April 1992

This Issue
Vol. 03, Issue 07

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Adam Urbanski was sitting through a contentious meeting with leaders of the Rochester Teachers Association recently when one of them turned to him in anger. "Urbanski,'' the official said, "if you have your way, the union as we know it will be dead.'' As Urbanski remembers proudly, "I was supposed to act like a whipped puppy, but I leaned forward and said, 'That's my whole purpose.'''

If Urbanski had his way, teachers' unions as they exist today would be a thing of the past. That would include the 3,500-member RTA, which he has led since 1981. In its place, Urbanski and some of his like-minded colleagues are trying to bring about what he calls "a comfortable marriage between unionism and professionalism.'' Their new union would be concerned not only with the welfare of its members but also with the welfare of public education--the union's "industry,'' as Urbanski calls it--and of children, its "clients.''

Educational Tour Of New Zealand

In a 15-day tour (July 10-25), teachers, administrators, and college professors gain an in-depth view of the country's national curriculum, site-based management program, whole language teaching, and authentic assessment.

While her classmates play basketball or rehearse for the school play, 17-year-old Miecha Werwie, a senior at Southern Senior High School in Churchton, Md., has been devoting her leisure time to a somewhat more tedious activity--reviewing the Anne Arundel County Public Schools' budget with her colleagues on the board of education.

"When I'm with them, I feel a lot more grown up,'' says Miecha, who was appointed to the board as a voting member last year. "They talk to me as if I'm their equal; the conversation is always very mature.''

Miecha is one of a growing number of ambitious high school students who are helping formu- late education policy as student representatives on local boards of education. Education observers trace such involvement--which typically takes the form of nonvoting membership or observer status--to the efforts of student activists who began lobbying for student representation in the early 1970s.

The Glass Ceiling Starts In School

Girls face pervasive barriers to achievement throughout precollegiate schooling and are "systematically discouraged'' from pursuing studies that would enhance their prospects for well-paying jobs. This is the conclusion of a new report, commissioned by the American Association of University Women, that is described as the first synthesis of existing research on girls in public schools.

Granville, nonetheless, has put in place an ambitious array of reforms--from pay for performance to ungraded elementary schools to increased teacher participation in decisionmaking. Despite economic hard times in the state, county commissioners and voters have supported increased budgets and passed an $8.15 million bond issue by a wide margin.

How has Granville managed to make changes that many richer and more sophisticated school districts across the country have been unable to make? The answer is surely complex, but a major part of it is leadership.

Since 1987, the Dodge Foundation Theatre Program for Teachers and Playwrights has been linking New Jersey high school teachers who have more than a passing interest in drama with peers in the state's regional theater culture. Through intensive workshops and meetings, the teachers study acting, directing, and play writing and share teaching techniques.

"This program's purpose is twofold,'' says John Pietrowski, the project's coordinator, "to weave a close creative relationship between teachers and theater artists and to promote the importance of play writing and new play development as an integral part of theater education.''

Recently a colleague of mine reached the final round of interviews for a districtlevel administrative position. Her final interview was with members of the local board of education. The first question she was asked was something along the lines of, "What is your vision for this district and what is your strategic plan to realize that vision?'' While that's not too bad a question, it was her answer that caused me to reflect on the nature of the organizational structure of public schools. Her answer was, "Whatever the board wants it to be.''

To some, that may seem to be a rather flippant response; others may see it as a clever avoidance of a difficult and complex question. To me, the answer symbolizes the deleterious impact that the lay school board has on schooling in the United States.

In the fall of 1989, after five years of thought and planning, a group of my colleagues and I took a major risk: We implemented a restructuring project in our high school. We called it the Renaissance Program, or RenPro for short.

Every day, Michael Ward wears a button that says "BAU,'' with a red slash through the letters. It's short for "no business as usual,'' and it's an apt description of public education in Granville County, N.C., where Ward serves as superintendent of schools.

Teachers in all of the district's 12 schools have picked up on the message; some even display their own version of the button. "They think it's fine to ask 'why,' if something's restricting them,'' Ward says of his teachers. "We've cultivated an assurance here that questions are OK.''

The intensive advertising campaign has proved successful for the product's manufacturer, Gateway Products Ltd. of Orange, Calif.

According to the company's marketing brochures, more than half a million Hooked on Phonics kits have been sold since the product was first introduced five years ago. Even amid the current recession--and despite an effort by the manufacturer in recent months to tone down its advertising campaign--the product apparently continues to sell. About 6,000 purchasers, Gateway claims, have been educators.

A Liberal Slant?

As a middle-class, middle-age teacher, I have learned to expect teachers' unions, organizations, and publications to present the liberal point of view. Last month's letter from John Wilson ["Letters,'' March] decried the lack of two points of view in an article you published about Columbus ["What Happened In 1492?'' January]. I would like to point out to you a quote from that same issue regarding President Bush as the "education president'': "Less than a quarter of those polled gave him an A or B, a full 25 percent gave him a D or F.''

DEADLINES

Following is a list of application deadlines for grants, fellowships, and honors available to individuals. Asterisks (

  • ) denote new entries.
Diplomas For Sale: The operator of an alleged diploma mill has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City on charges of mail fraud. The indictment claims that Edward Reddeck collected more than $250,000 a year in "tuition'' payments for bogus degrees and that his North American University is simply a mailing address. Teacher Magazine reported on Reddeck and NAU in a January 1990 cover story on diploma mills. He sued the magazine in federal courts in Utah and California; both suits were dismissed.

An Issue Of Importance: American voters will be taking careful stock of congressional candidates' education platforms next November, according to a survey conducted this winter by a Republican polling firm. On a scale of 1 to 10 ("not at all important'' to "extremely important''), survey respondents gave education an 8.7 rating, the highest of 12 platform issues, which included the economy and jobs, health care, and crime and drugs.

A colleague of mine phoned me the other day very upset. He had shown a film titled Human and Animal Beginnings to his 3rd grade class. After depicting the birth of various kinds of animals, the film showed a brief shot of a human baby being born. The baby's head was shown emerging from the mother's vagina. Afterward, the children asked: "Did our parents know we were going to see this film? Were we supposed to see that? Was that X-rated?'' What messages had these children picked up about the female genitals? Clearly, they had learned somewhere that the vagina, in and of itself, even in the process of childbirth, was pornographic. What a frightening attitude to instill in young children.