The Task Force on Excellence in Secondary Education, headed by former Congressman L. Richardson Preyer, will hold a public hearing in Greensboro on Thursday. No doubt, there will be the usual calls for innovative solutions, but they are not necessary.
There are many good teachers in the state who have developed successful teaching methods and activities, but to my knowledge, none of the educational leaders has bothered to compile these techniques so that other teachers may share them. My own research indicated that by introducing students to a successful teaching method previously unfamiliar to them, discipline problems might also be reduced due to renewed interest in learning and less boredom.Why is it that every time there is a crisis, whether in education or some other field, those who have been in leadership positions while the problem has been getting worse are the ones asked to solve the crisis? They are the last ones to whom we should listen. If they had been corporate heads, they would have been fired long ago.
The people who are to blame for the sorry state of education in North Carolina are the ``progressive education change agents' who began to assume leadership positions in the state in the early 1960s. They called for experimentation, which resulted in such disasters as the ``new math.' They shifted the emphasis in our schools from the academic basics (reading, writing, and math) to a socialization process emphasizing attitudes, relationships and feelings. SAT scores began to decline, and have never recovered.
They said ``school prayer' had to be banned because it might appear as if the state were endorsing religion, but they hypocritically did not seem to fear that the non-morally-based sex education they were pushing might appear as if the state were endorsing non-moral sexual activity. A Department of Public Instruction ``Sex Education Policy Statement,' said, ``At one time, sex education was based...on innocence, ideals and moral codes...but...we are now moving toward a more humanistic approach.'
That translates into moral relativism and situation ethics via ``values clarification' techniques. The new educational leaders taught and are still teaching students that no one should impose any particular morality upon them.
It wouldn't surprise me a bit if one day a student accused of shoplifting, for example, appeared before a judge and said he or she had been taught in school that no one should impose any particular morality upon him or her, and therefore there was no crime. Alternatively, the argument might be that his or her teachers should be held accountable as well.
Parental authority is also being undermined. In the textbook, Contemporary Living, currently being used in some North Carolina schools, one reads the following statement: ``If you follow the guidance of your parents, you might risk the criticism of your peers. The best approach is to try to combine family and peer influence.'
The progressive education change agents called for racial-balance busing, even though that means blacks may be kept in, or may be bused to, inferior schools in disproportionate numbers to whites, just for racial balance. They said education was to become a ``leveling process,' but it was easier for them to level everyone down rather than level everyone up.
To cover the academic disaster that was occurring, they gave us ``social promotions' followed by ``competency tests' as graduation requirements. However, students soon learned that in order to pass the ``competency test' before high school graduation, all they have to be able to answer were test questions at about the 7th-grade level.
Is it any wonder then that more than 21 percent of the 1988 high school graduates from the Triangle area who entered the University of North Carolina system required remedial work? Of course, contributing to this could be the fact that over half the high schools in this country have no policy requiring homework.
And now some educational leaders are advocating longer school days and years as solutions to our dilemma, as if spending more time on what has been failing in our schools for the past quarter century is going to help anybody.
We know how to solve our educational problems, but we aren't doing that which has been proven to succeed. For example, our colleges of education have bought and are teaching prospective teachers the worthless truism that not everyone learns to read best in the same way.
I call this a ``worthless truism' because while it is technically true, it ignores the fact that nearly everyone learns best by the phonics approach. There have been over 125 studies since 1911 comparing phonics to ``look-say' (Dick and Jane), and not one of them has found ``look-say' to be superior, yet about 85 percent of the nation's schools do not use an intensive phonics approach.
In North Carolina, first-grade students at Union Primary School in Brunswick County scored only 27 percent in reading and 31 percent in language on the 1986 California Achievement Test. Afterward, the Spalding method of intensive phonics (including spelling and reading comprehension) was introduced, and first-graders scored 54 percent in reading and 52 percent in language on the 1988 California test. With such a dramatic improvement, what do you think the school system did next? They abandoned the successful phonics method, saying that the General Assembly had mandated a literature-based reading program instead.
Similarly, with basic math skills, remarkable success has been achieved in those school systems such as in Dallas that have begun using the Saxon method of teaching fundamental math skills and concepts through long-term practice. This relatively inexpensive method has resulted in huge increases in upper-division math courses and in skyrocketing college board scores, but unfortunately it is not allowed in North Carolina.
There is a Biblical teaching that ``the truth shall make you free,' and the truth is that we already know what to do to improve education in this state. However, to implement the principles and practices of sound teaching, we will need a revolution in education in North Carolina that will replace those who were in leadership positions nationally, statewide, or locally before 1990.
It is an embarrassment for North Carolina to rank last among all the states in SAT scores, and the time for an educational revolution here is now.
*********************** D.L. Cuddy lives in Raleigh. He has taught in the Raleigh public schools and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a former employee of the U.S. Department of Education and the National Advisory Council on Educational Research and Improvement in Washington.