A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Prisoners Of Time - April 1994


WE RECOMMEND that all of our people shoulder their individual responsibilities to transform learning in America.

No single recommendation can capture the essential point with which the Commission concluded the first chapter: learning must become a national obsession in the United States.

In America's great education debate we find too often a belief that the solution is up to government or "the system." Nothing could be further from the truth. It is up to us. Most of what needs to be done can only be done by the people most directly involved. There are no short-cuts. Lightning will not strike and transform American schools if each of us acts as though the task belongs to somebody else.

To put learning in America powerfully back on track everyone will have to do more, make sacrifices, and work harder. Great institutions like the American school do not fail simply because they collapse from within. Complacency within combines with public apathy to enfeeble institutions, leaving behind impressive but empty facades.

The implications are clear. Schools cannot do the job alone. All of us have to shoulder our responsibilities. If we think this transformation too difficult, we must again learn the wisdom of the African proverb, "It takes a whole village to raise a child."

It takes a family to raise a child. Parents are more than their children's "first teachers"-they are lifelong examples bearing witness to community norms and expectations, to the values that give meaning, texture, and a sense of purpose to life.

It takes communities to raise a child. But in place of healthy communities, too often we find neighborhoods deteriorating amidst the alienation, rootlessness, and despair of violent streets.

It takes schools to raise a child. But where there should be a shared sense of common purpose among school, family, and community, too often we find a circle of blame. Parents blame the community for the child's problems. Communities blame the school. And the school, too frequently, blames both. Then it closes itself off in its time-bound world.

The finger pointing and evasions must come to an end-up and down the line from the federal government to the family and student. Although concrete recommendations are difficult to make, several ground rules point the way ahead.

Government should focus on results, not red tape. The sheer number of rules and regulations hamstringing schools from federal and state governments has grown beyond reason. Their cumulative effect is to handcuff schools.

All federal programs should follow the larger intent of the Clinton administration's legislation, GOALS 2000: Educate America Act. This bipartisan legislation puts the National Education Goals into statutory language. It promises to free local schools from regulation in favor of accountability. It focuses on results, not red tape.

The federal government should encourage local schools to use categorical programs to supplement learning time for target students. Too often these programs have defeated their own purpose: funds have been used for programs that replace the school's learning time. They should support after- school, weekend, and summer programs.

At the state level, the Commission applauds states such as Kentucky and Washington which have adopted comprehensive education reform efforts, most of which promise to (1) limit regulatory oversight in return for demonstrated results in the schools; (2) offer additional time for teachers' professional development; and (3) provide sanctions and rewards for schools based on performance.

It is at the school district and local board level that we find the major possibilities for freeing schools of red tape in favor of accountability. A large number of promising experiments are underway around the country to free schools of burdensome district regulation. Many of these experiments revolve around time; many do not. We encourage school boards-through the local action plans suggested in Recommendation VII-to examine these experiments and adapt the most promising to their own needs.

Higher education needs to get involved. Colleges and universities, as institutions, have been bystanders for the most part in the school reform debate. It is time they got involved. They can help in at least four ways.

First, higher education already offers a model that holds learning fixed and makes time a variable. Students can earn a bachelor's degree in three, four, even eight years; the same is true of doctoral study.

Second, the school reform movement cannot succeed unless academic institutions honor the results of new standards and assessments. Admissions requirements should validate learning, not seat time.

Third, colleges and universities educating teachers must align their programs with the movement to higher standards. This will involve changing not only offerings in schools of education, but also the design of undergraduate programs in core disciplines.

Finally, a handful of colleges and universities across the country are struggling to reinvent local schools. There are 3,500 colleges and universities in the United States and there should be 3,500 examples. It is not necessary to operate a school or district or provide medical checkups and family counseling-although some academic institutions somewhere are doing each of these things. But it is necessary to do something.

The business world should keep up the pressure. Much of the impetus for school reform, at the national, state, and local levels, has been generated by business leaders insisting that changes in the workplace require radically different kinds of school graduates. Corporate and small business leaders have also been actively supporting reform coalitions, applying corporate techniques to school operations, and creating a variety of one-on-one school partnerships in which individual firms work directly with individual classrooms, schools, or districts.

Now is no time for timidity in the school reform effort. Leaders cannot blow an uncertain trumpet. Business leaders must keep up the pressure for comprehensive reform to improve student achievement.

Parents, students, and teachers must lead the way. Finally, we want to speak directly to the people with the greatest stake in the learning enterprise-parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster parents and guardians, and to teachers and students themselves.

To parents, grandparents, relatives and guardians: With your support for the agenda for reform outlined in this document, success is assured. Without it, we do not know how the agenda can be achieved.

You may worry that new academic standards will add to your children's stress. That is not our intent. In fact, that is why we insist that time be made a part of the standards discussion. Indeed, our hope is that schools will be more attractive, interesting, and lively places for both students and adults when time becomes the servant of learning. Schools should also be more hospitable to you, once teachers are released from the relentless treadmill of today's calendar and the academic day is more attuned to your family's needs.

We know that your aspirations for your children are unlimited, no matter your circumstances or the difficulties in which you find yourselves. You can bring those aspirations within reach. We have little to offer other than the advice of experts. But their words bear repeating. Play with your children every day. Read to them every night. Make sure they see a doctor regularly. Take an active interest in the day-to-day activities of the school and the community. Check homework, turn off the television, and make sure that your teenagers are not working so long earning pocket money that they have no time for school. Above all, encourage your children.

What we ask, of course, takes time. But your reward will come as you watch your children become the kind of men and women you knew they could be.

To teachers: You are the inheritors of a tradition of service and scholarship stretching back through history. Your first obligation is to that inheritance.

If you accept minimal effort from students or colleagues or excuse shoddy performance, then you have fallen short, no matter how understandable your reasons. You cannot remain true to the tradition you bear by acquiescing to the social promotion of students who are not prepared for the next step.

Only parents and students have a greater stake than you in this debate. Clearly our proposals will make a huge difference in your working life. The nature of the change, however, remains to be worked out with your participation. This Commission consciously avoided specifying a precise number of days in the school year, or hours in the school day, because we believe those issues must be worked out district by district and school by school.

Although we insist on breaking down the prison walls, it is not our intention to impose new demands on you without providing the support we know you need. It is up to you and your colleagues to put muscle and sinew on the reform framework outlined in this document. We think you will-not because we recommend it, but because you know it is right. You best understand that we are correct when we say learning is a prisoner of time.

Your satisfaction will lie in a more professional working environment. It will also be found in a lifetime following the progress of adults who achieved their full potential because of what you were able to do with and for them in the classroom.

Last, we say to students: We know that in the midst of today's pressures, your classes, school, and homework often appear to be distractions from the business of growing up. We were once in your shoes. We, however, were lucky. When we left school, we expected to face a promising future, and for the most part our expectations were met.

You, too, can make good if you are prepared to work at it. You may think your academic success depends on whether or not you are "smart." But academic progress, as our international friends understand, depends on hard work and perseverance. It is your job to learn, to become the "worker" in your own education. You must understand that learning is never a passive activity; it is always active. Your success in school depends primarily on your own diligence. The returns on your efforts will be many, including the satisfaction of knowing that adults who complained about your generation were wrong-and you proved them wrong.

Develop Local Action Plans to Transform Schools Table of Contents An Urban Elementary School for the Next Century

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