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Panel Urges Changes To Raise Quality In South's Schools

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With merit-pay for outstanding teachers as one of its key recommendations, a task force of the Southern Regional Education Board has issued a 20-point program designed to foster further educational improvement in the region.

The program, outlined in a report entitled "Meeting the Need for Quality: Action in the South," is a follow-up to the board's 1981 report, "The Need for Quality." That document called for major educational reforms in both public schools and teacher-education programs. Many of its recommendations--higher standards for teachers and students, and improved instruction in mathematics and science, for example--have subsequently been made by other commissions, including the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

Focusing much of its attention on the training of teachers, the new report traces the progress of Southern states in reaching the proposed goals and offers further recommendations for improvement.

Among those recommendations:

Financial incentives should be established to reward outstanding teachers and to facilitate recruitment and retention of highly talented and motivated individuals for the teaching profession.

States should establish loan-scholarship programs to attract high-quality students--particularly minorities--into teaching.

Admission requirements for graduate programs in education should match those for advanced degrees in other fields.

Graduate courses taken by teachers for recertification should be relevant to their teaching assignments.

School districts should use the behavior that characterizes "effective principals" as a component of their selection criteria for those posts.

All education-administration programs that train principals should require an on-the-job internship.

Institutions of higher education should play an integral role in fostering change at all levels of education.

States should give high priority to a "close appraisal" of vocational education.

"While some of the recommendations in this report and in 'The Need for Quality' may disturb one or another special interest in the huge educational enterprise, these recommendations reflect the philosophy that students come first," the report notes.

"The other concerns, while important, are secondary."

Continuing Attention

In some of the areas in which the task force recommends reform, the 14 states have made some progress already. The task force urges continued attention to the question of more demanding graduation requirements, but points out that the average number of units required in the region has risen from 18 to 20 since 1980. Similarly, many of the states have increased the requirements for mathematics and science from one year to two. And seven of the states now have more rigorous college-admission standards.

The states have made some progress toward improving teaching in the region, but the report suggests that changes in this area are likely to be more difficult to carry out and, in some cases, more controversial. The task force also addresses the emerging concern that the testing of teachers will eliminate many black teacher candidates from the pool, and urges the regional board to maintain "special concern for assuring an adequate supply of black teachers."

Requiring teachers and students to pass minimum-competency tests is, the task force notes, only one aspect of improving the quality of education. The "priorities for further action" described by the report focus on moving beyond the minimum standards.

Retaining good teachers is as important as attracting them to the field in the first place, the report suggests, and for that reason improving salaries and rewarding excellence can be critical. The South, historically, pays its teachers less than teachers in other regions earn, and although some states are making concerted efforts to change that, 13 of the Southern states still fell below the national average in 1982, according to the task force.

Merit pay could also help keep teachers in the classroom but--as has already been demonstrated in Tennessee, the task force notes--it is likely to be controversial. The involvement of teachers in merit evaluations is important, the task force suggests, alluding to the their response to the Tennessee proposal and others.

Improving teacher-education programs will also continue to be an integral part of any educational reform, the task force suggests. And it recommends that efforts focus on strengthening the general-education component of teachers' training.

The most common areas of failure on teacher-certification tests suggest that education schools do face a weakness in that area, the report notes. "While all college students should obtain a broad-based liberal education, including college-level mathematics courses, it is especially important that education majors obtain a solid foundation."

The group also recommends providing students with field experience early in education programs, and making sure that the "clinical" approach, which "applies theories of learning and teaching, be injected throughout the pedagogy curriculum, rather than being limited to student teaching."

Provisional Certification

Few states have made the changes in their systems of teacher certification that were strongly urged in the 1981 report, according to the task force. That report suggested granting provisional certification to beginning teachers, including arts and sciences graduates. Currently, four states have instituted such systems, and five others are studying the possibility of using them.

States in the region have also failed to address the "complexity and rigidity of certification rules." One problem is that areas of specialization are fragmented, the task force says. It suggests that states reduce the number of subjects for which they issue certificates.

The group also recommends that the region develop a common certification test and grant certification reciprocity to other states. To do so, the task force notes, would allow teachers to be more mobile within the region.

Following the earlier task force's recommendation that the preparation of principals be improved, the current group concluded that emphasis should probably be placed on effective selection criteria and procedures. The process should rely on research findings on "effective principals," which should be applied as early as the admission process to graduate school, the report suggests.

It also contends that inservice programs could improve the performance of principals now in the schools. But it recommends a sustained ef-fort: "... One-shot workshops on various managerial topics are unlikely to make a fundamental difference."

Mathematics, science, and computers are three subjects in which both curriculum and teaching need further improvement, according to the report. The group urges that schools both strengthen existing science and mathematics courses and add others, after considering carefully whether the curriculum does serve the needs of both college-bound and noncollege-bound students.

Educators can improve the supply and quality of teachers in the three fields, says the sreb report, both by making substantive efforts to attract and retain good teachers, and by strengthening education-school curricula in those fields.

The "rush to computers," the task force points out, "in too many instances has not been preceded by deliberate planning on their uses or how these might be achieved."

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