New Legislation for New Partnerships

by Thomas W. Payzant with Tom Fagan

In March 31, 1994 President Clinton signed into law the Goals 2000 Educate America Act, and on October 20, 1994, he signed the bill reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). It is now known as the Improving America's Schools Act (IASA). Taken together, these two pieces of legislation offer significant potential to reform and dramatically improve the education of our children.

Most significant is that this legislation focuses on raising the academic achievement of all students to a high level by supporting states and school districts as they establish high quality, challenging, content and performance standards for all students and align curriculum, teaching and assessments with their standards. However, putting things in legislation is one thing­achieving the goal is quite another.

We believe that educators at all levels must be involved. Universities are one of the important partners in the implementation of Goals 2000 and the improvement of teaching and learning in our schools. Certainly the education students receive at elementary and secondary levels has a profound effect on higher education. It is a national necessity that the education children receive be radically improved and the involvement of higher education in the effort is in the interest of its institutions, the students they serve, and the nation as a whole.

How can the universities be involved? First, they can participate with educators, policy makers, parents and others engaged in the development of content and performance standards in core academic areas. These are not to be confused with minimum competency requirements of the past: rather, these standards are to be challenging and high quality, asking all students to reach the level of academic achievement now reached by only our best students. The attainment of these standards by students becomes a means of accountability for schools, school districts, and States. To help States in setting these standards, the U.S. Department of Education, along with other agencies and organizations, is supporting the development of model voluntary national standards in several academic areas.

Following the lead of the National Council for the Teachers of Mathematics, specialists in other academic disciplines, with broad­ based involvement of teachers, administrators, business, and the general public are currently developing voluntary standards in core subjects, including science, history, geography, foreign language, and civics and government. Standards for the arts have already been completed.

While we expect these voluntary standards to be helpful to States as they develop their own standards, the States have the authority to adopt State standards that can be even higher. These standards will guide what is taught in schools. Universities can provide substantial assistance in this effort through the participation of experts in the academic disciplines and teacher educators.

Second, universities may have responsibilities involved in the development of state and local comprehensive reform plans. The development of standards by States will be part of an overall comprehensive plan for reform that will be put together by a broad based State panel. The Goals 2000 Act, in addressing the makeup of the panel, specifically mentions institutions of higher education. This provides an opportunity for representatives of university faculties to play a major role in the development of State plans and the academic standards that underlie the plan. It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of these standards, and the role that university representatives can play in helping to establish them.

Third, it is in the self interest of colleges and universities to pay attention to the education their future students are receiving. Clearly, better prepared students entering colleges, universities, and other post­secondary institutions will demand more challenging curriculum and programs. As schools improve, post­secondary institutions will need to upgrade their courses and teaching as well. In addition, as States begin to set standards for students in terms of what they know and are able to do, rather than the number of courses they complete, and as they design assessment systems that adequately measure how well students are meeting these standards, post­ secondary institutions will have to develop new ways of evaluating their applicants and designing programs for them.

Fourth, there is a role for universities in local communities. The development of comprehensive reform plans will also take place at district and school levels­most Goals 2000 funds go to districts and individual schools­and districts, like States, will utilize broad­based panels to develop those plans. Universities can play a key role through membership on these panels and providing assistance to them. Panels will need information about research on teaching and learning and ideas on how to translate State content standards into curricula for use in the classroom. They will also need help in building and maintaining support for change. And schools and school districts, like States, will need guidance on how to reach out to and work with the many constituencies whose support they need in order to carry out meaningful change.

Fifth, universities will be important as they reform teacher training programs to educate teachers who will lead the effort to help all students reach high standards. A crucial component of bringing about change in schools is making certain that teachers, administrators, and other educators have the knowledge and skills they need in order to bring all students to high levels of achievement. This will require increased attention to both the content and pedagogy. Both Goals 2000 and IASA recognize the pivotal position that professional development­both pre­service and in­service­has in truly improving our schools. Goals 2000 does this in a unique way. Rather than relying on post­secondary institutions alone to provide professional development, Goals 2000 sees this as a joint effort between local school districts and post­secondary institutions.

Goals 2000 provides funds to States for grants to local educational agencies, in cooperation with institutions of higher education or nonprofit organizations, for both pre­service and in­service professional development. Note that in both cases it is the local district that is the recipient of the funds. There are two reasons for this. First, it is presumed that the district, in cooperation with its teaching staff, is the organization best able to assess the needs of its current staff and the knowledge and skills teachers it plans to hire will need. Second, it is the district and its schools that have the responsibility to see to it that all children reach the levels of performance in academic areas that have been established for them.

To meet that responsibility, districts and schools need to be able to greatly influence the training of their current and future teaching staffs. Therefore, Goals 2000 provides for the establishment of a partnership between local districts and institutions of higher education in providing this professional development. This approach is carried over in the IASA that will provide substantial support for professional development, again linked to content standards in the core academic areas, whether established under Goals 2000, as we expect many to be, or otherwise established by States. The emphasis on academic content, a key factor in the IASA as well as in Goals 2000, encourages involvement of academics in those various disciplines as well as academics from schools of education.

In summary, Goals 2000 and IASA mark a new approach toward trying to improve the education of children who are most at risk of failure. In the past, ESEA has sought to improve the education of these children by providing additional resources­money translated into extra teachers, materials, and support services­while having little effect on the regular school program. Chapter 1, for instance ($6.3 billion in fiscal year 1994), provides dollars to school districts to support extra educational services to children in schools with high concentrations of poor children.

These extra services have typically been primarily remedial instruction for children who are behind. Typically the served children are removed from their regular classroom for part of the day to receive this extra help. This approach usually does not seek to change the basic program of instruction that the children participate in for most of the school day. Instead, it seeks to supplement it. The "add­on" nature of this method has led to development of a parallel education system in many districts, where Federal programs are operated separately from the regular school program and where individual school faculties may have little influence or control over the special instruction the children receive.

Goals 2000 and the new IASA seek to change that. The reform plans that Goals 2000 will support are not plans for use of Federal dollars or for Federal progams; they are plans that States, districts, and schools will use to bring all children to high levels of achievement, combining State, Federal, and local resources into a unified program of instruction. Rather than being an "add­on" program, IASA becomes a source of assistance so that all children will succeed in the regular school program. Goals 2000 supports the development of plans, including standards and professional development and IASA helps States, districts, and schools carry out those plans, but the plans are for the entire program of instruction, not for separate Federally sponsored activities. The goal is a formidable one­to substantially reform teaching and learning in every school in the country not for the sake of reform, but to bring all children to high levels of achievement.

The reform will be comprehensive, not piecemeal, seeking to improve all aspects of the educational enterprise at once and bringing them all into alignment so all are mutually supportive of one another. Professional development will be directly related to instruction in the content areas; parental involvement will be a major component of each child's learning to the higher standards; school plans will be based on student achievement; and assessment systems will measure how well children are learning the content they need to master. There will be substantial need for help in both developing these plans and carrying them out, and universities are certainly institutions that can provide the help. Here are a few suggestions on how to begin.

­Contact the State education agency and the governor's office about participating on the State panel and in the panel's activities. This participation is not limited to membership. Panels have the large and very important task of establishing the State plan for reform and will need help from many sources in doing so. This help will range from the technical areas of standards and assessment and use of technology to practical matters of organization and public engagement.

­Determine which local districts plan to participate in Goals 2000 and offer assistance in developing applications to be sent to the State. If the application involves preservice or in­service education, seek to become a partner with the district in its project. If the application is to develop a local plan, get involved at the local and the school level in developing and carrying out the plan.

­Assemble information on content and per­ formance standards and assessments that will be useful to State and local panels. This will be a new area where many panel members will need help and support.

­Express support for State and local efforts to establish high standards in academic areas. These academic standards are sometimes misunderstood as attempts to modify values parents believe are important for their children to hold.

Above all, it is important for all of us to become engaged in this effort. It is not an overstatement to say that the future is at stake. While the goal of universal public education is central to America's commitment to a high quality education for all its children, it is also imperative that all children become prepared to participate in a high­skill, high­wage work force. Over the past several years, many States and communities have made substantial steps at reform: Goals 2000 makes the Federal government a partner in this effort. We ask everyone to join in.

Back to Table of Contents of the Fall 1994 Issue of On Common Ground

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