Teachers Share Vision of Future

PROPOSALS for reforming education have come from President Bush, the 50 state governors, and business leaders across the United States. But the voices and views of classroom teachers - the real movers and shakers in education - are overwhelmingly missing from the discussion. "All the efforts at restructuring have come from outside," says Carrie Ann Weinberger, a second-grade teacher in Englewood, Colo.

Despite all the talk about "teacher empowerment," no teachers are on the president's Education Policy Advisory Committee or many other influential governing bodies.

Gradually, groups of teachers are defining the term "empowerment" for themselves and working hard to make their collective voice heard over the din of political rhetoric about education.

"The time has passed when we can sit back and be told how schools should look [in the future]," says Janice S. Spencer, a librarian at Shepard Elementary School in Washington.

Ms. Weinberger and Ms. Spencer are part of a 50-member delegation of teachers from 17 states who are sharing their concerns and ideas about how to restructure public education.

Last August, these 50 teachers spent a week in Utah translating their from-the-trenches perspectives into a "vision" of education appropriate to the demands of the 21st century.

Their report, "The Teachers' Vision of the Future of Education: A Challenge to the Nation," was recently published with a grant from the Metropolitan Life Foundation, which sponsored the week in Utah.

The teachers were chosen from hundreds of applicants and are all members of Impact II: The Teachers Network, a nationwide organization that provides small grants to innovative teachers.

Presenting the report at a press conference here, Spencer said, "This is our beginning." Now comes the formidable task of getting their ideas out to the public and inviting other educators to join them in an expanded educational mission.

"Teaching doesn't just happen in the classroom," Weinberger says. "We have to educate the population about the need for reform."

The schools of the future, as envisioned by this team of teachers, will be dramatically changed from those in the existing public-education system.

"Teaching can become a very isolated world," Weinberger says. "People don't see teachers teach." But if the ideas in this report catch on, that won't be the case in the decades to come.

Looking ahead "more than 20 but less than 100 years," these teachers see a system in which "learning is no longer just for children and teaching is no longer done only by teachers."

Schools of the future will require input from all members of the community, they suggest. Rejecting the notion of isolated schools in favor of "community learning centers," they see people of all ages coming to learn or teach others in their areas of expertise.

Although the teachers who put this report together make some specific recommendations, the overriding theme is opening up the educational process to wider participation. They envision the replacement of boards of education with "planning teams" composed of educators, business people, parents, and other community members.

Looking into the future, these teachers define a new role for themselves as facilitators, policymakers, and consultants in the learning process. But they view the responsibility for educating citizens as more broadly shared.

"The goal," they write, "is to learn to be 'lifelong' learners in a community that honors education."

They propose a "United League of Teachers," to be based at the United Nations. Composed of active and retired teachers, the League would lobby for reform and be dedicated to nurturing the teaching profession. Year-round school sessions would provide opportunities for teacher and student travel and exchange programs to expand global awareness.

"The rules of the past can no longer apply," says Christopher Pipho, director of state relations for the Education Commission of the States in Denver. "These teachers' vision suggests new roles for everyone."

That includes students. "Our students must become producers of new knowledge, not just consumers," says Karen Notcher, a teacher at Solvay (N. Y.) High School and one of the authors of the report. "The hardest thing I do as a teacher is providing the incentive for students to talk in class."

The report stresses that students must take responsibility for their own learning. "The challenge to educators is to shift responsibility from teacher to student," it states.

This requires highly skilled teachers, says Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Columbia University's Teachers College in New York.

"There's a great deal of work to do," says Dr. Darling-Hammond. "And all of us need to roll up our sleeves and get about the business of implementing this vision."

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