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Holmes Group Urges Overhaul Of Ed. Schools

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Education schools in the nation's leading research universities must embark on a thorough overhaul of their programs or "surrender their franchise," a report released last week by the Holmes Group says.

"The education school should cease to act as a silent agent in the preservation of the status quo," warns the report, "Tomorrow's Schools of Education." The 116-page document from the group--whose members include deans of more than 80 education schools in research institutions--lays some of the blame for the troubled state of American schools on higher education.

But it also argues that, by refocusing their missions, education schools in leading universities can help solve the problems afflicting public schools.

Officials of the group said late last week that they expect to form new partnerships with other education groups intended to help carry out the reforms laid out in the report.

Its message targets about 250 education schools in major universities. While those schools represent only one-fifth of all the institutions that prepare educators, the report notes, they exert great influence by developing the knowledge base in education, training education school faculty members, and influencing policy.

Too often, the report adds, faculty members ignore public schools to concentrate on theoretical research or to work with graduate students who do not intend careers as classroom teachers.

"Those who prepare teachers and other educators continue to dwell in a bygone era, using outmoded conceptions of professional work to guide their preparation programs," the report asserts.

Applied Knowledge

Tomorrow's schools of education, it says, must place children first and establish ties with educators in elementary and secondary schools. Because education schools have strayed from this focus, the report contends, faculty members have lost sight of their responsibilities as part of a professional school.

"Traditional forms of academic scholarship have a place in professional schools," the report says, "but such institutions are obliged, as well, to learn from practice, and to concern themselves with questions of applying knowledge."

The renewed focus on public schools should then guide education schools as they develop new knowledge, offer professional development for teachers, and weigh in on educational policy, the report says.

While education schools traditionally have not been "at the policymaking table," the report notes, "efforts to improve education are too important to cede to representatives of government and business."

It asserts that education schools, generally held in low public esteem, need to make a case for the distinctive contributions they can make to the field. Their raison d'ˆtre, it states, should be to produce special knowledge about children and their learning, about education systems, about culture and young people's learning, and about what should be taught in schools.

Core Knowledge

The report also argues that education schools should provide a "common core" of knowledge to both entry-level and advanced students, strongly connected to precollegiate teaching and learning.

"Almost everyone who goes to work in public education should be prepared to teach and--with few exceptions--should launch their careers as teachers working directly with children," it says. The exceptions would include school nurses or central-office accountants, for example.

The focus on core knowledge, which would increase and deepen as educators continued their studies beyond initial preparation, would end the casual approach to graduate studies now taken by working professional educators, the report says.

Core knowledge, it says, includes studies of human development and young people's learning; subject matter and pedagogy; instructional management; inquiry, reflection, and research and development; and collaboration in support of young people's learning.

Professional-development schools are integral to the new vision for education schools, the report says. The Holmes Group championed the idea of such schools, often likened to teaching hospitals, in its first report in 1986.

Its second report elaborated on the concept, and since that time dozens of such schools have sprung up. But the latest report notes that the idea has attracted "cheap copies" that "threaten to devalue the real currency."

Call for Standards

Each education school should create at least one professional-development school, the report says, to be evaluated with a set of standards developed by the school and the university. The standards should draw on the findings of other organizations, such as the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, that are working on similar guidelines. (See related story .)

(See education schools should increase the number of professional-development schools so that most of their students can benefit from working in them, the report says.

These changes will not be easy, the Holmes Group acknowledges. To make them happen, the reward structure for university faculty members must change. Education schools must also diversify their faculties and hire more professors who want to research educational practice by working in schools, the report says.

The Holmes Group plans to send copies of the report to higher-education officials to enlist their support for its agenda. And because it cannot achieve its goals alone, the report calls for an alliance of the group with partners such as the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and the national teachers' unions.

These allies, the report says, will be asked to help the Holmes Group develop standards for the new breed of education schools. Schools that cannot meet the standards after a reasonable time should be closed down, it concludes.

Information on ordering the report is available from the Holmes Group, 501 ERICkson Hall, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mich. 48824-1034; (517) 353-3874.

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