Centralized System-wide Staff Development and
Computer Software Will Help Teachers and Students

November 1999

The Liberal Party’s Policy Committee believes that a solution exists to what it calls the “public school crisis in New York State” brought on by the public education system’s obvious inability to teach New York’s children how to read, write and do arithmetic. It sees an end to that failure “… if public school systems across the state immediately provide computer-assisted educational programs to all the children needing help and comprehensive, unified staff development programs to all the teachers needing help.”

The committee believes that these major reforms recognize that “Schools of Education are failing to properly prepare teachers… and that children come to school so unprepared that the system cannot help them.”

The Policy Committee believes that the school system’s problems should be treated as they are in the corporate and business world – with a singular, powerful strategy that is instituted system-wide. It views the amalgam of strategies used by the system now as a “We don’t know what will work and so we’ll try anything and everything” approach which covers its ability to recognize and commit to what does works.

Martin I. Hassner, Executive Director of the Liberal Party, says the committee sees professional staff development throughout the state as a “hit or miss attempt to do what Schools of Education fail to do: provide teachers with content information, an understanding of the processes by which all children learn, ways to make children think as they go about acquiring new information, how to diagnose their own abilities to provide new information, and what to do practically on a daily basis to make the most of their own knowledge and skills to help children learn.”

Because there is no centralized, singular approach to provide teachers with the comprehensive assistance they so desperately need and never received at a School of Education, the committee sees present attempts to provide ‘in-service training’ no matter how well intentioned, as too little, too late.

The committee views electronic education along with intensive teacher training in how to make the most of it, as the answer to the problems school systems cannot now solve. Children come to school so unprepared that teachers do not know how to help them. By the time they reach third grade, they cannot read or write at that level. Remedial strategies continue to fail and so the children do miserably in Middle School and then cannot graduate from High School.

Hassner said “The enormous value of the best of the educational software is that teachers can provide children with both the individual attention they need at the very beginning, and the amount of work they need in higher grades to catch up to grade level, before continued failure totally destroys any chance of success in school.”

The Policy Committee sees the availability of information-rich, multi-media-based computer software matched to each student’s present level of understanding and learning-pace as a tool for individualizing teaching and learning… a tool that teachers have never had.

“This electronic education strategy would change the system from the ‘bottom up’ altering the interaction in the classroom. It is based on the fact that in every classroom students are at such at different educational level that teachers do not know how to teach them. To succeed, students need an intensity of individualized attention that teachers do not know how to provide. Using electronic education, teachers will at last learn how to provide it.”

In addition to the personalization of learning from the first day of school onward, the Policy Committee regards computer-assisted education as the only way to help teachers provide “older” students with the amount of work they need to catch up and stay on grade level in all subject areas.

According to Hassner ” Other remedial approaches don’t work because no matter how good they may be in some instances, they cannot provide the massive amount of catch-up work essential to students who are two or three grade levels behind.” (See backgrounder for more details on this “Work” aspect.)

The committee believes that “at the bottom of the education crisis is the hard and disturbing fact that Schools of Education are failing to properly prepare teachers – and resist changing what they are teaching no matter how much failure we endure.”

Standard teaching techniques still being taught to teachers by Schools of Education, clearly fail to work for most students, as test results throughout the state indicate. Hassner said “Consider this fact: on a statewide and national basis at least 60% of all public schools students fail state-mandated standardized tests. The committee believes that as long as reform strategies are based on failed teaching techniques (as most are), they will never work.”

Hassner pointed to the citywide three-year old effort at school system reform in Rochester as an example of why reforms fail. “The comprehensive reforms they put in place were very impressive. They involved strong commitments from the children, parents, teachers and administrators, including a new Superintendent, the corporate and business community, political and governmental leadership -a genuine, long-term attempt to make changes.

“Have these ‘reforms’ succeeded so far? The most recent 8th grade math scores showed that 90% of the students failed to meet the standards! Why are these reforms failing? Because changes occurred everywhere but in the classroom.”

Hassner said the committee believes that a unified, comprehensive staff development program and the mass introduction of electronic education can be phased into the entire system – Kindergarten through 12th grade – in a four year period if the system abandons the teacher training and reading and writing programs which do not work.

“Given all the necessary revisions, the cost of such a change can be met by the school system’s present $10 billion annual budget. For example, we estimate that bringing computer hardware, software and teacher training to every Kindergarten through 3rd grade class right now will cost $200 million … a figure well within present budget capabilities.”

“The public should recognize what Randi Weingarten, President of the United Federation of Teachers, and many of her top staff, understand. They know how and what kind of help teachers need. They know that rather than replace teachers, computer-assisted education makes it imperative that a well trained, well qualified teacher be in every classroom because it is the teacher who establishes and maintains a successful learning environment, not a machine. And they know what a job it will be to train teachers to know how to establish such an environment.”