You Have to Invest in Teachers
CALIFORNIA superintendent of public instruction Bill Honig is a man who never seems to slow down. But he's dealing with a process, school reform, that's hard to speed up. Still, test scores among 12th graders in California rose a whole grade level in math from 1983 to '85, and a half grade in reading. Marks on college entrance exams in the state improved significantly over the same period. Why? It can't all be due to an influx of hardworking young Asians.
Mr. Honig credits the state's attempt to take a comprehensive approach to reform, including the development of ``frameworks'' for improved instruction in English, math, history, the sciences. This sets the stage, he says, but the key to stirring theory into action is ``greater investment in teachers.'' That means training in new ways of conveying information to children and fostering teamwork within individual schools. California, with its sprawling system overflowing with immigrant children, has just begun this work.
A nationwide survey of teachers, released Sept. 2 by the Carnegie Endowment for the Advancement of Teaching, showed that only 55 percent of teachers are satisfied with the control they have over their professional lives. Three-quarters said they have little say in promoting or retaining students, and over a third said they have virtually no role in shaping curricula. This after six years of a national school reform movement, a theme of which has been the greater professionalization of teaching.
Perhaps more disturbing was the number of teachers - almost three-quarters of those surveyed - who doubt that more than 75 percent of their students will graduate.
The teamwork called for by California's Honig and other reformers means bolstering sagging expectations. Teachers, students, parents, and administrators need basic goals, and plans for reaching those goals. Instructors must be able to help choose texts and adapt new technologies to the classroom.
In places where goals have been clearly defined and teachers feel like participants - the Carnegie survey notes South Carolina, Arkansas, Vermont, among others - reform is accelerating, despite the negative press still given US education.