Holmes Group Outlines ‘Clinical’ Schools Network

By Debra Viadero — February 07, 1990 7 min read

Phoenix--A draft of a new Holmes Group report lays out broad, ambitious principles intended to guide the creation of a network of professional-development schools linked with leading research universities around the country.

The draft document, tentatively entitled “Tomorrow’s Schools: Design Principles for Professional Development Schools,” was unanimously endorsed during the group’s annual meeting here Jan. 26 and 27. It is scheduled for official release in April.

The report is the second of three major documents on education reform planned by the Holmes Group, a consortium of 97 major research universities working to reform teaching and teacher education.

According to the new document, professional-development schools should be “real” schools, jointly operated by school districts and universities, that offer student teachers and novices in the profession a more structured and supportive introduction to teaching than now exists.

Often likened to teaching hospitals or agricultural-extension stations, such schools have multiple purposes, the draft says: improving student learning, revitalizing veteran teachers, introducing prospective teachers to the field, and providing a laboratory for research in education.

The notion of improved teacher-training sites along these lines is not new. The idea got a boost in 1986, however, when the Holmes Group and the Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession issued separate reports calling for major changes in teacher education. Both reports said the creation of “clinical” or professional-development schools was a critical step in reforming such preparation.

Since then, public and private ventures to establish such schools have sprung up around the country. (See Education Week, April 12, 1989.)

But Holmes Group participants meeting here said their vision for such schools is considerably more comprehensive and ambitious than other efforts in this area thus far. More than just an ideal training site for teachers, the report contends, a professional-development school should be a place where education itself is transformed. It should be an exemplar for every school.

“If you take apart the principles we outline, you will find places across the country that are doing some of what we’re advocating,” said Lauren Young, co-chairman of the Tomorrow’s Schools project and an assistant professor of teacher education and educational administration at Michigan State University. “What is really different about this is that we want to do all of these things at the same time.”

Some Holmes Group participants were skeptical, however, that their institutions could carry out such an ambitious agenda. They said the draft was long on rhetoric and short on practical guidance.

“It sounds nice, if you turn out 25 students a year,” said Rodney W. Roth, dean of the college of education at the University of Alabama. “But we have hundreds of students a semester.”

“Am I supposed to give a good professional experience to only 2 percent of my students?” he asked.

50-50 Partnership

Funded with a $200,000 grant from the Ford Foundation, the new “Tomorrow’s Schools” report is the product of six two-day seminars with 120 experts in the field.

The portrait of a professional-development school that emerged from those conversations calls for a 50-50 partnership between the university and the school district where the school is located. Both partners must also be equally committed to operating the school over the long run--perhaps as long as “two or three generations of teachers,” the draft says.

It would be a place where the teachers are given equal footing with the university instructors who come to work there. The report suggests that this could mean that the school-district teachers either teach courses at the university or collaborate with the university faculty in the design and implementation of research projects and curricula.

Likewise, the participating instructors from higher education might teach classes at the school.

“University professors are always doing research in a library, doing a meta-analysis of other studies,” said Dean Corrigan, former dean of the college of education at Texas A & M University. “What this does is bring some reality to all of that.”

That kind of collaboration can only be brought about, the draft document says, by changing the reward structure in colleges of education. The traditional emphasis on rewarding scholarship must be altered, it says, so that university faculty members will have an incentive to work in the school.

Such schools would be located in areas “poorly served by education” and populated by students who are culturally, economically, and academically diverse. Teachers, who would also come from diverse cultural backgrounds, would work at finding new ways to educate “everybody’s children,” according to the draft.

“These schools will be demonstrating that there are places where all children can learn,” said Judith E. Lanier, president and chairman of the Holmes Group and dean of the college of education at Michigan State University. “That can be very different from being told it can work.”

Conference-goers said the document’s strong emphasis on ethnic diversity was also, in part, a response to criticism of its 1986 manifesto, “Tomorrow’s Teachers: A Report of the Holmes Group.” Critics said the earlier report did not speak to the needs of the growing population of students who are poor or members of minority groups.

In serving such children, the new document says, it may be necessary for the school to work with other, noneducational agencies in the community to ensure that students are coming to class healthy, well-fed, and ready to learn.

The draft also suggests that the school, in order to be free to test new ideas, might have to seek waivers of some state or federal laws. Some such schools, it says, might even become “regulatory-free zones.’'

And finally, it calls for a network linking all such professional-development schools with one another--and possibly with other schools in their own districts--so that they do not become “islands of excellence.”

Ms. Lanier said the creation of these schools could force fundamental change in schools of education and in teacher education generally.

“Professional schools of education would be different if they adopted a professional-development school than if they didn’t have one,” she said.

‘Motherhood and Apple Pie’

The draft was praised by most of the Holmes Group deans and other educators who attended last week’s meeting here.

“Now we have something tangible that we can present and say we believe these are good principles for schools of the future,” said Roderick J. MacDavis, dean of the college of education at the University of Arkansas.

Some deans, however, said the report painted an overly idealistic portrait. They said it lacked the kind of practical advice on crucial issues--such as how to fund such schools--that they would need to tackle as they initiate their own professional-development schools.

“These are principles that smack of motherhood and apple pie,” said Sam J. Yarger, dean of the school of education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “There’s not a lot there to work with.”

Other deans expressed concern that the schools would not adequately prepare students for the “real world” they would face upon graduation.

As one participant put it: “What happens when teachers go from this wonderful, stimulating environment to overcrowded classrooms in some inner-city school?”

In response to that concern, Ms. Lanier said teacher-education programs can do a better job of preparing prospective teachers to work in a less ideal environment. She said students could also be exposed to multiple settings, which might include both a professional-development school and a district’s worst classrooms.

Ms. Lanier said the final version of the report would likely address funding questions in more detail and offer concrete examples of projects that approach some of the goals outlined by the Holmes Group.

Open to debate, however, is whether many of the member institutions will actually embark on such projects.

The group has been criticized in the past for showing uneven progress in implementing the reforms called for in its original report. A survey of Holmes institutions released last year indicated that only about half of the schools had taken steps to implement one of that report’s central recommendations: the development of five-year teacher-education programs that would provide more time for academic and professional studies. (See Education Week, Feb. 8, 1989.)

Since that survey, however, Ms. Lanier said the group has made “steady progress” toward implementing those kinds of reforms.

The issue of whether to actively pursue the establishment of professional-development schools linked to Holmes institutions will be on the agenda in March when the group’s executive board meets.

The board will also decide then whether to create a mechanism to hold member institutions accountable for their progress toward reform--a strategy that one Holmes member described as “fish-or-cut-bait thinking.”

Ms. Lanier predicted that professional-development schools would become a hallmark of the group.

“The 80’s was the decade of reports,” she said. “What we’re saying now is let’s get out there and do it.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 07, 1990 edition of Education Week as Holmes Group Outlines ‘Clinical’ Schools Network