True Community Schools Education Reform Must Reach beyond Curriculum to the Needs of Students and Families, and Schools Can Play a Vital Role in the Lives of Their Communities

Article excerpt

WILL President Bush's proposal for a "revolution in American education" end up on the scrap heap of previous reform efforts? Yes, if the coming debate bogs down over the issues of school choice and national testing. No, if we head for the most important door to childhood's future. In my interviews with nearly 3,000 children, parents, and teachers around the country over the past four years, I have heard this repeated theme: The most important issue is not the academic life of the student, but the emotional life of the child. Bush's proposals give only cursory attention to that principle.

In any true education revolution, public schools must be identified as the most important community hubs for families - complete with large counseling centers, day-care facilities, and in-house and outreach parenting programs. Schools should augment the family, rather than replace it.

Here are some proposals for how to get there from here.

- Schools should serve adult as well as child needs. Some high schools are attempting to become community centers, hubs for weekend sports and weekend classes for adults and children in foreign languages, computers, karate, and a variety of other subjects taught by volunteer instructors. To reduce neighborhood violence and relieve the courts, schools could also be the sites of legal mediation centers for the surrounding neighborhoods.

- Increase parents' involvement. Giving parents a choice of schools within the public school system is one step in ensuring parental involvement. The more that public schools can offer the kind of parental involvement often seen in many private schools, the better public schools will be able to compete. Some private schools require parents to volunteer a certain number of hours per month in the classroom. Under my suggested Family Ties legislation, employers would be required to give every employee (not only parents) two to four hours per month to volunteer in schools, visit their child at day care, or visit a parent in elder care. The Southland Corporation, which owns 7-Eleven stores, has adopted such a plan as part of its benefits package in Southern California. Foodmaker Corporation now offers its employees one paid day a year for volunteer work. That's a start.

- Schools should offer more mental-health, social, and medical services. Traditional guidance counseling is crisis-oriented, concentrating on the most troublesome or talented 10 percent or 15 percent of students. Nationally, counselor-to-student ratios are abysmal; elementary schools have been virtually ignored. Yet more cuts in these services are coming.

- Schools should become parent-fitness centers. The public school should be the primary place where parents go to get help in parenting and where they meet with other parents. Schools should be family support centers. They could offer guidance and support for first-time parents, both within the school and in outreach programs for families with children not yet school age. …


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