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Career Goals a Factor In Improvement Efforts

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Washington--More than 50 percent of the administrators and teachers questioned in a recent survey said that they became involved in efforts to improve instruction at their schools not only for altruistic reasons but because the move "would look good on a resume" and "could lead to career advancement."

That was one of the findings that surfaced during a discussion of studies of school-improvement efforts at a seminar sponsored by the Education Department (ed) recently.

Re-Examine Assumptions

The seminar, attended by approximately 150 ed staff members and invited guests, was organized by the department's offices of planning, budget, and evaluation and educational research and improvement. Its purpose was to re-examine assumptions underlying effective-schooling practices and efforts to disseminate word of those practices around the country.

Five researchers who have recently conducted studies of improvement efforts at the school-building level shared their findings with the group during the seminar's general session.

Most of the researchers said their studies confirmed the belief that strong management and "a sustained but reasonable use of power" generally resulted in success.

"In fact," said Matthew B. Miles, a research associate for the Center for Policy Research in New York, "the more demanding a program is, the more likely it is that the program will result in positive change."

"Small is not better when you're talking about school improvement," said Mr. Miles, the primary researcher on a National Institute of Education-sponsored study of such programs. "The harder a teacher has to work on an innovative program, the more likely it is that the teacher will become excited about it."

But one of the researchers on the panel indicated that when one is dealing with high schools, the "strong leadership" that is the key to success does not necessarily have to emanate from the principal's office.

Most of the school-improvement efforts of the last decade have centered on elementary education, not secondary education, and there are important differences in organizational structure between the two levels, said Eleanor Farrar, a vice president and senior research associate at the Huron Institute in Cambridge, Mass.

"High schools are much more complicated organizations than elementary schools," Ms. Farrar said. "Today, high-school principals seem to come and go much more often than before, while, on the other hand, in most schools you can still find a handful of teachers who have remained in the same building for 20 years or more."

In these instances, she said, "school-improvement efforts will have to focus on a corps of such teachers; you have to convince them to work toward reform."

Slight Risk

According to Mr. Miles, there is a slight, but worthwhile, risk associated with allowing teachers to become highly involved with improvement programs.

Many teachers look to these programs as a means of career advancement, and some who become highly proficient in the program's implementation eventually leave the classroom in order to train other teachers in effective-schooling techniques, he said.

But if the loss of one good teacher at one school results in better instruction in many schools, Mr. Miles pointed out, society at large benefits.

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