August 1992

This Issue
Vol. 03, Issue 09

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Good morning. Hello. Hello. Hello?'' It is as though she is knocking at the door to an empty room.On the videotape, Kathy Milam--a 40-year-old teacher with short gray hair, dressed in a blue sweater and slacks--is bending down, struggling to make eye contact with Brian Meredith, a 2nd grade boy in a blue rugby shirt. He averts his enormous brown eyes, burying his chin deep in his chest to hide a smile."Would you like to say hello, Brian?'' Milam asks again, taking his small hand in hers to shake it. "Hello. How are you? Fine, thank you. Say, 'Fine, thank you.'But Brian does not speak. He rocks back and forth in his tiny, navy blue chair, peering sideways at the camera or tilting his curly head back to gaze directly at the overhead lights. In an instant, his elegant, mahogany fingers move through the air as though he were playing an imaginary harp.

Suits Seek Choice For Poor Youths

A conservative advocacy group took its crusade for parental choice in education to the courts in June, demanding that groups of low-income parents and children in Chicago and Los Angeles receive state vouchers for private school tuition.

Since the mid-1980s, the reform movement has been mostly about fixing schools that are obviously failing and improving education for the most disadvantaged kids in society. But the more closely reformers have looked at how schools are organized and what takes place in them, the more convinced they have become that even advantaged youngsters attending good schools are not getting the kind of education they need to prepare them for the changing world that awaits them. Some teachers and the principal of Parkway South High School near St. Louis reached that conclusion six years ago.

Parkway South (see page 28) is considered a good suburban school, populated by ordinary middle-class Americans, most of whom go on to college. Except for fads and fashions, it is in 1992 much like the good neighborhood school of 1952.

My students are not creative. They stare at me with blank expressions when I encourage them to create, to generate new ideas. Even diligent students when asked to create--to risk being original--gasp in horror as if I'd asked them to rob graves.

I have come to the conclusion that children today are not creative because they have always been entertained. Their childhood days are programmed and pressured by lessons, camps, workshops, and appointments. The remaining unscheduled hours are spent viewing television and playing video games. They are never forced to create their own play and entertain themselves, nor given the time and freedom to do so.

At New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., more than 500 students this past year took elective classes in geography.

High school educators in Frederick County, Md., last year began teaching a separate geography course for the first time in two decades.

What Conspiracy?

Consider this scenario:

His distinguished military career included stints as a back-up dentist for the White House, the head of operations for the Navy's worldwide dental corps, and an aide to the U.S. Surgeon General in Washington, D.C.

To the bewilderment of some of his friends--and the delight of the Jacksonville, Fla., public schools--Rudolph decided to put his vast experience, including two advanced degrees and postgraduate studies in microbiology, to use as a mathematics and science teacher. "It's been a tremendous challenge, but I just love it,'' says Rudolph, who, at age 59, is nearing the end of his first year at Matthew Gilbert Middle School. "I couldn't have picked a better second career.''

A verbal confusion is muddying the debate about a national system of standards and assessments: The words "tests'' and "assessments'' are being used as if they were synonymous. Because the word "test'' fits better into headlines, the press is particularly prone to this confusion. It has to be cleared up if there is to be any clarity about what we can expect from national standards and assessments.

Briefly, tests are machine scored, usually multiple choice and norm referenced. Their essence is speed, cheapness, and psychometric respectability. Assessments, which is shorthand for "authentic,'' "alternative,'' or--my preferred term--"performance assessments,'' are not machine scored, and vary in length and in what they require students to do. Their essence is the active production of response by the student.

Parkway South High School in suburban Manchester, Mo., is a sleek glass-and-concrete structure, where students' cars outnumber faculty vehicles in the parking lot. Located on a grassy knoll, surrounded by playing fields and housing developments, it is the kind of school that real estate agents crow about: More than 85 percent of its graduates go on to college. Fewer than 3 percent of its students drop out. Test scores routinely hover at or above the statewide average.

Once a month, Bil Johnson hops in his 1989 Plymouth Sundance and drives north to John Jay High School in New York's upper Westchester County to talk with teachers about school reform.

Johnson can empathize with their concerns. Most days, he teaches high school social studies in Bronxville, N.Y. "I'm trying to do this stuff all the time myself,'' the 19-year veteran says. "And I know how hard it is.''

Union Busting?:

The Roman Catholic bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., diocese announced in June that he will no longer recognize or meet with the local Catholic school teachers' union. The surprise--and apparently unprecedented-- announcement by Bishop John D'Arcy "shocked'' the teachers, says Mike Thompson, president of the union, which has had an ongoing dispute with the bishop. D'Arcy says he plans to form an advisory council made up of an equal number of teachers appointed by him and the union. An angry Thompson complains: "The church has long championed the rights of the union. Now, [the bishop] is taking this away from us.''

At least three days a week, the 21 girls and the single boy in Rummel's Physical Management class do fat-burning exercises, such as walking, running, or step aerobics, in an atmosphere that does not stigmatize them because they are heavy or lack the grace of a natural athlete.

Two additional days a week, the students learn about nutrition, proper eating habits, and self-esteem.

Considering his position as a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, Haberman's solution to the nation's chronic shortage of qualified urban school teachers is rather unusual.

How would he solve the problem? First of all, he would break what he calls education schools' "cartel'' on the preparation of teachers and open the profession up to all college graduates. But that alone is not enough because there is no guarantee that artsand-sciences graduates will make good teachers.