Coalition Offers Strategies To Ensure 'Good Common School' for All Students

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The ideal urban elementary school would feature a racially and ethnically mixed student enrollment, would be run by a parent-dominated school council, and would empower teachers to make decisions about the curriculum and the grouping of students, according to a new book by a nationwide coalition of organizations interested in school restructuring.

The Good Common School is a 317-page book being published this week by the National Coalition of Advocates for Students, a network of state and local advocacy groups.

The book represents the coalition's attempt to relate its vision for the "good common school"--which is defined as one that has the "primary goal of providing educational excellence for all of its students"--with the current state of affairs on issues such as student placement, instruction, assessment, school climate, teacher empowerment, and school finance.

"After a decade of debate, most parents, advocates, and educators agree that schools must fundamentally change," the book states. "Still, transformation remains elusive."

The Good Common Schools Project, which resulted in the book, grew out of a 1987 conference at which the N.C.A.S. board of directors and others agreed that reform advocates must look beyond their own communities and develop a broader, national campaign.

"The Good Common School is the first comprehensive guide to school restructuring to incorporate research, strategies for change that have worked, as well as a vision for how a school will work when it has been restructured," said John B. Kellogg, a N.C.A.S. staff member and co-author of the report.

"I think you can take a document like The Good Common School and hold it up against the President's America 2000" education strategy, he added. The President's plan, he said, "is rhetoric," while the coalition's "is concrete strategies and research."

Book's Organization

The book is organized around eight chapters that address such issues as parent participation, student instruction, school finance, and teacher empowerment. In each chapter, the N.C.A.S.'S vision of the ideal school is contrasted with what it says is current practice in public elementary schools. Each chapter includes one or two examples of reforms at the local level, followed by a summary of educational research for that chapter's topic.

For example, the chapter on parent participation sketches a scenario in which parents take an active role in every aspect of the school, from checking up on their children's attendance to making decisions on the local school council.

The "reality" section of the chapter then goes on to assert that parent participation "remains limited in most elementary public schools, with only one-fifth of all parents successfully involved with their children's schooling."

The rest of the chapter describes strategies used by reform activists in Chicago, as well as "promising practices" for encouraging greater parental involvement from Benton Harbor, Mich., and Watsonville, Calif.

Ideal School's Attributes

A summary description of the good common elementary school argues that it should serve about 600 students in grades K-6, with pupils organized into three separate educational units, or houses, within the school building.

The enrollment would be racially and ethnically diverse, with special efforts to make the faculty match the student composition as much as possible.

The school's governance council ideally would include six parents, two other local residents, two teachers, and the principal. The council would hire and fire the principal, develop the budget, and create an annual school improvement plan.

"The Good Common School is about making real schools better in real ways," Mr. Kellogg said. "We hope it will stand in contrast to rhetorical solutions that seem lightweight at best."

Copies of The Good Common School are available for $16.95 plus $3 for postage and handling from the National Coalition of Advocates for Students, 100 Boylston St., Suite 737, Boston, Mass. 02116.

Vol. 11, Issue 08, Page 4

Published in Print: October 23, 1991, as Coalition Offers Strategies To Ensure 'Good Common School' for All Students
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