President of Harvard Urges Education-School Revival
Schools of education have a "marginal status'' in universities because they fail to "practice what they preach'' to elementary and secondary schools, according to Derek C. Bok, president of Harvard University.
"Rather than imitate their colleagues in arts and sciences,'' Mr. Bok argues in his annual report to the university's board of overseers, "they should strive to exemplify the highest standards of instruction and to come forth with challenging new ideas about better methods of instruction, better ways of assessing student progress, better ways of helping those who find it difficult to learn.''
"It is by serving as an example of good practice and a catalyst for educational reform that schools of education are likely to attract greater respect and attention within the university as a whole,'' he concludes.
Mr. Bok's report, issued this month, is one of a series he has written in recent years on the state of professional schools. Previous reports have focused on law, medicine, and business schools, according to a university spokesman.
In this year's report, Mr. Bok maintains that, despite a "spirited debate'' over education reform spurred by the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983, schools of education have not become centers of attention on university campuses, and the status of their faculties remains low.
Education schools have suffered in comparison with other professional schools, Mr. Bok said, because the teaching profession lacks a distinctive body of knowledge to impart.
Unlike medicine or law, which have strong cores of professional knowledge and skills, "education is more noted for transitory fads and theories such as the open classroom, the child-centered school, and the 'new' math,'' he said.
"Academic research has seemed irrelevant to most practitioners,'' he continued. "Many teachers and principals have been critical of their formal preparation, regarding practical experience as the best way of mastering their craft.''
"Investigators have added to these suspicions,'' he said, "by consistently failing to discover any causal connection between the training that teachers receive and their subsequent record in raising the achievement levels of their students.''
Rejecting the suggestion that schools of education be scrapped, Mr. Bok urged education faculties to strengthen their programs by combining an emphasis on teaching with a vigorous program of research.
In developing such strategies, Mr. Bok said, faculties should determine whether they will focus on public schools, as Harvard's has done, or expand their reach to "encompass many of the other ages and settings in which learning occurs.''
If education faculties focus on the public schools, he said, they should consider such issues as defining the purpose of public education, meeting the needs of educationally disadvantaged students, creating incentives for teachers and principals to improve schools, attracting more able teachers, improving the training and selection of administrators, and defining the proper role of government in education.
At the same time, education professors should improve the quality of educational research, which has "contributed little to improving practice in the schools,'' while improving the professional training of planners, administrators, teachers, specialists, and education faculty members, Mr. Bok said.
Turning his attention specifically to Harvard's graduate school of education, he said that under its current dean, Patricia A. Graham, the school "has done an outstanding job of strengthening its faculty and reorienting its programs to address the needs of primary and secondary education.''
However, he added, "formidable challenges remain.'' The major challenge, he suggested, is to "build professional programs that can serve as models to enrich a field in dire need of new ideas.''
At the same time, he said, the college must do more to attract able students, and should consider developing programs in such areas as higher-education administration and educational television.
Ms. Graham said last week that there is "much merit in his analysis.''
"As I read the report,'' she added, Mr. Bok "says that schools of education have an important role to play and that they could play it better than they are.''
Above all, Mr. Bok said, schools of education must play an exemplary role for other faculties, which would enable them to occupy a more central place in the university and provide a model for their students.
"Unless the [education] faculty exemplifies superior performance in its educational practices,'' he concluded, "it can hardly be convincing in seeking to inspire its students to achieve the highest standards in their own professional careers.''