Elementary Principals' Survey Finds Slim Support for Standards, Inclusion
Nearly two-thirds of elementary and middle school principals believe national subject-matter standards will not improve American education, according to a recent poll.
"The standards movement has gone astray," said Samuel G. Sava, the executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, which released the results on the eve of its annual convention here last week.
The findings come from an informal survey of the group's 26,000 members on a variety of education issues, which drew 1,139 responses.
Mr. Sava said many elementary educators initially welcomed the notion of national benchmarks for what students should know and be able to do. "I think we were impressed when the standards on math came out," he said.
But the voluntary standards proposed for all the disciplines do not account for the limited amount of time in the school day, he added. "Our children will need to stay in elementary school until they're 18 to learn and do what's planned for them."
The elementary administrators' indictment of the centerpiece of school reform nationwide follows similar criticism by the nation's secondary school principals at their annual meeting in February. It also underscores what many observers see as a loss of momentum for the national-standards movements. (See Education Week, 2/15/95 and 4/12/95.)
Several principals interviewed here last week said they did not like the "top down" nature of national standards.
"The standards themselves may be honorable," said Patty Toombs, the principal of South Whidbey Intermediate School in Langley, Wash. "But they may not reflect the community that you're serving."
The survey respondents also gave low marks to the concept of full inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classrooms. Seven out of 10 said they did not believe schools should assign all children to such classrooms regardless of their disabilities.
"The great majority of disabled youngsters benefit socially, psychologically, and academically from joining their peers in regular classrooms," Mr. Sava said.
"But the concept of inclusion has been pushed to such extremes," he continued, "that it's robbing nonhandicapped children of their right to learn, while depriving handicapped children of the specialized teaching they need to achieve their highest potential."
He added that many school systems are spending tens of millions of dollars on classroom teachers and aides, tuition at private schools, and lawyers' fees to comply with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The federal law guarantees students with disabilities the right to a public education and requires that students be taught in the "least restrictive environment" possible.
On other issues, principals who responded to the survey strongly supported values education, parental involvement, and strict discipline.
Other speakers here encouraged school heads to wade carefully through the nation's frenetic school-reform activity.
Ernest L. Boyer, the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, unveiled a comprehensive blueprint for elementary school education. Mr. Boyer said "The Basic School" model pools effective practices into one plan. (See Education Week, April 12, 1995.)
Meanwhile, more than 150 of the 6,000 K-8 principals who attended the meeting fielded telephone calls from parents as part of a toll-free hot line service.
The volunteers took about 1,000 calls from parents concerned about their children's education.
Ken Cross, the principal of Robert Frost Elementary School in Sioux Falls, S.D., said calls he received showed that parents are eager to get involved.
Parents want to know "what's appropriate for my child as far as discipline, as far as education," he said. "The questions get to the heart of the matter."
Vol. 14, Issue 30, Page 7