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 parent 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 need 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 students 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. Students who
are disrupting the educational program could have their vouchers
returned to them to be used 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
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
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.