Change Issues in Curriculum and Instruction/Reform Proposals
Written by: Lauren Florin and Tiffany Hall
|Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants. -John W. Gardner|
The world is changing and so must education. The Center for Gifted Education at the College of William and Mary suggests five generalizations about change. In no particular order, they are as follows: change is linked to time, change may be positive or negative, change may be perceived as orderly or random, change is everywhere, and change may happen naturally or be caused by people (Center for Gifted Education, 1998). Whatever the generalization, one thing is certain—change is inevitable. The first public schools were established in the United States in the 1600s. Since that time, the world has become a much different place than it was when the Puritans first landed on Plymouth Rock. If the United States is to retain its place as a world power, it is critical that education be responsive to the needs of an ever-changing world. To thoughtfully consider and eventually implement any type of education reform, one must consider three critical change areas: teachers, school leadership, and the needs of students academically and social-emotionally.
A Changing Demographic
Although the changing role of women in society has done wonders for girl power, it has had a detrimental affect on public education. Up until the 1970s, women aspiring to be something other than a housewife had few career choices other than those available in education, as clerical support, or in the lower echelons of the healthcare industry. Because choices were so limited, the small percentage of women earning bachelors degrees most frequently entered the teaching profession. Equal rights for women ushered in an era of intellectual, financial, and personal freedom that the typical American woman had never before experienced. The best and the brightest women were no longer enrolling in college to pursue fields of study traditionally dominated by women. No longer limited to teacher education programs, the best and the brightest women began to explore other fields of study. This led to a decline in female teacher quality as evidenced in a recent study by three University of Maryland economists. The results of their study conclude that “the likelihood that a highly talented female (one ranked among the top 10 percent of all high schoolers) will become a teacher fell from roughly 20 percent in 1964 to just over 11 percent in 2000” (Hoxby & Leigh, 2005).
The Trickle Up Affect
Since most school administrators were teachers at some point, administrators come from a pool of educators that are no longer considered the best and the brightest. This has had a negative impact on schoolhouse administration, particularly as the role of principal has changed. Traditionally, a principal has been seen as a manager of people rather than a manager of a community of learners. The role of the principal typically entailed resolving personnel issues, addressing discipline concerns, and staying abreast of school finances. Today’s principal must be radically different. Today’s principal must be a team leader rather than a manager. This requires the principal to relinquish control over many aspects of the school day “so that staff members can assume ownership of broad education issues” (Murphy & Schiller, 1992). The principal must establish the goal and vision; furthermore, he or she must move his or her team of highly competent and capable educators towards realization of that goal and vision. As the team leader, the principal must be well versed in all facets of curriculum and instruction and capable of fostering “positive learning climates characterized by high expectations for all” (Murphy & Schiller, 1992). This requires dynamic leadership. To prepare principals for this new role, training in “instructional leadership, planning for school improvement, administrative leadership, organizational ability, school environment and climate, communications, community and public relations, professional development and personal qualities” is necessary (Murphy & Schiller, 1992).
What Should Kids Learn and How and When Should They Learn It?
Countless aspects of society have experienced significant change since the first public schools were established in the New England states in the 1600s. At that time and for a significant period thereafter, the United States was largely an agricultural society. Although the nation is now largely industrial and technological, the school day and school year are still based on the needs of an agricultural society. As society has moved from one that is agricultural in nature, the public school system has not. Students are still expected to attend school for roughly seven hours each day for ten months out of the year. The school schedule is not typically crafted with the needs of the learner in mind. In fact, today’s school schedule is often at odds with the schedules of many families. The family of yesteryear most often consisted of a father who worked outside of the home and a mother who stayed home and managed the household. This is no longer true. Today’s students may hail from households that consist of two parents who work outside of the home, or that are headed by a single parent who works outside the home, while other students are being raised by elderly grandparents. For today’s families the daily school schedule can create childcare issues and may lead to frequent absenteeism. Families may benefit from year round school schedules or adjusted school hours. In addition, many teachers feel that, after the long summer break, too much time is spent reviewing material taught during the previous year. Given the consistent breaks during the year-round school system, less time would have to be spent on reviewing material. Students who have opportunities to learn throughout the day and the year learn best. These students are primarily kids from upper middle class homes whose parents have the resources to provide educational opportunities outside of school. As we work to close, or better yet, prevent, the achievement gap, lengthening the school day and/or the school year seems to make perfect sense. But year round schools are not a new idea and continue to face many obstacles, including cost and public acceptance and lack of supporting research. In addition, simply allocating more time is not enough. Effective use of time is critical and even within our current school calendar, precious little of the six and a half hour day is spent in engaged quality teaching and learning. If we really want to make a difference we must rethink how to use time more effectively to increase engaged learning time.
Coping with Student Diversity
Perhaps the greatest challenge faced by schools today is student diversity. “Students come to class with different levels of competence and academic preparation, different degrees of motivation to succeed in school work, different social skills and levels of maturity” (The Keys to Effective Schools, 2007). Along with these differences, there are differences in race and culture, socio-economic status, and belief systems. Despite all of these differences among students, for the most part, education continues to be geared toward white, middle class students. Some would argue for the need for a national curriculum; however, because of student differences, it is imperative that any common, national curriculum be differentiated to address the varying needs of all learners. In addition to academic needs, school reform must include programs that address the diverse social and emotional needs of a diverse student body. These programs may include guidance and counseling, character education, medical services on premises, a full-time social worker as a member of the school staff, social services available on premises, and multicultural education.
America’s Perfect Storm
A lack of highly qualified teachers, the limited presence of dynamic leadership, and the level of diversity among learners’ academic and social-emotional needs have all been created in part by societal changes. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) published a report entitled America’s Perfect Storm: Three Forces Changing Our Nation’s Future (2007). This report describes how the United States is currently in a “perfect storm” due to three forces: the differences in skill distributions, the changing economy, and the trends in demographics. The authors suggest that if America does not change its present course, then it is doomed for disaster. The first force is the gap in literacy and numeracy skills among both children and adults. According to research, the achievement gap in reading and math between students of different socioeconomic groups and racial groups has not decreased in the last twenty years. Internationally, the American students’ scores on standardized tests are average; however, the gap between the nation’s highest and lowest scoring students is among the highest in the world. Not only does testing indicate where problems may lie, but national surveys reveal that many working adults do not have the literacy skills to compete in the workplace. The second force is the country’s ever-changing economy. Due to the shift over the last fifty years in the types of jobs that are prevalent, adults who do not possess a high level of education are not able to earn as much money or take part in company sponsored training programs that further their skills. The third force stems from the demographic changes in the United States over the past twenty years. There has been an increasing number of immigrants from Hispanic countries. These immigrants traditionally do not have high levels of education; over half do not have a high school diploma, and eighty percent of those do not speak English very well. This "demographic shift" has quickly emerged as a major impetus for education reform, because, compared with the white majority, the two largest minority groups (Hispanics and African Americans) are achieving at much lower levels in schools (National Task Force on Early Childhood Education for Hispanics, 2004). This achievement gap will have profound effects on the future workforce and ability of this workforce to compete in the international world. Each of these forces is individually important; however, when analyzing the impact that they have together is something that will continue to grow. It is crucial that the necessary steps be taken through education reform so that America does not end up at the bottom. It must be ensured that certain segments of the population be given the chance to succeed in life (Braun, et al. 2007).
Reform in Education
Based on this report, most would argue that the public education system is in need of an overhaul. There are so many reform programs available that it makes it quite difficult to decide which is most effective and most beneficial to students. Within twenty years, the United States went from President Ronald Reagan calling for the abolishment of the U.S. Department of Education in 1982 to President George W. Bush enacting the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, a sweeping education reform law. At present with NCLB in place schools that do not make adequate yearly progress for five consecutive years have one of five reform options: reopen the school as a public charter school, replace all or most of the school staff including the principal, enter into a contract with a private management company, turn the school over to state control, or engage in any other major restructuring of the school's governance arrangement (NCLB, 2002). In between Reagan and Bush, the nation has seen Outcomes Based Education (OBE) evolve from President George H.W. Bush’s First National Summit on Education held in 1989 and later the passing of President Bill Clinton’s Goals 2000: The Educate America Act. Each president and political party has had much to say about education, but has anyone really gotten it right? The problem is that every administration implements a program, but before it has been given enough time to see if it is effective a new administration comes in and implements a new plan.
Perhaps even more fundamentally, the many failed attempts at federal reform call into question whether education policy should in fact be initiated at the federal level. Up until the middle of the twentieth century, public schools were largely governed at the local level—by principals, mayors, and town boards of education (Kirst, 2004). However, beginning in the 1950s, when the federal government stepped in to implement racial integration in the schools, a tendency toward centralization of school governance has become increasingly prevalent. This trend accelerated in the early 1980s with the publication of such studies of A Nation at Risk, which claimed that the United States was falling behind in its ability to compete in a global economy as a result of its poor performance in educating its citizenry. Operating on the premise that local districts could not be trusted to initiate and implement effective policy, federal and state governments arrogated more and more power to themselves. Currently the state makes most of the important decisions concerning school governance, and the federal government indirectly wields considerable power as a result of tying the substantial educational funding it provides to specific conditions that must be met at the state and local levels (Kirst, 2004).
The most pressing problem created by this tendency toward increased centralization is the disenfranchisement of local education officials and educators. When most education policy is decreed from on high by a governor with perhaps little professional educational experience and the members of his appointed state board of education, who remain largely invisible to the local school community, then local officials, school administrators, and the teachers themselves are forced to carry out policies that they have had almost no role in creating. And yet if these policies prove ineffective, the public inevitably blames the local officials, administrators, and teachers, since this group is most visible and most likely to be "held accountable" (Epstein, 2004). The teachers, in particular, who have the most intimate knowledge of the student population and, in all likelihood, the best information for improving student performance, have virtually no power to create or administer education policy (Kirst, 2004). On the other hand, those who have only limited contact with the student population and very little professional expertise in education—presidents, governors, and other bureaucrats—have considerable power to make and implement major education policy reforms. It is thus not surprising that none of these reforms has succeeded in substantially improving the quality of education in America.
If these ineffective methods of reform are allowed to continue and if the local education authorities and educators continue to be denied the power to make and implement sounder policy, our education system is doomed to failure. This being said, the question arises as to how we are ever going to get the United States out of this “perfect storm”? Recently, two reform proposals have been written that do look at reforming the complete educational system.
American Schools: The 100 Billion Dollar Challenge
American Schools: The 100 Billion Dollar Challenge (2000), written by Drs. Dwight Allen and Bill H. Cosby, Jr., is an interesting proposal that suggests that the United States government treat education as a matter of national security and fund it accordingly. According to the Office of Management and Budget for the White House, in the year 2005 the Department of Education was allocated $56 billion dollars, while the Department of Defense was allocated $401.7 billion dollars. The future, and ultimate safety, of America depends on education. If the nation does not have well-educated citizens who can intellectually compete with the minds of others across the globe, then national security is in jeopardy. Allen and Cosby propose that the government spend $100 billion dollars a year on education, and in their book they provide a breakdown of exactly how that money will be spent. They also propose that schools provide year round schooling, looping, and suggest that schools remain open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. to allow students to follow a schedule that best fits them, as well as providing a place for students to go to do homework and study. Another problem is that American citizens do not have the necessary skills required in the workplace. The SCANS report was released in 1989 and outlines the basic skills that are needed for all students whether they plan to go on to college or a vocational school. Not only does the report outline the basic reading, writing, math, listening, and speaking skills, but it also outlines thinking skills and personal qualities that all students need (US Department of Labor). Allen and Cosby believe that the SCANS report is a good beginning to a curriculum, but more needs to be added to it.
Another major focus in education reform involves the teachers. In order for teachers to maintain a high enough standard to be effective, teacher education must be redefined to include a minimum of one to two years of a clinical practice, attract the best and the brightest students to the field of education and keep quality teachers in the field by paying teachers on the level of doctors, lawyers, and engineers, and change the way teachers interact and communicate with each other so that they are able to observe each other and provide and receive high amounts of feedback. Finally, Allen and Cosby propose that a national experimental school administration be established. There would be 100 NESA school districts established throughout the country. The schools in these districts would be state of the art and would participate in the new education research practices. These schools can be used as comparison schools and would be required to be in place for a minimum of twenty years (Allen & Cosby, 2000).
|"The fact is that none of the hundreds of costly school-reform efforts over the past decades have had the scope, force and focus to attract high-caliber talent to the teaching profession, and then reward and motivate the talent to stay." -Lowell Milken|
Tough Choices or Tough Times
An alternative reform proposal, Tough Choices or Tough Times (2007) written by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, begins its report by refuting the basic premise of the American Schools reform proposal. It believes that spending more money on the overall system currently in place will not work, and even proposes that money can be saved by being more efficient with current resources. What must happen is that the whole system must change. The commission has devised a set of ten recommendations that it believes will change the system and allow the future generation to be successful in the workforce. Some of these recommendations include altering the programmatic schema of high school to include board examinations after tenth grade to prove that students have mastered a set of skills before they continue on to either community college, vocational school, or more advanced high school studies like Advanced Placement courses and International Baccalaureate programs. Upon completion, any student hoping to attend a university must take and pass another set of tests. Another recommendation is to recruit the next generation of teachers from the top percentile of high school graduates, as well as exponentially raise the salary for teachers based on their effectiveness, particular school they teach in, and their specific subject. Another component is to develop standards and assessments for the needs of tomorrow as well as implement universal preschool programs to even the playing field for young children before entering kindergarten. Finally, they propose to give the additional support to the students who need it the most as well as provide adults with the literacy skills that they need for the workforce. Finally, government funded job training programs are proposed to help unskilled individuals gain the skills that they will need to obtain a job (Tough Choices or Tough Times, 2007).
While both of these reform proposals contain both pros and cons, the question arises as to whether a reform proposal such as these could ever be implemented in the United States. Critics of the American Schools express that it is much too complex to ever “catch fire politically” (e-publishing reviews, 2000). The political issues are precisely the problem. Olson (2006) comments that the reform proposal is positive because it draws attention to the issues and creates a national conversation about them; however, unless an education reform proposal is snatched up by a major political contender such as the future president of the United States, there is no hope for either. Education is in the political ball field getting tossed back and forth from party to party. Is there hope for education when a new reform is implemented every four to eight years?
Allen, D & Cosby, W. H. (2000). American schools: The 100 billion dollar challenge. New York: Time Warner Books.
Bracey, G. W. (2003). Investing in preschool. American School Board Journal, 190(1), 32-35.
Braun, H., Kirsch, I., Sum, A., & Yamamoto, K. (2007). America’s perfect storm: Three forces changing our nation’s future. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
Center for Gifted Education. (1998). Autobiographies. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
Epstein, N. (2004). Introduction: Who should be in charge of our schools? In Epstein, N. (Ed.), Who's in charge here? The tangled web of school governance and policy, pp. 1–13. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
E-publishing Reviews. (2000). Review of the book American schools: The 100 billion dollar challenge. Publishers Weekly, 50.
Hoxby, C. & Leigh, A. (2005). Why America’s top women college graduates aren’t teaching. Education Next, 2.
Keys to Effective Schools. (2007). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press and National Education Association.
Kirst, M. (2004). Turning points: A history of American school governance. In Epstein, N. (Ed.), Who's in charge here? The tangled web of school governance and policy, pp. 14–41. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Office of Management and Budget. (n.d.). Department of defense: At a glance. Retrieved May 16, 2007, from http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2005/defense.html
Office of Management and Budget. (n.d.). Department of education: At a glance. Retrieved May 16, 2007, from http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2006/education.html
Murphy, J. & Schiller, J. (1992). Transforming America’s schools. LaSalle, IL: Open Court.
National Task Force on Early Childhood Education for Hispanics (2004). Para nuestros ninos. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Olson, L. (2006). U.S. urged to reinvent its schools. Education Week, 26(16), 1-17.
Peterson, P. E. (2007). The entrepreneurs and the new commission: Changing minds in the education establishment. Education Next 7(2).
Tough choices or tough times. (2007). Washington, DC: National Center on Education and the Economy.
US Department of Labor. (n.d.). Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. Retrieved May 16, 2007, from http://wdr.doleta.gov/SCANS/
If you could effectively reform one component of the American schools, what would it be and why?
I would implement universal preschools to all three and four year olds in the United States. These programs would be run by the school districts and be taught by certified teachers who were trained in early childhood education. They would also include a parental education component to try and teach parents the importance of not only education but of staying involved in their children’s education. I would choose preschool as my one reform initiative because research has shown the importance of preschool not only for the academic development of young children but also for the social and emotional component. A huge problem in the United States is the achievement gap in students of different socioeconomic groups. Sadly, this achievement gap can be seen from the first day of kindergarten and it continues throughout high school. This is due to numerous reasons. Research shows that parents in low socioeconomic groups are not as involved in their children’s academics, and they do not understand what their children should already know by the time they enter kindergarten. Sadly, a child who enters kindergarten significantly behind his or her peers has little chance of ever catching up. This is why it is so important that all children, regardless of income, be given the opportunity to attend preschool. Studies such as the High/Scope Perry Preschool project, the Chicago Child-Parent Center program, and the Abecedarian project all show the importance of preschool throughout the lifetime. They report that for every one dollar invested in the program, the public saved more than seven dollars (considering the cost of special education, retention in grade, and incarceration). These two studies followed the children that attended the preschools through adulthood and found that those that attended preschool had higher graduation rates, reduced crime rates, fewer special education placements, and were retained less in school (Bracey, 2003). While preschool is not the complete answer to an educational reform, it is a start and it is well worth the investment.
I would implement a redesigned education delivery system based on the suggestions in Tough Choices or Tough Times (2007) because it is an excellent way to tap into student interests and to prepare students for fields of study and careers that are best suited for them. The revamped delivery system includes a series of “gateway tests” that must be passed before enrolling in secondary or postsecondary programs that are of interest to the students (Tough Choices or Tough Times, 2007). Also included are a variety of programs that can meet the academic needs of students regardless of their postsecondary aspirations. In most public school systems, there is great emphasis on preparing students to enroll in traditional four-year colleges. Some students have no interest in completing a four-year degree and would much rather enter the workforce upon graduation. The delivery system discussed in Tough Choices or Tough Times would prepare students for the traditional four-year college, as well as for trade school or a technical college. By gearing K-12 education toward student interests, the curriculum can become more focused allowing students to pursue studies that interest them and that they feel will best prepare them for their careers of choice. It is suggested that by implementing such a delivery system, the dropout rate will decrease and enrollment in postsecondary programs will increase (Tough Choices or Tough Times, 2007).
What do you consider to be one of the greatest obstacles to national school reform?
The absence of teacher involvement in the development of reform proposals is one of the greatest obstacles to national school reform. As part of my preparation to contribute to this chapter of our class textbook, I read several books, reports, and articles about reform proposals and the crisis of public education in America. In none of my reading did I come across any reference to teacher input in the design of reform proposals. Although many school reform proposals included giving teachers increased responsibility in the decision making process at the school level, I could find no evidence that any of the suggested reforms came at the urgings of teachers. I think of all the information I reviewed, the one thing that bothered me more than any other is the fact that when President George H.W. Bush held the First National Summit on Education in 1989, none of the participants were teachers. All present were governors. In his address to the governors assembled, President Bush said, “I hope that you will join me to define national goals in education for the first time. From this day forward let us be an America of tougher standards, of higher goals, and a land of bigger dreams. And our goals--(applause)--our goals must be national, not federal. And that's why I welcome the initiatives of the National Governors Association.” After reading that statement, I wondered why teachers weren’t included since that was the first time national goals for education were being established. To “welcome the initiatives of the National Governors Association” without regard to the input of teachers or any group representative of teachers, such as the National Education Association, was a slap in the face to educators everywhere. The president, governors, school administrators, or anyone with an opinion can say whatever they want about what needs to happen in education, but without teachers having a voice in the discussion, I am afraid that whatever evolves from the discussion, good or bad, will not stand a chance for effective implementation within the classroom. Without teacher input into these sweeping reform programs, teacher buy in would be a challenge making implementation very difficult. Teachers are repeatedly treated as anything but professionals and lack of teacher involvement in the development of a national school reform program is just another example of that. As a teacher, how can you expect me to readily embrace a reform program that might drastically change how I perform my duties without my input? Especially if the reform program is the brainchild of a roomful of politicians. I doubt that the president of the United States would ever hold a summit on the national crisis of obesity without a single doctor present. Teachers are long overdue the opportunity for a serious discussion on a national level about what is wrong with the American school system and what can be done to fix it.
I believe that a lack of sufficient monetary funds in education is a huge obstacle to national school reform. To thoroughly reform the education system in the United States, I believe that we do need to invest more money into education. Our education system is not working; this can be seen in our flat test scores and our huge achievement gaps. In order to fix our education system, we need to completely change the way our schools operate. This requires money, and lots of it. I completely agree with American Schools: The 100 Billion Dollar Challenge (2000). We do need to treat education as a matter of national security and fund it accordingly. Teachers need to be compensated like other professionals, they need to have further training in the field before they are left in their own classroom, and they need to have more time to plan. All students need to have the opportunity to attend preschool, they all need access to computers and the internet, and they need to be able to stay at school later in the day to accommodate their needs and the needs of their families. Finally, we need to start implementing research based practices into our classrooms on a daily basis. To do this, teachers need to be trained in the new practices and given the resources to effectively implement them. All of this requires money: money that the current school system does not have. We cannot implement a national school reform, or a local school reform for that matter, without the appropriate funds. The way the system works now, not all schools receive the same amount of money. It is often the case that the schools that need to most funds receive the least. How can we expect our lowest students to close the achievement gap if they do not even have appropriate school supplies, let alone access to technology or high quality teachers. Unless the government takes a long look at the realities of our education system and realizes that money is a huge issue, there is no way that a national school reform could be implemented.