Worth Noting

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"We began our reform initiatives in the name of all our children. It has become clear, however, that we are still not addressing the needs of all children. Even when schools have gotten better, too many children remain unaffected. Too many students move out of grade school without basic skills; too many fall prey to teenage pregnancy, alcohol, and drug abuse. Too many students are failing, too many are coasting, and too many are dropping out.

[We must] focus on what we can do to 'reconnect' those youths who are now disconnected from school, family, the workplace, and the values and skills they need to become productive adults. We simply cannot accept a system that is so unproductive and so inhumane as to let as much as a third, and in some places a majority, of students drop away before receiving their degrees. ...

The second major issue [we must] focus on is related closely to the first. How do we build alliances for change at the school level? I don't think that there is any question about the need to restructure the schools. ...

But what exactly does 'restructuring' mean? It means building working partnerships that unleash people's creative energy in a way that makes them free to do their best. It means more involvement of teachers in decisions that affect their daily lives. It means less trivial, meaningless work for teachers and more professional responsibility. It means more involvement of principals in leading people, less in managing the status quo.

Restructuring means, above all, cultivating a leadership for change. The leadership will have to come from all quarters. We need parents, school board members and teachers willing to take the lead. We need governors continuing to lead as forcefully as they have in the last decade. We need legislators sticking their necks out for education change, taking risks, and empowering the people closest to the problems to come up with innovative solutions. And we need vigorous new kinds of leadership in our principals and superintendents across the country.

Some months ago, I chaired a task force for the National Governors' Association on educational leadership and management. The testimony I heard at our meetings opened my eyes. I learned that districts often fail to set priorities for school principals and that, as a result, principals spend most of their time managing things--'doing things right' instead of 'doing the right things.' I learned that many principals find their job characterized primarily by fragmentation, their interactions characterized by brevity and incoherence. Most teachers do not see their principals as leaders and do not receive from their principals helpful advice, feedback, or assistance about instruction or curriculum. I learned that the way we use time in schools, the way we have organized staff roles, the way we have structured the curriculum and distributed the authority within the schools all constrain the kinds of activities that so many of us now want to see going on in the classroom.

So we're going to have to change the way we train principals and administrators. We're going to have to change the way we use time and staff in schools, the way we structure activities.

It's equally clear to me that state policy can encourage or frustrate leadership. We are going to have to look to the policy community to provide the incentives, the support, and the resources necessary to generate the kinds of leadership for change that are necessary. We are going to need more dialogue between legislators, state and local board members, superintendents, college-of-education faculty members, principals, teachers, parents, and community groups about what it is we want from our schools and how we are going to collaborate to get it.

We're going to have to take a hard look at certification requirements and the education of administrators, and the evaluation of administrative performance. We're going to have to find ways to reward principals and entire schools for their performance. And when we find the high-performing schools and principals, we're going to have to give them the publicity that they deserve.

Much of what we have been doing in education reform has been in response to demands from outside the education system. Often education leaders have been forced into defensive action. The time has come to look upon radical reform in a more positive light, to build a process that promotes continuing reform within the system. After all, reform is what this country has always been about.

The time has come to embrace the challenges of an exciting, if complex and frustrating time in our lives. The call for new leadership for change is not simply a call for new kinds of administrators. It is a call to take charge of the changes that are upon us and guide them productively toward the ends we all have in view: a sounder, more enabling, more responsible education for all.''

--President-elect Bill Clinton, from a Sept. 10, 1986, Commentary in Education Week, written while the former Governor of Arkansas was chairman of both the National Governors' Association and the Education Commission of the States.

Vol. 12, Issue 17

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