Report's Delay Underscores Holmes's Struggles
A decision by the Holmes Group to delay release of a long-awaited report on education school restructuring has underscored the struggles the reform organization is facing in deciding how to advance its agenda.
The group--a network of research universities committed to improving the quality of schooling and teacher preparation--had planned at its eighth annual meeting here late last month to issue the report, which has been in the works for two years. Titled "Tomorrow's Schools of Education,'' the report will describe how education schools should be restructured and offer recommendations for action by individual institutions and the Holmes Group itself.
But reaching consensus on the document has proved difficult. Members of the group's board of directors decided to use the annual meeting to get reaction to proposals being considered for inclusion in the report.
"This report cuts closer to the bone than any of the previous ones'' by the group, said Hugh Petrie, the dean of the graduate school of education at the State University of New York at Buffalo. "It has much more to do with us, as organizations and institutions, and we want to make real sure that we have a full airing of debate.''
'At a Crossroads'
The deliberations come at what Holmes members describe as a critical time for the group, which grew out of informal meetings of education deans in the mid-1980's and was formally launched in 1986. Since then, many of the nearly 100 member institutions have overhauled their teacher preparation programs and started professional-development schools.
Similar reforms also have been undertaken by a number of colleges and universities that are not members of the organization.
Holmes Group members must now decide whether to continue simply as a reform network or to seek more influence over state and national education policy to support their work.
"Holmes is at a crossroads,'' said David Pearson, the dean of the education school at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. "The question it has to ask itself is whether, if it becomes a long-term institution, it is sufficiently distinct from other organizations.''
Judith E. Lanier, the president of the Holmes Group, said education schools cannot pursue an ambitious reform agenda, including forging new partnerships with the public schools, on their own.
Since the Holmes Group was formed, she added, the reform agenda has shifted to an emphasis on "systemic'' initiatives, such as overhauling teacher licensure and creating national teacher certification. The group has been strongly urged to get more involved with such efforts, she said.
"We want our members to stand for something, and not just be a club,'' she said. "We want to put actions behind our commitments.''
The board of directors has reached agreement about the core of the report. It will spell out a new mission for education schools, which are to be focused on young people's learning and the preparation of educators, including administrators, counselors, and school psychologists.
The new mission is broader than the Holmes Group's initial focus on schools, rather than learning as a whole, and teachers, rather than educators of all types.
Because education schools in some large research institutions also include programs in such fields as public health and human services, however, the recommendation has prompted debate.
"To be action oriented, it isn't a function of whether the college of ed is [solely devoted to] education or not,'' said Richard Wisniewski, the dean of the college of education at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. "I think the leadership will find a very, very strong split among its membership regarding this issue.''
But most of the annual meeting was devoted to considering proposals for more concrete actions by the group.
State Involvement Pushed
One idea is for the Holmes Group to push for state policies that support both its goals and broader professional issues, such as improved licensure standards for beginning teachers. The organization has never had much of a presence among state policymakers.
For example, the creation of professional-development schools--which are frequently likened to teaching hospitals--requires state policies that can support the new relationships between higher education and public schools.
"I think it's absolutely essential to link with other groups and get more involved in state policy,'' said Charles W. Case, the dean of the education school at the University of Connecticut. "We probably should have done that a long time ago.''
A related suggestion is for the group to allow membership by other institutions that want to pursue the same reforms, as well as possibly their public school partners.
Some have voiced concern about the idea of opening up membership, however. "Standards have to be applied,'' Mr. Case said. "We can't open the doors of the ark to let them all come in.''
Mr. Petrie, on the other hand, said he welcomed the idea of expanding membership. "To the extent that we are able to come up with a more focused, more articulated vision of what we want to be, and others who might not have fallen under the initial criteria sign on, hey, that's great,'' he said.
To make it easier for the Holmes Group to form alliances with other groups, the board is considering moving its headquarters to the nation's capital, from its current location at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich.
It is also possible the group could merge with a like-minded organization, Ms. Lanier said.
"The fear is at this point that unless we rethink relationships,'' she said, "it won't facilitate movement, because we need stronger connections.''
At a December meeting of the board of directors, a number of external advisers urged the group to work more closely with educators and policymakers involved in systemic reform, Ms. Lanier said.
A new membership policy, she noted, might also include closer relationships with governors' education aides and others involved with education policy.
The current emphasis on setting standards in education also is having an impact on the Holmes Group's deliberations.
The organization is considering developing standards in a number of areas, including benchmarks for institutions' progress toward meeting the agenda outlined in the forthcoming report.
The standards could also include the establishment of professional-development schools and standards for their operation; guidelines for student recruitment and admission; and benchmarks for professional-studies programs.
The report is expected to call on education schools to determine what teachers and other educators should know and be able to do at the beginning of their careers and as they advance in the profession, working closely with standards being developed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and other groups.
Without setting some type of standards, Ms. Lanier said, the reforms advocated by the Holmes Group risk being labeled "old wine in new bottles.''
As colleges and universities across the country have begun creating professional-development schools, she said, some have simply "dusted off student teaching and called it an internship.''
"Tomorrow's Schools of Education'' will be discussed by the board next month, Ms. Lanier said, and is expected to be released in April.
Some educators whose institutions are members of the Holmes Group expressed disappointment that the report was delayed.
"It's very discouraging to me,'' Mr. Wisniewski said, "because to debate the need for the kind of restructuring and reform that is needed as if there is ever going to be a perfect document, I think is a hopeless task. I think it should have come out a long time ago.''
But Mr. Petrie of SUNY-Buffalo disagreed.
"The fact that we are fussing over it is at this point less important than what we come out with,'' he said. "If it's something strong, that will be important, whether a large or small number want to sign on. If it's wishy-washy, that could be a problem.''