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Boyer Urges Focus on Teaching in '88 Presidential Contest

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Chapel Hill, NC--Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, last week challenged the country's Presidential candidates to "make teacher excellence a national crusade" in 1988.

In a speech delivered here--on the eve of a televised debate between the candidates focused solely on schooling--Mr. Boyer laid out a far-ranging agenda for them to follow.

The initiatives he outlined included:

A federal legislative package, focused on "teacher excellence," that would provide fellowships to thousands of teachers, allowing them to spend time in libraries and laboratories and with scholars in their fields.

A renewed national focus on "at risk" students, including full funding of Head Start, Chapter 1, and federal nutrition programs.

A "peacetime Manhattan Project," in which master teachers and research scholars could attempt to overcome the disconnected and fragmentary nature of the school curriculum by developing "optional models" for states to use in language, history, science, and other fields.

A comprehensive national program of assessment that would include a basic-literacy test for young children; a cluster of general-education exams at the high-school level in such academic fields as science and geography; a senior writing program for all students to determine their capacity to think critically and integrate ideas; and a student portfolio of school and service projects, to evaluate the "higher-order aptitudes of aesthetic sensitivity, creativity, and problem solving."

'Beyond Regulations'

The foundation president praised recent attempts to improve teaching and the status of teachers. Such efforts, he said, deserve "a solid B +, even A, perhaps."

But he cautioned that the teaching profession "will remain imperiled" as long as "day-to-day conditions in the schools leave many teachers responsible but less empowered."

"There are poor teachers in the schools," Mr. Boyer said. "And for the reform movement to succeed, the teaching profession must vigorously monitor itself."

But he added that "it's also true that no profession is made healthy by dwelling on what's bad, or by diminishing the stature of those who do the work."

For the reform movement to succeed, he suggested, it must move "beyond regulations" to give teachers greater dignity and recognition.

'Rube Goldberg Arrangement'

Mr. Boyer was particularly critical of the K-12 curriculum, which he described as a "Rube Goldberg arrangement that lacks both quality and coherence."

Stressing that "literacy comes first," the foundation president proposed that every district organize what he called "Basic Schools."

These nongraded institutions--combining kindergarten through grade 4--would expose students to a rich variety of written and spoken language, with the goal of making them proficient in English.

In addition, Mr. Boyer said,4schools should give priority to writing in all the grades, and they should require that every high-school senior be asked to write a paper on a "consequential topic" as a requirement for graduation.

"If, after 12 years of formal schooling, students cannot express themselves with clarity and coherence, cannot integrate ideas or state with cogency their conclusions, then we should close the school doors and start again," he argued.

Conflicting Desires

To measure students' mastery of this new curriculum, Mr. Boyer proposed a far more comprehensive national assessment program than currently exists.

"Part of the problem," he said, "is that, in America, we want local control of schools and we want national results, and we're ambivalent about how to reconcile the two."

He suggested that to avoid creation of a federal education curriculum, the new assessments be developed and overseen by a national, nongovernmental panel.

Ultimate Challenge

"What we test determines, in large measure, what we teach," Mr. Boyer said. "And shaping a comprehensive program of evaluation, one that enriches rather than trivializes the goals of education, is one of the most urgent challenges the reform movement now confronts."

Mr. Boyer also urged Presidential candidates to address the "crisis of the disadvantaged" youngster.

"Today, almost everyone agrees that excellence in education means excellence for all," Mr. Boyer said. "But, frankly, that's not the way the reform movement is working out."

"While 'advantaged' schools are getting better, others remain deeply troubled institutions," he noted. "And there is still an enormous gap between our rhetoric and results."

Ultimately, he warned, the reform movement "will be judged, not by student progress in the privileged schools, but by what happens to our poorest and most neglected children."

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