N.E.A. Is Considering Major Policy Shifts
A committee of high-ranking elected and appointed leaders of the National Education Association is recommending a major restructuring of the nation's public schools, one that would radically change the role of the teacher and the way instruction is delivered, according to the chairman of the committee and others within the nea who are familiar with its work.
In a draft report, the committee calls for an end to the traditional practice of promoting students from grade to grade on the basis of their age, and a new division of teaching tasks among school faculty members, John C. Board, president of the Montana Education Association and chairman of the committee, said last week.
"The organization of schools is currently patterned after the industrial-factory model," Mr. Board said. "The principal is the equivalent of a shop steward, and teachers and students are isolated parts of an assembly line. The fact is that students develop at different rates, and their movement through school shouldn't be standardized. Schools need to become more flexible in how they offer instruction."
New Staffing System
To promote such flexibility, the committee recommends the creation of a system of "differentiated staffing" within schools, Mr. Board said. Under such a system, teachers would assume much greater responsibility for organizing instruction than they now have, there would be substantially more specialization and collaboration among teachers, and the most skilled teachers would have greater authority than their colleagues and earn higher salaries.
"We are viewing ourselves differently than we have before," Mr. Board said. "We see teachers becoming specialists, diagnosticians, and facilitators of learning."
The committee is part of a task force created by the nea last summer to respond to the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education. Committee members include Keith Geiger, vice-president of the 1.6-million-member union, and Roxanne Bradshaw, the union's secretary-treasurer.
The proposals to reorganize schools and alter the role of the teacher are long-range recommendations included in a broader set of recommendations made by the committee to upgrade the teaching profession, Mr. Board said. The full task force is scheduled to consider a final draft of the committee's recommendations next month. The final report of the task force, which will also include recommendations from committees on "equity and excellence" and "learners and learning," is scheduled to be presented to the organization's board of directors in May and to its full elected leadership at the nea annual convention in July.
The committee's endorsement of a hierarchy of teachers within a school is a sharp departure from the nea's longstanding support of the so-called "single-salary schedule," under which teachers are paid strictly according to their seniority and academic credentials.
The nea and its rival, the American Federation of Teachers, have been under intense pressure for nearly a year to take steps to raise standards in their profession. President Reagan directed a public campaign against the unions last summer, charging them with impeding efforts to reform schools.
At that time, both unions announced a willingness to consider alternatives to the single-salary schedule. The nea tentatively endorsed an experiment in establishing different ranks of teachers under development in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., school system. The committee's recommendations represent a much bolder position on the issue.
"We have to consider restructuring the profession entirely if we are going to change it," said Sharon Robinson, the nea's director of professional development and a staff member assigned to work with the task force. "The nea is willing to try differentiated staffing as long as teachers are paid different salaries for real skill differences and are offered career options," said W. Frank Masters, the nea's research director.
"We've got to give teachers a chance to exert much more leadership in the schools and allow them to work much more closely with each other," he said, adding that "a different kind of management in the schools" would put such ideas into practice.
The committee's recommendations "will not work without the cooperation of school management," Mr. Masters said. "Unless they are willing to rethink their role in the schools, things won't change. But we think there are models that can be worked out." Mr. Masters said the nea's internal discussion of ways to restructure schools and redefine the roles of teachers "is taking up a great deal of effort and time of the whole organization." The committee has not yet developed models to implement its recommendations, he said.