HOW SHOULD WE TEACH? SMALL TRIUMPHS
 A RAY OF HOPE
THOUGHTS ON REFORM: Colby alumni, faculty, and students give opinions on education

 

 

   
What is your gut reaction to the debate surrounding propsed reforms?

Karen Kusiak '75
Assistant Professor of Education & Human Development
Colby College

The suspicion is that colleges of education are not doing their job, that we're graduating people and making them teachers and they're not capable of being teachers and that's why we have poor performance in school. I question all of those assumptions.

Mark Tappan
Associate Professor and Chair,
Department of Education & Human Development
Colby College

I think the public discourse around public education is just really problematic all the way around because the public is clamoring for accountability and standards and all of this, or the folks who make education policy claim the public is clamoring for this. So there's a mandate to try to respond to that but it's not getting into the realities of the classroom.

 
What are the biggest challenges facing our nation's educators?

Jane Hunter Bates '66
Fifth Grade Teacher, Flanders Elementary School
East Lyme, Conn.

One challenge is to find the balance between teaching of life-long learning skills with the time needed for preparation and taking of state mastery tests. We need to determine how time needed for "teaching to the test" can also be time used for developing thinking productive citizens who are prepared for life, not just the test.

 

Sandi Hayward Albertson-Shea '64
Professor of Humanities, Middlesex College
Middlesex, Mass.

A major issue for our country that impacts educators is the need for an informed, thoughtful and compassionate citizenry. Because my field is humanities/English in a community college setting, I am acutely aware of the gaps in my students' knowledge and understanding re: global issues and current events beyond the immediate perimeters of their own lives and day-to-day dilemmas. Motivating students to think and read deeply/critically, to explore opposing points of view and then to risk taking a stand is an ongoing challenge. The Internet, with its vast potential and abundance of material, needs to be approached carefully, not simply downloaded.

Richard Abramson '71
Superintendent, Arundel Public Schools
Arundel, Maine

The baby boomers who have been the nation's teachers and school administrators over the past 30 years are retiring at an alarming rate. One of the biggest challenges facing our nation will be teacher and administrator shortages. Many states--Maine included--are looking at ways to recruit young teachers and retool teachers as administrators.

Do you think the nation's public schools are doing their job?

Michael A. Gerard '92
English Teacher and Department Chair,
Mary Institute & St. Louis Country Day School
Webster Groves, Mo.

I believe that the nation's public schools are doing as good a job as can be expected, given the extensive factors allied against them. Low pay, overcrowded classrooms, less educable students and a general lack of respect from pupils, parents, administrators and general society all contribute to the failure to draw or keep talented teachers in the classroom. Until conditions change substantially, schools will be powerless to improve the quality of education that they deliver.

Arthur Goldschmidt '59
Retired Professor of Middle East history,
Penn State University
State College, Pa.

I don't believe that, overall, our nation's schools are doing what they should to prepare an educated citizenry, although I believe that many states and districts have improved their own schools during the past decade and hope that the Bush administration will continue what the Clinton administration has tried to do. But in general I think that too much time in our schools is wasted and that the young people who emerge do not have the academic or intellectual skills that they need to do college-level work or to succeed in their jobs. There is much room for curricular reform. The leadership should come from the teachers themselves.

John Gibbons '64
Teacher, Mattituck High School
Mattituck, N.Y.

Certainly, some of the nation's public schools are failing miserably, but I am convinced that this situation . . . might result from what scientists would call a Type 2 Error--a false negative. Furthermore, I would suggest that the answer to your question might fall prey to the "Third Variable" problem. The failure of public schools to produce well-educated students, who score adequately on evaluative testing instruments, may not be the result of any variables connected to the school whatsoever. The best indicator of academic success is the education and, perhaps more importantly, the subjective value placed upon the importance of education in the student's household.

Do you think it is the school's responsibility to teach character and morals?

Jane Hunter Bates '66
Flanders Elementary School
East Lyme, Conn.

Education should be a partnership between parents and teachers. The responsibility lies in both sets of hands. The character building and moral standards can't stop at either side of the school door. Students need models and strategies to help them live a life that considers the effect their individual conduct has upon others as they make decisions.

Sandi Hayward Albertson-Shea '64
Middlesex College
Middlesex, Mass.

I think it is the responsibility of academia to expose students to models/examples of morality and character, to reinforce and affirm those qualities [that] reveal the best of what it means to be both human and humane. When I discuss plagiarism with my composition students, I tell them that, in addition to being a form of theft and a negation of their ability, I know that they have to do the assignment on their own [and that] the act of plagiarizing diminishes their soul. A student wrote last semester that she'd never had a professor care about her soul before.

Richard Abramson '71
Arundel Public Schools
Arundel, Maine

I believe that schools are in the best position to provide character education to our young students. It is the most consistent place and has the most well-trained cadre of individuals to provide such education. Ideally, it would be the home and church.

Are teacher's unions an obstacle to education?

John Gibbons '64
Mattituck High School
Mattituck, N.Y.
Teachers' unions protect the contractual rights of teachers and perform the function of a collective bargaining unit during contract negotiations. From a historical perspective, teachers' unions have protected the academic integrity of the classroom. What individual science teacher in the "Bible Belt" would feel comfortable introducing the scientifically valid principles of evolution without the support of a professional organization? Your question might really be addressing the issue of tenure and union support for teachers during competency hearings. I would point out that the granting of tenure is an administrative decision derived without any input from the unions.

Michael A. Gerard '92
Mary Institute & St. Louis Country Day School
Webster Groves, Mo.
Teachers' unions aren't an obstacle to education, but they aren't helping change the quality of education in substantive ways. Their agendas focus largely on increasing teacher salaries, and that is only [one] piece of the puzzle. However, I think it is important to note that unions promote the interest of their members, not the general welfare of society, and the teacher's unions are no exception; our job as citizens is to promote quality education.

 

Arthur Goldschmidt '59
Penn State University (retired)
State College, Pa.
Teachers' unions can become an obstacle to education if they penalize the ablest and most innovative of their members. . . . On the other hand, if teachers in a district suffer from low pay and abysmal working conditions, and if they are given no voice in the management of their schools, then I do believe that they should be unionized. I also believe that parents should involve themselves more in their own children's education, not necessarily by home schooling but by visiting their children's teachers and, where appropriate, classes and by expressing to those teachers a desire to be their partners in educating their children.
Should federal funding be linked to how well students perform on standardized tests?

Dee O'Heron Pederson '70
Teacher's Assistant, The Blake School
Hopkins, Minn.

[Challenged] schools actually need more funding to reduce class size or add more assistants to the classroom to deal with many at-risk students and attract the best teachers. I do want to point out that there are many excellent teachers in the difficult districts, but often they can only do so much to improve test scores when all the factors are considered. I do not favor school funding being linked to how well students perform on standardized tests. I would prefer to see the federal government send a task force into the failing schools to help them achieve better test scores.

Lyn Mikel Brown
Associate Professor of Education and Human Development and Women's Studies
Colby College

There's no appreciation that people start in different places. You have very poor communities without the resources to
do what they need to do to meet those standards. And then you're going to punish them? It's really outrageous.

Emmanuel Thomann '00
Graduate student, University of Connecticut
Thomann majored in history at Colby with a minor in education.

You're looking for two scapegoats. You're blaming the students. If they do well, they get more federal funding. It doesn't make any sense at all. And you're punishing the school for not doing as well.

Do you think there is a place for a voucher system in American education?

Dee O'Heron Pederson '70
The Blake School
Hopkins, Minn.

I am a passionate advocate for vouchers since I have taught in a public school, a Catholic school and an elite private school, and I sincerely believe that one size does not fit all. Presently, only the wealthy have the option to enroll their children in the school that best suits them, and I feel this is discrimination. Every child should have the best possible opportunity to attend a private school if the public school is not working for them. If the voucher system is instituted I feel very strongly that the government should not be able to legislate how the private schools are run.

Geoff Becker '80
Fiction Writer and Assistant Professor of English, Towson University
Towson, Maryland

I find the proponents of so-called vouchers to be pushing something at best simplistic, and more likely dishonest. Just try sending your kid to private school with $1800, or whatever it is that is going to be diverted back into your pocket. I like capitalism as much as the next Wal-Mart shopper, but free-markets are not the answer to everything; as a society, we ought to (and supposedly do) agree that certain things--education, health care--benefit ALL of us. The shameful quality of some public schools needs to be addressed, but by raising teachers' salaries and focusing on what takes place in the classroom.

Frances Birkinbine Welch '72
Instructional Assistant, Cheshire Public Schools-Special Education
Cheshire, Conn.

I strongly disagree with President Bush's voucher system. There is no question that certain schools, especially inner-city schools, are not providing good educational opportunities, but letting the families of any of those schools "jump ship" with money to go elsewhere is not going to help that school improve itself. Substantial money is needed for motivated faculty, adequate facility improvements/repairs and updated resources, all of which are lacking now in so many of these schools.

Are you encouraged or discouraged by the current education reform debate?

 

 

Michelle Farrell '01
Education minor
Colby College

There seems to be an extreme amount of "crisis talk" surrounding the subject of education reform. At this point I am encouraged by the current debate because through the discourse we could arrive at some valuable changes in how we "do school." Unfortunately, oftentimes when reform is considered the teachers (direct educators of the students) are not heard from, and more important, students are not able to voice their opinions in the discussions.

Cindy Rosenbaum '01
Education minor
Colby College

I am both encouraged and discouraged. I am encouraged by people like Alfie Kohn [author and outspoken critic of the use of grades and test scores] who challenge current assumptions about education. People like Kohn take the perspective of, and certainly listen to, students, parents and teachers. I become discouraged by many articles I read in the major newspapers about state and federal politicans who are willing to put their faith in a single measure of success or failure: standardized test scores. I feel that standardized test scores should be considered as a way to look at what is happening within a school, or a classroom, but not the only way to do so.

Karin Felmly '01
Education minor
Colby College

For the most part, I am encouraged by the education reform debate because it shows that our nation is finally paying much-needed attention to schools and young children. While a solution may not be easy to reach, considering the debates on testing standards and controversy over achievement levels, awareness is a crucial first step. After learning from Colby professors and working for the Department of Education in D.C., I now realize that there are people who are truly devoted to improving education in America. Education reform is not a lost cause, it is merely a challenge.

 

 


FEATURES:
HOW SHOULD WE TEACH?
Small Triumphs: Alex Quigley '99 finds reason for both hope and despair in the Mississippi Delta
A Ray of Hope: Brittany Ray '93 inspires where she found her inspiration
An Education CEO: Robert Furek '65 brings accountability to Hartford public schools
Charting Success: James Verrilli '83 directs charter school turn-around in Newark
Perspectives on Reform: Colby experts discuss reform and the purpose of education

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