Friday, June 4, 1999
Recap from educational forum discussion groups
The Fifth Annual Education Forum took place on March 27. Keynote speaker John Silber drew over 200 participants. After Silber's speech, the audience was divided into 11 discussion groups averaging seven participants each, and asked:
· What was the most important idea for you from Dr. Silber's presentation?
· How can Dr. Silber's ideas apply to education in Carlisle?
· What is your vision for education in Carlisle in the 21st century?
Although a few groups addressed the questions in order, most were less formal in their discussion. However, it is clear from analysis of the breakout groups' comments that there was great support for some of Silber's statements, such as his proposal that teachers be paid more and his view that special education requirements receive a disproportionate share of public school budgets. Five of the groups worried that regular education students are not getting a fair share of the funding. Broader preschool education, one of Silber's recommendations, was greatly supported; seven of the eleven groups spoke of a need to extend education to 3- and 4-year olds. Also highly favored was the concept that parents need to take more responsibility for their children's level of civility and that the community needs to be more supportive of the efforts to enforce discipline.
Four groups disagreed with Silber's characterizations of teachers, and felt that he should have given Carlisle educators, in particular, more credit for doing a fine job. There were also comments on teacher training. While some groups agreed that knowledge is important, the idea that it is more important than teacher training brought mixed reactions. Two groups asserted that teacher training is critical, and that teachers need extensive apprenticeships, such as a long-term mentoring program. Two groups wanted to look into nontraditional teacher training, feeling that a teacher's excitement and love for a subject would engage children most effectively. One person stated that Silber's contention that anyone who has raised children can teach with only three months teacher training contradicts his stance on teacher testing (if it's so easy, why test?). Two groups agreed with Silber's contention that there is too much power in teachers' unions to the detriment of children. There was general agreement that teachers should be in some way accountable for their performance and that parents also have responsibility for their children's education.
Referring to falling standards, Silber spoke of "dumbed down texts" which spoon-feed teachers and fail to challenge students. Four groups agreed they wanted to "keep the bar high" and have high expectations. One group asked whether high standards will mean some students are left out. Another group focused on the need for high expectations to be clearly communicated to both students and parents.
Comments in two groups indicated that the United States' scores on international testing are misleading, since this country educates everyone, whereas many other countries do not. The best students in the United States "do very well."
Funding of school budgets came up in several groups. While one group said that money is the determinant and people must be willing to pay for a good education, another group feared that "we just can't keep raising taxes." There was a call for more state subsidy of local education, and some question of the fairness of state money going to well-to-do communities when less affluent ones may need it more.
Charter schools were not broadly discussed, but one group supported the idea that the number of Charter Schools should be limited and that there should be more research as to their effectiveness.
Participants in two groups agreed that Carlisle should be part of the solution by reaching out to other communities and not have an "escapist attitude", just because students receive a good education.
Although standardized testing was perceived negatively by one group, two others felt that in Carlisle testing is used properly, for evaluation and improvement, not competition.
A complete summary of the participants' responses will be available at the Gleason Library and at the school's main office.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito