Parents, students can shop around as schools test-drive reform models
By Richard Whitmire
Plain-vanilla schools in the USA are giving way to instructional models that dramatically change the way an entire school does business.
About 8,000 schools have adopted education reform models that range from the highly scripted Direct Instruction to the loosely structured Coalition of Essential Schools.
Encouraging the movement is Congress, which set aside $150 million to pay $50,000 grants to schools taking on reform models. In cities such as Cincinnati, Memphis and San Antonio, nearly all the schools have adopted one of the reform models.
"Suddenly, Americans have access to a wide selection of name-brand schools, much as they do when it comes to cars, churches, restaurants and cable networks," says Chester Finn of the Fordham Foundation, which last week released a guide to the school reform models called Better by Design? Some examples from the major reform models:
Introduced in 1986 by Stanford University professor Henry Levin and now in 1,220 schools, this model is based on the premise that inner-city schools need a rich curriculum to make up the learning gap. It relies on school-based decision-making involving students, teachers and parents. In the classroom, this design favors a hands-on method of inquiry in which the teacher acts more as learning coach than teacher.
* Coalition of Essential Schools.
Introduced in 1984 by Theodore Sizer, former dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Education, it's now in 1,200 schools, although many adhere only lightly to Sizer's principles. To make education more personal, a school is divided into smaller "houses." Students study subjects in blocks of time that can run as long as two hours. Emphasis is on projects and critical-thinking skills.
* Core Knowledge.
Introduced in 1990 and now in about 1,000 schools, this program was founded by University of Virginia professor E.D. Hirsch, author of Cultural Literacy. It is designed to reverse what Hirsch calls a flood of ill-educated high school students by using a highly prescriptive curriculum. In a Core Knowledge school, even kindergartners have a challenging program: Aesop's Fables, studying the seven continents, classical music, geometry and magnetism.
* Direct Instruction.
This method, pioneered by psychologist Siegfried Engelmann, is in 150 schools and continues to spread and draw positive reviews despite detractors among many teachers who have been asked to use it. The method breaks each learning task into little pieces, which are carefully laid out in scripts that teachers must follow.
* Edison Project.
Created by a team of educators with the idea of establishing a chain of private schools, the Edison Project now focuses on running public schools, either by contract or as a charter school. The program features pieces of well-established reforms, such as the Success for All reading program. Edison's school year runs to 205 days, eight hours a day. That means students spend 25% more time in the classroom than regular students. They are divided into "academies" and remain with the same teacher for two or three years. Edison guarantees a computer at home for every student and every teacher. The first Edison school started in 1995. Edison currently runs 79 schools.
* School Development Program.
Founded by Yale professor James Comer and adopted by 700 schools, this program aims at low-income children. Comer believes it is impossible to separate children's home lives from their academic problems. His schools are run by three "teams": a team of parents, a team of school support staff, and a management team of administrators, parents, teachers and support staff. Unlike education reformers who push a particular curriculum, Comer emphasizes a democratic process that leads to decisions about what and how to teach.
* Success for All.
Designed by Robert Slavin, a reading expert at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Success for All aims to make readers of all children -- especially inner-city minority children, who typically lag in literacy skills. Success for All takes a scripted, phonics-heavy approach and devotes 90 minutes a day to reading. While Success for All is a reading program, Slavin has a complete reform program called Roots and Wings. About 1,500 schools use Success for All; about 200 have adopted Roots and Wings.
A detailed analysis of many of the reform models, including contacts, can be found at the American Association of School Administrators' Web site [ http://www.aasa.org/ ] under "An Educators' Guide to Schoolwide Reform" [ http://www.aasa.org/Reform/approach.htm ]. [Illustration] PHOTO, B/W, of Chester Finn ------------- Credit: Gannett News Service, Copyright USA Today Information Network Dec 27, 1999 *****************************************************
Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618) 453-4244 Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office) (618) 457-8903 (home) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org