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AASA Reform Report Urges Focus On Ethics as Schools Look to Future

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Washington

Call it Horace Mann meets Bill Gates.

"Preparing Students for the 21st Century," a report released last week by the American Association of School Administrators, calls for a school climate that fosters ethics and civility fused with widespread access to technology and the student know-how to apply it.

"Back to the future," in fact, is one way that Paul D. Houston, the executive director of the Arlington, Va.-based AASA, described the predominant themes in the report, which is based on a series of surveys with 55 educators, business leaders, policymakers, and others.

The underlying themes in the report are a need to restore the principles that Horace Mann envisioned when he championed the cause of the American common school in the 19th century, and acquiring the latest technology that contemporary innovators, such as Microsoft Corp. co-founder and chief executive William H. Gates, invent.

"The most striking element of the report for me was the crosscutting issue of ethics," Mr. Houston said last week at a news conference here. "Children have to have a sense of values."

Marvin Cetron, a widely known analyst of social and economic trends and a chief adviser to the project, said: "Without computer literacy, you are not going to make it in the future."

Consequently, the report notes the need for schools to teach students not only how to operate computers and other appliances but also what to do with the information they retrieve.

Other themes in the report are communication, increased support for education, academic standards, and social and cultural understanding.

Knowledge Base Shifts

Few, if any, of the ideas expressed in the 74-page volume are new, the participants acknowledged. The principles do, however, represent a shift in emphasis on the knowledge and skills that students will require, and they challenge teachers and administrators to reconsider their views of a comprehensive education.

For instance, among the skills that students will need to master, the report says, are adaptability and flexibility--traits that are not necessarily hallmarks of public school systems.

When Mr. Houston was the superintendent of the Princeton, N.J., schools, the community decided it wanted to promote divergent thinking among its students. In classrooms, however, school officials discovered that student questioning was discouraged or hurried along. "We killed divergence every time it reared its ugly head," Mr. Houston said.

"It's going to call for significant changes," he said.

Tradition Meets the Future

The report is divided into four sections: academic knowledge, or what students must know; essential skills, or what students must be able to do; the behaviors students must exhibit; and the roles that schools, government, business, parents, and other citizens must play to ensure high-quality education for the nation's children.

At the top of the knowledge list are mathematics, logic, reasoning, statistics, and functional and operational literacy.

Then the list veers away from the knowledge base that schools have traditionally stressed. Ranked second on the knowledge list are critical interpersonal skills, including speaking, listening, and teamwork, followed by information accessing and processing using technology.

Number four, writing skills, marks the return to more traditional fare, followed by American history and government, then scientific knowledge and world history. Ranking eighth is multicultural understanding. Foreign language and world geography round out the top 10.

The report also emphasizes integrating the curriculum.

Skills and Behaviors

The list of skills reflects much of what is in the knowledge base. It also includes self-discipline, job success, conflict resolution and negotiation, and research and data interpretation.

Again, in many respects, the list of behaviors ties in with the knowledge and skills that students will need. For instance, teamwork is cited in this section, as is universal respect for others.

The ability to work together as part of a team and to appreciate foreign languages "are things we have not pressed as much" as other abilities, said Floretta Dukes McKenzie, an education consultant and former schools superintendent in the District of Columbia who was a chief adviser to the project.

The list also covers honesty, integrity, and taking responsibility for one's own actions.

Academics cannot be the sole purpose of schooling, Mr. Houston said. "People ... indicted in Watergate were good readers that functioned in the workplace, but pieces were missing."

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