Holmes Group Reflects on How To Sustain Its Momentum
Racine, Wis--Although it has had a significant national impact in its first year, the Holmes Group now faces the problem of how to maintain and solidify its role as a major player in teacher-education reform, members of the group's executive board say.
The board's concern for the future was highlighted by a discussion at its Nov. 20-22 meeting here of the loss of the organization's first institutional member. Washington State University formally withdrew from the consortium of 97 research universities late last month.
The university cited as its reasons "minimal" faculty support and a lack of "beneficial outcomes" from the $4,000 annual membership dues required by the organization.
But Judith E. Lanier, president of the Holmes Group and dean of the college of education at Michigan State University, stressed that the consortium must "stay the course" on its long-term agenda for reform.
That agenda includes: eliminating undergraduate education majors and shifting most teacher preparation to the graduate level; creating "differentiated" roles for teachers in schools; and developing clinical sites where future educators could be trained.
Thus far, the impact of the Holmes Group has been "rather remarkable," argued Cecil Miskel, dean of the school of education at the University of Utah and coordinator of the organization's Far West region.
"We are still the avant garde of teacher education," he said.
Concern about maintaining that distinction led to a heated discussion among board members about whether they should accept an invitation from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education to place a representative of the Holmes Group on its board of directors.
Most Holmes Group members already belong to aacte, which represents the bulk of the country's teacher-education institutions.
But those here expressed concern that their mission would become blurred if they endorsed a more formal affiliation with the larger organization.
The Holmes Group advocates a very particular set of reforms, noted Ms. Lanier, while aacte has embraced a wide variety of approaches to teacher education.
Another dean added, "Our separateness is a very critical part of our credibility."
The board will take up the invitation again at its January meeting.
The education deans also suggested that many institutions are still wondering what the Holmes Group can do for them, one year after signing up for membership.
In his letter announcing Washington State's withdrawal from the group, M. Stephen Lilly, the university's dean of education, wrote that there is "minimal support among faculty" on his campus for continued participation in the organization.
"Frankly," he wrote, "we are not convinced at this time that the substantial annual investment associated with being an active member of the Holmes Group is matched by a comparable set of beneficial outcomes."
"The focus of the Holmes Group has not emerged as clearly as we thought it might," he continued, "and at least in our region, the Holmes Group activities have not been of particular assistance to us in advancing reform of our teacher-education programs."
Mr. Lilly added that Washington State's decision was "not taken without reservation," particularly since the university is pursuing most of the Holmes Group's goals.
The organization's remaining 96 members must renew their dues by next month. Ms. Lanier said last week that she did not know of any other institution that planned to drop its membership.
John Palmer, vice chairman of the Holmes Group and dean of the school of education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, suggested, however, that "the number of serious members may be closer to 60" than the original 97.
"There are local conditions which are not always manageable," he said.
Benefits Over Time
In her response to Mr. Lilly's letter, Ms. Lanier emphasized that one year is "hardly a sufficient trial period" to give the organization.
"Membership in the Holmes Group will accrue benefits in time," she argued, "but at this early stage of our work, the equally pertinent question is, what contributions can each institution make, rather than simply what benefits they can derive."
"Our deepest conviction is that we cannot reform this enterprise institution by institution without a strong, supportive, and change-oriented organization to sustain and guide our individual initiatives," she wrote. "The Holmes Group is the first strategic effort from within the profession to stay the course on a program of fundamental change.''
Ms. Lanier also took exception to the complaint about membership dues, which she described as "modest." And she said that faculty support, while extremely important, "must be generated and nurtured over time."
Institutions now receive most of their support from the Holmes Group through its regional offices and its quarterly publication, The Forum.
The five regional divisions--Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, South Central, and Far West--have spent most of the past year building a communications network, sponsoring conferences, and commissioning papers.
But the regional and national offices are still searching for ways to complement, rather than duplicate, each other's activities.
James M. Cooper, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and a member of the executive board, noted that "some people are looking for the national and regional [offices] to do what needs to be done at the local level."
When that does not happen, he added, they become disgruntled.
"The latent issue," said P. Michael Timpane, president of Teachers Colel10llege at Columbia University, "is what is the Holmes Group about?"
Is it just a "little old self-help group," he asked, or is it "going to change the world?"
Ms. Lanier said the organization is trying to do both. The current emphasis is on "capacity building," she argued, "with an eye toward taking a very firm stand when we're ready."
Arts and Sciences
One of the board members' primary concerns was how to develop a better relationship between education faculty members and their colleagues in the arts and sciences.
In June, members of the executive board met with some of the chief academic officers and liberal-arts deans from universities belonging to the Holmes Group. Participants at the meeting agreed that better collaboration could lead to a rediscovery of the "educational mission" on their campuses and to improved teaching at the university level.
But they also noted that there was much work to be done. Most academic majors, for example, are designed to prepare students for graduate school, and do not correspond well to the subjects that future educators would have to teach in grades K-12.
To help improve cooperation across disciplinary lines, the Holmes Group has agreed to have each of its national committees co-chaired by an education dean and a dean or chief academic officer in the arts and sciences.
The five national committees will focus on assessment, curriculum, equity, teaching, and government relations and professional liaison. Ms. Lanier predicted that the "long-delayed committees," which were meant to address key reform issues, would be in place within the next several months.
The consortium is also trying to develop closer ties with the disciplinary associations that represent university faculty, such as the4American Council of Learned Societies.
Several of the Holmes Group's regional representatives have held conferences with their colleagues in the liberal arts. And in early 1989, the organization plans to hold a national conference devoted to the relationship between schools of education and colleges of arts and sciences.
Support at Home
Board members also spent a considerable amount of time here talking about the need to provide more support for education deans in member universities. Most of those deans are now facing deeply entrenched problems on their campuses as they try to carry out the Holmes Group's agenda.
Those difficulties range from finding new ways to support graduate students in education, who traditionally have been paid to help teach undergraduate education majors, to justifying extended teacher-preparation programs during a time of predicted teacher shortages.
One of the biggest challenges, board members said, is that education deans have had to become "change agents" in order to carry out the consortium's goals.
Gary Sykes, a staff member for the Holmes Group and an assistant professor at Michigan State University, said that many deans have been "extraordinarily skillful" in that role. But he agreed that it is "unfamiliar" ground for some.
"In a sense, what deans have to decide is whether they're going to step into that intervention mode," added Mr. Miskel of the University of Utah. "And some of the deans who get into it get flattened right onto the pavement."
Other Activities Planned
Other activities the board is working on include:
The submission by each member institution in February of a planning document detailing how it will address the consortium's agenda. A synthesis of the plans will be developed describing both systemic problems in carrying out the long-term goals and any progress to date.
The group's second annual conference, to be held next month in Washington, with a focus on school-university collaborations.
A major report, "Tomorrow's Schools," which will lay out new ways to organize and manage schools, based on research findings and the creation of more professional roles for teachers and administrators.
The development of a fellowship program to attract minority students into teaching. The effort is being supported, in part, by the Ford Foundation.