|CORRECTING THE CURRICULUM
What should be done to improve our students' education?
March 24, 1998
in this forum:
Why are students going downhill as they enter high school? What are the pros and cons of a national curriculum? What can or what should we do to make education more relevant to our students? How important are math and science scores? Wouldn't reducing class size and teacher workloads improve the situation? Is it a question of not holding students to high enough standards or a lack of parental involvement? Are there better teaching techniques, such as Montessori? Julie and Brian Schuck of Paducah, KY ask: What factor do you think accounts the most for American students' low test scores? Not holding students to high enough standards or a lack of parental involvement?
Gerry Wheeler, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association, responds:
In the last month, following the release of the 12th grade TIMSS results, I've had many conversations with high school teachers across the nation. A surprising number of them told me that they think high school students do not take tests seriously when they do not influence grades and college admission.
Nonetheless, states and school districts must continue to raise standards of academic achievement and assess students based on these challenging standards. Students should be encouraged to take demanding courses.
Parental involvement is certainly a key factor in student achievement. Studies have shown that a parent's involvement in his or her child's education tends to taper off after the elementary grades. This is very unfortunate. Parents need to stay active in the schools throughout the middle level and high school years.
Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, responds:
I have discussed above in earlier answers that there is no question that low expectations and flimsy or non-existent standards have had a serious detrimental effect on the quality of education that students are receiving today. As you imply, parental involvement is also a critical factor in student achievement - some studies have indicated it is the most influential factor in a child's academic career. Unfortunately, in today's school system, parents can find it difficult, if not impossible, to get involved in their child's education at the school and district level. Too often schools actually discourage substantive parental involvement and PTA's have been commandeered by a small exclusive group with an agenda dictated by the local teachers union. The same can be said for school board elections and business-partnerships. Meanwhile, interested and concerned parents are, at best, relegated to the bake sale committee, or at worst, shut out or ostracized - particularly if they are demanding in wanting to participate in policy decisions. That is why the most exciting and effective school reforms today are inviting, and even demanding, increased parental involvement.
School choice programs in Milwaukee and Cleveland are allowing frustrated and desperate parents of low-income students to opt out of a system that has become unresponsive to their concerns, and to regain a real stake in their children's education. These programs allow parents to choose a private school for their child to attend - schools that must be responsive to parents because they depend upon them, very directly, for their operating funds. In a similar way, public charter schools in operation in two-dozen states around the country are paving the way for parental involvement. Charter schools are also schools of choice - unlike regular district schools, children are not assigned, but must choose to attend. And clearly they're a popular choice - a survey by the Center for Education Reform found that 65% of charter schools in operation have a waiting list. 784 are currently in operation, and over 1,000 are expected to be up and running by this fall. Charter schools also offer another opportunity for parent involvement - they may actually be started by parents, or may serve on their governing board. We found that parents were directly and significantly involved in the start-up and/or operation of 22% of the charters we surveyed. And charter schools also have a reputation - in addition to being schools of choice- of actively encouraging, or even requiring, parental involvement. School choice - both through charter schools and the programs in Milwaukee and Cleveland- gets parents involved from the outset, and allows them to have a real impact with that involvement. This is good news for children.
Marc S. Tucker, president of the National Center of Education and Economy, responds:I don't know. But I do know that there is not much that public policy can do about parental involvement. Low parental involvement is partly a function of the fact that both parents are now much more likely than before to be working, and many are working more than full time to make ends meet. Nor is there much that we can do about the fact that parents in this country expect schools to do many things that parents in other countries think parents should be doing for them. But there is a lot that public policy can do to raise expectations for students by raising standards for students, and there is plenty of evidence that doing so results in higher performance. That is why I am working on using standards as a lever to improve student performance.