Teachers Encouraged To Participate in Reforms

By Pamela Winston — October 24, 1984 3 min read

Washington--Charging teachers to take more responsibility for creating as well as carrying out educational policy, Patricia Albjerg Graham, dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, said here last week that “if we have learned one thing from the implementation research of the last two decades, it is that top-down reforms undertaken without the participation of those who must carry them out are doomed to failure.”

Ms. Graham, the keynote speaker for a three-day conference sponsored by the National Education Association, said, “Americans ... need to come to fundamental agreement about what we want our schools to do, [and] professional educators ... need to participate actively in that discussion, providing the expertise about both the vision of education and the means of implementing it that they uniquely have.”

Restructuring Schools

About 350 nea members attended the meeting, which was called to discuss how teachers can put into effect the restructuring of public schools proposed in “An Open Letter to America on Schools, Students, and Tomorrow,” a reform plan presented by the organization at its annual convention last summer. (See Education Week, August 22, 1984.)

The conference dealt primarily with issues raised in the letter, including how to increase the level of responsibility and the professionalism of teachers; how to change teacher training and evaluation; and how to encourage greater federal support for public schools.

A Dreaded Ritual

Arthur E. Wise, senior social scientist for The Rand Corporation, focused on teacher-evaluation systems, calling for the “professionalization of teaching.”

Current methods of evaluation have “little utility in most of our school systems,” he said. “It is a ritual dreaded by both teacher and administrator alike ... a classic waste of time.”

Mr. Wise proposed a “professional evaluation system” with more administrators trained in a greater variety of subjects or teachers assuming greater responsibility for evaluation. In order to judge the quality of teaching effectively, he said, evaluators must be thoroughly familiar with the subject being taught.

Use of Technology

F. James Rutherford, chief education officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, echoed Ms. Graham, saying that teachers must take a more active role bringing about changes in schools.

“Teachers have been defensive ... but have not come up with their own reforms,” he said. “We have to take some initiative.”

He stressed that teachers must learn how to use a variety of technologies in their classrooms, including radio and video in addition to computers, but he cautioned against integrating them into the schools without planning thoroughly first.

Mr. Rutherford said it should be the federal government’s role to initiate and support research and development efforts on how new technologies can be used in the classroom.

He also called for the year-round employment of teachers, saying “we can’t do it on a 19th-century farm year.”

The syndicated columnist Carl T. Rowan attacked the Reagan Administration for cuts in spending on social programs, particularly education. “We’re in for some tough, rough days in the field of education if you don’t fight it,” he warned. “It isn’t going to get any better in another Reagan term.”

Mr. Rowan said the budget cuts in domestic programs are “not saving me money [because] I’m going to pay for it in reform schools, cops, and welfare programs.”

Other Proposals

Other proposals of the union’s restructuring plan discussed by participants included: student “mastery” as the goal for student promotion rather than age-level grouping; beginning schooling at age 4; greater flexibility in curriculum and scheduling; higher teacher salaries, beginning at $24,000; and the restructuring of local and state taxation systems to provide money for schools more equitably.

Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the nea, urged participants to set goals and work to meet them, but she warned against getting “caught up in the idea we are leaders and forgetting that we are teachers.”

“Our responsibility is not to play with ideas, but to apply ideas,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the October 24, 1984 edition of Education Week as Teachers Encouraged To Participate in Reforms