Rethinking Schools: What do you see as the main problems facing the Milwaukee school system? If elected, how would you solve these problems?
Gloria Mason: Despite Doris Stacy’s contention that the biggest problem facing the school district is credibility — we’re doing a good job, but nobody believes us — I believe that the biggest problem is raising the achievement level of the students, followed closely by the need to increase parental and public support of the schools and the need to develop new approaches to providing educational services to our students. Solutions I would offer to these problems are as follows:
To Raise Achievement Levels:
- Provide additional sites for the more successful programs currently available for students. Provide staff development opportunities as necessary for teacher-staff participants.
- Utilize central office resources more effectively in helping teachers work with students, especially in the area of testing, remediation, intervention, discipline, etc. Reduce teacher time used for paperwork. Restore services of aides and paraprofessionals.
- Involve business, industry and higher education in curriculum development with teachers.
- Provide opportunities for teachers at all levels to come together for sequential curriculum development and other types of planning.
- Develop a K-12 sequential curriculum in certain areas such as math, science, the arts and certain physical education areas to provide long-range training for students who have special potential.
- Expand early childhood programs and reduce class size in all grades. Give teachers a chance to teach and not to expend energy in discipline.
- Utilize community-based organizations to assist MPS in working with students. These groups are already funded and are eager to work with the schools.
- Give more responsibility to teachers and provide opportunities for them to exercise their professionalism.
- Pay teachers a salary that is commensurate with their status as valued professionals (as done with athletes and rock stars).
To Increase Parental and Public
- Provide several sites for the more popular specialties to accommodate students and parents. A single site for each of the specialties (except Montessori) is not satisfactory and does not allow parents and students to have access to programs they really want.
- Give parents a real choice of program for their children. As Mrs. Stacy indicated, the credibility of MPS is very low. One reason is that parents believe that the pupil assignment process is used selectively and that certain people have direct access to the program they want. Others are subjected to a demeaning lottery system and may or most likely, may not be fortunate enough to get their real choice. This is a very poor system that affects the education of our children. A survey of parent-student interests and an advance sign-up of students at one of several sites would be more humane and would enable more parents to have a real choice of program for their children. Parents and students would feel better about desegregation and about busing if at the end of the bus ride they could get the educational program they really want. Discipline would improve because students would be in a program they like and parental involvement would be enhanced because of parents’ satisfaction with their child’s placement.
Rethinking Schools: What is your viewpoint on giving more autonomy to individual schools, i.e. site-based management, that many in the business community are advocating?
Mason: Teachers, principals and parents should have more autonomy in the operation of their schools. The central administration should reverse its role as the determinant of local school operations. Its role should be to support local school programs, not to dictate them. Some services should remain central — district goal setting, policy-making, food services, repair, construction, etc., — but implementation, use of resources and other similar operations related to the educational program should be under the authority and responsibility of the local school. It will be necessary for the planning of the new approaches to take place with the involvement of the bargaining units so that areas of implementation that affect the various contracts can be discussed.
I believe that more autonomy in the operation of the educational programs in our schools should be given to the schools, but with the clear understanding that all staff members are professionals and are assigned equal responsibility and accountability. A participatory system of school operations should be initiated and should form the basis for the management of the schools. Before any of this begins, however, a pilot program should be utilized to see how the system would really affect operations of the schools. This condition was a part of the recommendations of a group of educators who held a conference on site-based management, effective education and other subjects at the Wingspread Conference Center and who first submitted a proposal for site-based management to the Board of School Directors and the Administration.
Rethinking Schools: The basal reading program will be up for consideration this coming year. What is your opinion of the basal? How do you think the evaluation process should be conducted?
Mason: The basal reader program does have some excellent features and does indicate that it was prepared with special care. The vocabulary, word analysis sections, the workbook, skill sheets and unit tests assist the students in acquiring a variety of skills. One problem in the use of the program is the difficulty of transfer, of the skills to other academic problems and areas. That may be more a problem of goal setting for the students than a problem inherent in the reader.
In terms of objective questions and answers, the program provides good educational experiences. The area in need of enhancement is the interpretative and transfer area. More coverage of such areas as the analysis, synthesis and interpretation is needed. More exercises that require critical as well as interpretative thinking are needed. If these areas were strengthened, the basal reading program would be a very good one.
Evaluation of the effectiveness of the program can be done best through testing of the students and comparative appraisals of their progress (central office staff could assist in these areas). At certain stages in the use of the reader, test results, teacher appraisals, and students’ achievement should be utilized to evaluate the effectiveness of the basal reading program.
Rethinking Schools: Blacks in schools continue to score lower than whites on standardized tests. Why do you think this is so? What policies would you introduce to change this?
Mason: Black students score lower on standardized tests because of a variety of socio-economic reasons. The role that the school district must take is to effectively educate these and other children in spite of these socio-economic conditions.
We cannot afford to wait for the rest of society to catch up, although admittedly their help is badly needed. Unlike Doris Stacy, I do not believe we can put those reasons ahead of the urgent need to prepare Black children by teaching them to the very best of our ability — given all of the resources that exist in this school district and in this community. One of the main problems has been the reluctance of the administration to open the doors to community agencies and organizations that want to help. A survey of these organizations will reveal their willingness to assist us. We must respond.
To improve the education of Black students, we must work on two fronts: compensatory-remedial and intervention.Early childhood programs must be expanded and Headstart-type services must be made available to all children who need this type of support. Remediation of students’ needs must be immediately available, not two, five, or ten years later. Remediation must also be short-term; no child should be “sentenced” to remediation anymore than one would remain under a doctor’s or dentist’s care for months or years. Intervention using our own resources as well as those of community groups and organizations must be used more effectively than they are at the present time.
Elementary, middle and high school staff members must be given the opportunity to plan together a sequence of educational objectives to meet the needs of Black children. They must also be given assistance in meeting the established goals at each instructional level. Black children must not be socially promoted or given inflated grades or otherwise led to believe that their academic achievement is more than it really is. We must all work hard to see to it that these children achieve because they are capable and they can achieve with our help and support.
A mini-course in test-taking skills and techniques should be provided prior to the administration of standardized tests. This procedure is used routinely in several suburban districts. We should do no less for our own students. The central office testing service could probably assist teachers in the planning and implementation of such a course. Standardized tests should also be used as models for the teacher-made tests that are administered so that children become accustomed to the format and the procedures and can thereby overcome the test anxiety that many experience.
The commentary of Black students regarding their education should be solicited and utilized in instructional planning as far as possible. Many times young people can offer good ideas and suggestions regarding their learning styles, ways to make instruction more interesting and effective and things they could do to enhance their own learning. ‘We should listen to them, too.
I would introduce resolutions to accomplish all of the above and more to improve Black students’ achievement and their performance on standardized tests.
Rethinking Schools: We understand that you view the desegregation process as having failed Black children, and want an end to forced busing. Wouldn’t this policy lead to a resegregation of the schools? Why will the situation be any different than before the court order, when Black schools were overcrowded, had less experienced teachers, and fewer resources than white schools?
Mason: I am not opposed to desegregation, nor am I opposed to busing. I am, however, opposed to inequity and I am concerned about the inequitable remedies utilized to correct inequitable situations. I am concerned that Black children, while they may be enrolled in a specialty school, may not be in the specialty program in that school. I am concerned that the burden of desegregation is forced on Blacks while others have voluntary options. A logical and equitable way to address the desegregation question would be to improve the quality of education for all children, to provide access to programs for all children and to develop programs of such excellence that suburban as well as city children would be happy to travel to all parts of the city to be in the programs they and their’ parents would like to have. The answer is not resegregation; the answer is process correction. As stated above, it does not make sense to me to have single-site specialty programs. We should have several sites for the more successful specialties and we should have K-12 programs in certain subjects in selected schools. These new sites would not be overcrowded, would have experienced, well-trained teachers, would have ample resources and would attract children from all over the city as well as the suburbs. It is incredible that this district would sign up 2,000.students (for example) for a specialty, accept 500 in a (legal? illegal?) lottery and leave 1,500 unhappy, disappointed students and their parents to make- a second, third or fourth forced choice. Parents and students would accept and participate willingly in a busing plan if they felt they were getting the type and quality of education that they want. We see that occurring in the specialties we have now. They could be expanded. Free choice — not forced choice — would be possible desegregation would occur easily and naturally, and the school district would have more satisfied and supportive parents and students.
Rethinking Schools: What do you think of bilingual education?
Mason: I am very much in favor of bilingual education because I believe that it responds to the needs of a large segment of out student population, and I favor any remedy that will help our children and promote their achievement in our schools. I believe that bilingual education should serve the purpose primarily of assisting bilingual students in making the transition to the mainstream of American education and life. This is not to say that culture, heritage and ideas should be cast aside. These should remain very much intact until and if the persons themselves decide otherwise. I think that the assistance and support that the bilingual programs offer is needed and should be provided. As the students mature and move toward employment and/or higher education they should also receive assistance in making the transition to these areas as it may be necessary. Adaptation skills should be provided, but never should anyone be required to abandon his/her culture and heritage. A pluralistic society is exciting, vibrant and dynamic. I would not want to see us lose that. In the meantime, the bilingual programs must continue to serve those students who need assistance in acquiring an education and achieving to the maximum of their potential.