Reforming American Education: Videoconference Panel Considers Academic Excellence and Equity Vital to Democracy

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Reforming American Education: Videoconference panel considers academic excellence and equity vital to democracy

Washington -- Just what is educational reform? National education standards? Equity of access? Teacher certification? Curriculum revision? Better governance? Moreover, do we really need to reconstruct our educational system?

These were concerns and questions considered by a panel of education experts along with an interactive audience in "Beyond the Dream X -- A Celebration of Black History." The live videoconference is an annual Black History Month tradition for Black Issues In Higher Education.

Before answering the question of whether the American education system needs reform, the moderator, Andrea Roane -- a news anchor at WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C., and a former teacher -- asked participating panelists just what the word "reform" means.

Dr. Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, noted that everyone has different definitions of reform. His fellow panelists proved this point by offering definitions that ranged from classroom achievement and excellence to improved accessibility and community involvement -- all of which require reallocating resources and increasing participation by all parties.

"Ultimately, what education reform is about in this country is getting the institution of public education to work on behalf of kids and their achievement, and to put their learning as the first priority," Casserly said "It's about how do we arrange and structure an institution to do that."

Dr. Barbara A. Sizemore, dean of the school of education at DePaul University, added, "Reform means dealing with both excellence and equity.... But how you do it is what is under discussion. My view is that it has to take place in a classroom, because that is where the rubber hits the road."

U.S. Congressman Major Owens (D-N.Y.), who participated via telephone, said he dislikes the word "reform" because it implies that there is nothing redeeming about the current system. He prefers the word "improvement" because what is needed, in his view, is an "ongoing process of change involving governance, management, instruction, curriculum, and infrastructure. Everything is involved." Owens is a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

Because assessment so often involves testing, Sizemore pointed out that the nation has a love-hate relationship with testing.

"Tests are here to stay," she said, "because they do what our culture wants and the best thing we can do for minorities is to help them pass and score, because it determines who will eat. …