Educators search for a new balance in school reform
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Educators such as Mario Fantini, dean of the University of Massachusetts School of Education, say schools now need the desire for experimentation found in the 1960s, combined with the desire for standards found in recent years. ``We need a new synthesis,'' says Mr. Fantini, author of ``Regaining Excellence in Education'' (Merrill), a new book on school reform. ``So far, we haven't been able to put it together.''Skip to next paragraph
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American schools will not work out such an approach overnight; nor will they accomplish it in lockstep. Educators say it will take a lot of experimentation in individual schools over a period of time.
Former Secretary of Education Terrel Bell, now Distinguished Professor of Education Policy at the University of Utah and the conference organizer, gave some ideas in an address and later to the Monitor, about trends in education, many of which are leading away from the prescriptive reforms of recent years:
1. A parental demand for choice in where a child can go to school. Bell does not feel a voucher plan giving parents government money to spend at private schools if they so desire -- a plan put forth by current Secretary of Education William Bennett -- will pass Congress. Instead, he sees more ``open enrollment'' within public schools, allowing students to attend schools outside their own neighborhood.
Already in New York and other major cities, so-called ``magnet'' schools -- schools specializing in a certain subject area such as math or English -- are providing this choice. Many public schools are also starting ``options programs,'' which offer specially focused coursework in academics or vocations.
2. A continuing increase in the use of technology within schools. Computers are more than a fad, he feels. Such sophisticated software is being developed -- programs that take children through subject matter in highly imaginative and thorough ways -- that Bell feels computers will ``free up teachers to concentrate on teaching thinking skills.'' Rote learning will begin to take place more through the computer, he says.
3. Reforms that allow for more internal discussion within the school and more local autonomy. The reform movement has offered an important model for standards, Bell feels, ``but the key to a good school lies within the school.'' Both principal and teachers will have enhanced roles as the school develops its own style.
4. Further accountability. Bell says, ``I think we are going to see more testing -- a move to state-mandated tests.'' Schoolwork has to be evaluated, says Bell, adding that in recent years, ``We have learned quite a bit about the art of testing.''
5. Renewed attention to teaching. States will see that it is to their advantage to raise teacher salaries, Bell says. ``Teaching needs its share of outstanding scholars.'' To this end, ideas and strategies designed to ``restructure'' the teaching profession -- epitomized by the findings of the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy to be released May 16 in San Diego -- are making headway. Schooling that fosters both a highly structured and a highly inquisitive learning approach requires excellent teachers, say educators.