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We must build better schools with Blueprint

Blueprint 2000, Florida's answer to a federal call for innovations in education, is full of promise for real reform. Parents, teachers and principals are already forming school advisory committees to decide what policies and methods are best for their schools. Teachers are studying ways to make school more relevant to the outside world, and are demanding cognitive thought from students, rather than shallow answers.

High school teachers will cooperate in showing the pupils how different subjects overlap. Students will receive practical instruction in things like how to write a check, which formerly was not in the curriculum. These "brand new" suggestions made me recall the high school teacher my children had for physics, who requested the math teachers team up with him on a certain part of the lesson. My daughter's algebra teacher refused, saying, "I barely have time enough to get through this book as it is." What a pity he had such a narrow view.

Another innovation is for elementary teachers to teach with themes _ build the lessons in arithmetic, language arts and spelling around the study of Mexico, for instance. When I taught third grade in the '50s, we called it teaching in units. My class had a grocery store and did great math and spelling lessons, but we were still tied to "see Dick run" in reading books, and did not have the supplementary readers and equipment they have today.

Asking students to give more thoughtful answers to deeper questions, and not allowing them to toss back a rote answer, is the best of the new ideas. Teachers want a quick answer and have been guilty of asking the easy questions. They will have to retrain themselves to wait patiently and give the students time to think out a complicated question.

In grading, the use of "P" for performing successfully, "L" for learning in progress and "I" for improvement needed may seem too vague for the layman. Educators think that a child who is doing poorly will be traumatized by getting a failing grade, and so they look for ways to sweeten the bitter pill.

But students know how they compare with their peers in every respect. If you go into a classroom and say, "Who is the fastest runner?" they will pipe in unison: "Jamie." Or "Who is best in math?" and they point to Kirsten. Then, if you ask, "Who is the best artist?" they reply, "Jason." Without any grades at all, they know their talents and shortcomings. Grades are for parents. It is a waste of time to camouflage reality.

The first goal set forth in Blueprint 2000 states that "communities and schools should collaborate to prepare children and families for children's success in school."

That is where all of us come in, and we must resolve to do more than just pay our taxes. We must get actively involved with a school or a family near us to make this work.

All these ideas for accountability are noteworthy but will water down to mediocrity unless we keep our enthusiasm sharp. Blueprint 2000 can take us forward into the next century if everyone will take it seriously.

Grace Druyor is a freelance writer. She lives in St. Petersburg. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which are not necessarily the opinions of this newspaper.