'School Reform Needs Long-Range Planning'

The debate about reform of public education in America should focus on long-term policy instead of quick-fix solutions, a five-member panel of Harvard professors told a crowd of more than 200 educators in Longfellow Hall yesterday.

The symposium, entitled "Reshaping the Discourse on School Reform," was one of a series of panel discussions held yesterday in honor of the inauguration of Neil L. Rudenstine as Harvard's 26th president.

The Graduate School of Education panelists spoke skeptically about school choice, the main component of President Bush's school reform plan.

Advocates of school choice say parents should be allowed to send their children to other school districts than the one in which they live. But Keppel Lecturer on Education Policy and Administration Robert S. Peterkin criticized the program, saying that the debate about such choice plans has been "political and not educational."

"Choice is not a solution and has very little to do with education," Peterkin said, pointing to problems of unequal funding, transportation and racial segregation associated with such plans.


Associate Professor of Education Susan M. Johnson said that while politicians and the press often look for a "quick fix" to America's educational woes, lasting reform will be "hard and slow."

However, Johnson added that the current trend toward empowerment of individual teachers and schools is a heartening change from the early 1980s.

The emphasis at that time upon "canned curriculums" and standardized test scores "pushed many creative teachers out the door," Johnson said.

"We should be teaching students application of knowledge in the real world," said Professor of Education Howard E. Gardner.

Gardner proposed that students work on larger projects to learn a concept, and teachers grade students on the basis of "exhibitions" of their work instead of multiple choice tests.

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