Election time will be upon us. Many of the candidates try to make educational reform part of their platforms. Their dilemma is they do not know what to say. They know the problems, because their constituents tell them, but they are short on solutions.
There are solutions to the problems of education. The challenge is putting these solutions into practice because they require changes which many candidates may consider too drastic.
Research points over and over to the importance of the first three years of life in developing future learners. Four-year-old kindergarten is not early enough. A program such as “New Parents as Teachers” could be part of the candidate’s platform. This program provides for regular meetings and home visits with new parents by trained educators. The research results on this program show that the children of participating parents consistently scored higher on all measures of intelligence, achievement, verbal and language ability than did comparison children.
Candidates express concern about the drop-out rate of all students but especially Hispanic students. One of the solutions to this problem is to make schools more flexible.
Schools are run on timetables which do not correspond to the development needs of individual children. Schools now treat everybody the same. Grade designations should be discarded and the old, destructive criteria for advancement should be abandoned. Instead, we needs programs geared to the learning style and needs of each student. Students could advance to the next step in the program whenever they had achieved mastery, not just in June of each year. The groupings of the student could be flexible and fluid in order to accommodate individual needs.
Public schools can become more flexible by creative use of a voucher system. All students should be given vouchers which entitle them to fourteen years of public schooling but the years do not need to be consecutive. If a high school student sees no advantage to attending school and wants or needs to work, he could leave school and return at a later date. In this way, no student would be forced to attend school when unable, unready, or unwilling to learn. Students could avoid being turned off from education because of failure or suspension. Schools could counsel students who are not profiting from the educational experience to wait before exercising their vouchers.
No educational reform will be successful, however, unless education attracts and keeps capable teachers. The most creative scenario I have seen for accomplishing this goal came out of the outstanding report of the California Commission on the Teaching Profession entitled “Who Will Teach Our Children?” This report generated concrete recommendations on three of the most important topics in education: restructuring the teaching career and establishing professional standards, redesigning the school as a more productive workplace for teachers and students, and recruiting capable men and women into teaching.
In a section of this report entitled, “The Story of a Career” the committee illustrated how their recommendations would change the teacher of the future. In this scenario the teacher was paid for a summer of intensive course work and for a year-long residency as a teacher under supervision. He was able to pursue graduate work because the school functioned on a quarter system which enabled him to take time off without losing a year from teaching. He eventually became state certified as a mentor and teacher and received a salary equal to that of the school administrators. The “Story of a Career” ended with the teacher feeling proud of his accomplishments and his lifetime of service. He chose a profession that offered excitement, variety, challenge, growth, income and esteem of the community, colleagues and students.
Until our candidates feel a commitment to offer this kind of career to teachers all of their other programs are pointless, merely empty words and promises.