Parents Concerned With The Negative Impacts
Of The Kiwanis Terrific Kids Program
PO Box 1341 Black Mountain, NC 28711

Tel: 828-669-6677 Fax 828-669-8862

Analysis of "Revised" Kiwanis Terrific Kids Program Guidelines

Kiwanis International's Community Service Bulletin #36 issued in the autumn of 1999

Analysis carried out in Spring 2000

Introduction: The Kiwanis Terrific Kids Program (TK) purports to be a "motivational project" of Kiwanis Clubs in 50 states and 74 countries, covering nearly one million children mostly in kindergarten and elementary schools. In 1995 parents in Black Mountain, NC raised questions about the design and apparent negative impacts of the Kiwanis Terrific Kids Program.

The local Kiwanis Club in Black Mountain, where the program was founded in 1982, responded by setting up a TK Task Force of teachers, administrators, parents, and Kiwanians to review the program. Their report released in the summer of 1996 outlined significant problems at every level and included a parent survey in which 41% of the 500 responding parents indicated they had reservations or did not approve of the program. The report also concluded that "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 Kids program contains a negative element not foreseen by its originators or by the Kiwanis clubs and schools which have adopted it."

The report was forwarded by the local Kiwanis Club to Kiwanis International headquarters in Indianapolis. Because the Terrific Kids program is so large and affects so many young children, the local parents group became concerned when Kiwanis International became defensive about the program and took no initiative to follow-up on the disturbing conclusions of the Task Force Report. After receiving much media coverage and pressure but persisting in refusing to carry out an outside, objective, professional review, Kiwanis International announced that a Kiwanian who is a psychologist had agreed to review the program. Dr. Dana Cable carried out his review and submitted his report to Kiwanis International in the spring or summer of 1999.

After his report was received, Kiwanis International released the new Community Service Bulletin #36 in the autumn of 1999. Community Service Bulletins are used by Kiwanis International as the mechanism for approval of programs and the issuing of guidelines as to how its programs are to be operated by local Kiwanis Clubs.

The Parent organization in Black Mountain was never contacted by Dr. Cable and Kiwanis International's Board has refused to release Dr. Cable's report for outside review.

The points below outline, briefly, the Parent organization's analysis of the new Community Serivce Bulletin #36 as it compares to the old one. Because so little is changed the reader may want to see our full analysis of the TK program in other parts of our web page at <>

1. Overall Impression: Our overall impression of the "revised" guidelines for operating Kiwanis International's Terrific Kids program is that Kiwanis International has made only a token attempt to review the program and revise its guidelines. The basic instructions remain the same while only minimal acknowledgments are made of the significant design and implementation problems raised in the Black Mountain Kiwanis Club's Terrific Kids Task Force report. The result is an unsatisfactory mishmash consisting of approximately 85% of the old guidelines unchanged, with the addition of what appears an effort at placating parent concerns without changing anything in the program design. In short, we conclude that the "revised" guidelines are little more than an attempt at the PR cure of a sick patient without developing any protocols for actually treating the patient. Nothing but an academically credible review of the Kiwanis Terrific Kids program will bring about the changes needed to ensure that thousands of children in the country and around the world do not continue being unnecessarily harmed by this program. Moreover for Kiwanis International's Board to allow the program to continue without substantive design changes in light of numerous documented problems leads us to conclude that Kiwanis International is betraying its own mission of "Serving the children of the world." The Kiwanis International Board is not only betraying thousands of children and their families but also thousands of good-hearted Kiwanians who know little or nothing about the underlying problems in this program.

2. New Guidelines' Lack of Credibility: Kiwanis International has refused to invest in the integrity of the Terrific Kids program by carrying out a professional, objective review of the program. Instead, the KI Board called upon a Kiwanian, Dr. Dana Cable, who is a psychologist to review the program. Yet, the KI Board refuses to release Dr. Cable's report for outside review. This decision lowers the credibility of Dr. Cable's review and raises questions of whether his review is rigorous and substantive. To our knowledge, no surveys were taken, no interviews carried out with parents, students, or teachers across the country, and no contact made with those who raised the initial concerns to hear their perspective first-hand. The only quote from Dr. Cable in the new Bulletin (confusingly presented without quotation marks on page 4) is that the reward system used by the Kiwanis TK program is "sound" while acknowledging that "educators have not, and will not agree what is the (single) best approach to the reward system." See Parents' March 10, 2000 letter to Kiwanis International concerning KI's refusal to release psychologist's report

3. Misleading, outdated, inaccurate quotes used in the "revised" Guidelines:

Example 3-A: Page 2 of the new guidelines states: "On the TerrificKids program's seventh anniversary at Black Mountain Primary, Principal Jerry Green, thinking perhaps the program had run its course, asked his teaching staff whether it should be continued. The teachers voted unanimously to continue."

As the program was founded at Black Mountain Elementary in 1982, this quote would have been made in 1989 , a decade before the "revised" guidelines were released.

The "rest of the story" and the truth is that in 1993 the teachers voted to eliminate the program, but were persuaded by the Principal to continue it given the school's prominence in Kiwanis publications as a resource for how to operate the program. The school set up a Terrific Kids Committee of supportive teachers but the problems continued and parents began publically calling for change. After the local Kiwanis Club's survey of 22 schools in the region revealed that 41% of parents had reservations or opposed the program, the Principals in the Black Mountain area decided to discontinue the program in 1997.

Yet three years later, Kiwanis International misleadingly continues to use outdated quotations while having full knowledge of the problems and the fact that the program does not even exist in the school out of which a glowing endorsement is used.

The "revised" Guidelines omit listing this Principal and his school as a resource for how to implement the TK program whereas their contact numbers were included in the previous Guidelines.

Example 3-B: On page 2, the "revised" Bulletin states that the "U.S. Department of Education saluted the program's results." The truth is that the USDE has not reviewed the program and the "salute" comment is based on a group of Kiwanians being praised in a meeting with the Secretary of Education who is a life-long member of Kiwanis. USDE officials told us that the Secretary's comment was based on information provided to him by Kiwanis International itself. We think the USDE should review the program and we recommend they do so using professional early childhood experts with rigorous surveys, interviews, and site visits. The quotation in this Bulletin, as in the earlier version, is misleading.

Example 3-C: On page 2, the "revised" Bulletin states, "Unlike some esteem-building programs, Terrific Kids isn't a burden on teachers. '... the program has required very little work or impositions on anyone," says Principal William D. Williams."

The truth is that Principal Williams retired from Swannanoa Elementary School (near Black Mountain, NC) over a decade ago. Where what he said IS true (and the program is no imposition), the teachers are not implementing the program in a way that is consistent with the Guidelines. Teachers acknowledge that if the reward system is to be useful, a contract is needed with each child so that the child really is "competing against himself" as the guidelines say on page 1. Very few teachers have an individual contract system because, they report, it is burdensome and time-consuming. Thus, where the Terrific Kids program is run as Principal Williams implies, it is often run arbitrarily like a popularity contest where the children have little understanding of why they got the award. Moreover, the Terrific Kids program no longer exists at Principal Williams former school and Kiwanis International was aware of that fact while still using his quotation.

Example 3-D: Under the section "Club support is minimal" on page 2, the "revised" Guidelines state that "The program can be implemented in most schools for about "$100 to 200." This figure is highly misleading for "most" schools. The bumper sticker cost for up to 500 is $.50 each or $250. Add to that expense, the TK certificates and other TK paraphernalia listed on the glossy order form and the cost is much higher for "most schools" even if a child only gets the TK Award once per year. The "$100-200" figure is unchanged from the figure given in the original guidelines in 1989 (Community Service Bulletin #32). Neglecting to update and give full cost figures not only is misleading but demonstrates the perfunctory manner in which the "revised" Guidelines were hurriedly put together.

4. Design Inconsistencies: From its inception, despite the good intentions of those formulating the program, the TK program design was never examined rigorously by professionals. Thus, there are numerous internal design inconsistencies. A few examples include:

Example 4-A: In the "How It Works" section on page 2, the guidelines say that "All students in kindergarten and special education should be Terrific Kids at some point during the year. A minimum of 80 percent of the other students should receive the distinction." This requirement contradicts Kiwanis' own emphasis expressed on page 3 that the program motivate "students to work toward a goal of self-improvement-and (that they) not be rewarded if no progress is made." Moreover, on page 3 in the "How It Works" section, it states that "receiving the award without attaining the goal make it meaningless and allows students to feel that rewards are to be had with no effort." Given that emphasis, what does a teacher do if, in reality, only 55% deserve the award? To be consistent, no minimum or maximum percentage should be given. Moreover, if the Kiwanis emphasis on "earning" the award is so important, what lessons are taught kindergartners and special education students by giving the TK award to them without their necessarily earning it? Thus, if there is a benefit to making the awards in their circumstance, why not extend the logic and give the awards to first, second, and third graders too?

Moreover, why a "minimum of 80% anyway? The 80% is simply an arbitrary number which, when explored, reveals the paucity of design rigor that has gone into the program. Inconsistently again, on page 3 in the section on Communication, the guidelines advise meeting with the principal to "agree on..the percentage of students who should achieve the award." In short, un-thought-out ideas and numbers are used throughout the original Guidelines without basis or educational rationale and have simply been repeated in the "revised" Guidelines (even when those ideas and numbers' lack of substance has been pointed out to Kiwanis International numerous times).

Example 4-B: With reference to Example 4-A, if a "minimum" of 80% of the children should receive the award (some whether they deserve it or not we must logically conclude given the required minimum percentage), the reality is that the 20% who often don't get the award are the very ones who need the most encouragement. It is they who are told over and over (sometimes during six or more TK programs each year) that they are not Terrific. Rather than be motivated to do better, they are made to feel depressed and defeated, made to feel that they are NOT Terrific. The "revised" Guidelines say on page 1 that the goals chosen should not be a "demoralizing stab at perfection that sets up the student for failure." Yet, the program design itself accomplishes just this result for many children, magnified even more so when one considers that few teachers even use the individualized goal contract system.
(NOTE: An observation recounted in the Black Mountain TK Task Force Report is that "terrific" is general and inclusive of the whole person and is not specific to any accomplishment or goal; thus, not being a Terrific Kid can be perceived by a young child as tantamount to not being a good person. One parent earlier recounted watching the painful reaction in her Kindergartener when she (the parent) was asked by a bus driver if the daughter was a Terrific Kid on a day she had not received the award. "As I said, 'No, she's not a Terrific Kid', I thought, 'How can I say that about the joy and love of my life?")

The new Bulletin acknowledges complexity of this reality in the Alternative Approaches section on page 3 but nothing is done in the "original" design to address the documented negative results of the program. Thus, the "revised" guidelines allow these documented problems to continue unaddressed. The ethical failure of Kiwanis International lies in the organization's Board allowing this state of affairs to continue.

5. Proper Reward Theory Difficult To Fulfill with Terrific Kids Program: Reward theory assumes an attainable, clearly understood goal and an immediate positive reward to reinforce the accomplishment of the goal. In the "How It Works" section of the revised guidelines on page 2, it says, "Receiving the award without attaining the goal makes it meaningless and allows students to feel that rewards are to be had with no effort." The reality in many, many schools is that the latter scenario is exactly what happens; moreover the converse also happens, where the child not getting the award does not understand why s/he did not get it when h/his classmate did get it. One child in Black Mountain told the survey she did not know why she got the award but thought "maybe it was because I stood silently in the cafeteria line."

Whatever the pros and cons of token-based reward systems in schools, Kiwanis International should alert teachers and schools that without the individualized contract and goal, the program may well be harmful. This alert should be clear and emphasized by the sponsoring clubs. The reality is that most schools we know of do not have the individualized contracts (because teachers can't keep up with it) and the result is a predictable emotional confusion among children.

Moreover, there are also many practical problems in implementing the TK program in a manner consistent with reward theory:

-Does a child get one award per year or multiple awards? And what if a child's agreed-upon goal is met the first month? Moreover, what if, as one teacher told us, a teacher has 15 students who met their goals but her class is only allowed to name six TK recipients each quarter?

-Moreover, in any case, how can the reinforcing motivator be timely if the award ceremony is quarterly or monthly?

The examples (and many others could be presented) are real issues faced by schools trying to implement the program with integrity. The complexity of running a program true to reward theory is dismissed by Kiwanis International by the caveat that each school can "design" its own program. Providing a poorly designed program while telling schools they can alter it in any way to suit their needs is a poor excuse for providing a solid, well-thought-out product in the first place. But this is just what Kiwanis International is doing.

6. No Evaluation Process Built into the Guidelines: From the time the parents began raising questions about the Terrific Kids Program, the lack of a built-in, ongoing evaluation process was cited as a reason the program's problems had been missed for so long. While KI thought the program was great, it turned out 41% of parents responding to a survey in 22 schools in western N.C. had reservations or opposed the program. Thus, Kiwanis International was fully aware of the recommendation that an evaluation process be built into the program design. Yet, while evaluation is built into virtually every educational program in our schools, evaluation is completely omitted in the "revised" guidelines as it was in the original guidelines. We conclude that this fact points to an awareness by Kiwanis that the program will not fare well in a substantive review and evaluation. We also conclude that Kiwanis' awareness of this fact is the reason Kiwanis International is defensive, has avoided a real TK program review, and continues to refuse to release the in-house Kiwanian psychologist review.

Note: The new Guidelines do not mention evaluation but an attachment to the Bulletin is a "Terrific Kids Brag Page" for schools to tell Kiwanis about their program. This "Brag Page" is no substitute for a serious evaluaton especially in a program with documented problems. Our experience is that neither schools or teachers wants to tell the Kiwanis "emperor" his TK program has no clothes, and thus the problems went for years with teachers and parents keeping quiet.

7. Some Award Criteria Not Within Control of Child: A key aspect of Reward Theory is that the goal be attainable and within the control of the child. The "revised" guidelines state that there should be individualized goals but there are only four rules highlighted in the sidebar on Page 4: "Terrific Kids Rules: Be on time, Practice good attendance; Respect people, privacy, and property, and Work to the best of your ability."

One must ask what role a primary school student plays in his or her "attendance" or in "tardiness?" Both of those two "rules" rely more on the parent or guardian than on the child. Moreover, health plays an important role too and that is also generally out of the control of the child. In short, these rules reveal the lack of rigor put into developing the TK program when two or the four "Terrific Kids Rules" are out of the child's control. This aspect was pointed out to Kiwanis International yet they simply reprinted the "Terrific Kids Rules" from the previous guidelines.

8. PR & Image Take Precedence Over Substance and Children: Reading the "revised" guidelines, one see the important emphasis within the TK program design of promoting Kiwanis itself, at the expense, we conclude, of the children. There is also a heavy emphasis on encouraging extensive media coverage of the TK ceremonies and of distributing bumper stickers with the Kiwanis logo on it. (One teacher told us back in 1995 that children at that young age simply want to be valued and to have their curiosity and love of learning stimulated; he felt the emphasis on newspaper coverage was another example of how Kiwanis tries to use adult motivators as rather shallow substitutes for good teaching and motivation. "The kids don't really need or care about that garbage." was the way he put it.) The Kiwanis logo is on everything on the extensive list of merchandise which is distributed on a glossy order form to clubs and listed on the KI web page. (The Dec. 16, 1997 Mt. Xpress (Asheville, NC) quoted a Kiwanis official saying that Kiwanis sells "$100 to $120, 000 worth of TK products each year.)

Moreover, the guidelines point out the usefulness of the TK program when "parents, grandparents, or teachers, impressed by the program, join the the sponsoring club." Reading other bulletins on the Kiwanis International web page, one sees this same emphasis on promoting Kiwanis. Our parents' organization has come to the conclusion that it is this emphasis on the PR aspect that prevents Kiwanis International from doing a substantive review of the TK program and giving real attention to its design flaws.

One of the "Five factors (that) make Terrific Kids a successful program" on page 1 and 2 of the revised guidelines is "Club support is minimal: Terrific Kids has been popular among Kiwanis clubs because it is a high impact program that is neither costly nor time-consuming." This statement reveals much about Kiwanis International's attitude toward the TK program. The statement is both misleading and inaccurate. First, beyond Kiwanis anecdotes, Kiwanis does not know about the "impact" because no evaluation has been done; moreover, if done right the TK program is more costly than clubs are led to believe and should take more time than clubs put into it. (see Example 3-D above)

One gets the impression that Kiwanis International wants the good press without being bothered about the actual impact on children. They are satisfied with glowing reports from those who are vested in the program's success; an outside, objective analysis is avoided. The defensiveness of Kiwanians when challenged to do a review or when presented with problems in the program also points to the organization's lack of interest in the substance of the TK product over the shallow praise of media and of those who know little of the TK program's reality.

Conclusion: Through its perfunctory, paste-it-together-quickly approach to the "revised" guidelines for the Terrific Kids program, Kiwanis International has short-changed the children it purports to serve. Further, by refusing to carry out a professional, substantive review of the Terrific Kids program and then truly fixing it, Kiwanis International has betrayed its own mission, thousands of parents, and most of its own members who do not realize the harm to children being done in their names. Kiwanis International has an educational and ethical responsibility either to reverse its decision and put the Kiwanis Terrific Kids Program to the test of rigorous scrutiny OR to rescind Kiwanis' promotion and sponsorship of the program.

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