THE RECENT SPATE of reports on American education talk about the future, but they propose solutions from the past. They blame the schools.
Research and common sense tell us that not even the best school can do all the educating of its students. American schools have accomplished a great deal. But the time is long overdue to recognize that out-of- school factors, especially family influences, play the determining role in student achievement.
The recent proposals for stemming the "rising tide of mediocrity" do not adequately take this into consideration.
This administration is in a unique and strong position to take the public concern over an educational crisis and turn it into an opportunity. This is a time of consensus when everyone, across political lines, agrees that something must be done. To its credit the Reagan administration has already reemphasized the importance of families in educating children. So this is an ideal time to begin a national effort to link the resources of the home with those of the school.
Such coordination has not yet occurred. The same day that the president lauded the national PTA for its efforts on behalf of children, The Albuquerque Tribune reported that the local Foster Grandparents program was being cut in half due to a cutback in federal funds. This program, which has been praised by both President and Mrs. Reagan, uses elderly people to work with handicapped children.
Fighting about controversial issues such as merit pay, which at best will take years to have effect, takes time away from doing things that could help children now.
We already know that some things are effective. One of these -- probably the most important -- is the work of families with their children.
What can be done now? The goal is to form a partnership between all families and schools to improve student achievement. This has become essential because of changes in the American family. Growing numbers of working mothers and single parent families are a reality. Today's family is non-traditional. And schools must work with these families in non- traditional ways. To accomplish this I propose the following reforms.
Teachers need to receive on-the- job training to work with parents as educational partners. This would including learning how to train parents to work with their children, building on parental love and ambition. Teachers can provide parents with simple, yet effective, techniques for improving learning, at little or no extra cost.
For example, parents with younger children can learn how to use a clock to teach arithmetic, the TV schedule to help them understand time and telephones to practice reading and dialing numbers. Those with older children can get help from the schools in instilling the skills and attitudes that their teenagers need to get and keep jobs. Even in a few minutes a day a hurried parent can teach science, math, reading and writing.
Schools can also set up parent workshops and conferences with families at places and times when working parents can attend.
This effort, to be effective, needs to be systematic and permanent. Support for public schools cannot help but grow when the needs of the family receive attention. Schools can compete with each other in this approach to families.
Teachers in general have not received training in working with parents nor are many of them familiar with the research that underscores the importance of such work. Often, even if they want to work with parents, they do not get the support and time from their school systems.
To provide incentives to teachers to work with families, I propose awarding them bonuses. Unlike the difficult and long evaluation involved in assessing merit pay, there are relatively easy ways for principals to find out which teachers are working with families. A few phone calls home would be a good start.
Schools should be open before and after traditional school hours to provide care and education for children and their families. Let's encourage children to attend schools near where their parents work, rather than schools near houses that are empty during the day.
Teachers or others can be paid to keep school doors open, not just during the school year but in summer as well. Empty classrooms can be used for year-round family learning centers. They can be equipped with computers for families unable to afford one at home.
Teachers can get help from local media to put parent education programs on radio, television and the newspapers. Teachers can help businesses set up workshops for employes with children, on topics related to child development and schooling. This is work that deserves bonus pay. It needs to be done, and it is not being done now.
This kind of schooling serves more adequately the needs of a public about to enter the 21st century. Where ideas such as these have been tried, they have worked. Parents are happier. Children do better on tests. But these reforms are not yet widespread, and still are not seen as crucial to schooling and education.
Virtually all our children want to learn and almost all of them can.
President Reagan has called for students' SAT verbal and math scores to rise 50 points in the next decade. Like President Kennedy's push to put a man on the moon, this goal can be met -- but not by schools alone. In this effort, every home, is a launching pad.