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Hechinger Institute Reaches Political and Higher Education Reporters

As demonstrators gathered outside the Hotel Washington to protest against the World Trade Organization in April, 24 political reporters from nine states gathered inside the hotel to participate in a day-long Seminar on Education Issues for Political Reporters. This seminar and a companion one in January 2000 in San Antonio were the first Hechinger Institute seminars offered to reporters on the political beat rather than to education reporters or editorial writers.

The one-day investment yielded them a full schedule of topics frequently debated in political circles, including voucher and charter schools, high standards and high-stakes testing, class size, teacher quality and the role of pre-K classes in school achievement.

Steve Barnett of Rutgers University opened the seminar with a presentation on "The Role of Pre-Kindergarten Education in School Achievement." Citing two long-term studies, Barnett noted that although the children in the program had gains in IQ scores that eventually tapered off, effects on academic achievement were quite strong in adolescence.

The children in the first study, who attended pre-kindergarten classes, had reduced needs for special education services. They were more likely by age 19 to have graduated, have a job, and were less likely to have been involved in delinquency or arrested. The cost of the program could be weighed against the long-term economic effects, which were that these children were more likely to make more money, own a home and a second car, and were less likely to be on welfare as adults.

The second study Barnett cited involved children in full-day childcare for their first five years. This study showed major effects on IQ, achievement in school, and the number of children who went on to receive higher education.
"Fifty percent of the population is poor or near poor," Barnett said. "Given that, the benefits of these kinds of programs are ten times the cost. It is paying off for the taxpayers."

TC President Arthur Levine and Betty Castor of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards discussed "The Quality of Teachers." Castor made a case for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification. With a culture that insists that bright people don't become teachers, where teaching is not considered a profession, and where the least well prepared teachers are in tough-to-teach schools, the need for a standardized test for teachers is in high demand. Such a test would build a consensus about what teachers should know and be able to do.

The biggest problem facing our country regarding teacher quality, said Levine, is that, due to retirement, traditionally lower salaries, higher birth rates and an increase in immigration, there is a severe shortage of teachers. Many politicians are calling for class size reductions, which would increase the need for teachers. The combination of all the issues-higher standards, the need for more teachers, the need for higher-quality teachers-is a disaster. "There is no way you can improve quality if you don't have the quantity," he said.

In early June the Hechinger Institute ran a seminar in Denver. Twenty-one higher education reporters from all over the country debated higher education issues with panelists from the Educational Testing Service, the United States Open University, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems and Foundation for Educational Achievement.

Hechinger Institute in Denver

Panelists at Hechinger Institute in Denver David Conley from the University of Oregon, Arturo Pachero from the University of Texas, El Paso, and Stephen Bronn from Mansfield University.


The participants explored a wide range of issues including teacher education, the public's opinion of higher education, financial issues, the state-by-state report card on higher education and emerging state policy issues.
One of the sessions involved four deans from four different teachers' colleges who discussed some of the challenges that teacher educators are encountering.

Joanne W. McKay, the Dean of the Education College at St. Cloud University in Minnesota, discussed the pressures that teacher education faces under the current state guidelines. It's very difficult for both new and accomplished teachers to keep up with these changes and pressures.

McKay also mentioned that professional development helps to keep teachers in touch with developments in their field and allows them to evolve as eduators. Teacher education should not end once the teacher reaches the classroom, rather it should continue through the teacher's career. "By 2005, classrooms will be filled with teachers that are being prepared over the next 10 to 15 years," McKay said. "We need to find out what must be and can be done to help them."

Another panel discussed whether or not the system of higher education is likely to change. Michael S. McPherson, the president of Macalester College, predicted that the system will change when "the upper and middle classes decide that this isn't the world they want to live in."

Until then, according to a consensus that emerged at the seminar, the public will be largely content with the higher education it has. Many panelists pointed out, however, that the price of higher education will continue to increase until the public asks for changes in the system.

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