Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Rising to the Challenge

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Rising to the Challenge

Article excerpt

FOR THE past two years, the Kappan has been publishing analyses of data demonstrating that the American public schools are nowhere close to collapse. Do these analyses mean that U.S. schools are "just fine," as some readers have deduced? Of course not. Lawrence Stedman points out in this issue that there are "deep, long-standing academic problems that cry out for attention," and "fundamental reform is still warranted."

Too many classrooms -- even in affluent suburban areas -- are boring places, where the teacher does the talking while students answer the questions at the end of every textbook chapter and year for the freedom of 3 p.m. Too often our testing (and our teaching) fail to prepare students for what Grant Wiggins, in this issue, calls "real, |messy' uses of knowledge in context -- the |doing' of a subject."

But change is difficult, as "Teach Me" -- the final episode in WTTW's recent series of programs on Chicago school reform -- makes very clear. However, "Teach Me" (which is distributed by Heinemann, 361 Hanover St., Portsmouth, NH 03801-3912; ph. 800/541-2086) also demonstrates that change is possible and well worth the stress and uncertainty it entails.

"Teach Me" takes a close look at Washington Irving Elementary School, which serves a largely black and Hispanic student population, 86% of whom are poor. Irving's teachers are experienced; most have logged 25 years or more in the classroom. But, when Irving moved into a brand new building in 1988, its students were not achieving well, and its teachers' enthusiasm was flagging.

Along with the new building came a new principal, Madeleine Maraldi. And she was not about to let the teachers off the hook (thereby demonstrating the importance of leadership, the topic of this month's Kappan special section). …

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