IN the battle to keep the school reform movement alive in America -- a battle that has not been going well in many states -- a task force called the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy may turn out to be the equivalent of the cavalry coming over the school-reform hill. On May 16, the Forum will meet to release and discuss the results of a year-long study on teachers and teaching -- a study many educators say will have as much, or more, long-term practical effect on education in America as did the landmark 1983 ``A Nation at Risk'' report.
School reform will die on the vine without high quality teachers to replace America's aging teacher force, it is felt. And the Forum, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation and made up of top educators, policymakers, businesspeople, and politicians, will offer ``radical'' proposals for restructuring the teaching profession, and for attracting more of ``the best and the brightest'' into teaching, according to a first draft of the report leaked to the Associated Press.
Gov. Thomas Kean of New Jersey says the report marks the ``the second round of school reform.''
Many educators privately say that the decisions made, or not made, over the next two or three years will set the course for the next several decades of economic and cultural development in the United States.
``America is at a crossroads,'' Marc Tucker, executive director of the Carnegie Forum, told reporters at an education writers' conference last week.
If America is to retain its competitive edge in the world marketplace over the next several decades, says Mr. Tucker, it will be necessary for public schools not simply to restore old standards, but to meet standards they have never had before.
So far, the biggest problem in school reform, says Tucker, is in defining the problem so that Americans will see not just that they ought to improve schools, but that they can't afford not to.
According to the Forum study, half the nation's schoolteachers will leave the teaching profession by 1992. The question is: Who will replace them? For the last 14 years, interest in teaching has declined 80 percent, and new teachers have often come from the bottom of the colleagiate barrel. At the same time, continues the study, changes in the world economy make it unlikely that America can maintain economic preeminence based on the industries which made the country great. Transportation, technology, labor, and raw materials are too cheap elsewhere in the world.
Therefore, says Tucker, if America is going to avoid cultivating a permanent underclass of low wage earners -- as author-economists Robert Kuttner and Ezra Vogel have been describing -- it will be necessary to develop the talents of young people in new ways.
``There is a need for a wholly different kind of education,'' says Tucker, one in which the kind of ``higher order thinking skills'' that nurture inventiveness, creativity, and problem-solving are stressed. Such education requires high-quality teachers.
Unfortunately, Tucker told the education reporters, at present ``we are depending on kids in a non-college bound curriculum to save the country from educational disaster.'' If America doesn't restructure the teaching profession so that people ``who could be many other things want to become teachers,'' the schools will be populated with teachers whose skills are so low that they will have to be told what to do every day.
``We've been living in a fool's paradise,'' says Tucker, and now we have to wake up and address these problems.
It seems obvious that this task force is meeting with the intent of changing things. It is composed of educational movers and shakers such as Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and Mary Futrell, president of the National Education Association (NEA). Pundits say that the dynamics between these two figures will be an important factor in the final outcome of the May 16 meeting. Agreements between these powerful, often antipathetic figures could alter the teaching profession. Preliminary reports say that leaders in both the NEA and AFT are ready to agree upon the need for restructuring the profession and for more professional standards. But what that will specifically mean is unknown.
One bit of ground the Forum group is expected to break is in agreeing to design a national teacher test -- similar to a bar exam for lawyers. Advocates of the test say prospective teachers would not have to attend a school of education, but would be judged on their knowledge of a subject.
The Forum group, headed by Lewis Branscomb, vice-president of IBM, will also suggest several strategies for increasing teacher pay. Pay will be an important factor in attracting a new labor force, educators say.
In an interview following his speech, Tucker told the Monitor that the Forum used the ``California Recommendations on the Teaching Profession,'' issued last fall, as a working paper; and the final report is expected to expand upon the California ideas. These ideas which included changing workplace conditions, and changing management and staffing patterns in schools from a top-down industrial model to a more collaborative model.
Expanding on the need for a new kind of teaching force, Tucker notes that America's national resource is its people's ability to be creative, inventive, entreprenurial. ``The workplace needs to be full of people who think for a living,'' he says, adding that it is no accident the title of the IBM company magazine is ``Think.'' (IBM, by the way, spends more money educating its employees than do many states.)
The Japanese offer an instructive example for America, says Tucker. After World War II, he says, Japan recognized that the only resource it had was its people. And it put an enormous emphasis on education.
While Tucker doesn't suggest we copy the Japanese model, he does say we can learn from the Japanese commitment.
Why? ``Because we aren't going to have better schools than we want.''