Commentary

A Reply to 'Misreadings' of the Carnegie Report

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

When the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy published A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century, it made no secret of its intent to transform the schools. Past reform efforts have failed largely because they ignored the crucial role of the teachers.

This time, the Carnegie Forum's Task Force on Teaching as a Profession made teachers the key. The task force's goals are to attract able young people to teaching, prepare them better fur the job, give them greater powers and responsibilities, and promise them professional status with corresponding pay incentives.

Predictably, the call for a revolution evoked some antirevolutionary reactions. Mo t Americans, educators and noneducators alike, want better schools, but many of them want change in quality without changing anything in practice.

If the necessary debate is to deal with the proposals on their merits, misreadings of the report are of no help. Such misreadings have already appeared in public statements and in letters to me. Here are some examples:

A college professor warned that merit pay will not work. He is probably right, and the task force, on which I serve, thought so, too. It therefore proposed no merit pay, unless higher pay for full professors than for assistant and associate professors or teaching assistants in college·is considered merit pay. In proposing different categories of teachers, with different functions and responsibilities and different levels of certification, the task force avoids merit pay to individual teachers singled out by administrators.

A number of public statements and private letters chided the task force for allegedly ignoring the importance of principals. U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett spoke out on the "MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour" against running schools by committee. When parents want to get satisfaction about their children's education, he said, they don't want to meet with a committee; they want to see the principal.

The task force, in outlining options, did mention the possibility that somewhere a school might try a teacher-managed model, but it neither prescribed nor recommended it.

The proposed new category of "lead teachers" is supposed to help turn today's factory-type labor force into a profession. Lead teachers would work with the principal as well as with their colleagues. The principal would again become what the title originally implied: the principal teacher. Effective principals may welcome such a relationship, and the best of them already enjoy something like it. Principals who prefer a more remote form of administration may not like the proposal, and martinets will resist it.

Some commentators misread the proposals as the death knell for teacher education. "How," asked one respondent, "can anyone effectively impart knowledge without possessing teaching skills?" This is a good question, which the task force tried to answer by proposing not to eliminate but to improve the teaching of teaching skills. True, it urged the elimination of the undergraduate education major, insisting that future teachers major in a subject such as English, history, mathematics, or science. Teaching candidates could still take some education courses as electives, but to be eligible for a permanent teaching license college graduates would then take one year of master's-level education studies, followed by a year of paid internship in actual classrooms, under expert supervision.

Other objections were less fundamental. Why, it was asked, were there no teachers on the panel? Answer: At least two of the members, Mary H. Futrell, president of the National Education Association, and Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, spent many years as classroom teachers before they represented the country's 2.1 million teachers.

How could the panel hope to create a fair test to be administered by the proposed nongovernmental, national certification board that would be acceptable to teachers? Answer: Certified teachers will run the board. Research to create an effective test of teacher competence is under way, funded by the Carnegie Corporation. Certification will not rely on pencil-and-paper or multiple choice tests but rather on real or simulated classroom performance.

One teacher commented that the schools alone cannot overcome the problems of hungry children from surroundings of poverty, drugs, and violence. "Crossing the classroom threshold does not erase the world outside school walls," the teacher wrote. The task force agrees, but citing all of society's ills gets in the way of coming to grips with any of them. The limited agenda was to make teaching an effective and attractive profession. If this happens, plenty will remain for others to deal with.

Finally, there is a comment from Harold Howe 2nd, senior lecturer at Harvard's Graduate School of Education and former U.S. Commissioner of Education. Mr. Howe, who has been a teacher, principal, and school superintendent, said he agreed with most of the Carnegie report but worried about a one-sided stress on schools to serve the economy. "In my view," he said, "there are as many threats to democratic government and good citizenship in American society as there are to our capacity to compete economically."

This point was also raised by some task force members. In response, the report's executive summary calls for "an improved supply of young people with the knowledge, the spirit, the stamina, and the skills to make the nation once again fully competitive- in industry, in commerce, in social justice and progress, and, not least, in the ideas that safeguard a free society." Implementation of the proposals could benefit from Mr. Howe's comment.

Yet, the task force was created by the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, and the pragmatists may be right that politicians, and most Americans, will pay attention only if economic advantage or national security are at stake. After all, the upgrading of science, mathematics, and foreign-language teaching did not get support until President Eisenhower, in 1958, gave it the label of National Defense Education Act.

Vol. 06, Issue 02, Page 22

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories

Viewed

Emailed

Recommended

Commented