Massachusetts 2000

SOMETIMES, YOU CAN just tell a governor is a bit out of touch with reality.

Maybe he suggests that the elderly have a duty to die, as a former Nevada governor once did. Maybe he takes a spin in a tank to demonstrate his machismo, as a certain Massachusetts governor once did.

Or maybe, in his major address on education reform last week, he articulates a vision of a state where "the superintendent of Riverdale, where Archie, Veronica, Betty and Jughead lived, for example, could also assume management of Smallville, home of Superboy."

That's what Gov. William F. Weld '66 did last week. And this strange allusion to the world of comic-strip characters was not the only time Weld showed that his Massachusetts 2000 plan is completely detached from the real world of public education in Massachusetts.

IN CONJUNCTION WITH the arrival of U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander to Massachusetts and its schools last week, Weld and his staff whipped up an educational reform package designed to radically revamp the state's schools.

Weld's package was hyped by his staff as revolutionary, bold and visionary. It would inject the schools with "accountability, innovation and competition," said Lt. Gov. Paul Cellucci. The plan was simple: Establish standards. Involve parents. Empower teachers. Earmark local aid. Consolidate management.

It may sound and look like an educational revolution, but it sure won't quack like one. In reality, the proposals, a slight revision of Alexander's own America 2000 strategy, are empty, at times contradictory, and overall an ineffective recipe for improving schools.

The classic response from educators and Democrats has been to ask "Where's the Beef?" The administration has emphasized that the package released last week was just an outline and that specific legislation was on the way. But virtually no mention was made of money, and Weld critics say that without additional funding, his proposals just won't work.

The funding critique is a powerful and valid one. Some of Weld's proposed initiatives have already been undercut by his own massive spending cuts on education. For example, a major plank in Weld's plan is the establishment of school governance councils consisting of parents and teachers. Apart from the less-than-revolutionary nature of a more powerful PTA, this initiative is problematic because it was already launched in 1988 under the name "school improvement councils." The budget for these councils has already been cut by the governor.

But increased funding is not the only possible way to improve education. Indeed, educators need to hold students to higher standards. Administrators and policy makers must continue to introduce innovative changes into both the classroom and the management of schools. Weld's proposals are not the answer.

AT FIRST GLANCE, Massachusetts 2000 seems harmless enough. Part of this illusion stems from the fact that in last week's announcement of the grand Massachusetts education plan, Weld managed to leave out the most radical, controversial and dangerous part of his education strategy: school choice. By forcing schools to compete for students, choice only diverts attention from the real problem of how to better educate kids.

But even the proposals he did mention have their pitfalls. Most significantly, his plan for "teacher empowerment" is actually a shift of responsibilities to already overburdened teachers which will lead to decreased effectiveness in the classroom and increased teacher burnout.

Weld's rhetoric is deceptively supportive of teachers. Our teachers are "number one," said Weld, and teachers are the "critical players" in determining educational quality. He won't get himself into trouble there.

But he went on to outline a "radically different" role for the teacher which included additional responsibilities in school governance, determining school budgets and recruiting and hiring new teachers.

Weld points to teachers as the key to quality education, and in the next breath, recommends that they worry more about administrative matters. The effect would be to dilute the emphasis placed by the teacher on his or her primary responsibility: teaching students.

One of the great difficulties already in being a teacher is trying to wear a plethora of "different hats" at once, as educators like to say. Teachers today are expected to be social workers, guidance counselors, disciplinarians, and, oh yes, instructors all in one package.

In his urge to cut costs, Weld has already eliminated much of the administrative support for teachers. Now he wants to eliminate more.

Teachers have to be more than supermen (and women), and if they can't take the heat, Weld has got an early retirement program to help them get out of the kitchen. No extra incentives for people to take on this crazy job of supereducator were mentioned.

Certainly, teachers should have important input into how schools are run. But they do not need more administrative duties to detract them from their true purpose. If this is Weld's idea of improvement, then perhaps his administration should not be leading the way in education reform.