America’s schools must turn their attention to the problems of the nation’s underclass or risk the creation of an “educational third world” in our nation’s cities, Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, said in a speech before the National Press Club here last week.
While “advantaged” schools are getting better, many others--especially those in major cities-remain deeply troubled institutions, Mr. Boyer said in his overview of major themes from The Early Years, his upcoming report on early-childhood education.
''The most urgent issue we confront is this: Will America continue to believe in education for all children, or will it sort out schooling between the winners and the losers?” said Mr. Boyer, the author of High School, one of several reports that touched off the ongoing push for the reform of secondary education.
He said it was disturbing that the movement he helped bring about “is not confronting adequately the core of our educational dilemma.”
“Our first obligation is to recognize that poverty and schooling are connected,” Mr. Boyer said. ''The breakup of the home, the community wrenched by crime, lack of money, loss of good teachers-all of these threaten to overwhelm our most troubled schools.”
Mr. Boyer’s preview of his yet-unpublished report comes at a time when the attention of American educators is being drawn more closely to the initial years of schooling. It followed by two days the release of First Lessons, Secretary of Education William J . Bennett’s study of elementary education.
The foundation president’s comments also focused on another theme of growing concern to the nation’s schools-demographic trends that point to future dramatic increases in the number of “at-risk” children.
“Without taking educators off the hook, our first obligation is to recognize that poverty and schooling are connected,” Mr. Boyer said, “and that what we see as poor performance may be connected to events that precede schooling- and even birth itself.”
“In some city high schools, at least four out of 10 students are absent on any given day,” Mr. Boyer noted.
“It is in these schools that the battle of American education will be won or lost,” he predicted. “Unless we deepen our commitment, the crisis in urban education will increase. An aging white population will face an increasing minority population in the schools. I fear they will say it’s ‘their children,’ not ‘our nation.’ ”
The proper response to such problems includes giving top priority to early education and recognizing the centrality of language instruction in the early grades, Mr. Boyer said.
‘Ib achieve those goals, he continued, school districts should organize “basic schools"-units composed of kindergarten through 3rd. grad~ “to assure that every child reads with understanding, writes with clarity, and effectively speaks and listens.” Classes in such schools should have no more than 15 students each, he added.
School schedules and family schedules should be merged to reflect changing family and work patterns, Mr. Boyer urged. He said he was convinced that schools would have to adopt longer days, and predicted an end to the traditional three-month summer vacation.
Mr. Boyer also advocated the establishment of state-financed plans that would give poor families “certificates” redeemable “at the preschool, after-school, or summer program of their choice.”
In addition, he encouraged educators to “find ways to understand the many dimensions of intelligence in our children.”
“Recent polls show that Americans are willing to spend more for education if they feel the investment will payoff,” Mr. Boyer noted. “If Americans can take the long view, they will see it is the best bargain in the nation.”
A version of this article appeared in the September 10, 1986 edition of Education Week as Boyer Urges School To Focus on Plight Of ‘At-Risk’ Youth