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Success For All Comer School
Development Program
KIPP High Schools That Work

Dr. James Comer

Dr. James Comer, creator of The Comer Process.

 
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COMER SCHOOL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM:::JAMES COMER INTERVIEW

Interview with Dr. James Comer, Founder Comer School Development Program AND Professor of Child Psychiatry,
Yale University

Hedrick Smith: Dr. Comer you have studied the problems of education in child development in this country for a long time. What is the underlying problem for American education?

James Comer: Education has many problems, but there is an underlying problem that contributes to the apparent problems. The underlying problem is that many children, particularly from poor families, marginalized families, come to school underdeveloped in the areas necessary to be successful in school. And most of the teachers and the administrators have not had the preparation in child development and support that will allow them to help those children grow in those areas so that they can then be successful in school. And because of that, there is an interaction between home and school that often takes schools on a downhill course or they just do minimally well. And thatís an underlying problem that has to be addressed if we are to improve American education.

Smith: Let me ask you what the Comer Process provides for or offers to children who come from these marginalized homes, often minority kids and certainly kids from poor families.

Comer: When we started our work in 1968 we observed that there were chaotic conditions in the school because of this difficult interaction between home and school. Children were underdeveloped, and staff didnít know how to handle it. Children canít learn in that kind of environment and so you must create the environment in which all of the adults can interact with each other so that they get along well, become models for the children and then the children can be supported in their development by these adults who are functioning well. And itís difficult to have the adults functioning well in systems that are not functioning well. So our School Development Program was designed to address problems that kept the adults from getting along with each other, from focusing on the social conditions of the school, the academic conditions of the school. Each one of the components that we created and each one of the elements designed to allow them to get along, were really an effort to create a culture in the school that would allow all the adults to support the development of the children.

Smith: So what youíre talking about is the creation of a culture thatís suitable for learning. How do you create a culture that stimulates and makes learning possible?

Comer: You have to create frameworks, committees, organizations, that all come together and thatís what we did. We started with a team of people representative of all the adult stake-holders in the school and they focused first on a comprehensive school plan in the social area and the academic area, because those are the two areas you have to bring about change and improvement in order to have a good school and in order to help the children learn. And so the governance and management team, those representatives of all the stake-holders, began to work on a plan together. They began to like each other, get to know each other, trust each other, and as a result of that everybody focused on the children and how you help the children grow, rather than fighting with each other. Rather than anger, frustration, disappointment, all that energy got channeled into creating programs that would help the children grow, both socially and academically. And we had the parents group work to support the program that the governance and management team came up with. And we had the school staff support team, which is made up of the professional social workers and the other people, they helped the whole staff think about the school as a community and all of the adults to think about their job as helping children grow rather than the control and punishment of the children, and that if you could help them grow the children would then become responsible for their own behavior.

In order to get people to work in that way we had to have three guidelines. One was ďno fault,Ē because thereís plenty to blame in a school thatís not going well, but if you blame people you become defensive, fight more. But if you focus on solving the problem then people start working together to focus on whatís really important and whatís good for the children.

The second is consensus. If you arrive at these decisions through consensus, you get people thinking about what children are like, what they need. What will this approach do that will help children grow? And so you make your decisions based on whatís good for the children. Not whatís good for the principal, whatís good for the teachers, whatís good for the parents. Itís whatís good for the children, what makes them grow and so you arrive at your decisions based on that.

Then thirdly, it was collaboration, working together, making a commitment to work together for the good of the children. I keep saying the children because thatís whatís important, and in education the focus is on everything except the children. We start with curriculum, instruction, assessment, accountability, the unions and weíre worried about everything. Nobody is worried about the children, nobody is worried about how they grow, how they develop, what they are like, how you create a governance and management program in the school. How you create a culture in the school that will help those children grow. Letís start with that. Because children, while they are born learning, they are not born committed to academic learning. That is an acquired taste that comes out of the relationships with all of the adults in the setting. When the adults in the setting are committed to learning, and are working together to create programs that are in the interests of the children and the children have a great relationship with the adults, they are then motivated to become academic learners. And thatís why you have to pay attention to their development, to the relationship that promotes their development, and then that makes the children available for learning. But to walk in and start pitching information to them without it, itís like trying to grow a crop without tilling the soil.

Smith: What do you mean by adults modeling for kids, so kids can learn?

Comer: Before you can model for each other or for kids, you have to create a mechanism that allows all those adults to be focused on what it is theyíre trying to do and how to go about doing it. And in the process they develop respect for each other, appreciation of differences and then they can begin working together. Now thatís what our governance and management team allows and promotes.

Smith: But the modeling aspect.

Comer: The modeling comes once the adults are getting along with each other and they are working to solve problems together. The children feel theyíre in a safe environment as a result of that caring, that all the adults in that school care about them. They feel a sense of belonging. Itís in that kind of environment where the adults are behaving in a certain way, relating to the children in a good way that the children have been able to imitate, identify with, and internalize the positive attitudes, values and ways of the adults. And the adults have been able to channel the energy of the children into academic learning and into constructive interaction and play with each other.

Smith: What does the Comer process do for ethnic groups that have often been at odds?

Comer: Our process does not go directly at a problem of conflict between groups. What it does is to get people representative of all the groups around the table, focused on the social program of the school and the academic program of the school. And in the process of carrying out those programs and working together, people get to know each other. They come to trust each other. They see similarities rather than differences and in the course of the program, you take into account the needs of various groups, the way people are going to feel good about themselves. So in a group like that, in a school like this you might have a program that features the particular ethnic group Ė their food, their culture Ė that may be built into the social program of the school. And then everybody joins in on the appreciation of that groupís culture in one way or another.

And so in the process, you build into your social program activities that will bring people together in a respectful way and they come to appreciate each other, and that then makes the school a safe and good place. People feel belonging, they feel respected, their self esteem goes up as a result of the respect they are given and then you get good relationships.

Smith: You write about educating children holistically, educating the whole child. Help me to understand, what does it mean to educate the whole child.

Comer: You know the purpose of the school is not just to raise test scores, or to give children academic learning. The purpose of the school is to give children an experience that will help them grow and develop in ways that they can be successful, in school and as successful adults. They have to grow in a way that they can take care of themselves, get an education, take care of a family, be responsible citizens of the society and of their community. Now you donít get that simply by raising test scores.

Our program focuses on the socially interactive aspects of development so that children learn how to manage themselves in a whole variety of situations, and become responsible for managing themselves in a constructive respectful way.

There is the psycho-emotional development: learning to handle their impulses, and to control your own behavior. To handle yourself, your emotions, your feelings.

There is the ethical: learning whatís right, whatís wrong. And living by that.

There is the linguistic: to be able to express yourself in a whole variety of settings and to know whatís appropriate and to be able to receive and listen to others, and to be able to express yourself.

And then there is the intellectual cognitive. Thatís the part that the traditional school focuses on primarily Ė the intellectual cognitive and the linguistic Ė and it ignores everything else. All of those other things, they are ignored. Thatís what people call bad. Thatís what they experience as bad behavior because nobody pays attention to helping the children learn how to handle themselves appropriately. If a child does something thatís unacceptable in school, instead of screaming, yelling, scolding, punishing, you talk to the child about whatís going on and how to manage that. That is social interactive, psycho-emotional. Sometimes itís ethical. All those pathways in the development of the child are being addressed.

Smith: Youíre saying essentially that if you focus on curriculum and you focus on tests and performance you are missing a big chunk of the kidís development.

Comer: Absolutely. You are missing a big chunk of the development if you focus only on curriculum, instruction, and assessment because there is much, much more to being successful in this world. Think of it as an adult. What do we do every day. We have to go out in the world, interact with people, get along well with people. We have to elicit a positive response from the people around us in a whole variety of situations. Where do you learn to do that? Some children if theyíre lucky learn to do it at home, but you should learn to do it at school as well. But the school ignores that part of their growth and development. By focusing on social interactive, psycho-emotional, and moral-ethical you get improved linguistic expression and reception. And you get improved academic achievement. So you get to the whole spectrum of needs and demands that children will need to be able to function in society.

Smith: But when you see really good people applying a highly scripted curriculum, most of them are smart enough to know theyíre going to have to deal with behavior issues fairly soon. And most of your folks, if they start with the psycho-social end of it they get to curriculum, too. Part of it is where you pick it up. Youíre saying psycho-social is the first step.

Comer: Thatís right. The first step is focusing on the social interactive, the psycho-emotional, the ethical. That part of it. First of all, it prevents a lot of troublesome behavior. And second, it allows them to elicit that positive response by the children and other adults around them that will help them grow and develop. It prevents children from feeling rejected, feeling unable to cope. It provides them with a kind of social competence you need to be able to function well in school. And that makes it easier for adults and children to interact in ways where the adults can support their academic growth and development.

Smith: What does the Comer Process do for kids who come to school with anger, with pain, with aggression?

Comer: By creating a positive culture in school, children who come in with pain, anger, and aggression can quickly give it up because they feel wanted, valued, and safe. The adults and the other children around them become carriers of the positive culture.

Example: a nine year old whoíd had three transfers the semester before, difficult family situation, came to our school in New Haven and somebody stepped on his foot during an exercise and his dukes went up, heís ready to fight. And another child says, ďHey man we donít do that in this school.Ē And of course he looks around because heís never been in a school like that before. And sure enough the expression on the face of the other children and the teacher, says ďwe donít do that in this school.Ē And quickly he was able to drop his dukes and become a carrier of the new culture just like the other children.

The new culture says, ďWe relate to each other well. We are respectful of each other.Ē And the teachers and the administrators, the custodian and parents and everybody in that school are the carriers of that culture, that belief system. And quickly for children from difficult situations itís like an oasis for them. Itís a place where they can, for once, feel safe and secure. We had a child who ran away from home. It got late and his mother, a single parent, was concerned so she called his teacher. The teacher went to the one place he figured he would be in the cold, in the dark, in the night. He was huddled in the front of the school because the school was a caring, warm place. That was the one place where he felt safe to go to, feeling the pain that he was feeling.

Smith: You talk a lot about parents. Why is parent involvement so important?

Comer: Because the parent is the first teacher. All of those things I mentioned that children need to be successful in school or in life start with what the parents do and say. It has to do with the social interactive development. The way parents teach their children to interact with other children, the curiosity that the parents promote, the discussion that the parents promote. All of that prepares children or under-prepares children to go to school and successfully take on the challenges of school.

Smith: Why is parent involvement so important in a school where kids are coming in under-prepared?

Comer: Because the parents and the teachers need to connect so that you have a smooth transition from home to school, and that the same values, the same attitudes that are expected and needed in school are transmitted to the parents. Then the parents bring in knowledge of their own needs in the community. And they interact in ways that they come to respect and understand whatís needed, respect each other and provide that for their children.

Smith: You are suggesting the school is educating the parents as well as the kids.

Comer: And the parents educate the school. It goes both ways.

Smith: Why is power sharing so important in the Comer Process?

Comer: Because power is a big problem. Power and control limit the growth and development of everybody. When you start using your power, you often use it in negative ways Ė such as when you are frustrated, when you are angry, when you are disappointed. But when you come together and you have goals and you work together on committees to achieve those goals, you are sharing the power and you have better outcomes as a result of that. The power is not being used negatively and in a troublesome way. And shared power was the most difficult thing to do because many principals, in particular, believe that youíve got to use power and control. And many teachers believe youíve got to make people do things. You really canít make people do very much and if you do, they very often resist and rebel, and theyíre angry, and theyíre frustrated.

When you use power in a negative way, the children very often rebel or resist or theyíre angry or frustrated or withdrawn. So a child will say, ďthat old teacher doesnít like me. Iím not going to do her work.Ē Very often you will find a teacher who has been using power, control. That teacher will make that kid do things, rather than provide concern, empathy, understanding, along with high standards, high expectations, belief in that child, belief that he or she can do well. But it is a combination of high expectations and good relationships that motivates children to learn.

Smith: Now you have been very careful to say that you ought not to measure success by test scores.

Comer: Thatís one measure.

Smith: Well, how do you measure success with kids.

Comer: Success with children should be measured by how they achieve academically. But it should also be measured by how they perform socially, how they handle their emotions and feelings, and whether they are responsible in their relationships with other children, with the school, in their tasks. You know we are greatly concerned about the amount of cheating in school. But did anybody ever talk to children about cheating anywhere Ė about whatís ethical, whatís right and responsible. No. Schools never discuss that at any point. And you canít sit down and have a lecture about it. It has to be in the fabric of the school, in the fabric of the relationships, in the way you help children grow overall. You come to realize that thereís a reason that itís important to be honest, not to cheat. The whole society either pulls together or falls apart depending on whether enough of us are committed to doing the right thing. And so we have to create schools in which children can live what it is we need to have a successful society and successful families. And for the individual to be successful.

Smith: What do you check for yourself, in order to evaluate what the successful Comer school is producing?

Comer: I think most of all a successful school has good relationships and people are having good experiences. Not only the children but the parents and the staff. Everybody is having an experience that they feel good about. Now also it has to be an experience in which there is learning. People are learning. Everybody is learning and everybody is growing Ė the parents, the teachers, the children Ė especially the children.

But everybody is learning and it is a place that people feel positive about, good about. It helps them develop confidence, good feelings about themselves. They feel that they can be successful, that they have a reason to be successful. Thatís what we look for.

Smith: I need to ask you a devilís advocate kind of question here. I was in a school not too long ago in Charlotte, North Carolina. An elementary school, wonderful relations between the school, the teachers and the families. It was a school with a great deal of poverty in the neighborhood. There was a lot of charity. There were local churches that were giving gifts to the school and Christmas baskets and Thanksgiving turkeys and things like that and the school was a great social center. And people were feeling good. State came in with some standards and they found out that about 22% of the kids were at grade level. And suddenly there was a lot of dissatisfaction and things were geared up. How do you avoid a Ďfeel good syndrome' and letting it go at that?

Comer: We did focus on the academics and the culture of the school and the development of the children, all at the same time. And we made certain that we built into the comprehensive school plan and the academic focus a kind of assessment from the very beginning of academic progress in that school. And the school could not consider itself a successful school if they werenít making academic progress. So it is both academic progress and social progress that is important in a school. There is a tendency once the school is going well and people are feeling good to let up on the academic. And you have to watch that. Thatís why you always have to use the achievement tests of one kind or another as your evidence that you are a successful school.

And there is also staff development to help you achieve the comprehensive school plan. Then there is assessment and modification on an ongoing basis. You use some measure to determine whether you are doing what is necessary to achieve the academic goals and then you make adjustments.

Smith: Looking at the schools that are applying the Comer Process across the country, how many are there? how many do you think are really successful and how many may not be so successful?

Comer: There are about 500, 600 schools that are using the process. About a third are very successful, doing very well. About a third are doing fairly well and about a third arenít improving at all. The reason thatís so is the degree to which they buy into these ideas, and the degree to which they really apply them. There are many people who say they are using the process. But they are not really using it and we have done studies to demonstrate that. The studies show that the schools that buy-in and implement best, have the best outcomes. Now the reason thatís so is that unfortunately schools of education where teachers are being prepared, child and adolescent development are not a part of what they are taught. And so it is also not a part of what they practice. And it is not a part of what they are rewarded for.

Therefore, you find people who go through the motions, who say theyíre doing it, and theyíre not doing it. They are resisting that effort. What needs to happen is that during the professional initiation, as you become a teacher or an administrator, you need to understand that creating the culture that supports the development of children is what makes academic learning at a high level possible for all children. So that it becomes part of what it means to be a teacher or an administrator. Part of what it means to be a teacher or an administrator is that youíre supposed to create the conditions that will help children develop and learn.

Smith: Are you suggesting that if a school, through the Comer Process, creates a culture thatís safe, where relationships are strong and there is a climate for learning, that in fact achievement will follow naturally.

Comer: Thatís right, because development and learning are inextricably linked. When you are developing well, you will learn. You will be motivated to learn. Adults around the kid must create the environment that supports development, that makes learning possible, or promotes learning.

Smith: So in a place like this, Jordan Community School is going to get academic results, according to what you are saying, if it creates this culture, if the teachers and everybody comes together: faculty, principal, parents, community.

Comer: Right, but it has to keep its eye on all aspects of the program and it has to implement that part of the program that has to do with the academic achievement and making the adjustments necessary. You have to keep a special eye on that because that is the task and the role of the school. It has to promote academic learning but it will do that best when it is simultaneously supporting the social, the psycho-emotional, the ethical and the linguistic and the intellectual-cognitive, all of it together. One part facilitates the other part. Itís the social interactive, psycho-emotional, ethical that supports the linguistic, and the intellectual-cognitive. And it is the linguistic-intellectual-cognitive that supports the other part of the development. And all of the adults have to be involved in creating the culture that makes that possible.

Smith: Iíve talked to other educators in educational reform who believe as you do that power needs to be shared. The principal is the key change agent. I just wonder what your take is.

Comer: I think that is correct. A good principal has to be committed to involving the teachers, the parents, and the children in the management of the school. The child is a consumer. You ought to know what children feel and think about your school and about the way things are being done. Now there are ways to do that. You donít go out and ask them simple questions.

But there are ways to build into your program the kind of sense of the child and keep your eye on what children are feeling and need. But a good principal understands that he or she is a facilitator and they want all the people around them to grow, not just the children. They want the parents to grow. They want the other teachers to grow. They want to grow themselves. Schools are growth factories. And we want everybody to grow.

You know we love the story of the brilliant principal who comes in and turns around a great school. But when that principal leaves, the school collapses. Because nobody else grew. You build a school and you build continuity. And you create a sustainable system by having everybody in the school grow, so that if that person steps out and you bring in somebody else youíve got an infrastructure of people who can keep things going and the next person simply steps in.

Now let me give you a perfect example. Itís a school district in North Carolina where we went in five years ago, and we started working with them. Some of their schools were at the 42% proficiency. They are now 98% proficiency, five years later. Now at the end of the fourth year the principal, who was involved in their moving from 42nd to about 80% was moved. The staff was concerned that she was being moved, and she said, ďDonít worry about that.Ē She said, ďYou have now internalized this way of working and you will continue to grow.Ē

A new principal came in and they went from 80% proficiency to 98% proficiency the next year. Also itís very interesting, that was the poorest school in the district. They got more poor children and they still continued to go up.

Smith: Because the process had been internalized.

Comer: Thatís right.

Smith: You used the word facilitator. How important is it for the Comer Process to have somebody on the ground who is expert in and maybe imbued with the cultural transformation that you want to achieve?

Comer: Itís very important to have somebody on the ground who understands the model, feels the model, knows how to transmit the model to other people. Because you are really asking people to give up ways they have been working all of their lives. Certainly all of their professional lives. And to do that you need somebody on hand to help them move through that process. And what happens is that the facilitator gradually becomes less important as people internalize that way of working. But because there is so much change and turnover in some places, very often the facilitator has to be there Ė or somebody who understands the model has to be there Ė on an ongoing basis.

I hope to see the day where itís not so important. But theyíve got to create a culture in a school that supports the development of children. And thatís a part of what the preparation to be an educator is really all about. And itís difficult. The reason you have two-thirds of the people out there resisting change is because the number of people who buy into the idea, and who have the skills to implement it, is very thin. They didnít start in schools of education or wherever they have been prepared, having been taught that. They donít think child development. And they donít know how to create conditions that will promote it. They think control and management, and then pass on the information to the children.

Smith: I donít know if you know enough about the work of Chris Griffin here at Jordan Community School to comment, but if you do, I just wonder if you could comment on Chris Griffin as a Comer facilitator.

Comer: Well I donít know Chris Griffinís work specifically but I know of the facilitators in Chicago. They have a social work background and a real understanding of development and the need for support and the need to get all the adults to work together. They have done an excellent job in making that happen and bringing the parents, and the community in, in important ways. But we have also discovered that people who are not social workers but who simply have that appreciation, kind of intuitive understanding that children must grow up in supportive environments, could be helped to develop the skills that will allow them to facilitate as well.

Smith: What does Jordan Community School represent to you, out of these five or 600 schools that you have in this country. This is in the specific kind of terrain that you target your effort towards.

Comer: This school has had a continuous record of progress. They have gotten better and better and better. And thatís another thing that we like to see and thatís what we believe the model does and makes possible. It allows the people on the ground to be creative and to use their own intelligence and creativity to manage continuous change, continuous improvement in the work of their school. It really is a tool. The problem in education is that we are using a hammer when we should be using a saw. We are focusing on curriculum instruction and assessment when we should be focusing on child and adolescent development and curriculum instruction and assessment. And as long as you leave out the child and adolescent development, and how you promote it, then youíre not going to be as successful no matter how hard you teach.

Smith: You canít pound it in.

Comer: You canít pound it into them and youíve got to create the conditions so that the child wants to learn academic material, is motivated to learn, and the adults around the child are working in ways that motivate them.

Smith: It takes some time for the process to take root. One of the things that weíve heard here, but weíve also heard it in other schools, is that they donít necessarily see big changes quickly. And you mention itís a jump in North Carolina from 42 to 80, and then from 80 to 98 in five years. At least from what Iíve heard, thatís pretty dramatic and fast progress in anybodyís book. It certainly is not what we have heard typically here. Is there something about this process that takes time to take root?

Comer: Sure it takes time, because it takes time to build trust, it takes time to build good relationships. Yet there is nothing any faster. You are not going to find a curriculum or an instructional approach anywhere that overcomes the distrust and alienation and anger and so on that slows the relationships and the learning thatís possible. There is no magic pill.

Smith: No short cuts.

Comer: Thereís no short cut, except where you have the right people. By right, I mean people who believe in these ideas, people who know how to implement them and community conditions that are not so harsh. You can get quick change right away. We have some schools that have made dramatic changes in a year. Some take five years. But it depends on the conditions. It takes time.

Smith: Itís going to take both hard work and patience.

Comer: Thatís right.

Smith: And is that because of the nature of the process or the nature of the product?

Comer: Well itís the nature of the problem, because the process is the only way you can really address the problem. You know people try to address it and people talk big about demands, firing people and giving schools ďFĒs and so on. You know thatís not going to do any good. You havenít changed the problem. And if you move the children out to another setting, without addressing the underlying relationship problems and distrust, and the products of marginalization and alienation, and so on, they will simply take that to a new setting and fail. They will be at the bottom of the new setting. And may in fact bring down whatever achievement level you have in the new setting.

Smith: If youíve got Comer schools that are all in the process of continuous improvement, letís say ones that havenít hit 90% or 80% or maybe even 70%. Hereís a school thatís been making steady progress from 12 to 20% at the beginning of grade level achievement to 50, 55%. Now thatís a tremendous change but the jobís not done. Thatís pretty clear in everybodyís mind. If you have schools like this, whatís the impact of legislation like No Child Left Behind on the school?

Comer: No Child Left Behind. I donít like to attack it because it did one very important thing and that is to say, ďYou, schools, are accountable. You got to find a way.Ē The unfortunate part of it is that it punishes people without preparing them to do the job that theyíre up against. It doesnít look at what the teachers and administrators need to really do that job. When they are not able to do it, they are punished. Because they donít know what to do, they very often teach to the test. Well we know that teaching to the test is not good education. And you donít get improved outcomes by simply teaching to the test.

That bill, and that legislation, will eventually be changed as we recognize that itís more complicated than saying Ďyou must do better.í You know we did that in the beginning, in a way. We went into schools with the band aid. The staff was told that they had to improve things. Well, they tried and they couldnít. You had to put in place a process that allowed them to gain the skills, attitudes, values, ways that would enable them to change the schools. The first two schools we went into eventually went from 32nd and 33rd in achievement to have the third and fourth highest levels of achievement, best attendance, no serious behavior problem. That took seven, eight years, because it was a process, and they kept getting better and better.

Now one of the things that makes it so hard to evaluate is that many of the communities are going down around schools. While the school is doing better, the challenge is getting greater. And so itís very hard when you look at schools, you have to be a sophisticated evaluator and the politics need to be taken out but realistically weíre not going to do that. But we have to become better evaluators of the process.

Smith: Where does the Comer Process fit in the overall spectrum and time frame of educational reform in this country. When you look at the landscape of school reform in America over the last 15 or 20 years, where does your program fit in the narrative and fit in the range of offerings?

Comer: Well, we probably started modern school reform. In 1968 we were doing and saying the things that we are still talking about and still doing and many other people are now doing. We field-tested our model. And got it evaluated on an ongoing basis. And we were one of the early groups to really do that. And then we disseminated the model. And incidentally of the 29 school reform models where there is enough material to look at, only three were shown to improve test scores. And ours was one of the three.

Now the way weíre different, I think, is whatís important because thatís where education and everybody must eventually go. We are different in that we did not focus on curriculum, instruction, and assessment alone. We did focus on it, but we focused on the child. We started with the child. Weíre not going to improve American education until all the people trying to improve education focus on the child. And all of the schools of education and all of the policy makers begin to understand that youíre not going to improve education until you have all the children grow. And in order to help all the children grow and develop, youíre going to have to have all the people working with them understand how to help them grow and develop.

Smith: It is interesting. Youíre talking about how to help the children grow and develop and youíre not saying how to help the children learn and get higher test scores.

Comer: They will learn and get higher test scores if you help them learn how to grow and develop.

Smith: But you are suggesting something broader.

Comer: Thatís right.

Smith: So, thatís where you are distinctive.

Comer: Thatís where we are distinctive. Our focus is on growth and development. Not only is it higher test scores that weíre after. Iím concerned that so many people in education Ė superintendents, school boards, principals, teachers now, policy makers Ė are focused on test scores alone. Thatís not what the schools are for. If thatís what weíre doing weíre spending an awful lot of money on something thatís not as important as the other aspect of child growth and development. We should be preparing children to be successful people and to be successful family members, successful citizens. Why is it in a democracy like ours that only half the people vote in the most difficult of times? We didnít do something back down there when they were children. We didnít do something right. All the things we expect adults to do to make this a strong and good society we need to start when theyíre children and when they are in school. And particularly in early elementary school, before they are eight, nine, ten, twelve years of age. We donít do it. We focus on passing on that information. It is a tremendous waste of money to focus on curriculum instruction and assessment alone and not focus on the development of the child.


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