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Education reform

At times, reform appears to be the norm in the field of education. Programs come and go, subject matter and technology constantly evolve, standardized tests get upgraded. Even the granddaddy of them all, No Child Left Behind, is getting waivered and questioned from every level.

So when calls for change in the classroom surface, it's hard for us to get excited -- let alone hopeful.

But two such reforms have emerged recently that fall into the commonsense category worthy of pursuit.

The first is an examination that would raise the bar for all aspiring teachers. In fact, it's rather similar to a bar exam for lawyers in that the exam must be passed before one is allowed to enter the profession.

"It's time to do away with a common rite of passage into the teaching profession, whereby newly minted teachers are tossed the keys to their classrooms, expected to figure things out, and left to see if they and their students sink or swim," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

The proposed written test would be developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which already administers the National Board Certification program.

AFT hopes such an examination not only would raise the caliber of beginning teachers but elevate the entire profession. With the support of the U.S. Department of Education and the National Council on Teacher Quality, the entry exam is an idea that makes sense. It might even make teachers more money, which makes sense as we entrust so much of our children's development to those at the head of the classroom.

The second reform will undergo a trial phase in five states beginning next year. While school-aged children in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee might not like it, they'll be receiving an additional 300 hours of learning time. Still to be worked out by individual schools is whether days will be lengthened or more days added to the schedule.

However it looks, the affected 20,000 students will log an additional 6 million hours of learning in 2013.

"I'm convinced the kind of results we'll see over the next couple of years I think will compel the country to act in a very different way," said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

We'll see if the optimism is warranted. But something needs to be attempted for an educational system many are convinced lags behind other countries.

We don't believe linking teacher compensation or employment with test scores is the way to go. Nor are charter schools or voucher programs, both of which might benefit a few but at the expense of many.

Both the extended class time and an entrance examination for teachers strike us as being focused at the appropriate level. Students are learning in the classroom from the teachers sitting in front. The one-on-one and small group experience is where teaching takes place. Grandiose reforms that look at entire districts or states tend to paint with too large a brush. Which is precisely the reason such reforms get redone -- over and over.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net