Current Events/ In Brief

May 01, 1991 9 min read

This, at least, is the vision of 50 select teachers who spent a week last summer in Snowbird, Utah, brainstorming about the future of education. The project to capture and portray the thoughts of outstanding teachers was organized by Impact II, a national, nonprofit organization that provides small grants to individual teachers, with support from the Metropolitan Life Foundation.

The effort was spurred by a belief among many that the current school reform movement has left out the voice of the classroom teacher. In its report, The Teachers’ Vision of the Future of Education, the group paints a picture of schooling that differs dramatically from what they call today’s “mass-produced learning.’'

In more than 20 years, but less than a century from now, the report predicts, isolated school buildings will be replaced by “campus-style learning centers.’' Such centers, it says, will be equipped with multimedia technology centers, laboratories for learning science and languages, planning rooms, performance areas, and gardens and greenhouses that will provide food for the school. Classrooms will be arranged for cooperative learning, with clustered desks and tables and plenty of resource materials.

Beyond the elaborate new facilities, however, the schools of the future will be characterized by new attitudes, the teachers say. All children will be viewed as possessing unique gifts and will no longer be labeled as having limitations.

Teachers, the report predicts, will have several new roles in addition to serving as the “choreographers, facilitators, and encouragers of the learning process.’' They will control the school’s curriculum, budget, time, and space and will make all staffing decisions, including the hiring of administrators. Moreover, all teachers will have telephones and fully equipped offices.

To realize their hopes, the Impact II teachers say they are willing to take on new responsibilities and give up some traditional protections. That may mean, they warn, an end to long summer vacations, a “redefinition of the role of teachers’ unions,’' and a “reexamination of tenure.’'

Copies of the report are available for $3.50 each from Impact II, P.O. Box 577, Canal Street Station, New York, NY 10013-0577.

Begging For Forgiveness

New Jersey lawmakers thought in 1985 that they were lending a helping hand to people who wanted to be teachers. To some folks this year, though, it has turned out to be more like a slap in the face.

One-fourth of the 1990 graduates who participated in a loan-forgiveness program and were ready to teach have found themselves saddled with thousands of dollars of unanticipated debt because they cannot find a full-time teaching post. Under the program, students with good academic records could borrow up to $30,000 to attend the college of their choice. For every year they teach in a New Jersey public school, the state would forgive $5,000, or $7,500 if the school is in an urban area.

Of the 64 students who were seeking teaching posts this year, 48 found jobs by mid-March, but 16 were still looking. State officials attribute the situation to a vanishing teacher shortage and a soft economy. Although admissions to the program have been suspended, 580 students have already received the financial aid. Some have reported that they would have attended less expensive institutions had they known they might be stuck with the loans.

The state, which has offered a one-year payment deferral, is weighing such options as forgiving loans for teaching in private schools.

National Board Update

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has awarded four contracts for research on the new assessments it intends to offer schoolteachers who want to become nationally certified.

The Performance Assessment Laboratory at the University of Georgia received a $1.5 million contract to develop teaching standards, identify assessment methods, and pilot test those methods.

The Educational Testing Service won a $393,000 contract to develop a “video portfolio’’ assessment of teaching. Researchers will examine whether videotaped portfolios of teachers’ work can in fact be used to measure excellent teaching performance and whether they are as effective as on-site observation. ETS also will survey teachers to determine their access to and familiarity with the equipment that would be necessary to make the tapes.

The Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, in San Francisco, was awarded a $343,333 contract to develop “performance-based’’ exercises that will gauge teachers’ knowledge and ability to work with diverse groups of students. The prototypes might ask teachers to plan a curriculum, respond to samples of students’ work, or critique vignettes of teaching situations.

Jason Millman, a professor of education measurement and statistics at Cornell University, received a $67,000 contract to prepare a summary of current tests that assess teachers’ knowledge of mathematics and how to teach the subject to students. He also will prepare a background paper on policy and technical issues associated with using students’ schoolwork in teacher assessment.

The board hopes to begin offering assessments for national certification in 1993.

Principals’ Pay Rises

The average high school principal in the United States is earning nearly $60,000 this school year, 6.1 percent more than last year, according to a survey by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Junior high and middle school principals, the survey found, earn an average of $55,083 a year, up 5.6 percent from last year, while elementary school principals average $51,453, a 6.2 percent hike.

Principals in the Far West earn the most, while those in the Southeast earn the least.

Wanted: Teacher Entrepreneurs

The nation’s third-largest for-profit provider of supplementary education has announced plans to franchise its private learning centers and is looking for teachers and other certified educators who want to get into the business.

American Learning Corp., which operates 82 Britannica Learning Centers in major metropolitan areas such as New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Dallas, and Los Angeles, began in February to seek franchisees to open their own outlets. The centers offer after-school instruction services in reading and mathematics for both remediation and enrichment. The services typically cost about $35 an hour; classes have low student-teacher ratios. Other services offered at the Britannica centers include the celebrated Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics course and preparation courses for college entrance exams.

The companies with the highest and second-highest number of learning centers nationwide--the Sylvan Learning Corp. and the Huntington Learning Corp., respectively--have long embraced franchising as a path for business growth.

Except for a handful of its oldest centers on the West Coast, ALC, a subsidiary of the Chicago-based Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., has eschewed franchising until now. ALC has been unprofitable since 1987 and lost about $3million last year on revenues of approximately $16.5 million.

The company is looking for investors who would like to establish a learning center in any market with at least 20,000 school-age pupils within a 30-minute drive of the site. The initial investment would be an estimated $94,000 to $175,000, which includes the $25,000 to $35,000 franchise fee. ALC takes an 8.5 percent royalty from each franchisee’s gross revenue, plus advertising fees.

There is no requirement that owners be educators, but the company is targeting its program toward teachers, and all center managers and instructors must be certified teachers.

The Student And The Hypnotist

A former student at Ridley High School in Folsom, Pa., has appealed the dismissal of his federal lawsuit asking damages for injuries he allegedly incurred while hypnotized during a psychology class at the school in 1986.

The plaintiff, Robert Heist Jr., claims that he suffered a sore arm, dizziness, and nightmares for three months after he participated in a group hypnosis demonstration at the school. Lisa Cagguila, a classmate who says she experienced similar symptoms, filed the lawsuit jointly with Heist. In it, they named the Ridley school district, its superintendent, the school’s principal, its psychology teacher, and the hypnotist, Joseph Scott, and asked for $20,000 each. Cagguila dropped out of the case after the suit was dismissed last November.

Scott, a clinical hypnotherapist, says the students’ claims that they have post-traumatic stress syndrome are unfounded. “I wasn’t doing hypnotic suggestion, only a relaxation technique,’' he says. “I will never do another voluntary school demonstration again, and I recommend the same to others.’'

Jon Aurrit, Heist’s lawyer, believes that the incident violated the students’ civil rights and says he hopes the case will bring attention to the need for parental approval for the use of hypnosis in classrooms.

Social Problems Threaten Reform

Unless more is done to meet the early health, social, and developmental needs of children, school reform is destined to fail, a new report by a leading business group warns.

In the report, the Committee for Economic Development asserts that most school reforms have been piecemeal and conflicting and do not reflect the complex factors that affect children’s ability to learn. The report estimates that as many as 40 percent of American youngsters begin school already at risk of academic failure because of such societal problems as poverty, family instability, substance abuse, and racial discrimination.

These social pressures, the document states, have forced schools “to assume responsibilities for the welfare of children that go well beyond their traditional educational mission.’' But, it adds, “few schools have the financial resources, trained personnel, or administrative flexibility’’ required to address such needs.

To remedy the situation, the study calls for a “systematic reappraisal’’ of how children are prepared for school that would more closely link education and child-development services. Such a “comprehensive and coordinated strategy,’' the report argues, would benefit all children, not just those from poor or minority backgrounds.

Still, it adds, any attempts to address children’s non-academic needs must be coupled with an equally vigorous effort to improve the public schools.

The report identifies a number of key elements for successful school reform, including: the development of positive incentives for administrators, teachers, and students; stronger parental involvement; greater flexibility in the use of federal funds; and the creation of performance-based assessments that would more accurately measure what students know and can do.

Copies of the study, The Unfinished Agenda: A New Vision for Child Development and Education, are available for $12.50 each, plus 10 percent for postage and handling, from CED, 477 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022; (212) 688 2063.

A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 1991 edition of Teacher as Current Events/ In Brief