University Leaders Respond to Call for Reform
Some 225 leaders of higher-education institutions have responded to a call from their colleagues to become "champions for the whole educational enterprise," from kindergarten through graduate school.
The call grew out of a September meeting of 37 college presidents at the Spring Hill conference center in Minnesota, where the collegiate role in professionalizing teaching was discussed.
After the meeting, those who had attended sent a letter to their peers at the approximately 3,300 institutions of higher education nationwide, asking them to "speak out" for the importance of teaching at all levels, to work more closely with the schools, and to address "shortcomings" on their own campuses both in the quality of teaching and in the preparation of teachers.
The letter, signed on behalf of the group by Donald Kennedy, president of Stanford University, asked the college and university leaders to endorse the statement and designate a liaison to work with the coalition.
The group--known informally as the "Spring Hill" presidents--has heard from a wide variety of institutions, including small liberal-arts colleges, major research universities, regional universities, and community and junior colleges.
But officials interviewed last week offered differing interpretations of the response rate, which was less than 10 percent.
"I think it's a good response," said Barbara S. Uehling, chancellor of the University of California at Santa Barbara, and an original member of the Spring Hill group. "There is concern about the quality of teacher education and about our responsibility."
"I would have expected a larger response, to tell you the truth," said Robert A. Corrigan, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Boston. "On the other hand, I think the institutions that are best prepared to respond are four-year institutions. When you talk about 3,300 institutions of higher education, you're talking about a lot of two-year institutions."
'Leadership by Example'
Of the 3,340 higher-education institutions in the nation in 1985-86, 1,311--or 39 percent--were two-year colleges, according to the U.S. Education Department.
Mr. Corrigan said the diversity of institutions responding, rather than the total number, was a "good sign."
"In this, like any other sector, there's a lot of leadership by example," said P. Michael Timpane, president of Columbia University's Teachers College. "And if we've got 225 of the leading institutions by any definition, or even some fair representation of them across the 225, then that's a very heartening response."
Others noted that only 1,200 colleges and universities prepare teachers and thus have an obvious stake in the Spring Hill agenda.
Gary Sykes, a staff member for the Holmes Group--a coalition of research universities working to reform teacher education--said the low response rate should not be interpreted as a sign of indifference.
Of the 97 Holmes Group members, fewer than half have responded to the Spring Hill letter.
But Mr. Sykes, who is a faculty member at Michigan State University, noted that the volume of mail crossing the desks of university presidents "is staggering." Without any concerted push to get them to endorse the statement, he said, "it's just another piece of mail that arrives."
Russell Edgerton, president of the American Association for Higher Education--which helped organize the Spring Hill meeting--acknowledged that there had been no concerted effort to "actually mobilize a response" to the letter.
"I didn't know what to expect, quite frankly," he said. "I'm happy with [the response] in the sense that it's a sufficient base to build on."
"When the project becomes visible and there's a full-time staff person here, people will wake up and want to key into it more," he added. "Most important things in the world are done with a handful of leaders acting on behalf of the sector as a whole."
To sustain the momentum generated by the letter, he said, the aahe is hoping to organize a series of presidential retreats and follow-up activities in six states.
Each retreat would bring together 10 to 15 university presidents in the state, along with an "action officer" who could help with subsequent activities on campus.
School superintendents, representatives from governors' offices, and other key policymakers would also be invited to attend.
Over the course of each retreat, the presidents would be encouraged to commit themselves to:
A personal project that fits each president's situation on campus.
A collective project that at least a cluster of presidents could endorse--such as a joint program of "presidential scholarships" for minority teachers, or a request for state waivers to experiment with the teacher-education curriculum.
A plan to meet again at a public forum on the reform of teaching.
The aahe plans to focus on state-level reforms, Mr. Edgerton said, because "it's the states that set the ground rules" for teacher education.
"That's where the incentives are in terms of presidential action," he noted. "When a state like Virginia decides to abolish the undergraduate education major, everybody gets stirred up."
The organization has asked the Carnegie Corporation of New York to finance the project--including a small fund for follow-up activities in the targeted states. Carnegie's board is expected to vote on the proposal next month.
The project would culminate in a national forum on teaching in June 1990. At that time, the group would release a report on how universities can contribute to a vision of teaching as a "seamless web" that extends to every level of schooling.
In addition, the organization would like to develop a variety of papers on teaching. Both the American Council on Education and the Education Commission of the States have agreed to help with the effort.
Already, several university leaders who were at the Spring Hill meeting have followed up with activities. For example:
The chancellor of the University of California at Santa Barbara, Ms. Uehling, is meeting with school superintendents and other higher-education leaders in the area about once a month for what she describes as an "educational summit" on teaching and learning.
The informal group is planning a joint conference on educating students from diverse backgrounds.
Late last month, the University of Massachusetts at Boston organized an off-campus retreat on teaching that included 135 professors from both teacher education and the liberal arts, along with some 30 public-school teachers, the state superintendent of education, and the chancellor and vice chancellor for the state board of regents.
"In my nine years at U. Mass.-Boston, it was one of the most exciting and heartening discussions," said Chancellor Corrigan. "The faculty at the university--whether they were teacher educators or liberal-arts faculty--were taking these issues very, very seriously, and showing real concern for the quality of teaching in the schools."
The university's acting dean of education is preparing a series of recommendations for reforming teacher education and for creating a doctoral-level education program on campus, which will be "widely circulated and discussed," Mr. Corrigan said.
Also last month, the presidents of several independent colleges and universities in Ohio met to discuss the Spring Hill agenda.
The participants plan to write a report that expresses their commitment to the agenda, particularly as it relates to the problems of recruiting and retaining minority students, according to Philip H. Jordan, president of Kenyon College.
He noted that Kenyon, which has been working with a small number of high schools in a neighboring rural county and in inner-city Cleveland, is also trying to expand its relationship with the schools to include elementary and middle schools.