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Of course, I exaggerate a little. I formally learned to read and write in the 1st grade. Like other kids my age, I could translate those little black squiggles into meaningful letters, words, and sentences. But I hated it. This childhood loathing arose more from attitude than aptitude and was shaped by powerful forces in my environment.
As a home-school counselor for Consolidated School District No. 4, it's Lott's job to get parents more involved in the education of their children. She is perhaps the best known emissary of Parents as Educational Partners, a 5-yearold program that has produced significant increases in school attendance and grades in three elementary schools in this bluecollar suburb of Kansas City. She is also one of a growing number of educators throughout the country who are refusing to sit back and wait for parents to come to them.
"Battered women are afraid to speak out. This isn't right. We need to do something about it.''
"We need more positive role models for youths to let them know there's something better out there.''
Organizations, foundations, and individuals are concentrating their energies on making teaching a true profession. They are seeking changes in the way teachers are prepared, how they are evaluated and certified, their continuing professional development, and their compensation and working conditions. Reform efforts include payfor-performance plans, career ladders, mentor teaching, alternative certification, peer evaluation, and a variety of professional development networks.
A special report in Education Week last year began this way: "Battered from the outside and subject to increasing scrutiny from within, teacher training remains one of the most troubled and castigated enterprises on the educational landscape.'' The report called colleges of education the "weak link in the drive to improve the nation's schools.''
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards was established in 1987 with the goal of raising the status of teaching to that of other professions. Toward that end, the board, the majority of whose 63 members are teachers, has defined what professional teachers should know and be able to do. Now it is hard at work developing assessments that teachers will have to pass to become certified--assessments that go well beyond pencil and paper tests.
This is a proverb that rings true to thousands of teachers struggling to overcome the crushing problems that so many children bring to their classrooms. The proverb is also at the heart of the School Development Program that Yale University child psychiatrist James Comer has spent a quarter of a century building.
Schlechty, a prominent national educator, has formed the Center for Leadership in School Reform in Louisville, Ky., to create schools that are organized around the work that students do.
He saw what elementary teachers have long noticed--that many disadvantaged students seem to do well in the first three grades then begin to fall behind in the 4th grade.
Some schools have tinkered a bit with their curriculum or their schedule and declared themselves to be restructured. But the essentials of genuine school restructuring are:
The late Ron Edmonds, Harvard professor and the father of the effective schools movement in the United States, defined the characteristics of the effective school and put them into practice in a number of poor schools in New York City. Today, thousands of schools--in 42 percent of the nation's districts, according to one recent estimate--are basing their programs and procedures on effective schools research.
Nonetheless, some of the ideas of the cooperative learning movement have found their way into a number of specific reform programs, like Henry Levin's Accelerated Schools and Theodore Sizer's Essential Schools. And a decade-long landmark study in California's San Ramon Valley, known as the Child Development Project, is stirring interest among teachers across the nation.
Whole language--not to be confused with "whole word''--is often thought of as a way to teach reading. It is frequently discussed as a controversial alternative to the well-entrenched phonetic method of reading instruction. But whole language is about much more than instruction in reading and literacy. It's about empowerment and the role of teachers, students, and texts in education. It's about who controls what goes on in the classroom: whether educational decisions will be made by teachers and students or by administrators, curriculum developers, and the publishers of tests and textbooks.
The hardware certainly has found its way into schools: Videocassette recorders, televisions, tape recorders, and calculators are commonplace. Nine out of 10 schools have at least some computers, and a handful have CDROM players, multimedia equipment, local-area networks, and the most up-to-date software.
Gardner has not formed a network of schools to spread his ideas, but his theories--expressed in books, research papers, lectures, and demonstration projects--have influenced teachers and schools from coast to coast.
Sizer believes that there is no one model of the successful school and that effective reform must be a school by school--even classroom by classroom--effort. He rejects top-down mandates and standardized solutions, arguing that schools are fragile places that gain their stability from subtle accommodation to the needs, character, strengths, and weaknesses of the communities in which they exist.
Levin's ideas took shape in the early 1980s as he conducted research with "at-risk'' children. Says Levin: "I don't like the term 'at risk.' As soon as you think of kids in need of repair, what you do is repair.''
The term "standards'' is shorthand for what American students should know and be able to do; and the term assessments refers to methods of monitoring and measuring students' progress.
Some elements of choice have long existed within public education--magnet schools, alternative schools, schools within schools. But the thrust of parental choice as a reform tool is to break up the monopoly of public education, to shake up the bureaucracy and force schools to compete for students by raising quality, and to give parents as consumers more say in the governance and operation of schools.
That fact has prompted an everwidening discussion about how schooling should be coordinated with the activities of a variety of public and private agencies that provide social services for children.
When Steve Iachini speaks about W. Edwards Deming, his voice takes on the slight tremor of the initiate. But it hasn't always been that way. When Iachini, assistant superintendent for accountability in the Pinellas County (Fla.) School District, first heard about Deming through a seminar, his reaction was anything but positive.
In a ruling hailed by parental choice advocates, the Wisconsin Supreme Court in March upheld the experimental Milwaukee program that allows a limited number of children from low-income families to attend nonsectarian private schools at state expense.
I very much wish we could hang in there. The central idea is sound. But there are reasons to be pessimistic. Like the politically late Mikhail Gorbachev, too many are trying hard to imagine a process with which they have had little or no experience. And by the way, hello "strategic planning'' or whatever comes next.
There are lots of schools in this country that are really school based. But they are not public. They are called independent, parochial, or private schools.
The majority of these new teachers will likely find that being on the other side of the desk in the classroom is much different than they expected. They will encounter situations that they did not anticipate and were not prepared for. And, if past statistics are a reliable guide, 30 to 50 percent of them will leave teaching within the first five years--many out of frustration and disappointment.
Honored Chancellor, Esteemed Doctors, Fellow Pedagogues, and Worthy Guests:
I want to take this opportunity to applaud the recent article by Dennis Evans titled "Eliminate School Boards'' [Viewpoint, April]. It took a bold professional to address this sensitive issue. I am an educator with 15 years of experience, the past five in public school administration as a principal, who has found great truth in Evans' statement: "The leadership and governance of schools should not be subject to the same political pressures, compromises, and deal-making that characterize local, state, and national levels of government.'' My personal experience is that many school boards and board members pay lip service to the concept of "putting children's interests first'' and make most of their decisions based on political influence and self-serving personal needs.
Across the country, teachers are asking questions about teaching and learning, and they are looking to their own students for answers. Their questions range from broad ("Under what conditions do recent immigrants from Vietnam learn to read?'') to specific ("What happens when I divide my students into ability groups for math?'').
Established in 1989 to foster creative and effective change in teaching and teacher preparation, NCI has four main components. The first two--the Excellence in Action Program and the Teacher Education Initiative-- were created to identify successful educational programs and to work with several universities to redesign teacher preparation and induction programs. The other projects--the Mastery in Learning Consortium and the Learning Laboratories Initiative--support real reform efforts in individual schools and districts.
The AFT is also getting involved in reforming the teacher education process. Its Professional Practice Schools program is a network of public schools working closely with universities to provide a different kind of training for preservice teachers and the employed teachers at the school.
Ushering in a new approach to test taking, the Educational Testing Service plans to inaugurate a system that will enable students to take examinations on a nationwide computer system. The system, which will begin this fall for students taking the Graduate Record Examination, is expected to expand next year to include other ETS tests, including the National Teacher Examinations and perhaps eventually the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The new system will enable students to take tests at their convenience, receive scores the same day, and immediately send them to colleges and employers.