Professional-Development Schools Flourish Despite Some Doubts

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When George L. Mehaffy, the director of teacher education at San Diego State University, was preparing for this year's meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, he put a brief announcement in the association's newsletter asking people who were involved with professional-development schools to submit one-page descriptions of their work.

What he received, Mr. Mehaffy says, were explanations that ran the gamut from "very innovative stuff'' to descriptions of what seemed to be "standard programs.''

"Professional-development schools are springing up like mushrooms,'' he told his colleagues this winter, "yet as I read about them I became perplexed: How could one term cover so much practice?''

In the past five years or so--and especially since 1990, when the Holmes Group released an influential report calling for the creation of what it called professional-development schools--the movement to forge closer links between schools and teacher-education programs has flourished.

Although various reform networks have their own recipes for the ingredients of such schools, they generally include a focus on inducting new teachers, improving the professional knowledge of veteran classroom teachers, and conducting research into promising pedagogy.

At their best, proponents argue, professional-development schools could prove to be powerful levers for breaking down the walls between teacher-education programs and the realities of today's classrooms.

At their worst, advocates fear, the schools could become just another project in a field notorious for innovating at the margins.

"The traditional separation between teacher and learner, expert and novice, university and school, theory and practice, knowledge and application, all become blurred'' in a good professional-development school, says Ann Lieberman, the co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University.

But right now, what is also blurred is exactly what the term means and what is in fact happening at such schools.

"It's very hard to find a college of education right now that doesn't say they're working with'' a professional-development school, says Richard W. Clark, a senior associate with the Center for Educational Renewal at the University of Washington.
"The truth of the matter is,'' he adds, "in many cases, it is simply a place where they were working with student teachers before, and there isn't any change.''

Debate Over Standards

In part because of this confusion, a number of reform-oriented groups are debating whether they should set some sort of standards that would identify bona fide professional-development, partnership, or clinical schools. All of the terms have been used to describe the new hybrid institutions.

"The tension is between desperately wanting some clear standards--a template, some tests against which to measure something--and yet not confining or restricting what is an explosive and very creative set of programs that are emerging and developing,'' Mr. Mehaffy says.

With a grant from the Danforth Foundation, NCREST has brought together representatives of the Holmes Group, the Center for Educational Renewal, both national teachers' unions, and A.A.C.T.E. to discuss professional-development schools.

The group came up with what Ms. Lieberman calls a "living document'' that describes the goals and purposes of these schools.

Broadly characterized, the groups agreed, they should: provide exemplary services to children and families, be committed to teachers' learning and the socialization of novice teachers, work in collaboration with a college or university and their surrounding community, and improve schools through the use of professional knowledge.

Members of the "network of networks'' also have talked about whether their vision statement should evolve into more specific criteria for identifying professional-development schools, says Peter T. Wilson, the program director for the Danforth Foundation.

"The meaning of the whole thing is diluted,'' he says of the term, "because it means different things to everybody.''

The 15 school-university partnerships affiliated with the Center for Educational Renewal, Mr. Clark says, are trying to reach agreement on common principles for which they can hold themselves accountable.

"We're trying to do this without suggesting that it is at all appropriate for professional-development schools everyplace to be identical,'' he says.

For the Holmes Group, a consortium of 96 research universities that have committed themselves to improving their teacher-preparation programs, finding the right balance between setting standards and encouraging experimentation is important.

The group is working on a new book, Tomorrow's Schools of Education, that will spell out the missions, functions, and structures of schools and colleges of education in research universities.

"If Holmes doesn't stand for something strong and show performance, then it can't convince the public and policymakers that it has a set of best ways to prepare educators that should be supported,'' says a discussion paper distributed at the group's annual meeting this year. "But if Holmes attempts to regulate adherence to P.D.S. criteria, it alienates its membership.''

Frank B. Murray, the dean of the college of education at the University of Delaware and the chairman of the Holmes Group's board of directors, says the forthcoming book likely will recommend that member institutions pledge to create at least one professional-development school.

Most Holmes institutions have already identified such a school, he says, and are now developing their programs. The hard part, he notes, will be to provide enough professional-development schools to educate all prospective teachers.

"If we think it is as good as I've outlined, shouldn't it be the case that all students participate in one?'' he says.

Soft Money and Hard Labor

While it is impossible to know how many professional-development schools exist, there has been a "dramatic increase'' in research and literature on them, says Ismat Abdal-Haqq, the coordinator of the clinical-schools clearinghouse of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education.

The clearinghouse published a directory last year describing 80 professional-development schools, and "they are cropping up all the time,'' she notes.

While the movement seems to be attracting more adherents, some educators note that they have yet to see indications that professional-development schools are becoming permanent fixtures.

Lee Teitel, an assistant professor in the graduate college of education at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, says professional-development schools are sustained by "soft money'' and by the labor of committed faculty members and teachers who donate their time.

"At this point, professional-development schools exist on the margins of teacher-education programs,'' says Mr. Teitel, who studied the effect the schools have on colleges and universities.

Some of the barriers to the spread of the approach, he says, include the off-campus nature of the work, the lack of rewards for faculty members involved with the schools, and the attitudes and policies of higher-education institutions.

"There really needs to be a change in mind set,'' he argues.

Despite the problems, teachers, administrators, and faculty members all over the country are forging new partnerships.

The Orange County, N.C., schools and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for example, have come together to create a professional-development school at the New Hope Model Elementary School.

The partnership, which began in the fall of 1991, involves training the university's student teachers, providing staff development for the school's staff, and researching and evaluating the school's effectiveness, says Tamsen Banks Webb, a clinical assistant professor at the university.

Student-teachers from the university take all their courses in the building and are immersed in the life of the school, which is loaded with technology, uses multi-age classes, and encourages students to make choices about what to study. And Ms. Webb's salary is paid by both the district and the university.

"We really are in the infancy stage,'' she says, joking that she is called a "paradigm pioneer'' for her unusual joint role.

But for teachers at New Hope, with a lot on their plates, working in a professional-development school is taxing, says Lorraine Tuck, a 4th- and 5th-grade teacher.

"It's a real good approach,'' she says, "but I just don't think classroom teachers get a lot of benefit from it. I think it needs some refining.''

Vol. 12, Issue 33

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