Bennett Panel Eyes Teaching, Curricular Issues

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Washington--In its second meeting here, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's Study Group on Elementary Education last week explored a range of proposals to strengthen the curriculum in the early grades, attract and retain good teachers, and "empower the family" in educational matters.

Named in October, the 21-member panel of educators, business and governmental leaders, and representatives from medicine, the press, and the clergy will advise Mr. Bennett and offer recommendations for a report the Secretary plans to issue next year on the state of elementary education.

According to Chester E. Finn Jr., assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, Mr. Bennett will present a preliminary outline of the report at the group's next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 11.

Focus on Teaching

With estimates that a million new teachers--most of them at the elementary level--will be needed by 1990 to educate the postwar generation's "baby boomlet," panelists looked at several strategies for replenishing the teaching ranks.

They considered such ideas as recruiting those nearing retirement in other fields for work in the schools and supplementing the core of experienced career teachers with a "second tier" of bright college graduates recruited to work as teachers for a limited time.

But Gary Sykes, research director of the California Commission on the Teaching Profession, said that the teacher shortage may not be as severe numerically as some forecasts have suggested. The problem, he said, will be one of distribution.

Mr. Sykes suggested a "targeted strategy" to meet supply-and-demand needs, one that would address such specific problem areas as low salaries, inner-city and other "hardship" assignments, and attrition rates among minority teachers.

The classroom difficulties of elementary-school teachers, said several "teacher-collaborators" from Michigan State University's Institute for Research on Teaching, could be eased by efforts to promote information-sharing.

Many teachers believe they get their most valuable information on teaching from other teachers, said Linda Alford, one of the collaborators. But currently, she said, "the organization of schools mitigates against this."

Lauren Resnick, professor of psychology and education at the University of Pittsburgh agreed. "The ethos of most schools," she said, "does not encourage communal work among teachers."

But Secretary Bennett suggested that he opposed the establishment of formal programs requiring such teacher collaboration. "Do we need a structure for exchanging information and ideas?" he asked.

Curricular Changes

Diane Ravitch, adjunct professor of history and education at Teachers College, Columbia University and one of several research specialists to address the group on curricular changes, recommended that elementary-school students be required to take science courses every year and that such subjects as art and music be taken seriously academically rather than treated as "frills."

Elementary-school teachers, said Ms. Ravitch, should have a strong liberal-arts background and should not be afraid to invigorate the curriculum.

Disagreeing with the widely held belief that children should begin learning about their immediate environment first and progress to instruction about the country and the world in the later elementary grades, Ms. Ravitch said, "What we should be doing is trying to infuse the curriculum with things that are fantastic, perhaps exotic."

The K-6 curriculum, she said, should include language (reading, writing, and literature), social studies (history, geography, and civics), mathematics, science, art, and music.

Martha C. Brown, the author of Schoolwise: A Parent's Guide to Getting the Best Education for Your Child, said her research had shown that schools can be improved through the involvement of parents. She stressed the importance of parent-teacher conferences in the early years and recommended that parents ally themselves with community and business leaders to achieve school-improvement objectives and support good teachers.

Family Involvement

Dorothy Rich, president of the Home and School Institute, told panelists that "the family is a potent educational institution and we have to find ways of empowering the family to get involved in the education of their children."

Noting that most education-reform reports and teacher-training institutions overlook the role of the family in education, Ms. Rich suggested that teachers become involved with parents in providing home-learning activities.

"Schooling isn't just a teacher's business," she said. "It's everyone's business."

Vol. 05, Issue 16

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