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Beyond the realm of rhetoric.

Political movements, as least those in the right place at the right time, have a way of taking on a life of their own. And the education reform movement seems just such a one. Before the momentum carries it to places with no turnarounds or side paths, some hard questions need to be asked. Not to stop the movement or sabotage it, but to shape the momentum in ways that are meaningful to students and the professionals who educate them.

Potilical rhetoric has spawned the goal of excellence in education--unquestionably an admirable goal. But venture beyond the realm of rhetoric and some valid, need-to-be answered questions arise. For example, do the reform movement's objectives fit the children? Or will the children be forced to fit the objectives?

It's a grand idea for U.S. President Bush to hold schools accountable to world class standards of excellence with report cards for individual schools and for the entire nation of students. (However, last month's Commentary pointed out some of the inconsistences in such international comparisons.)

But what exactly are the teachers and their supervisors to do when children come to school hungry for either food or attention or both, tired from hours of unsupervised TV watching, distraught from listening to parents fighting, or addicted to drugs including alcohol? Certainly, that does not describe all American children, but it does describe enough of them to render hopelessly passe the ideal of the doted-upon child with two parents and one sibling standing squarely in his corner.

And what of those children in special education and other special programs already so vulnerable to the vagaries of funding? As schools feel more pressure to improve standardized test scores, what becomes of the child with learning disabilities who needs extra time to take the test or the student recently immigrated to this country whose English comprehension is not yet sophisticated enough to gauge the necessary nuances? Will schools be allowed to further remove these children from the mainstream so that their scores do not depress the school's overall rating?

The America 2000 plan proposes admirable goals but fails to fit them to all children. Those with disabilities and those who are gifted should not be overlooked (nor exploited for their abilities to improve test scores); they should be educated. Tomorrow's communities will include all of today's children. America 2000, if it is to move beyond the realm of rhetoric, must do likewise.

Unquestionably, the schools are a key area in treating society's first casualties, the children. So reform must begin right there, in the school, and all players must be present. If this plan reaches the year 200 intact, it will be because all the education professionals have responded to the call, participated in the decision making, and been given a chance to infuse their knowledge, experience, and insights into the political plan.

It is when these key players are omitted that I fear the momentum of rhetoric. A case in point is the National Governors' Association (NGA) which this year is concentrating on school reform. This has been a worthy pursuit by our governors which has already produced some interesting ideas, such as a catalog of proven education reform programs. Each state can select from the catalog those remedies which will work best in that state, according to NGA chairperson, Missouri Governor John Ashcroft.

While this catalog and other good results may come from this year's study, what intrigues me most is the method of study. Three areas of action have been identified for study by separate task forces: school readiness, the school years, and lifelong learning. NGA traditionally works secretly among its member governors to study problems but, this year, business leaders have been invited to join these task forces. "Their experience as managers of complex organizations that must adapt quickly to change will be valuable," stated Governor Ashcroft.

It seems to me that a classroom is a complex organization and that each educator has learned to adapt quickly to its ever changing complexities or be a failure in the profession. Yet no educators have been invited to join the governors' task forces. According to Governor Ashcroft, educators will be represented and their input received through the state commissioners of education. Perhaps, but to put it into perspective, try to imagine a major study of hospitals that excluded doctors and included business leaders.

If President Bush and the governors want education reform to succeed and education to improve in this country, they have willing partners: partners in building-based teams, in creative programming, and with individualized expertise. If they want to win the next election, rhetoric will probably suffice. But long after the rhetoric has been recycled into cliches, the children's needs will remain.

Bring together the fine arts teacher, the resource room teacher, the reading specialist, the science teacher, and the physical education teacher as well as the administrator. Their varied expertise and experience can create a whole curriculum for the whole child--each child. The value of exercise and lifelong sports, the province of the physical education teacher, apply to all children. Musical rhythms and practice, if structured by both the ESL and music teachers, can be both a haven for the student with little English and a chance to increase those language skills. And the resource teacher knows the developmental patterns--and leaps--that students to through and the educational practices that enhance them. More examples and many more ways exist to forge the successful partnerships that create a momentum stronger and more valuable than rhetoric. But they must include the experts.

When it comes time for national testing, politicians must realize that only if the educators fashion the tests and the report cards, will the grades have meaning.

A Final Note: Because this commentary has focused solely on the U.S. education reform movement, I have omitted any reference to Canadian special education. However, I weclome the thoughts and opinions of you Canadian professionals. How do you feel about the education reform movement sweeping across the continent? CEC would be glad to publish the best response in an upcoming Views section of TEACHING Exceptional Children. Send your response (please limit it to 500 words) to Views, TEC, 1920 Association Drive, Reston, VA 22091-1589.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:reform in special education
Author:Greer, Jeptha V.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Previous Article:Augmentative and Alternative Communication Systems for Persons with Moderate and Severe Disabilities.
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