Education Groups Jointly Endorse School Reforms
Agreeing with recent national reports that teaching "is the crucial link to school improvements," a coalition of national education organizations scheduled a Washington press conference this week to present its "consensus" on that and other issues raised in the reports.
The group's response represents the first unified effort of major education groups to produce recommendations to guide local educators in implementing reform policies, according to Harold Hodgkinson, moderator of the Forum of Educational Organization Leaders.
The forum includes the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Education Commission of the States, the National Association of State Boards of Education, the National Association of Elementary School Prinicipals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National School Boards Association, the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, and the National Education Association.
Support for Reforms
In a preamble to a draft of its report, the coalition indicated its support for many of the newly proposed reforms aimed at producing educational "excellence," but asserted that it sees no conflict between that goal and the goal of expanding opportunity through education.
"We do not support," the leaders said, "a repeal of the constructive made-in-America reforms of the last 25 years: more appropriate education for the handicapped and non-English-speaking students; school desegregation; school nutrition programs; student rights; and more adequate pay and protection for those in educational careers." The coalition urged a "continuation of the agenda of the 50's and 60's to make educational opportunities available for all children."
The principal recommendations in the draft document concerned methods for making the teaching profession more attractive and improving the quality of the teaching force.
"The teacher is the central figure in education today," the report states, and it urges that the base pay for all teachers be raised to adequate levels. "Adequate" salaries, according to several representatives from organizations participating in the forum, would be those that are competitive in the labor market.
"The average beginning salary of $13,000 has problems," said Scott D. Thomson, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "It's basically what you would earn if you worked as a secretary, and that is inadequate for somebody who has had four or five years of college." On that salary, Mr. Thomson added, it is difficult to pay rent, buy a car, or support a family. "Your standard of living is basic with a capital B," he said.
But a more "insidious" effect of teachers' low salaries, Mr. Thomson explained, is that they create an image of teaching as a low-status occupation. "The perception is that obviously society doesn't value teachers very much."
But the society is "only as good as our teachers," he said. "You get a badly weakened teacher corps and the whole intellectual society will go down the drain."
Arnold Fege, director of governmental relations for the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, agreed. "It's a purely economic question," he said, adding that if schools want "the best and the brightest," they must pay competitive salaries.
The coalition also endorsed:
Establishment of a career ladder with different roles for beginning teachers, experienced teachers, and master teachers;
Use of year-round employment, forgivable loans, and academic and financial rewards to attract the top 25 percent of college graduates to the teaching profession;
Guarantees of safe schools as a prerequisite to maintaining the enthusiasm and effectiveness of teachers;
Encouraging teachers to remain in the profession by providing salary incentives, "such as the reduction of steps on salary scales."
The draft report does not advocate merit pay. Although it acknowledges that the concept of merit pay is "attractive," the report states that schools' 80 years of experience with various merit-pay plans clearly show that most such plans have been abandoned.
"All of the historical data show that [merit pay] has not worked," said Mary H. Futrell, president of the National Education Association. Most such programs were ill-conceived, she said, and discriminated on the basis of race and sex. The nea's main objection to the plans, Ms. Futrell added, is that they do not address the question of how to make teachers more effective, but rather reward a few people and ignore the overwhelming majority of the profession.
For that reason, she said, career-ladder plans are "much more palatable" because they allow all teachers who meet the criteria to advance.
The forum did recommend, however, continued exploration of various approaches to merit- or incen-tive-compensation programs.
The use of testing to screen or select teachers was one of the most controversial topics discussed by the forum. Its report says: "We do not agree, among ourselves, on the use of tests to select and screen teachers, although we do agree on the need for subject-material expertise."
Several members of the forum, including the nea president and Mr. Thomson of the principals' group, were concerned that such tests might be used as the sole criterion for graduation, employment, and evaluation. The tests should be used only as part of the total evaluation procedure and as a "learning mechanism," said Ms. Futrell, "to help us do a better job of teaching."
The forum also recommends:
Formal prescriptions of graduation requirements in states and localities. The report called the "five New Basics" recommended by the National Commission on Excellence in Education "confusing because schools already offer four basic subjects--English, history, mathemat-ics, and science--and the only new basic is computer literacy, and its meaning is confused."
Standards for student achievement. The report states that all students should be able to speak, write, read, and listen in the English language; that all students should be able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and solve the kinds of mathematical problems that any consumer, homeowner, taxpayer, and voter may need to solve; that world history, U.S. history, and courses in government or citizenship be taught in elementary and secondary schools; that science courses be available to all students, beginning with natural sciences in the elementary grades; that computer technology should be part of the school curriculum, beginning in the early grades; and that states and districts should consider requiring for graduation four years of English and two years each of mathematics, science, and history and social studies.
More appropriate use of "the five or six hours available in schools for instruction under current laws, contracts, and schedules." The forum agrees that students should have the chance to study for an additional month or two, up to 220 days a year, but states that "what is most important is not the length of the school year or day but the quality of the ed-ucational experience." It recommends a careful review of the uses of the school day as it now exists before any steps are taken to lengthen it.
A review by school boards, administrators, teachers, and parents of homework policy to assure that homework assignments "develop a variety of basic and advanced skills, with a realistic perception of teacher work load and the need for aides."
Although the organizations participating in the forum did not respond with equal enthusiasm to each of its recommendations, according to participants, they adopted the statement without dissent.
"One of the main criticisms that education-policy makers at the federal and state levels make of educational associations is that they often are divided," said Thomas Shannon, executive director of the National School Boards Association. "We think it is important to show dramatically the extent of our unity. We are unified in this particular effort, and that is why we participated in it."