The nation’s school superintendents last week urged districts to convene groups of local leaders to envision new schools for the information age, and offered them a handbook for the process.
The American Association of School Administrators issued a report identifying 16 characteristics schools will need in the 21st century. Among them are adequate funding no matter where students live; a project-based curriculum that deals with real-world problems; round-the-clock electronic connections that link students, schools, parents, and communities; schools that double as community centers; and an emphasis on creativity and teamwork at all levels.
“We hope this report will be a provocation and a resource for districts” as they seek to improve, Paul D. Houston, the executive director of the AASA, said at a news conference here last week. The Arlington, Va.-based group sent the report to its 14,000 members, who are superintendents and other top school administrators, as well as to political and business leaders.
“This report is not about reform,” said Stephanie Pace Marshall, the president of the Illinois Math & Science Academy, a statewide magnet high school in Aurora. “It’s about transforming. We’re not talking about adding skates or wings to caterpillars” but about creating butterflies, she added.
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Ms. Marshall was a member of the “Council of 21,” a group of leaders in business, government, education, and other fields that contributed the study’s initial list of desirable characteristics for schools. Follow-up surveys of that group, a second “Council of Advisers,” and representatives of some two dozen praiseworthy districts put the list in priority order.
The study offers no startling recommendations. Rather, it echoes calls for change sounded in other reports, including the 1996 report of the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future and the 1994 study of the future of American high schools sponsored by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
It also is a companion of the AASA’s 1996 report, “Preparing Students for the 21st Century.” (“AASA Reform Report Urges Focus on Ethics as Schools Look to Future,” Feb. 7, 1996.) What’s new in the latest report, members of the study panel said, is the “holistic” description of schools for the future and the emphasis on involving local leaders to articulate a community vision.
Mr. Houston said that while “a fair number of school systems think they have done something like this, they haven’t gone far enough. [Success] “is going to take a different way of doing the job, different basic assumptions,” he argued.
Financing for the study came from the Electric Power Research Institute of Palo Alto, Calif., and AMP Inc. of Harrisburg, Pa., which manufactures electronic and other interconnection devices.
A version of this article appeared in the February 10, 1999 edition of Education Week as Superintendents’ Group Releases Blueprint for Local Improvement