Schools Have Too Many Tasks To Perform, Illinois Educators Say
Chicago--Illinois' superintendents of schools, having heard much discussion of mediocrity in public education at their own conference here recently, subsequently told a state commission that they were not the ones to blame.
Addressing a hearing held by the newly formed Commission for the Improvement of Elementary and Secondary Education in Illinois, seven local superintendents from a cross-section of districts in the state said schools have been handed too many jobs with too little funding to meet their responsibilities effectively.
"This commission should look at the responsibilities schools are called upon to carry out," said Ruth B. Love, Superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools. "We would be miracle workers if we did everything expected of us."
She added that schools need "long-term, predictable financing" and called upon the federal government to "assume a greater, not lesser, role in public education."
Those themes were echoed by Superintendent Ronald Marino of the Ottawa School District, a 2,000-student system in north central Illinois.
"This Administration's policy seems to be putting prayer back in the schools and letting us pray for funding," he said.
Mr. Marino struck a responsive chord with the school administrators gathered for the Sixth Annual Superintendents Conference when he recited the multitude of tasks that schools are expected to perform.
"There appears to be no real consensus regarding the various components of education. Just what are we supposed to be doing?" he asked.
"I know one thing--public schools in this state are expected to do an awful lot of things. We've been ex-pected to be the panacea of all the nation's ills. Schools have had to take over the responsibility of the home, the workplace, and the community. We've become institutional miracle workers," Mr. Marino said.
"Take a look at the responsibilities given to the schools: We're asked to feed kids breakfast, lunch, and sometimes a snack; we check students' vision, their hearing, and their teeth; we see that students are properly immunized; we show them how to brush their teeth and we teach them good nutrition; we integrate the schools where cities cannot integrate their neighborhoods; we show young people how to ride their bikes and drive cars carefully; we teach students how babies are made and how to avoid having them ...; and the public still demands that kids be able to read, to write, and to compute."
Mr. Marino concluded: "Is it any wonder that student achievement appears to be headed toward mediocrity when schools are asked to do almost the impossible? We've been asked to be all things to all people. We've been asked to please everyone."
The superintendent and his colleagues testified before the new state commission created in July by the General Assembly at the inititive of the Illinois State Board of Education.
The group's charge was to weigh possible responses to the call for educational reform resulting from major recent studies.
The commission also heard from representatives of four of the recent national studies: Milton Goldberg of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, Paul Peterson of the 20th Century Fund, Robert Andringa of the Education Commission of the States, and Adrienne Bailey of the College Board.
But it was the local superintendents who offered the most advice to the commission.
Roderick Bickert, superintendent of the New Trier High School District, recognized as one of the top secondary schools in the state and nation, warned the commission to be wary of new curriculum mandates as the answer to concern over student achievement.
"A two-year science requirement means little to me," he said. "Our district has only a one-year requirement, but nearly all of our graduates have five to six semesters of science."
And Mr. Marino reminded commissioners that requiring certain courses does not assure that the subject matter will be learned. He urged placing greater emphasis on what students have learned than on new course requirements.
"Without learning outcomes, we'll continue to wander aimlessly," Mr. Marino said.
The superintendents also urged that more emphasis be placed on teaching, and they expressed agreement with suggestions for upgrad-ing teacher training, merit-pay, and master-teacher programs.
"Do you realize a good teacher can teach for 30 years and go unrecognized for excellence?" Ms. Love said. "We need to monitor our ranks and be willing to make tough decisions about those not doing a good job."
As the hearing concluded, State Senator Arthur Berman, co-chairman of the commission, gave the remaining administrators a homework assignment.
"You have a responsibility to this commission," he said. "Let us hear from you. We need your guidance."