While academic requirements and performances have increased during the past five years in public schools throughout the United States, the educational reform movement has yet to have positive influences on behalf of teachers, a leading educator says.
"To put it simply, while the regulating of requirements has increased, we haven't looked at the human elements in the school. . . . If we do not have good teachers in the classroom, we will not have good schools," said Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.Boyer is former U.S. commissioner of education, former chancellor of the State University of New York, author of several books on education and education columnist for The London Times. A presidential appointee on national education commissions during the Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations, he joined the Carnegie Foundation in 1979.
He is in Provo this week conducting seminars for general education faculty members at Brigham Young University.
Public education resurfaced in the national spotlight some five years ago when a presidential commission released the critical report, "A Nation At Risk."
Since then, the Carnegie Foundation has conducted specific in-depth studies on high schools, undergraduate college education and a recent teachers' evaluation of the educational reform movement. The latter was released and published in national news reports in late May. The foundation currently is studying early education.
Boyer called the past five years of renewed emphasis on education "the most intense school reform in the nation's history." However, he cited accompanying negative elements as well.
In the foundation's recent study, 50 percent of the responding teachers gave the current reform a "C" grade; 30 percent gave it higher "A" or "B" marks, while the remaining 20 percent said it was below average or failing. Also, 50 percent said teacher morale is worse than five years ago.
Boyer himself said he would give the reform movement a midterm grade of C-plus to B-minus, or a mediocre "two cheers." He also reported less attention being given to teacher renewal and quality of life, citing such examples as an increase in students per classroom and a decrease in preparation time afforded teachers.
Meanwhile, he outlined the acknowledged benefits of the reform movement, including clarified goals, increased advancement requirements, stricter admissions requirements, higher achievement in basic learning skills, improved teacher certification and renewal processes, more corporate involvement and a perceived enhancement of student motivation.
Reform patterns differ from state to state, said Boyer. He said he had no specific data concerning Utah's improvements or weaknesses.
Boyer said the reform movement remains incomplete in three areas: The movement needs more time to grow; education in large cities needs to be given individual attention; and teachers need to be given more "status and dignity."
While some strengths and weaknesses have already become apparent, five years is a relatively short time for a complete reform, he said. "It's long enough to give an evaluation but not long enough to give a final benediction."
Also, schools in large cities seem to be largely unaffected by the reforms, with conditions often worsening. "They don't need more requirements; they need to give more attention to students already in trouble."
Decrying the overall negative judgments handed down to school teachers, Boyer specifically criticized U.S. Secretary of Education William E. Bennett for the official's harsh assessments of educators.
"It doesn't help to bash teachers," Boyer said, adding that the profession should be considered a resource for reform.
"I think we should go on the assumption that teachers overwhelmingly do a good job and that teachers overwhelmingly want their students to succeed."
Boyer suggested establishing a local discretionary fund to reward creativity, implement ideas, purchase extra educational equipment, fund travel to educational conferences or create educational summer fellowships.
The $150 billion budget for public schooling allows very little if any funding for local discretionary use. "This is not the kind of climate to cultivate dignity, let alone (teacher) renewal."