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Sizer Calls for School Reform

Restructuring Needed to Improve Student Performance

By Katherine C. Mayer

The head of a national coalition of schools said yesterday that the structure of secondary education must be substantially reformed if the quality of student performance is to improve.

Theodore Sizer, a professor at Brown University, related his experiences as the chair of the Coalition of Essential Schools (ECS) to approximately 100 people at the Kennedy School of Government. ECS is a group dedicated to "exploring restructuring from schoolhouse to statehouse," Sizer said.

"What characterizes good schools are good ideas carried out idiosyncratically to that school," Sizer said.

One of the problems with the current structure of the nation's school systems, which Sizer called "sloppy" is that schools are not "held accountable until kids can perform."

`Hierarchy of Education'

He also criticized the "hierachy of education" and said that important decisions are better made at the classroom level. "We believe that productivity is higher when important decisions are pushed down to the shop floor," said Sizer.

Another large stumbling block for education reform is the shrinking of funds for social services in the schools, he said. Sizer added that school reform must come from the reallocation of existing resources, not additional funding.

Sizer also indicated that a key problem in today's educational system is an incorrect approach to schooling.

"We must judge performance by how the kids do," Sizer said. "In the past focus has been on the process, not the product.

At the root of the problem is the use of standardized testing and "pegging kids early," he said.

"Wise public policy doesn't fix kids," Sizer said. "It allows kids to move at their own rates," he said.

"Some intelligences aren't reflected by SAT's," Sizer added. Instead, he said, the use of knowledge should be valued.

And the type of knowledge that schools teach is equally important, he said. Sizer criticized the practices of schools that divide learning into distinct subjects rather than taking a broad-based, integrated approach.

"None of the faculty ever think in generally educated terms," Sizer said. "Each instructor is only concerned with their area of expertise," he said.

Sizer said that state governments should have little influence on what curriculum is actually taught in the classroom. "I believe the state has no business deciding what kind of history my kid learns," he said.

"Nothing should be more local than questions of the mind and spirit," he added.

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