WASHINGTON – American schools need to focus more on training teachers,recruiting more teachers and making teaching an iconic profession.
That's what a panel of educators said Wednesday,as part of a series of recommendations to improve education. The sponsoring group wants leaders,including the presidential candidates,to adopt their suggestions.
“If a doctor went to sleep 50 years ago and woke up today,we would never let him in the hospital,” said Joel Klein,chancellor of the New York City Department of Education. “If a teacher went to sleep 50 years ago and woke up today,we would welcome them with open arms.”
Strong American Schools,a nonpartisan project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors,planned the discussion. Strong American Schools is funded by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Its mission is to elevate discussion among leaders about the need for education reform.
The panelists noted that other nations select their teachers from the top third of graduates,and the United States ends up with teachers from the bottom third of graduates.
In the next eight years,U.S. schools will need to hire nearly 3 million teachers to make up for the 3 million teachers who will retire. More than 12 million students in grades seven through 12 are taught academic courses by teachers who have no degrees in the subject they are teaching.
U.S. 15-year-olds are significantly below the world average in math and science. Of 30 countries participating in the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment,U.S. 15-year-olds ranked 25th in math and 21st in science.
“In order to recruit more effective teachers,we need differentiated compensation,meaningful tenure reform,and we need to create a series of academies across the country that recruit the top third of college graduates and prepare them to work in the field at schools of greatest need,” said John Deasy,superintendent of the Prince George's County,Md.,schools.
The panelists said education should be a more prominent issue in the presidential campaign.
Roy Romer,Strong American Schools chairman and a former Colorado governor,said the presidential candidates need to start discussing how they will adopt education reforms if they are elected.
“Our next president's primary focus needs to be raising standards,improving teaching in every classroom,and getting more time for students to learn,” he said. “They can do this by working with states. There needs to be a partnership with the president and the 50 governors in this country.”
Longer school days would help improve achievement,the panelists said.
Mike Feinberg,co-founder the KIPP charter schools,talked about the philosophy behind the KIPP's long school days – 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.,plus four hours on Saturdays and an extra month in the summer. He said the schedule allows his schools to focus on adding programs,not cutting subjects out of the curriculum.
“We do not have to worry about whether or not we are going to offer physical education,which would cut out history,” he said. “With a longer school day,we can have two hours of language arts or math a day without sacrificing science,history,fine arts or physical education. We have more time to get everything done; it is not a pressure cooker,it is a pressure release.”
Deasy said one way to close the achievement gap is to set national education standards. He said that a child learning algebra in Prince George's County should be on the same level as students studying algebra in San Francisco or New York.
Although the panelists agreed that national standards could help,they recognized local school boards might object.
The panel noted achievement gaps among racial and ethnic groups,but offered few solutions.
“Years after Brown versus the Board of Education,African-Americans are performing below Mexico,which is ranked 30th in the World,” Klein said.
Romer said continuing the current education system could mean that when children grow up they won't be able to afford to live where they grew up because they can't find good jobs.
“As we look to the next 20 or 40 years for this nation,we face a challenge to change the education product,” Romer said. “The consequences of failing to improve this nation's education are potentially disastrous.”
The three presidential candidates did not respond to phone calls asking for their comments on the proposals. But their Web sites discuss their education proposals.
Hillary Clinton plans to propose legislation to recruit more teachers and administrators in low-income neighborhoods.
John McCain's site discusses the “low status” of education in the United States compared to the rest of the industrialized world. McCain promises to focus on getting students access to good schools,allowing them to move to better schools.
Barack Obama plans to recruit math and science teachers with degrees in those subjects. He wants to help teachers learn from professionals in the field and to make sure all children have access to a strong science curriculum.