As educational reform issues hit the state legislature this month and beyond, Graduate School of Education staff and faculty must choose their words and make them heard, advised State Rep. Lawrence H. Curry.
Curry spoke at GSE Dean Susan Fuhrman's request to GSE members on April 8 about upcoming pieces of legislation and offered his take on the political motivations behind some bills, and what their outcomes could be. The political climate concerning urban education -- and concerning teachers in general -- is not a friendly one, he noted.
"We've seen a really significant change in the focus on education," Curry said to the 50 or so gathered members of the GSE community. "'No more teachers' dirty looks' and jokes about being a teacher if you can't be a doctor or lawyer have filtered down. That lightheartedness has come back to haunt us."
The state legislature's focus on teachers, and ways "to penalize them, one way or another," has escalated to serious levels, said Curry, a member of the House Education Committee.
Pennsylvania's dismal testing history (ranked 45 out of 50 states in SAT scores; private and parochial scores are even lower, Curry said) and furor over outcomes-based education in the early '90s have fueled the current climate, he said, and may worsen with upcoming bills and Board of Education proposals.
Specific dangers Curry explored included House Bill 2100, requiring enhanced ongoing teacher training to retain certification. Another bill moving through the Senate was beaten by only one vote in the House. It allows parents much more say in the classroom, including their right to review tests before they're given, negate health exams and monitor classes with a day's notice.
"That could still pass, and then I think we're all going to have our hands full," Curry said. "It occurred to me listening to the debates on education bills that the initial attacks were on classroom teachers. It was clear that there was political motivation in that. I knew it
wouldn't be long before GSE became a target, and it's happened. You are now a target."
The Urban School Report, according to Curry, tapped respectable sources on one hand, but on the other hand, "had its language ready a year before it was released. And they never visited a single school in a single area" in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.
After Curry's presentation, some balked at Curry's portrait of an evil conservative legislature out to get education, and graduate students debated both sides, finding no black-and-white assessments. GSE Dean Fuhrman said that was the point.
"There are a number of issues in Harrisburg that will have an effect on teacher education," Fuhrman said.
"And we need to influence changes so we can promote excellence. I think [Curry] energized a lot of people."
Originally published on April 16, 1998