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Teacher-Training Standards: Change and Debate

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A candidate for the presidency of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has sharply criticized a coalition of education deans formed to upgrade teacher-training standards.

The Holmes Group Consortium, made up of deans from some of the nation's largest research universities, has created "divisiveness" within the profession, wrote Hendrick D. Gideonse, dean of the college of education at the University of Cincinnati, in an Oct. 9 letter to the aacte membership. Whether or not the group's reform proposals have merit, he suggested, its mode of operation may be doing more harm than good.

One of two candidates for president-elect of the association, Mr. Gideonse said in his letter that "serious contradictions" exist "between the espoused aims of the Holmes Group and the values manifest in actions taken in the group's behalf."

The Holmes Group--named in honor of Henry W. Holmes, former dean of Harvard University's graduate school of education--began meeting in 1983 to develop a set of comprehensive goals for reforming teacher education. It said then that "many of this country's teachers are underprepared for the important role they play in shaping America's economic future."

Since its formation, the group has been a focal point in the debate over teacher-training standards and has garnered considerable press attention. It is currently supported by grants from the U.S. Education Department, the Ford Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Johnson Foundation.

Among the reforms it has advanced are requirements that prospective teachers major in a standard academic subject and pass a professional examination prior to graduation, and that "career" teachers complete a post-baccalaureate program leading to a master's degree and a provisional certificate.

Slower but Surer

But according to Mr. Gideonse, defining the professional values in teacher education should be a function of aacte and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, not such informal and limited-membership organizations as the Holmes Group.

Working through aacte and ncate "may not be as fast," he said, "but it is much more likely to be stable and sure."

In his letter, Mr. Gideonse charged the Holmes Group with:

Claiming to speak only to its own participating members, but at the same time testifying before Congress and "actively cultivating" the Education Commission of the States and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Denying its position papers to non-participants "on the grounds that the work is preliminary, incomplete, and not yet approved," while distributing those same papers to policymakers and the press.

Including in the group's membership some institutions not currently engaged in teacher education and others whose identification as major research institutions in education is questionable.

Creating uncertainty about whether its members represent a group of institutions or "merely a group of individuals who happen to come from certain institutions."

Invoking "aspirations to a profession even as peer collegial relations appear to have been seriously undercut" by its actions.

"The issue is not the Holmes Group proposals," wrote Mr. Gideonse, "but the divisiveness engendered by the manner in which they have proceeded."

"The issue is not the exclusionary ambience that has been created," he said, "but whether its basis is in fact consistent with the highest professional aspirations we ought to have of ourselves."


Mr. Gideonse's accusations produced strong reactions from members of the Holmes Group and others interviewed last week. But most maintained that the uproar would subside, leaving no lasting effect.

Charles W. Case, dean of the college of education at the University of Iowa and a member of the Holmes Group, called the letter "intemperate and unanalytical."

"I could not disagree with you more," wrote Gary A. Griffin, dean of the college of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and also a member of the group, in a letter to Mr. Gideonse. Mr. Griffin said his letter was written to protest Mr. Gideonse's "dramatic portrait of the group as a subversive, divisive cabal of persons who have as a guiding principle an exclusionary basis."

View of 'Dozens'

Judith E. Lanier, dean of the college of education at Michigan State University and chairman of the Holmes Group, took a less heated position toward the letter. "Any time a small group of deans gets together, there are rumblings and rumors about what's going on," she said. "I think there's nothing to be all that worried and upset about."

The idea that the Holmes Group is competing with aacte or ncate is "just plain false," added Ms. Lanier. "I have served on and continue to serve on the accreditation task force for aacte," she said, "and have met with them and kept them thoroughly informed of the Holmes Group efforts."

David G. Imig, executive director of aacte, declined to comment on the letter.

Mr. Gideonse said he wrote the letter "out of a real depth of feeling and conviction."

"What I did," he said, "was to put into words what dozens and dozens of others were saying in hallway conversations. Divisions have occurred and cannot be ignored."

Who Leads?

Many educators said, however, that Mr. Gideonse's letter had revived a continuing debate within the profession over whether aacte and ncate are capable of bringing about radical reforms in teacher education.

The two organizations have been criticized repeatedly in the past for embracing standards that are insufficient, arbitrary, inconsistent, or redundant. ncate is now in the process of tightening its standards for accrediting colleges of education.

According to Mr. Case of Iowa, the two organizations are "absolutely dependent upon membership fees, and with current economic times they need every member they can get."

This means, said Mr. Case, that "any policy decision that is madenecessarily must equal the lowest common denominator, because there are many members who cannot afford to do anything different than what they are doing."

Mr. Griffin agreed. "I think the two organizations can serve extraordinarily useful purposes in the teacher-education community," he said, "but I don't think that dramatic reform is one of the purposes they can serve."

Structure There

But Robert L. Saunders, dean of the college of education at Memphis State University and the current president-elect of aacte, disagreed. aacte and ncate provide the "two major structures" for producing "fundamental and continuous change in teacher education," he said.

"I recognize there are some who feel that ncate standards could be more elevated and more difficult to attain," Mr. Saunders added, "but I think that the emphasis now should be on trying to get all of the institutions that prepare teachers to try to meet those standards." Then, he said, other groups can move beyond that.

"What happens when small groups like the Holmes Group go off by themselves and essentially set themselvesmodels for the rest of teacher education to emulate is always problematic," noted Robert L. Egbert, former dean of Teachers College at the University of Nebraska and currently a professor of education. "I think that the Holmes Group is very well-intentioned," he said, adding that he personally would prefer a more collaborative model.

"It would be much better," concluded Mr. Saunders, if members of the Holmes Group would "lead the way within the framework of the total institution."

Mr. Gideonse's letter expressed the same thought.

"I believe that aacte is the legitimate body for conducting the toughminded deliberations among ourselves as teacher educators," he wrote. "ncate is the aacte-sanctioned and supported national mechanism for the extended family of the education profession to articulate standards for teacher education broadly defined."

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