Although "local control" remains perhaps the most revered concept in American education, recent economic and political developments indicate that it is an antiquated doctrine in need of replacement, according to an analysis in the fall 1984 edition of The Public Interest.
However, the system that now appears to be emerging as its successor--one of strong regulation by state government--is equally flawed and should be replaced by statewide systems of public-education vouchers, argue Denis P. Doyle, director of educational policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and Chester E. Finn Jr., professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University.
Mr. Doyle and Mr. Finn attribute the demise of local control and the rise of state control over American education to several factors, the most influential being the dramatic increase in this century of the share of public-education costs borne by state governments. In addition, they note, most school-reform activity now taking place is centered at the state level, thus "narrow[ing] the scope of local sovereignty and enlarg[ing] the domain of state regulation."
"It is therefore reasonably clear that the traditional pillars of local control--funding, setting standards, and determining educational content--are tottering," the authors argue. "Somewhat less clear is whether this is educationally desirable. There are ... reasons to suspect that it may not be."
Given an unwanted shift of the center of school governance "from the locality to the legislature," the best way to govern public education would be to "construct a statewide public-education voucher system and ... finance it completely with state revenues," Mr. Doyle and Mr. Finn write.
Such a system has the potential to meet important objectives, they argue. First, it would solve the problem of school-finance reform by guaranteeing identical resources to all students.
Second, it would "facilitate the establishment and enforcement of statewide quality standards and their appropriate application through well-publicized measures of school performance, rather than through bureaucratic control."
Third, such a plan "would entirely eliminate the most vexing barriers to racial and socioeconomic integration of the public schools, namely, the geographic boundaries of today's local school systems." And finally, they say, it would promote local control at the level where research indicates it makes the most difference--the individual school.
Mr. Doyle and Mr. Finn also collaborated on an article in the Dec. 30, 1984, edition of The Washington Post in which they argued on behalf of the concept of year-round schooling. And Mr. Finn outlined his views on the federal role in education in an interview published in the Dec. 31, 1984, edition of U.S. News and World Report.
As the elderly population increases, many observers are concerned that support for their health-care, social-security, and housing needs may eclipse support for programs and schooling for the young.
Writing in the December 1984 edition of Scientific American, Samuel H. Preston, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, points to a startling change in children's poverty levels and degree of government support between the 1960's and 1980's, a period during which the number of children younger than age 15 declined by 7 percent and the number of adults over age 65 increased by 54 percent. In 1970, 16 percent of children under 14 lived in poverty, compared with 24 percent of those older than 65. But the situation was completely reversed by 1982, when 23 per-cent of children were said to be living in poverty, compared with 15 percent of the elderly, Mr. Preston writes.
Moreover, numerous public programs for children--such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children--have been cut back, while those for older people--most notably Medicare--have been expanded.
Mr. Preston argues that the elderly received $44 billion in federal funds in 1971 and $217 billion in 1983; by contrast, the total outlay for the major federal programs for children in 1984 was about $36 billion--less than one-sixth of the total spent on the elderly population.
At the same time, he says, the traditional family core has been eroded by marital discord; the nation's sense of altruism in caring for children has declined; and as school enrollments have fallen, so has average pay for teachers relative to that in other fields, a problem that has driven many of the best teachers away from the profession.
Mr. Preston argues that the psychological and social well-being of the young is "crucial to the future productive capacity of the U.S."
"Insisting that families alone care for the young" is "an evasion of collective responsibility" rather than a decision in the interest of either children or the future, he writes.
"... [A]n educational reform movement that started by urging higher standards for pupils has now widened to call for improving the preparation of teachers," reports Gene I. Maeroff in the Jan. 6 "Winter Education Survey" of The New York Times--"Improving Our Teachers: Who Should Be Trained, and How, Is Focus of National Move to Rebuild the Profession."
Schools, colleges, and state agencies are paying increasing attention to the question of who is qualified to teach, Mr. Maeroff writes, and 24 states so far have instituted certification tests. However, this new attention to the standards of teachers comes "at an inauspicious time," he writes. "A shortage of teachers looms and some experts feel that raising standards is likely to aggravate the problem."
The cause of the shortage reaches back to the 1970's, Mr. Maeroff notes, when fewer people prepared to enter the profession because enrollments in the schools were declining. Now there are even more reasons to stay out of the profession. "Teaching has lost its attraction, especially to women and blacks, who have a host of opportunities not open to them 15 or 20 years ago," he says. He cites low salaries, poor working conditions, few perquisites, and low status as additional deterrents.
Until recently, teacher education has side-stepped efforts to change, Mr. Maeroff says, but as one representative of a teacher-education association put it, "We have an enormous image problem; and if we don't make teacher-education programs more rigorous we stand in real jeopardy."
But efforts to upgrade the profession, "though laudable, ... could backfire if students who are already reluctant to pursue a low-paying field that takes four years of preparation are required to study a year longer and pay an extra year's tuition," Mr. Maeroff says.
"Improving teacher education seems just the first link in an entire chain that must be rewelded if the nation is to have better teachers,'' he says, and its reformers cannot neglect to address the continuing problems of low pay, low status, and difficult working conditions.
The special report also examines how methods courses in teacher-education programs are changing, the response to reform pressures chosen by one New Jersey teachers' college, and model training and inservice programs in Michigan and Nebraska. Other articles include a survey of incentive plans being implemented across the nation and evaluations of their own professional training by a teacher and a student-teacher.
Latin, far from being a dead language, is alive and well in some inner-city schools, according to a Dec. 24 Time article. Teachers in Phildelphia, Chicago, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles are discovering that learning Latin may help students' academic achievement in all areas, the article found.
"In the past half-a-dozen years, the old tongue has been given new life, in part because of a back-to-basics reform in school curricululm, and in part by the fresh teaching methods that have transformed Latin study from a lock-step marathon into a lively challenge that students enjoy," the article notes.
Enrollment in high-school Latin classes is up by 20,000 nationwide, the magazine reports, and the numbers keep growing.
"Latin helps students become more disciplined," says Rita Ryan, a teacher in Omaha's Central High School quoted in the article. "It's a good means of training the memory."
The article states that Latin may also help those with poor reading and writing skills. "As they discover the Latin roots of such common English words as flame, and pick up an understanding of grammar and structure from the ordered shape of Latin words and sentences, they build everyday linguistic capablities."