Americans should close or reorganize bad schools, even if it means replacing teachers and principals, Education Secretary Richard Riley said Tuesday in his yearly speech on the state of education.
Riley also said algebra should be taught routinely in the eighth grade. And he announced he would hold a forum this spring on how to address the looming shortage of teachers.
Riley devoted much of the speech to selling or further explaining proposals already made by President Clinton, such as national standards and tax breaks to finance a college education.
But Riley also stressed what states and communities should do to improve the quality of schools and teachers. Laws should be changed, if necessary, to make it easier to clean house at schools where students don’t learn and dropout rates are high.
After the speech, a top aide, acting Deputy Secretary Marshall Smith, said those necessary changes might include overhauling union contracts with teachers.
“In America today, there are schools that should not be called schools at all,” Riley said in the speech, delivered in Atlanta and televised in Washington.
“We need to stop making excuses and get on with the business of fixing our schools,” he said to an audience that included former President Carter, under whose leadership the Education Department was created. “If a school is bad and can’t be changed, reconstitute it or close it down.
“If a principal is slow to get the message, find strength in a new leader. If teachers are burned out, counsel them to improve or leave the profession,” Riley said.
Reiterating Clinton’s push for national tests of fourth-graders in reading and eighth-graders in math, Riley said schools should begin teaching algebra in the eighth grade, just as it is taught elsewhere in the world.
In announcing a national forum on teacher recruitment, Riley said 2 million new teachers will be needed in the next 10 years.
“New teachers - like new lawyers and new doctors - should have to prove that they are qualified to meet high standards before getting a license,” he said. “This would mean that prospective teachers are able to pass a rigorous, performance-based assessment of what they know and what they are able to do.”
Riley, however, did not mention raising teacher pay as a means of finding more teachers.