicit strategy for accomplishing the stated goals." It said the national PUSH-EXCEL office in Chicago is developing a "primer" and an "implementation guide" that, for the first time, "spell out in substantial detail what it is supposed to be and how it is to be carried out."
Nevertheless, the report said, overall in the schools studied there is really no way at present for determining just how successful Jackson's method is because it really hasn't been built in any systematic way.
The way the program works is this: after Jackson and aides go to a school and explain the concept, PUSH-EXCEL seeks to get parents, teachers and students to pledge a cooperative activity for learning.
This usually involves written pledges to undertake certain activities: study effort and the like.
Jackson, in a telephone interview from New York, said key elements are pledges that the parent will meet the child's teacher, that the student will undertake two hours of study daily without the TV or radio or phonograph on, and that the parent will pick up report cards and test scores to see how well the child is doing.
Commenting on the report, of which he had not yet seen the full text, Jackson said "PUSH-EXCEL is a motivation program. It makes no pretense at pedagogy and curriculum development."
Jackson said that where schools are in conflict, as in Los Angeles and Chicago, which have been involved in segregation disputes, it is absurd to think that his method can take root until the conflict has ceased. Moreover, he said, where the schools and parents expect PUSH-EXCEL to do everything, it is clear very little will work. Nevertheless, he said he was actually quite encouraged by how well the method was working in some Chicago and Chattanooga schools and to a lesser extent in Denver schools.
Jackson also said it is far too early to conclude -- on the basis of only the second of six scheduled evaluations -- that his method can't successfully be installed.
A Department of Education representative said, "This is a draft report that has not been submitted in final form to the department," so there could be no direct comment on it until the final draft was completed. But in general, the representative said, "We know that large-scale programs like PUSH-EXCEL that embrace ambitious missions are very difficult both to implement and to assess in a short period. The effort cannot always be felt for one or two years after implementation."
The new report wasn't entirely negative and it praised some of the developments in Chattanooga and Denver as beginning to create an educational structure from which, it might be hoped, the ideals of study and character preached by Jackson might eventually be realized. But on the whole, it gave the effort by Jackson's organization poor grades.