Joanne Yatvin is an experienced teacher, principal, superintendent, literacy expert, author, and former president of the National Council of Teachers of English. She wrote the following post for this blog:
Since we are deep into the era of school reform, I’d like to offer my own plan for reforming America’s schools. Although I am not an official expert in the eyes of the federal Department of Education or the National Governors Association, I have better credentials* than most of the people so recognized, plus a lot of experience running successful public schools.
If I had to propose a simple solution, I’d say let’s follow Finland all the way. All their schools are free and public; school lunches are also free; there are no national tests; free pre-schools; regular schooling beginning at age seven; and teaching is a highly respected profession. Unfortunately, however, not all those things would work in America because Finland has a much lower poverty rate than we do, a homogeneous population, and a language that is much easier to read than English.
So, I will get more complicated, but never so much as the various reform ideas being proposed or implemented now.
- Limit the Federal role in education to the administration of congressionally authorized grant programs that help schools provide needed services to poor, disadvantaged, and disabled students.
- Limit the state role to distributing tax funds to public schools, licensing teachers, providing student bussing where necessary, offering grants to schools with innovative programs, and providing special services, such as a school psychologist, where needed.
- Re-design formulas for state funding to include additional amounts for schools with large numbers of students living in poverty and students identified as disabled.
- Reconstitute all public schools as charter schools, free to design and implement their own curricula, hire and evaluate teachers, select teaching materials, and determine their own class sizes, daily schedules, and number of annual school days.
5. No for-profit school may call itself a charter school or receive public funds.
6. Authorize at least thirty-three per cent of charter schools as magnet schools focusing on specialization in a particular field, such as science, the arts, or vocational training.
- Students shall attend the schools in their own community unless they wish to apply to attend a magnet school
8. Allow each school faculty to select its own principal and administrative support team. In addition, each school would allow parent observations in classrooms and encourage parent involvement in special projects.
- Require each school to have its own citizen governing board elected from the local community. Each board would hold open meetings and respond to citizen input, and each board member would be required to spend at least ten days a year observing or assisting in classrooms
- Each school would be accountable to its board for the use of public funds, the effectiveness of its curriculum and methods, the quality of its teachers, and the success of its students. The means of demonstrating such accountability would be determined jointly by the school and its board.
- Each school bargains with its board on matters of salary and benefits or it may join with other schools to form a union chapter for this purpose.
As I wrote my specifications for education reform, many exceptions, fine points, and dangers occurred to me, but adding them in would have made the structure too complicated and too susceptible to other problems. In the end, I decided that I would have to have faith in the good intentions and good sense of all the parties involved and leave the whole system open to change. Of one thing I am certain: the system I am proposing would be more flexible, democratic, and sensible than the top-down one we have now with all its misinterpretation of student needs and capabilities, scapegoating of teachers, and preferences for profiteering in materials publishing, consulting, and charter school operation.
- For those who are interested, below are listed my qualifications to be a school reformer.
- B.A. in English and Drama from Douglass College, N.J.
- M.A. in English from Rutgers University, N.J.
- Ph.D. in Curriculum Development and Applied Linguistics from the University of Wisconsin, Madison
- Eighteen years as a teacher in eight schools, in two states and the territory of Puerto Rico, at almost all grade levels, K-12
- Twenty-five years as public school principal; twelve of those as a superintendent/principal
- Wisconsin Elementary Principal of the Year, 1985
- Recipient of the University of Wisconsin School of Education Distinguished Alumni Award, 1988
- Member of the National Reading Panel
- Recipient of the Kenneth S. Goodman In Defense of Good Teaching Award, 2002
- President of the National Council of Teachers of English, 2006-2007
- Member of the College Board Commission to Write Standards for AP English Courses, 2008-2010
- Adjunct Professor and supervisor of student teachers at Portland State University, OR, 2000—present
- Author of three books for teachers, numerous book chapters, and more than 100 articles and letters published in journals and newspapers