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Michigan Partnership Sets Out on New Course

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Michigan's five-year venture in "new education" just passed a crossroads.

As observers tell it, the Michigan Partnership for New Education had two choices: stick with its reform plan and come up short or reinvent itself and survive.

Its leaders took the second option.

This fall, the $50 million project--which taps the resources and brainpower of business leaders, state officials, and educators to change teacher training and the culture of K-12 schools--has undergone some big changes.

They include the recent departure of Judith Lanier, whose views on teacher education were the basis for much of the partnership's work so far. Ms. Lanier was the group's president and a founder of the partnership.

And the partnership's board of directors announced a change in direction this month.

The organization said it will downplay its role in fostering professional-development schools--sites that merge educational theory and practice and provide a training ground for teachers. The schools were the cornerstone of the partnership's statewide reform plan but apparently were too expensive to start up and maintain.

Instead, the partnership will look toward new ventures such as audits of educational programs, and, possibly, the direct management of public schools.

Funding for the original plans, which was coming from universities, foundations, corporations, and the state, appeared to be in danger of drying up, a partnership official said.

Sources close to the partnership said its leaders are trying to prove themselves to the state. They want to show they not only can come up with provocative ideas, but also can make them work throughout Michigan.

"The organization is at a very dynamic stage right now," said Georgia Van Adestine, the education-policy adviser to Gov. John Engler, a member of the partnership's board. "They need to document more of their successes and be more knowledgeable about what needs to be adjusted or dropped," she said. "The more we can see the dollars and talents making a difference, the more support they'll get."

A Change in Style

Ms. Lanier and A. Alfred Taubman, the commercial-real-estate magnate, were the main forces behind the statewide collaboration.

They agreed in 1989 to undertake a project bringing diverse groups together to reform teacher preparation and to change the overall school environment. (See Education Week, 08/04/93.)

In its first five years, the partnership spawned 26 professional-development schools, operating with nine public universities in the state.

Ms. Lanier was an architect of that concept as the head of the Holmes Group, a consortium of research universities dedicated to improving teacher education. The partnership's reforms were based on the Holmes report titled "Tomorrow's Schools."

(The Holmes Group, which Ms. Lanier still leads, is expected next month to release its third, and long-delayed, report on tomorrow's schools of education.)

Despite the success of many of the professional-development sites, the partnership's leaders said, it became clear that the goal of expanding the number of schools was unrealistic.

This year, the partnership plans to work closely with fewer than half of the 26 schools. The future of the other sites is uncertain.

In addition, the partnership is aimed at "going to scale without compromising the integrity of the original ideas," said Geralyn White, an education adviser to the Taubman Foundation.

Though they praised Ms. Lanier as a "visionary," partnership officials said they needed a new style of leadership if they were going to move forward. In September, Mr. Taubman recruited a new president, William Coats.

Mr. Coats was the coordinator of youth programs for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek, Mich., one of the funders of the partnership, and a former superintendent of the Fort Wayne, Ind., schools. He was also named the chief executive officer of the partnership, replacing Harrison Blackmond, who also left the organization this fall.

Ms. Lanier is expected to play an advisory role in the project and to continue consulting with the Governor on such issues as professional development.

State officials said Mr. Coats's ties to K-12 education and his sensitivity to the needs of urban areas would help steer the project on its new course.

Now, the partnership's goal is to make its work more relevant at the local level, sources said.

The Road Ahead

The new president plans to help schools decentralize and strengthen school-community relations. At this month's board meeting, Mr. Coats outlined strategies for the partnership to give schools the support to make such changes.

Among the partnership's strategies is a plan to train more local leaders and review the quality of school programs through an "educational audit." Its leaders propose that partnership officials oversee a review team of parents, students, business people, and others, whose work would possibly be underwritten by the private sector.

For schools that fail to improve, the partnership hopes to offer an alternative to for-profit management or state closure, Mr. Coats said.

Under state law, schools that do not meet certain standards over time could be closed or taken over, and partnership officials said their group would be in a good position to run schools that came under state management.

"We're already viewed as an important part of the infrastructure in the state," Mr. Coats said. "We can also plow money back into the school system--not take it to the bottom line."

State officials have expressed interest in the idea.

Mr. Coats said he hopes to help universities become chartering entities if the state can work through legal challenges to its charter-schools law. (See Education Week, 11/09/94.)

The partnership also is looking to funds that could go to Detroit or other metropolitan areas in the state under the philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg's education-reform initiative. (See related story )

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