These, at least, were the most frequently raised questions at the board's third national forum, held last summer in St. Louis, a gathering noteworthy both for the announcement of a $2.5 million grant from Pew Charitable Trusts and for the large number of attendees. Approximately 400 people, many of them classroom teachers, attended the forum--nearly double the number who participated last year.
Not only was the crowd larger and broader-based, but the tone of the meeting was also substantially different from past years. Gone were the hostility and much of the skepticism that surfaced at the earlier meetings. The new attitude, board president James Kelly said, "signals acceptance.''
Many participants expressed interest in the nutsand-bolts operation of the board, which was created to improve the nation's schools by setting high standards for teachers.
Board officials, however, admitted that they do not yet have all the answers. At one session, for example, panelists told a standing-room-only crowd about assessment projects at selected sites around the country but could not address specifics of the board's assessment tools, which are still in the research stage.
Although the cost of certification has not yet been set, board officials have suggested that it will be substantial. Consequently, teachers have been asking for some form of payback beyond the intrinsic satisfaction of being certified. But at the meeting, board officials reiterated that the organization has no authority to offer inducements, such as higher salaries or bonuses. The only incentive the board can offer, Kelly said, is recognition. "Many teachers,'' he said, "know they are excellent but have never had a way to achieve appropriate personal, professional, and public recognition of it.''
Armed with data from the National Assessment for Educational Progress, Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, has launched an attack on the Bush administration's proposal to extend educational choice to private schools-- and on the belief that their students outperform those in public schools.
At a congressional hearing, news conference, and AFT meeting, the union president noted that the 1990 NAEP mathematics assessment found that 54 percent of 12th graders in Roman Catholic school and 51 percent of those in other private schools could answer questions on topics typically taught in the 7th grade, compared with 45 percent of public school 12th graders. The gap, he argued, is insignificant.
Shanker noted, too, that 5 percent of public school 12th graders achieved the highest level of proficiency on the assessment, compared with 4 percent for private school students. Private school 4th and 8th graders posted a greater advantage, but Shanker argued that the 12th grade result--the end product-- is the important one.
"The assumption has always been that private and parochial schools are doing much more in terms of achievement,'' Shanker said. "The truth is, they are producing the same results.''
"In fact,'' he added, given that their students are more likely to come from "advantaged'' backgrounds, "private and parochial schools are doing a worse job.''
Shanker continued: "The sad fact is that neither system is doing well. The undeniable fact is that if we are serious about our students' meeting worldclass standards, private school choice is not the answer.''
The National Association of Independent Schools and the National Catholic Educational Association questioned both Shanker's analysis and the adequacy of NAEP's private school sample.
Flexing Some Economic Muscle
Nothing like a little show of force to get some things done. At least that is the way California and Texas school officials see it. Exerting some economic muscle to advance education reform, the two states have agreed "to send a common message'' to educational publishers by jointly adopting science textbooks.
The unprecedented action, which is expected to begin with 7th grade texts in 1994 and expand to other grades, is aimed at combining the two largest school textbook markets to create a demand for re- designing and upgrading science materials. The two states represent 20 percent of the national textbook market and together spent roughly $378 million on textbooks in all disciplines in 1990.
Both California and Texas are working to reform science curricula in their own schools. The reforms underway emphasize the value of paring away lengthy "laundry lists'' of vocabulary in order to emphasize the themes and concepts that underlie scientific thought. "We need the publishers,'' says James Collins, director of science for the Texas Education Agency. "Let's face it; they're an important player in the reform effort.''
If publishers respond to the joint call, the action could influence books sold in other states, as well, and could lead to substantial changes in the way science is taught.
While educators hail the move as a step toward improved materials, some observers question whether it could achieve its ambitious aims. Noting that Texas and California have been prescriptive--and often conflicting--in their demands for instructional material, publishers and analysts say they are skeptical that the two states can reconcile their ideologies to produce a common reform framework.
"If they do reach a compromise,'' says Harriet Tyson, author of A Con- spiracy of Good Intentions, a 1988 book that criticized state textbook regulations, "it might compromise all good intentions out of it.''
The PTA Takes A Lonely Stand
The National PTA has adopted a set of guidelines for corporate involvement in education, but only after largely failing in its drive to forge a broad alliance against the commercialization of schools.
The principles seek to confine business partnerships to education-related projects and to bar advertising from the classroom. Members of the group say they launched the effort after becoming alarmed over sophisticated efforts by business to target the school-age market.
The PTA had hoped to put together an alliance of every major national education organization, thus giving the principles clout that the PTA alone could not provide. But some groups seemed less than interested in the campaign, while others disagreed with it, either because they felt the guidelines were too strong or too weak, PTA officials say. So the organization ended up adopting the principles, including the following, without the envisioned alliance:
- Corporate involvement should not require students to observe, listen to, or read commercial advertising.
- Selling or providing access for commercial purposes to a captive student audience in a classroom is exploitation and a violation of the public trust.
- Programs of corporate involvement must be structured to meet an identified education need, not a commercial motive, and must be evaluated for educational effectiveness by the school and district on an ongoing basis.
- Corporate-involvement programs should not limit the discretion of schools and teachers in the use of sponsored materials.
Boos And An Apology
When U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander addressed educators at the American Federation of Teachers' education issues conference in Washington, D.C., last summer, he found a receptive audience, at least initially. The crowd laughed at his jokes and warmly applauded him as he built on a theme of "common ground,'' which he said has grown between educators and policy- makers since he last addressed the teachers' union in 1983.
But when the secretary mentioned his boss, the mood suddenly changed. "We have a president of the United States who genuinely wants to be education president,'' Alexander said. With that, some members of the audience commenced hissing and booing, throwing the gathering into commotion. Momentarily taken aback, the secretary repeated his comment and continued with his speech.
Later, during a question and answer session, several educators put the angry sentiments into words. "I think you come before us with a track record we respect a great deal,'' said Tom Mooney, president of the Cincinnati Federation of Teachers. He went on, however, to tell the secretary that he is working for "a president [who doesn't] put his budget priority into education.''
Afterward, Alexander diplomatically told reporters that he welcomes debate. "Whenever you have bold ideas, you're going to run into some resistance,'' he said. AFT President Albert Shanker, however, was not so forgiving. "I'm very proud of those who knew the right way to challenge the secretary and to express disagreement,'' he told his followers after the speech. "I apologize for those who did not.''