Dissent Emerges Within Holmes Group

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The Holmes group, which began meeting in 1983, is an informal coalition of 39 deans from some of the nation's largest and most prestigious universities, whose goal is to increase the rigor and challenge of teacher training programs.

The critical memorandum comes as the consortium prepares to broaden its membership by inviting deans from 120 selected institutions to join efforts to secure the adoption of its comprehensive reform agenda.

''While there is much in the present set of Holmes-group recommendations that deserves praise," the dissenting deans state in their memorandum, ''we are dismayed by the rush to narrow the reform agenda, by the wholesale adoption of a single approach to pre-service teacher education while ignoring the variety of institutional missions and responsibilities represented by group members."

In addition, the eight deans say they are troubled by "the demand for orthodoxy that seems to be expected of the Holmes group."

"We find these attitudes and behaviors inconsistent with norms of the universities we represent," the memo states.

Main Point of Contention

The reforms currently advanced I by the Holmes group would require prospective "career" teachers at participating colleges to major in an I academic subject rather than education, to complete a year of professional study at the graduate level, and to complete a yearlong internship. Prospective teachers also would be required to take a professional examination prior to graduation.

At a November meeting, the 39-member consortium agreed that all institutions choosing to work toward the group's goals would be expected to phase out their undergraduate programs in education over the next five years.

Agreement on this point, however, was not unanimous, and the plank represents a major point of contention for the eight dissenting deans.

In their memo, which was mailed to Holmes group members this month, the deans stress their endorsement of the group's goals, but say they have "been distressed over the past several months by some measures taken on behalf of the Holmes group."

According to Howard Mehlinger, dean of the school of education at Indiana University and author of the critical memo, the eight deans met in Chicago on Dec. 17 to discuss their concerns. They felt, he said, that their questions and objections were not being adequately addressed by the entire group.

Mr. Mehlinger said his draft was approved by each of the eight deans before it was circulated within the entire Holmes group.

The eight deans who endorsed the memo include: Jack Blackburn of Auburn University; Frank Brown of the University of North Carolina; Carl J. Dolce of North Carolina State University; Patricia A. Graham of Harvard University; Willis D. Hawley of Vanderbilt University Mr. Mehlinger; Alan Tom of Washington University in St. Louis; and Richard L. Turner of the University of Colorado.

Ms. Graham did not attend the Chicago meeting but asked to be included among those endorsing the memo. Also at the meeting and signing the memo was a ninth dean, Ray Nystrand of the University of Louisville, who has not been a Holmes group participant.

Details of Memo

In the memo, the deans list five points upon which they "agree substantially":

  • The main reason for reforming teacher education is to improve the instruction in elementary and secondary education. "Reform measures taken to increase the status of teacher education on university campuses are relevant and significant," the deans write, "only if they contribute to improved classroom performance by elementary and secondary teachers."
  • There are many way to improve classroom teaching. "A developmental approach to teacher education implies that all conventional teacher preparation programs-whether they span four or five years-will require re-examination," the memo states.
  • No single approach to teacher education has been demonstrated to have advantage over all others. Those institutions wishing to focus their teacher-training efforts exclusively on graduate instruction should be encouraged to do so, while those believing they can prepare equally good beginning teachers through "improved" undergraduate instruction should be encouraged to do so as well. Both approaches should be subject to rigorous evaluation.

    "It is vital that no single solution be promoted without rigorous testing and comparison to results of other approaches," the deans state.

  • Successful long-term reform in teacher education requires building better links between higher education and the public schools. "'Teacher education must become increasingly a shared enterprise between professors and classroom teachers," according to the deans.
  • Approaches to teacher education should be sought that attract the best possible teachers to the profession and prepare them "in the most cost-effective and efficacious way."

'Sub-Groups' Suggested Mr. Hawley said the memo was drafted "to encourage the Holmes group to establish criteria that will facilitate our participation." The deans have not set themselves up as a separate group, he said, and in no way oppose the Holmes group's activities.

In the memo, however, the deans suggest that the consortium permit many groups to form within its structure to test alternative models for educating teachers, and they say that they are willing to be the first such "sub-group."

"If that is not possible," the memo states, "if Holmes-group membership criteria are exclusionary and if participation within the Holmes group means submission to a single solution, then we shall likely hold our discussions outside the Holmes group, while extending to others who share our views an invitation to participate in our enquiries and experiments. "

Views To Be Considered

Robert H. Koff, dean of the school of education at the State University of New York in Albany and a member of the Holmes-group steering committee, said last week that the committee, now in the process of drawing up a final report on the group's goals, would consider the I concerns addressed in the memo at its next meeting, scheduled for early this week.

He declined to speculate on what impact the concerns would have on the final report.

"I think it's fair to say that a lot of discussion has already taken place on the matters raised in the memorandum," Mr. Koff said. "When we began this process three years ago, we never thought it would be easy to get people with divergent views about complicated issues to reach a consensus."

Judith E. Lanier, dean of education at Michigan State University and chairman of the Holmes-group steering committee, concurred with Mr. Koff. "You can't bring about reform without having disagreements," she said. "I think there should be a lot of groups out there attempting to respond to the needs of the times."

The steering committee is expected to issue its report on the group's reform goals within the next several weeks. At that time, it will also invite a total of about 120 institutions-including the 39 already participating-to join its efforts to upgrade teacher-training standards.

Institutions accepting the invitation to participate will then work to implement the group's reform platform by 1990, Ms. Lanier said.

Vol. 05, Issue 19, Pages 1, 10, 16

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