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N.A.S.B.E. Panel Recommends Better, Not Longer, Schooling

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New Orleans--A task force convened by the National Association of State Boards of Education has recommended that state boards focus their attention on increasing the amount of time spent on instruction during the existing school day, rather than working to extend the school day or the school year.

That recommendation--which diverges from proposals made last spring by the National Commission for Excellence in Education--is part of a package of "policy options" presented to the approximately 250 state-board members who convened here last week for nasbe's 25th annual meeting.

The suggestions, contained in a report entitled "State Board Options for Policy Development" and outlined at a session of the meeting, are intended to guide board members in responding to the problems outlined recently in numerous national reports on education.

Acknowledging that boards in many states share responsibility for education with legislatures and education departments, the task force focused its attention on "those issues over which state boards of education have influence and which are most critical to achieving the goal of excellence in education."

The task force, made up of board members from each state, emphasized that its intent was not to "recommend each state board do the same, but to reach an understanding about the various options available. ...''

"We have raised the policy questions that must be answered as each state continues to move in the area of educational change," the report states. "The need for change and the reasons are different in each state."

As speakers at that and other sessions noted, reform efforts are already well under way in many states, and were, in many cases, initiated several years ago.

In Washington State, for example, education officials conducted a survey on high-school graduation requirements in 1980 and determined that tighter requirements were needed, according to Frank Brouillet, superintendent of public instruction in Washington State. The final action on raising requirements, however, was taken in May 1983, one month after the excellence commission issued its report calling for, among other things, tighter graduation requirements.

The task force divided its recommendations into four areas, all of which have also been covered in the national reports:

Instruction and learning time. The task force noted that there is "little evidence that extensions of the school day or school year would lead to increased student achievement." However, it urged boards to "take steps to ensure that time devoted to learning is increased," and outlined several steps that state boards might take to achieve this goal.

To increase the amount of learning time, the task force recommended that boards specify both a minimum percentage of the school day that must be spent on instruction in academic subjects and the amount of teachers' time that must be devoted to instruction in those subjects.

Approaching the problem from a different angle, the group also suggested that state boards set statewide policies on absenteeism, which would set minimum attendance levels, below which students would not receive a passing grade. In addition, they suggest, boards could require high attendance levels as prerequisites for students' participation in extracurricular activities.

All extracurricular activities, the group recommends, should be separated from the academic curriculum and should take place outside regular school hours.

Some circumstances could war-rant the extension of the school day or school year, the task force notes, but such extensions should have specific purposes--for example, school-management tasks, teacher and administrator inservice programs, and enrichment and make-up courses for pupils.

Improved leadership. The task force suggests that the skills of administrators will play a key role in improving education. One way to improve those skills would be to "allow administrator certification by examination and internship for persons without prior school-level administrative experience, but with previous education and management experience."

Other options include a statewide certification system for principals and required internships for all administrators.

The group also suggested that state boards could conduct training sessions for administrators and local school-board members that focus on "system dynamics that help or hinder leadership and management by school personnel." Such training might better enable school officials to retain and enhance the authority of effective administrators, the report suggests.

Rewarding successful administrators and successful schools, the report suggests, might be another tactic for improving the schools. The group suggested that state boards could adapt recent proposals on incentive pay for teachers and apply them to administrators.

Quality of teachers. To ensure that those entering the profession are intellectually able, the group suggests that states set admission requirements for teacher-training programs at least as high as those for other undergraduate programs.

After graduation from a teacher-training program, the group suggests, states might require teachers to complete a "rigorous internship program" as a condition of permanent certification.

The report also suggests that states establish a "systematic review'' of teacher-preparation pro-grams, to be conducted every three to five years. That process, it suggests, should place "special emphasis on strengthening content in the area in which a student expects to teach."

To keep highly qualified teachers from leaving the classroom, the report suggests improvements in the "climate" of the schools, as well as in salaries and skills. Among other measures, the group suggests upgrading inservice programs and establishing both career ladders and financial rewards for good teachers.

Higher standards and better-defined curricula. After establishing the amount of time to be spent on instruction, state boards should go on to require both a minimum number of hours in each subject and that districts devise ways to assess students' grasp of the material covered, the task force recommends.

However, the group also recommends that school officials urge students to "reach beyond the minimum requirements to achieve their maximum educational potential."

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