Colorado Panels Issue Reports, Seek Reform
Colorado Springs--Gov. Richard D. Lamm told about 900 educators this month that while it is too soon to see the effects of the reform proposals in the classroom, the recent national reports on the state of education have already had a profound effect.
"They have gotten people asking questions," he said, "and asking questions is the first part of reform."
The Governor spoke at a conference in Colorado Springs during which representatives of nine different task forces appointed by the Colorado State Board of Education described their findings. The task forces, three of which were appointed before the National Commission on Excellence in Education issued its report last spring, were composed of teachers, administrators in higher education as well as the schools, school-board members, legislators, business and community representatives, parents, and a few students. And although several of the task forces have not yet finished their work, a clear consensus on the prevailing educational concerns in Colorado emerged.
More Rigor, Excellence
Participants in various conference sessions repeated the now-familiar call for more rigor, for excellence, and for strategies to stem "the rising tide of mediocrity." One of the most pervasive suggestions was for a return to a common academic program for all students, including those who will not go on to college. Each of the five task forces dealing with academic subjects--mathematics, English, foreign languages, social studies, and science--proposed or is considering that same recommendation.
The mathematics task force, appointed in November 1982, recommended three years of math for all students, and four for those going into math-related occupations.
In addition, it urged school districts to require all high-school juniors to take a 90-minute diagnostic examination in mathematics developed by Ohio University and expanded by the Colorado group. The purpose of this examination is to help school officials gauge the adequacy of their mathematics curriculum and to identify juniors who need to improve their skills. The University of Colorado has begun offering the test this year; so far, 7,000 juniors have volunteered to take it.
The English task force strongly recommended four years of English for all students, with one semester of writing required in the senior year. This panel also specifically stated that students should be able to demonstrate mastery of skills in "writing, literature, language, speaking, listening, reading, media, and reasoning." Educators should not assume that requiring certain courses guarantees that students will master the material, task-force representatives said; their skills must be demonstrated.
Another task force, appointed in August 1982 to study the proliferation of remedial courses in Colorado's public colleges and universities, echoed even more strongly the recommendation for increased academic rigor. In addition to recommending strict high-school requirements, it suggested that a year of Latin or a Romance language be mandated for all junior-high school students.
When a teacher in the audience asked John Peper, superintendent of Jefferson County Schools and a member of that task force, whether such difficult requirements would increase the dropout rate, Mr. Peper responded that "we have the experience of going in the opposite direction for 15 years and the result is unsatisfactory. Let's try it this way for a change."
Fred M. Hechinger, president of the New York Times Foundation, chided educators at the conference for being overly defensive, but the participants nonetheless continued in small-group sessions to criticize the present system of teacher education as well as certification and recertification procedures.
"No one is happy," said Mr. Peper, "that the lowest-qualified candidates on campus are the ones going into teaching. We are saying to the colleges 'Do something about that, don't take them."'
Members of several of the task forces said they were recommending more stringent state standards for certification and clear procedures for evaluating teachers so that the best can be rewarded and retained.
Perhaps the most startling recommendation came from the task force examining the education profession. It recommended the abolition of tenure for public-school teachers, on the grounds that tenure tends to discourage the best people from entering the profession and because of the public's low opinion of tenure.
"Tenure has achieved such a negative status," said Eugene Layman, an administrator from Jefferson County, "it is necessary to change it."
Perception of Tenure
The president of the Colorado Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, did not disagree. "We're aware of the public perception of tenure," he said, "and we're exploring the whole concept."
While the individual task forces have been at work, Governor Lamm has established yet another group to sift through the various recommendations to make a workable legislative package. "We don't need a laundry list of reforms and a media moment full of sound and fury," the Governor said. "Improvement is under our noses. We must expect more of our kids."