No one in American public education should feel comfortable maintaining the status quo, a visiting educator said Thursday.
The public is demanding changes and the United States must restructure education to continue to hold a place in the top ranks of international powers, he said.Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, addressed the Utah Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. He has spent several days in Utah, speaking before education groups and consulting with the Utah AFT affiliate. He is internationally noted for his views on education and writes a column that appears in the New York Times.
Shanker told the Utah group that education must acknowledge what's wrong with the system and establish credible leadership in an extensive reform effort.
"Don't overpromise," he warned. The solutions that will make American education more effective will take time and will require educators to change their way of thinking, he said.
"We have no better hope than education. We must let the public know we are involved in the search and that we're willing to share theories and to quit making the same mistakes."
America lags behind many Oriental and European countries in educational achievement, and the end result, if there is no reversal, is economic catastrophe, Shanker said.
Japan used education to offset a lack of natural resources and climb to the top of the industrial heap, he said. He said an educated workforce is a more significant factor in industrial success than the availability of coal and steel.
In contrast, the United State is importing scientists to offset the failure of its own educational system to train people in the sciences and mathematics, he said.
In the United States, there is a widening gap between the salaries of university trained people and those without such training, Shanker said. Most families have a greater overall income, but only because two wage-earners are contributing to the pot.
Students coming out of public education schools here are considerably less educated than their peers in many other countries, he said. "Ninety-five percent of the kids who go to college here couldn't qualify for university studies in other countries. Our best universities compare to the usual universities in Europe."
The question, he said, should be: "What are they doing right and can we copy it?"
As a first step, America would have to commit to educating all of its children, stemming the drop-out problem and upgrading the quality of teachers. "Some of America's teachers are themselves illiterate."
The traditional self-contained classroom model will have to go, and creative new approaches to education must be instituted to make the United States educational system competitive, he said. Shanker suggested a team approach, with highly qualified teachers heading groups of teachers, paraprofessionals and volunteers to help children. Lock-step daily routines that move children from subject to subject at the call of a clock must give way to more flexible scheduling, he said.
"We doom two-thirds of any class to alienation with the standard lecture method," Shanker said. Only those of average capability are reached through this method.
Children are motivated by the same things adults are, he said. They will work hard if they see a reason to do so, if they identify a worthwhile ultimate reward at the end.