And a Look Back at Some of the Year’s Top Newsmakers ...

January 11, 1989 7 min read

In a year dominated by news events marking the widening reach of crime and violence into the schools, Joe Clark, the principal of an inner-city high school in Paterson, N.J., became an instant celebrity--and a symbol of the hard-line approach to school discipline--after his expulsion of 66 students ignited a bitter dispute with the school board.

Joan Raymond, superintendent of the Houston Independent School District, instigated a “get tough” policy of another sort, requiring that approximately 45 percent of students enrolled in grades 6-12 attend twice-a-week tutorial sessions in their free time. The mandatory tutoring was part of a wider effort by the district to address the fact that almost half of its high-school students remain educationally at risk despite continuing intervention efforts.

Elsewhere, a small but growing cadre of educational experimenters tackled the thorniest reform problems by giving life to such concepts as “restructuring” and “school-based management.” Teachers in Sante Fe, N.M., hired their own principal; Seattle’s Montlake Elementary School dropped the “pull out” system for special-education students and experimented with a variety of unorthodox teaching methods; and in Indianapolis, teachers at the Key School refined their trendsetting organizational approach based on the theory of “multiple intelligences.”

In other communities, such as Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco, experimenters were working to forge a new type of collective bargaining--one that replaces the “table pounding” of traditional contract negotiations with a nonconfrontational search for common ground in matters relating to curriculum, textbook selection, student discipline, and teacher evaluations.

A West Virginia physician, John Jacob Cannell, helped renew and refocus the debate over standardized testing. After a study by the advocacy group he founded showed that the tests’ norms are artificially low--producing a situation in which almost all children score “above average"--the U.S. Education Department convened a high-level meeting of test makers and scholars in the field and promised to produce a “consumer guide” to testing.

The textbook critic Harriet Tyson-Bernstein reiterated in a major report for the Council on Basic Education what she and others have been saying for many years: that state policies aimed at improving school texts have, in fact, destroyed their quality and made it nearly impossible for good ones to be produced and sold. One solution, Ms. Bernstein’s report suggested, would be for state policymakers to divorce curriculum and testing programs from textbook adoption.

The search for ways to increase the supply of minority teachers gained new intensity as the focus of reform shifted to the problems of “at risk” youths, a disproportionate number of whom are members of minority groups. In many urban locales, vigorous recruitment efforts were instituted. And in some, programs offering minority students incentives to prepare for teaching careers werelaunched as a way of “growing” an indigminority teaching corps.

But research findings were not encouraging. In an examination of minority-student enrollment throughout the “educational pipeline"--from elementary school through teacher training--the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education found that the future shortage of minority teachers would be “worse than the most informed educators have envisioned.” And the “1988 Survey of the American Teacher” offered a further discouraging note: Minority teachers expressed far less job satisfaction than their white peers, with 41 percent saying that they would leave the profession within the next five years.

Though it did not achieve the bestseller status that two education-related books in 1987 managed, Lawrence A. Cremin’s American Education: The Metropolitan Experience, 1876-1980 solidified his reputation as a leading modern chronicler of the origins and development of the nation’s education system. The volume completed a massive trilogy by the Columbia University scholar and offered perspectives for deepening the current debate on education reform.

Mayors became a major new force in that debate, as they began to break out of traditional “turf” constraints that have kept them out of the education arena.

In Boston, Mayor Raymond Flynn named a task force to examine the restructuring of the city’s schools; in New York City, Mayor Edward I. Koch has been an unrestrained critic of the mammoth school system, most recently launching his own investigation into alleged corruption; in Minneapolis, Mayor Donald Fraser led a citywide effort to ensure that children are developmentally prepared to enter the public schools; and in Detroit, Mayor Coleman Young for the first time directed harsh words at that city’s schools.

The new activism--spurred, mayors say, by a growing realization of the social and economic consequences of poor schooling--was evident at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, where youth-related issues were high on the agenda and a survey of problem areas ranked school quality and child care among the mayors’ top three concerns.

But it was a college president, Boston University’s John R. Silber, who provided the most innovative--and provocative--prescription for urban educational woes. He proposed that his private university take over the management of a troubled nearby school system for 10 years. And Chelsea, Mass., listened to and last month tentatively accepted the unprecedented offer, despite vehement opposition by the local teachers’ union and the American Federation of Teachers.

Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey catapulted to the top ranks of the so-called “education governors” with a strong call for parental choice and a legislative victory for his plan for state takeover of “academically bankrupt” local school systems. Chosen to nominate George Bush for President at the Republican National Convention, he made an impassioned plea for education as a national priority.

In California, meanwhile, Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig took himself out of the 1990 gubernatorial race--a contest many had expected him to enter and some had predicted he could win. He would instead seek a third term as schools chief, he said, in order to oversee implementation of the state’s precedent-setting Proposition 98. The successful ballot initiative, backed strongly by Mr. Honig and teachers’ groups, established a constitutionally guaranteed minimum funding level for education.

On the national political scene, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett served out his final year in office with a characteristically high profile. He lashed out at unscrupulous recruitment practices by proprietary schools, suggested that the armed forces be enlisted in the war against drugs, and issued a model “James Madison” curriculum for elementary schools. Before leaving office in September, he announced plans to found an education-research center with Allan Bloom, the University of Chicago scholar.

Mr. Bennett’s successor, Lauro F. Cavazos, president of Texas Tech University, indicated early on that his would be a less combative leadership style. He lodged his opposition to cuts in the education budget and worked to establish better relations with interest groups and Democratic members of the Congress. The first Hispanic to be named to the Cabinet, Mr. Cavazos campaigned vigorously for George Bush, who announced shortly after the election that he wanted the Secretary to remain in office.

But children were clearly this year’snfluential personages, in Washington and elsewhere. Sensing the electoral im14lport of “family issues” to a nation of baby boomers with young children and two-job households, members of the Congress and both Presidential candidates offered extensive legislative proposals in the area of child care. Though the “act for better child care” ran into unexpected opposition from some education groups and failed to gain passage, many advocates were heartened by the President-elect’s campaign promise of a $10-billion child-care package.

Meanwhile, the debate over early-intervention strategies and school-readiness issues intensified. And in a comprehensive validation of the importance of such early-years attention, the Council of Chief State School Officers adopted a plan calling for universal access to prekindergarten programs, publicly supported day care, and increased federal support for intervention programs aimed at helping children at risk for school failure.

A version of this article appeared in the January 11, 1989 edition of Education Week as And a Look Back at Some of the Year’s Top Newsmakers ...