Eduation Reform Lessons for Baltimore

December 19, 1990

IN THE SPRING of 1988, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies sponsored a colloquium series on public-school reform featuring some of the most prominent leaders in the national public-school reform movement. Out of the presentations and subsequent dinner discussions that were part of this series emerged the following crucial lessons or themes for school reform in Baltimore:

1. Focus on the teacher and on what happens in the classroom.

Teachers are too often cited as the problem and not as part of the solution to improved education. Appropriate testing of teachers should be accompanied by an increase in salaries and stature, much as is done for college professors. Teachers should be encouraged to play an active role in curriculum choices, retention efforts, tracking decisions and in-service training. Opportunities should be developed for additional positive interaction between teachers and students, including perhaps a greater role for homeroom teachers as mentors and advocates. The driving focus for educational decisions should be the classroom, where education takes place.

2. Increased reliance on school-based leadership, authority and responsibility.

In order to encourage professionalism among teachers and to give classroom teachers the leeway they need, major changes are needed in the basic structure of the school system. Decision-making authority, particularly as it relates to curriculum, teacher bonuses and related matters must be shifted significantly from the central administration to the schools. And within the schools, teachers must be given a meaningful voice in educational policy.

Reform should focus on the theme of ''renewal,'' with the central office staff primarily providing support for the planning, implementation and evaluation done by individual schools. A shift to greater reliance on school-based leadership should be accomplished within a framework of strict and immediate accountability, and an intervention plan (when needed) to assist schools in accomplishing identified goals. Successful education reform therefore requires intelligent leadership both in the central office and in the individual schools.

3. Emphasis on excellence in pre-school and early-childhood education.

There has been a disproportionate focus on secondary education, while the early years are by far the most important. Classroom size should be small for young children in order to provide individual attention and care. The expectation must be that every child can succeed. Care must be taken with each child to assure active participation in the mastery of language, basic social skills and awareness of culture and the arts.

It must be recognized that there is an inextricable link between poverty and education. Poor children are often undernourished, before and after birth, with the result that brain development can be stunted. Poor children also often suffer from various forms of cultural and intellectual deprivation which limit their horizons. Every effort must be made to overcome these impediments to success during the early years, when they can be handled best.

4. Increased parental and community involvement in schools.

Educational success requires that parents be involved in the education of their children. Additionally, voluntary organizations, retired persons and others in our communities have much of value to contribute to the success of our schools. Every effort should therefore be made to achieve the maximum participation of these individuals and groups in the schools.

5. Overcoming the anonymity often felt by teen-age students.

Urban, middle and high school students often are cut off both from their parents and from their fellow students. They may feel unneeded, alienated and unknown. Efforts should be made to keep school size small, to pair students with mentors from the community, and to encourage students to take part in school-related activities. This is important not only for social development, but for educational development as well.

L 6. Easing the transition between school and work or college.

Throughout their school years, students must be made aware of and evaluated on the qualities that can help them succeed in the work world. Such qualities include interpersonal skills, good judgment, dependability and teamwork. High school students should be assisted in preparing resumes or ''portfolios'' which identify and emphasize specific accomplishments, such as good attendance, team participation, leadership experience and community service. High school students must learn how to prepare for job or college-admissions interviews.

7. Fighting for adequate funding.

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