In the wake of teachers registering a "no confidence" vote for Salt Lake School Superintendent John W. Bennion, school board members, the superintendent and teacher representatives met Monday afternoon to talk with a nationally recognized consultant about how teachers can become more involved in educational reform.
Jeffrey M. Schneider, a specialist in educational sociology with the National Education Association, told how teachers nationwide have participated in the Team Approach to Better Schools, a program applying the corporate principle of "quality circles" to education."This is nothing new. There has been site-based management exercised in a lot of places in a lot of ways," said Schneider. However, the idea that "it is the professional thing to do" has only recently been promoted by teachers and groups like the NEA.
He said this notion is associated with a new "third wave" of educational reform. The first wave of reform was federally mandated programs, more recently it has come in the form of statehouse directives, but now reform is taking place where it ought to be in the schools.
"Quality education comes in the schools and in the classrooms," he said.
He gave the example of how the Team Approach To Better Schools had worked in a poor minority elementary school in Monroe, La. The school had drug and pregnancy problems. Teachers started on a simple level and decided to build a new playground. In the process, they worked with a private industry, which is financing the project; a local university; and the school board. Because of those contacts the school is now improving in other ways.
"I am really looking for a failure," said Schneider, talking about the success of the program to be used in 35 school districts next year.
Schneider said the team-approach program has helped in everything from building a playground to developing a consistent school discipline program or improving curriculum.
"(It gives teachers) first, the ability to make a decision and second, the responsibility for those decisions," Schneider said.
During discussion, Bennion said that in some of the district schools such teacher input is occurring, but in others it is not.
"We need to tackle the notion that there is a top-down centralized decision-making process in the district. It may be that we need to work harder to create an environment for decision-making," Bennion said.
In the letter criticizing Bennion, Salt Lake district teachers said that their opportunity to be involved in educational reform had been stifled and they had been left out of a shared-governing process.
Part of the problem may result, said Schneider, because some teachers don't think they have any say in making reforms until someone tells them they can contribute.
"There are probably 2,000 things we (school districts and teacher associations) disagree upon. However, one thing we don't disagree upon is quality education," said Schneider, "If we are not providing quality education we're whistling in the dark because we are not going to go any place."