Analysis and Response To The Kiwanis Terrific Kids Task Force Report

July 1996

I. Strengths of the TK Task Force Report
II. Weaknesses of TK Task Force Report
III. Our Requests to Kiwanis & the Schools
IV. Key Quotes From the Task Force Report

I. Strengths of the TK Task Force Report

1. Task Force An Excellent First Step: Pulling together representative parents, administrators, teachers, and Kiwanians was a good step in examining the program. Getting the problems with TK out in the open is the best way to begin to solve them.

2. Negative Impacts of TK Program Confirmed: With 500 respondents from 21 school communities, the report does give a clearer picture of the concerns about the unintended negative aspects of the program. (No indication was given of how many surveys were sent out or the % return.)

3. Results Strengthened Because They Came From Parents Unaware of Criticisms: Despite weaknesses in the survey's methodology, significant red flags about the program were raised by responding parents almost all of whom had no knowledge that the survey was prompted by concerns made by parents in Black Mountain. (One wonders how many more negative opinions there would be if parents were fully aware of the pain the program is causing some of their children's classmates. We know parents who changed their opinion of the program after learning of the pain others experienced.)

4. Communication Recognized As Key Problem: The report is helpful in pointing out that communication at all levels is poor.

II. Weaknesses of the TK Task Force Report

1. Ambiguity of Presentation: Despite the constructive outcome of confirming problems with the TK program, the consensus/beyond consensus format leaves the reader without clear conclusions or recommendations. We recognize that given the diversity of opinion brought to the Task Force by its members, this result and format may have been the best that could be expected. The lack of consensus in itself points to the need for an outside professional evaluation to follow-up on the Task Force's work.

2. No Follow-Up Evaluation Recommended: Given the high negatives reported by parents, the report does not recommend a more comprehensive evaluation.

3. No Suspension/Moratorium Recommended: Given the high negatives reported by parents, the report does not recommend suspending current TK programs and instituting a moratorium on new programs until the program's defects are reviewed and corrected.

4. Methodology Weak In Survey:(Note: These criticisms are made with the understanding that the Task Force was all-volunteer with no staff and a short time frame.)
A. Confidentiality was not assured because envelopes were not provided with the survey. Nor were alternatives suggested of returning the survey in a plain, sealed envelope or sending the survey to a neutral address. (One parent told us this month that she did not turn in the survey because she worried the teacher would read it.)
B. No consistent way to quantify the results was built into the survey. Leaving room for a narrative response but having a numerical rating would have been useful since a Task Force member ended up interpreting and counting the results anyway.
C. Choice of the questions limited conclusions. We recognize the time constraints and the desire not to overwhelm parents with a lengthy survey they might not complete, but there were too few questions, thereby jeopardizing the reliability of the survey. For example, one question that would have been useful:
"Do you know of any child or family who has been troubled by the program? Yes___No___Explain:......
Moreover, in addition to the survey, random in-depth interviews could have added to a fuller understanding of the problems and possible solutions.

5. Important Data Not Included: The report indicates that surveys were received from principals, teachers, and ninth graders. However, no summary is given of their responses to the survey, nor are we told the rate of return by percentage from principals, teachers, and ninth graders.

6. Report Appears To Go Easy When Stronger Conclusions Warranted By Surveys: Forty one percent of parents being unfavorable or having reservations about the program should warrant stronger conclusions. An outside professional evaluation would probably be more direct in pointing out the harmful effects of the program and in suggesting the need for immediate action. In short, there is little sense of urgency in the report to stop further harm from being done to children and families.

7. High Negative Results Not Pursued Vigorously: Inadequate attention is given to the implications of the survey results where 41% of responding families have reservations or felt unfavorable toward the program and where 32% have reservations or feel that the program is harmful to their children. These are disturbing numbers in an add-on program that should be, as one psychologist put it,"unrelentingly good for all the children."

8. No On-Going, Built-in Evaluation Process Recommended: Given the high negatives, the report does not recommend building an on- going evaluation into implementing the program or a way of trying out and evaluating the new program suggested. Kiwanis' role in reviewing and advising is not addressed adequately.

9. Harmful Effects Not Fully Explained: Inadequate examples from the surveys are given of the kinds of harm done to children and families as a result of the Terrific Kids program (except indirectly in the selected quotes at the end). It would be useful to have a listing of the types of problems experienced by children and families in the program.

10. Consensus Item 3 Not Fully Explained: Consensus Item 3 describes the consensus "that the Terrific Kid program contains a negative element not foreseen by its originators or by the Kiwanis clubs and schools which have adopted it." Is the negative element limited to the children not receiving the award being hurt? Did sibling and family issues come up in the surveys? What other "negative elements" were mentioned by the surveyed parents?

11. Beyond Consensus Not Clear(p 6-7): The variety of differing opinions and thoughts in the Beyond Consensus section demonstrates how crucial it is that the Terrific Kids program be professionally and rigorously evaluated and the conclusions and recommendations of the evaluation be subjected to professionals and parents for review. Also, no indication is given of how many Task Force members agreed with each point. The reader is left to wonder whether a point is the view of one person or a majority of the Task Force.

12. Kiwanis' Accountability For The TK Program Not Addressed Adequately: While recognizing that the schools will ultimately decide the merits of the TK program, the Report does not reflect Kiwanis International's accountability for the design, quality control, and evaluation of a program it recommends to schools in fifty states and 74 countries.

13. Important Known Issues Not Adequately Addressed: The problem of children who receive the awards at the end of the year feeling the awards are not as meaningful is not addressed adequately. Also the concern that the award's name (Terrific Kids) is too broadly framed for a child to understand is not adequately addressed. I.e. How can the program avoid a child seeing himself as either a "Terrific Kid" or as NOT a "Terrific Kid"?

III. Requests to Make To Kiwanis & the Schools

A. TO the Black Mountain Kiwanis Club:

1. Black Mountain Kiwanis should recommend to Kiwanis International that because the Task Force report points to significant unintended harmful effects on the children served, a full, rigorous professional evaluation of the Terrific Kids program should be undertaken by Kiwanis International.

2. Black Mountain Kiwanis should recommend to Kiwanis International that until such an evaluation is made and recommendations thoroughly examined, a statement should go out to Kiwanis Clubs world-wide explaining the results of the Task Force Report, recommending suspension of the TK program in existing schools, and recommending a moratorium on new TK programs.

3. Black Mountain Kiwanis should retain the surveys and other Task Force materials for use by others who may be called in to evaluate the program.

4. Black Mountain Kiwanis should hold a joint, follow-up meeting of the Task Force and Task Force consultants where a presentation of the Report could be made and discussion of the results and recommendations held.

B. TO Principals at Black Mt. Elementary and Black Mt. Primary:

1. The TK program should be suspended until a full outside professional evaluation is undertaken and acceptable recommendations made.

2. If a principal chooses to continue the program prior to the evaluaton, then:
- a meeting with the parents should be held where the TK Task Force report is shared, the rationale for continuing the program explained, and discussion held.
- parents should be fully informed of the potential negatives of the program and provided a way for their children not to participate without being stigmatized.
- the promotional aspect should be reduced (i.e. no school- wide bulletin board, no photos in Black Mountain News, no video- taping of the ceremony for showing to the children who did not get the award).
- the program should be 100%-awarded, random selection for all grades, and be geared toward a celebration of children and of the character traits being taught.
- the school should elaborate in writing how the program will be operated and distribute the document to parents.
- a training session should be held for teachers during which parents concerned about the negative effects of the program are given an opportunity to share their personal stories with the teachers.
- a document should be prepared by the school to demonstrate how each of the problems described in the Task Force report is being addressed, including presentation of materials that will be used to improve communication at all levels.
- serious consideration should be given to the appropriateness of the title of the program so as to address the problem of the "Terrific Kid" designation defining the child's entire personality.

IV. Key Quotes From the Terrific Kid Task Force Report

"All members agreed from reading the letters (ie surveys) that some children are clearly being hurt by the program as it presently stands." p5

"...the major finding and value of our study is that it shows an opinion among parents and teachers of all schools surveyed that the Terrific Kid program contains a negative element not foreseen by its originators or by the Kiwanis Clubs and schools which have adopted it." p5

Survey results:
-What has been the effect of the program on your children?
66% favorable
15% unfavorable
18% had reservations

-What is your opinion of the program?
58% favorable
15% unfavorable
26% had reservations p4

"There are major internal inconsistencies in the way the program is being carried out in the schools." p4

"Teachers are not evaluating students with consistent criteria within a school, and from school to school there are significant differences in the way the program is understood and administered." p5

"It(the TK program) does that(help children's self-esteem) admirably for most of those children who are honored as Terrific Kids. However, for children not receiving this honor, it often has a hurtful effect. They perceive themselves as not terrific." p5

"Communication is a very weak area of the program: communication between Kiwanis and schools; between schools and parents; from administrators to teachers; and from teachers to students." p4