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A 21st-Century Agenda for California's Schools

December 27, 1987|Bill Honig | Bill Honig is California superintendent of public instruction.

SACRAMENTO — California's educational reform movement began in 1983 and we now must address some crucial questions: How do we raise expectations for our students and for those who work with them? Which reforms are working and which are not? What further programs, incentives, and accountability measure do we need? What funding level does it take to make the system most effective? How is the money spent?

The education community is not arguing that the solution is simply to throw money at the problem of improving our schools. Additional resources must be tied to a continuing effort to improve the quality of education. Consequently I have prepared an "Agenda for the 21st Century," which charts our course for the next decade and beyond.

As we approach the 21st Century, our schools face enormous challenges. We need to educate more students to higher levels of academic competency if they are to obtain jobs and our nation is to remain competitive in the world economy. We must also instill strong civic and ethical values in our students to keep democracy alive and to help students develop the character and judgment they need to live up to their potential.

Future jobs will demand much higher skills than those of today--few employment opportunities will be created for those who cannot read, compute and follow directions. As society becomes more complex, the amount of education needed becomes greater. A century ago, a high school education was considered superfluous for factory workers and a college degree was the mark of an academic. According to a study published by the Hudson Institute for the U.S. Department of Labor, by the year 2000 a majority of new jobs for the first time will require postsecondary education.

The department's agenda outlines accomplishments in California's educational reform movement, what changes are under way and what still needs attention. Let me briefly touch on some of the issues we face:

Sustaining current reforms: Many reforms are starting to pay off, and we must intensify efforts at the local level. We have established high standards and a strong core curriculum, lengthened the school day and school year, attracted high-caliber new teachers, initiated a mentor teacher program, developed better instructional materials, increased discipline and instituted strong accountability and more efficient fiscal management systems. In addition, we have taken steps to improve school and district management.

Because of these reforms, test scores have gone up; more students are taking academic courses, especially in lower socioeconomic areas; and, of crucial importance, morale has been rising.

We have developed a clear blueprint of what is needed to make our schools better--this vision must be translated into a reality in every classroom. True reform requires sustained attention. It does little good to come up with ideas of how to make our schools work better if these ideas are not actually implemented, reinformed and updated.

Productivity and competitiveness : California's educational system must be treated as a competitive enterprise. This nation cannot gain its share of the international marketplace if students do not possess the skills and knowledge they need to be productive members of society.

To this end, the way in which we recruit, train and assess new teachers must be radically altered, and we must make an increased investment in upgrading the skills of existing teachers so they can teach the strengthened curriculum. Teachers must play a larger role in the decision-making process, and we need to place greater emphasis on professional development.

Accountability, incentives and sanctions: The educational community must hold itself accountable--both for academic progress and fiscal management. California is the first state to establish a statewide academic accountability program, and it will be expanded so that citizens will be able to evaluate their schools on an even broader array of quality indicators.

A recent report by USC education Profs. Allan Odden and David D. Marsh for Policy Analysis for California Education indicates that when schools put together all the critical reforms, they show improvement. All our estimates indicate that about 30% of our schools are extremely successful, about 40% are working in the right direction and another 30% are still not performing well for a variety of reasons--some lack leadership, faculty teamwork, parent involvement or resources. Others simply have not implemented reforms.

Those schools, programs and individuals that are performing well should be rewarded, thus providing incentives for continued improvement and serving as examples for others. Likewise, sanctions should be invoked against those that are consistently failing to live up to expectations and standards.

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