Holmes Group Finds Mixed Results In Universities' First Reform Efforts

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Atlanta--Initial attempts to improve how teachers are prepared at leading research universities have produced mixed results, according to a new study.

The forthcoming report by the Holmes Group, a consortium of 96 higher-education institutions, cites "unmistakable" signs of progress in some areas but says they coexist with minimal change and continued obstacles in others.

A draft of the unusually frank document, "Work in Progress: The Holmes Group One Year On," was obtained during the organization's third annual meeting here Jan. 27-29.

It provides the first indication of how se6riously research universities have taken their pledge to reform teacher training since joining the Holmes Group in 1986.

The document summarizes the progress reports submitted by 71 institutions after their first year in the consortium.

Although 25 universities did not submit formal reports, some of them are also engaged in innovative work on their campuses, according to Holmes officials.

The Holmes Group's 1986 manifesto, Tomorrow's Teachers, sent shockwaves through the education community, particularly its recommendation that the undergraduate education major be replaced with a prolonged sequence of study--including a liberal-arts major and more extensive professional preparation for future teachers.

Many critics publicly doubted whether Holmes Group institutions would pursue the creation of longer and more costly programs for their students.

But according to the new report, nearly half of the Holmes universities that submitted progress reports have or are trying to create five-year programs that would provide more time for professional studies.

These programs typically combine an undergraduate major in the liberal arts with education coursework and a supervised internship. They lead either to a bachelor's degree or a master's degree plus certification.

Other campuses are focusing on the creation of "fifth year" programs that concentrate all education studies in a final year, usually after students have completed their baccalaureate. In addition, many of the larger Holmes institutions are pursuing the creation of multiple programs.

While some of these institutions may move toward the use of five-year programs exclusively, the report notes, others will continue to offer a combination of programs in the future, or will mount small-scale experiments that may or may not lead to larger efforts.

Fewer than a dozen institutions reported "no progress" in providing more time for the professional preparation of teachers, the study found.

Holmes officials questioned the commitment of such institutions to the organization's goals, but said they plan to work with them in the future.

"It's premature to crack the whip," said Gary Sykes, primary author of the report and assistant to the Holmes Group's president. "We're not drumming anyone out of the corps at this point."

According to the report, the Holmes Group does not advocate any "particular" program structure. Rather, its goal is to make the education of teachers more intellectually rigorous.

Simply providing more liberal-arts courses, eliminating the undergraduate degree, or requiring students to take a fifth year of study will not necessarily satisfy this aim, the report cautions.

Instead, it argues, educators must rethink the content of what is taught and how it is taught within both schools of education and colleges of arts and sciences.

Rethinking the professional-education program, in particular, is the "central intellectual challenge facing Holmes Group institutions," the report states. "The credibility of the Holmes reforms rests here.''

According to the progress reports, many institutions are struggling to redefine their professional curriculum. These attempts at change include assigning students to small groups that move through the curriculum together, creating new courses within a compressed program of "core studies" about teaching and learning, and using early, extended field experiences that provide students with an opportunity to reflect on what they have learned.

The process of producing these new courses is "remarkable" on several counts, according to the report. First, they represent a "philosophical agreement" about the content of professional preparation that has often eluded education programs. Second, many institutions are trying to draw on the knowledge of expert, practicing teachers in more "authentic" ways by allowing them to help create and design courses.

The report predicts, however, that experimentation with the intellectual content of teacher education is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Although the notion of identifying a "knowledge base" for teaching and learning is "beguiling," the report notes, "the selection and organization of such knowledge into preparation programs is problematic."

Moreover, on the majority of campuses, teacher educators alone have participated in rethinking the professional-education program, with only limited participation by their liberal-arts colleagues.

The report cites this lack of collaboration between liberal-arts faculty members and their education-school peers as one of the major8obstacles confronting Holmes institutions. (See related story, this page.)

To improve the preparation of teachers, it notes, their liberal-arts training must emphasize broader, more interdisciplinary approaches, model good teaching, and promote a better understanding of how disciplines are structured and taught.

"[T]his has proven a most difficult goal at this stage of Holmes efforts," the document states. "Many reports are largely silent about any relations with the liberal arts. ... And those universities which have tackled this issue report tensions and difficulties."

According to the report, education schools are having trouble influencing general education from their relatively weak vantage point within the university.

"Education faculty have little influence over the majority of their students' coursework," the report states, "while arts-and-sciences faculty on most campuses resist overtures to reform curriculum and teaching in the liberal arts."

In addition, the report notes, there are few existing incentives for either education or liberal-arts faculty members to pursue "genuinely liberal teaching and learning."

Nonetheless, there has been progress on some campuses. Examples cited in the report include the formation of joint committees of liberal-arts and education faculty to plan new courses; the service of arts-and-sciences faculty members on admissions boards, mentor teams, and other committees within schools of education; and experiments in faculty "restructuring" to allow education professors to hold joint appointments in liberal-arts divisions.

The report cautions, however, that many of these initiatives are limited to small groups of individuals, while the promotion of "broader, more systematic collaboration is quite difficult."

Noted one institutional representative: "We do not and are never likely to have enthusiastic collaboration with the majority of faculty in the arts-and-sciences disciplines. Most simply do not value collaboration with school-of-education faculty and have no interest in the preparation of teachers."

On the positive side, the report found that most universities are working to strengthen the connection between clinical practice and students' professional studies.

Many of the extended programs, for example, either have or plan to offer a year-long or semester-long internship that would place students in one or more schools. They are also creating more formal positions on their campuses for teachers who serve as clinical faculty members, including the provision of salary, status, and perquisites.

But the report cautions that plans and projects to create "professional development schools," in particular, are still in their infancy. And some institutions, it says, may never undertake this challenge.

Creation of such schools, modeled after teaching hospitals for physicians, was a major recommendation of Tomorrow's Teachers. But according to the progress report, a number of obstacles are yet to be overcome.

Most universities, for instance, have few mechanisms for locating outstanding teachers within school districts and convincing them to participate in such programs. In addition, the creation of settings that require substantially different roles for both teachers and professors requires delicate and often prolonged negotiations between schools, universities, and teachers' unions.

"In a number of instances," the report states, "promising starts have been slowed by turnover in key administrators, budget cutbacks, new state mandates, or the emergence of conflict around sensitive issues."

In part because of such problems, the report could cite few universities that have pursued the notion of differentiated staffing for teachers--another central proposal of the Holmes Group.

"Experiments are under way in many states and districts," the report notes, "but universities have played little role in these developments and can exert modest influence in shaping school staffing patterns."

The report also points to two demographic trends that universities will have to confront in efforts to improve teaching. One is the continued shortage of minorities in both the enrollments and faculties of schools of education.

"The problem is systemic," Mr. Sykes said. "There is a sense on many campuses that you can't find minority students to go into education because there are so few" on campus in general.

The report describes substantive efforts in this area that have been undertaken by some 15 or 20 Holmes institutions and go beyond scholarship and loan-forgiveness programs. They include making a commitment to hire several minority faculty per year; assigning full-time staff members to work on minority recruitment and retention; and developing collaborative projects with urban school districts to encourage young minority students to enter teaching.

In the future, Mr. Sykes said, ways will have to be found to build on and model such efforts.

The other demographic problem confronting many Holmes institutions is a growing number of part-time students, many from minority and working-class backgrounds. If such students cluster in certain programs, the report warns, it could lead to systematic differences in teacher preparation along race and class lines.

"Universities cannot afford to run elite and second-class professional programs side by side," the document states. "No report addressed this issue, but the creation of multiple programs on many campuses suggests that vigilance will be necessary to avoid inequities in program quality."

Vol. 08, Issue 20

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