Teachers' Role in Reform Highlighted by E.C.S.
Union, NJ--Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, after sitting in on the first of a series of "Talks with Teachers" sponsored by the Education Commission of the States, said here last month that he was convinced education reform would not continue without the involvement of teachers.
"I've learned what the level of frustration is and what should be done about it," said the Governor, who is chairman of the ecs this year, after hearing 15 New Jersey public-school teachers describe their dissatisfaction with education reforms. "We believe that teachers are the ones who can make the schools better, and we don't feel people have been listening enough to teachers. ... Any further reform will fail without them."
The four-hour meeting, held at Kean College, brought teachers from randomly selected schools together with the Governor, Commissioner of Education Saul Cooperman, Chancellor of Higher Education T. Edward Hollander, state legislators and other New Jersey policymakers.
The New Jersey meeting marked the beginning of an ecs program called "Teaching in America: The Possible Renaissance." Additional meetings with teachers in Indiana, New Jersey, Vermont, and Wyoming will be held over the next few months, according to Richard P. Mills, Governor Kean's special assistant for education.
The other components of the program are a national teachers' forum, scheduled to convene in Washington early in March, and the publication of "Commentaries from Scholars," a series of interviews with national experts on education reform.
In addition, the ecs will make edited videotapes of the talks with teachers available in the spring to states, local districts, and individuals interested in planning their own meetings or teacher-improvement programs.
These efforts, Mr. Mills explained, are designed to spur veteran teachers' professional development and to attract newcomers to the field.
The New Jersey teachers expressed a number of concerns about current education-reform efforts:
Experienced teachers said increases in minimum starting salaries make them feel unappreciated.
"It's like a slap in the face," said Charmaine Allen, a New Brunswick 1st-grade teacher. "The teachers who are coming in with a B.A. and not a day's experience get just $1,500 less than I do." New Jersey's new minimum starting salary is $18,500.
Ms. Allen, who left teaching but returned in 1981 after a two-year stint in sales work, added, "If you ever lose me again, you will lose me because I need more money."
Teachers expressed doubt that incentives such as merit pay, career ladders, and master-teacher designations can be awarded objectively. Robert Dufford, a Wyckoff middle-school teacher, said that "merit pay will require administrators with the god-like wisdom of Solomon. I don't see how you can remedy the subjectivity of it."
And Pamela Kolby, a Voorhees middle-school teacher, said her colleagues were "bucking the idea of the master teacher" because they resented the thought that some teachers were better than others.
Many teachers said they did not understand career ladders and were concerned about "who's going to determine who's going up that ladder."
After Mr. Cooperman explained that the concept was intended to provide incentives for teachers to pursue more coursework, become "curriculum leaders" in their dis8tricts, and excel under evaluators' observation, the teachers said they felt the program he described reflected no change from incentives already in place.
Teachers said administrators' isolation from the classroom perpetuates instructional problems. Even those who reported frequent administrative visits to classes agreed that evaluations are done with a "checklist mentality." Governor Kean proposed that administrators be required to spend time observing and teaching in classrooms.
Teachers said paperwork, nonteaching tasks, and demands upon their time damage morale. They suggested extending their full-time employment through the summer to allow time for curriculum development and planning; shifting the paperwork burden to paraprofessionals or administrators; and guaranteeing time each day for class preparation.
The teachers also suggested that policymakers: more closely regulate class size; bring back retired teachers to provide part-time support in nonteaching tasks; require that boards of education include nonvoting teacher representatives; and require more classroom experience for alternate-route teachers.