In The Press
"Despite the reports and the resolve, the movement for reform [in education] might well be blunted," writes Joseph Adelson in the October issue of Commentary.
In "Why the Schools May Not Improve," Mr. Adelson, who is a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, suggests that the most troubling impediment to better schools is the appearance of "rhetorical strategies" aimed at discrediting the pursuit of excellence in the nation's schools.
The opposition to reform "takes the view that reform is reaction, that the pursuit of excellence will endanger worthier ideals, that the movement for reform is a stalking horse for the recrudescence of dangerous values."
"The reform proposals," he continues, "are seen not merely as misguided, but illegitimate, a subversion of the proper ideals of American education."
Mr. Adelson argues that the advocates of such positions are reflecting what he calls the "conventional establishment-liberal idea," which holds that "there is an implacable trade-off between excellence and equity," and that "mediocrity is the price we pay for universal education."
He ascribes other views--in particular "a disdain for the idea of merit" and the belief that traditional schooling educates "at a terrible cost in creativity, independence of mind, and joy in learning"--to those he calls opponents of reform. And he criticizes these views: "It is hard to imagine that this farrago of shopworn and discredited ideas retains the power to compel belief. Yet the ideology persists, undaunted."
Mr. Adelson charges opponents of reform with the crime of clinging to the educational theories and social mores in ascendancy in the 1960's and early 1970's, positions that have been outlined in detail by Diane Ravitch in her book The Troubled Crusade.
He concludes his essay by suggesting that the "struggle" against such views may be lost.
"Shoot-em-up" and "learn-or-burn" software, reminiscent of the "Star Wars-style video games," is "pretty much the norm in the billion-dollar educational software industry," writes Scott Lubeck in the October issue of Texas Monthly.
But, he adds, "educational software should be more than a halfway house for video junkies, and it is disconcerting that so many software developers have negelected other possibilities."
Mr. Lubeck's article, primarily a review of educational software, describes popular approaches to mathematics instruction found in available programs. To illustrate software programs that use a rote-learning format with some video-game gadgetry, Mr. Lubeck mentions "Alien Addition," published by Developmental Learning Materials.
"The objective," he writes, "is straightforward: Solve the addition problem, position the missile launcher under the corresponding flying saucer, and blast the alien invader to bits. If the child fails at this test of wits and eye-hand coordination, the evil invader drops what appears to be a hydrogen bomb, and a blue mushroom-shaped cloud engulfs the bottom of the screen."
In contrast to this "video version of Apocalypse Now," Mr. Lubeck notes other educational programs that foster critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, which he terms "the earmarks of a true education."
One such program is "The Arithmetic Classroom," produced by Sterling Swift Publishing. When a child gives the wrong answer to a multiplication problem, a pint-sized "tutor" appears on the screen and explains how to think about the equation.
What distinguishes this program from most other math programs, Mr. Lubeck writes, is that "it approaches the acquisition of knowledge through the process of discovery rather than through endless repetition and punishment."
Without such educationally stimulating approaches to learning, he writes, today's children are likely to join the nation's adult "mathophobes," who suffer from "the negative effects of rote learning."
An effective school has a strong academic curriculum, a principal with a vision and the courage to work for it, teachers who are dedicated, a commitment to learning, a mixture of students from varied backgrounds, and high expectations for all students.
So writes Diane Ravitch, adjunct professor of history and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, in "A Good School," an essay in the Autumn 1984 issue of The American Scholar.
In her article, Ms. Ravitch identifies and describes one such effective school, the Edward R. Murrow High School of Brooklyn, N.Y. After several visits to the 3,000-student school, she concludes: "I am not sure I agree with every practice and program in the school, but I deeply admire its tone and its high academic aspirations for all its pupils." The school deserves attention, she says, because it successfully weds traditional goals to nontraditional means.
Among the features of the school that make it effective, Ms. Ravitch cites its treatment of all pupils as college-bound--officials require all students to participate in a strong academic program to graduate--and its remedial programs for students who read two or more years below grade level. "The school's philosophy is that no student should be discouraged from taking on an academic challenge," she explains.
Students willingly participate in the school's program, Ms. Ravitch notes, because they have been persuaded that the school is a special school and they are special students. The school day and year are organized in nontraditional ways--instead of two semesters, there are four cycles of 10 weeks each, and classes are not necessarily held daily in all subjects.
In addition, pupils are expected to meet specific requirements in their selections from a variety of required and elective courses. The annual dropout rate at Murrow is only 4 percent, daily attendance averages 88 percent, and almost 90 percent of the school's graduates go on to either two-year or four-year college programs.
Teachers at Murrow High School are required to use the "developmental-lesson" or "socialized-recitation" method, in which students are challenged to speak out, make judgments, and change their minds. Teachers also frequently use materials and experiences not contained in the class's textbook. "In no instance did I see a teacher droning on to a class of bored students," Ms. Ravitch notes.
She also cites Murrow's principal, Saul Bruckner, as a reason for the school's success. Mr. Bruckner frequently observes classrooms, teaches a history course, and encourages teachers to design their own courses and take more responsibility for school affairs, she notes. He is also aware, Ms. Ravitch says, that the school competes for children's attention and has tried to make Murrow High School "a place where adolescents feel at home, a place that they might want to come to even if they didn't have to."
"Educators are facing new, complex legal problems regarding the use of computers and computer software ... and in many cases, the courts have not yet provided definitive answers," warns Thorne D. Harris 3rd in the October issue of Classroom Computer Learning. The New Orleans-based lawyer's article, "You Should Know What the Copyright Law Says,'' analyzes the content of the law and how it affects a school's use of computer software.
Last year, according to Mr. Harris, "several precedent-setting court decisions fa6vored broad copyright protection for computer software" and made clear that some common practices in schools are illegal.
"The law allows the purchaser of a software disk to make a copy of that disk for backup purposes only," he writes, and it is illegal for a school to buy a program disk and make copies for teachers to use. Anyone who directly or indirectly aids illegal copying can be held liable as well, he adds, so that schools may be held liable when students bring empty disks to school and copy programs.
"Software companies are just beginning to take serious action against businesses and schools suspected of unauthorized copying of copyrighted software," Mr. Harris notes, and they are organizing to fight copyright infringement by school, business, and home users.
Mr. Harris suggests that schools can protect themselves from litigation by warning students and teachers of the dangers of unauthorized copying, disciplining violators, storing software in areas with limited access, and carefully supervising student use of software.
Schools can also find legal ways to copy software, the author points out. Multiple-use licenses, for example, allow schools to make several copies of a disk for a fee.