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. …