Conferees Reiterate Need for Fundamental Reforms
Seattle--In what has become a common refrain, governors and educators attending the annual meeting of the Education Commission of the States here stressed the need for a radical reorganization of the nation's schools to prepare students for the 21st century.
Gov. Garrey E. Carruthers of New Mexico, outgoing chairman of the organization, authored a report titled "Sharing Responsibility for Success," in which he outlined strategies for promoting restructuring at the federal, state, and local levels.
"There's more activity to restructure education today than there probably has been in the last 10 years," he stated, referring to current efforts to redesign teaching and learning.
Two years ago, New Mexico became one of the first states to join a collaborative effort between ecs and the Coalition of Essential Schools to promote restructuring from the schoolhouse to the statehouse.
During the July 11-14 conference, Frank Newman, president of the ecs, announced that Colorado and Minnesota have agreed to become the seventh and eighth states in the "Re:Learning" project, joining Arkansas, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. The city of Chicago also is participating.
More than 15 other states have asked to become "networking" sites that will work with the ecs on a more informal basis to redesign their education systems, he said.
'All Kids Can Learn'
But Gov. Booth Gardner of Washington, the new chairman of the ecs, said that "most American schools are still in a state of institutional gridlock," in which fundamental reforms have yet to be tried.
"We need to rethink public education from the ground up," he asserted. "Teachers, parents, and students are at the bottom of the educational hierarchy, instead of at the center of the learning community."
During his year as chairman of the organization, Mr. Gardner will stress the theme that "all kids can learn."
"Many children fail to learn not because they are unable to," the Governor said, "but because teachers, parents, and administrators do not expect them to."
To heighten the expectations that teachers and parents hold for students, the ecs is planning a national advertising campaign in collaboration with the Advertising Council. Funding and assistance will be provided by Procter & Gamble.
In a study released during the meeting, the ecs estimated that by the time youngsters reach school age, approximately 12 percent--or more than 400,000 each year--are hampered in their ability to learn because of "fully preventable causes."
These include low birth weight; prenatal exposure to alcohol, drugs, and tobacco; lead poisoning; malnutrition; and child abuse and neglect.
Learning problems caused by such factors range from delayed speech to attention-deficit disorders and hyperactivity, said Lucile F. Newman, author of the report and a medical anthropologist at Brown University.
"By failing to address these preventable causes of learning loss, we add an enormous burden to the schools and to the lives of the affected children and their families," she said.
In addition to stressing the role that government could play in preventing such learning impairments, she said, schools should be restructured to enhance every child's ability to learn through smaller classes, personalization, alternative assessment methods, before- and after-school day-care programs, enhanced preschool programs, and mentoring.
Schools of Education
The commission also announced plans to promote restructuring within schools of education through two grant competitions, supported with $600,000 from the Southwestern Bell Foundation.
The first competition will award mini-grants of $5,000 each to 25 to 30 states interested in supporting statewide "dialogues" on making major changes in teacher education.
The second competition will award grants of $25,000 each to six states that develop a partnership with one of their four-year postsecondary institutions to carry out recommendations contained in a forthcoming book by John I. Goodlad, professor of education at the University of Washington.
The pilot program is being conducted in cooperation with the university's Center for Educational Renewal and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.