Teacher Programs at Dartmouth, Wesleyan in Jeopardy

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The teacher preparation programs at two prestigious liberal-arts colleges in New England face extinction this fall, the apparent victims of an ongoing battle over the place of professional training in undergraduate education.

The developments at Dartmouth College and Wesleyan University in Connecticut raise new questions about the commitment of selective four-year schools to teacher education, which is sometimes considered out of step with the more traditional offerings at such institutions.

The Dartmouth and Wesleyan programs are considered among the best of the members of the Consortium for Excellence in Teacher Education, a group of 16 private colleges and Ivy League schools in the Northeast committed to producing teachers with a broad liberal-arts background.

The consortium was formed in 1983 as "a number of schools were going through the process of trying to legitimize their place in liberal-arts colleges,'' said Eva Foldes Travers, the head of the education program at Swarthmore College and one of the group's founders.

The members have defended the need for undergraduate teacher preparation programs in the face of reports by the Holmes Group and the Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession advocating shifting the bulk of teacher training to the graduate level. (See Education Week, March 18, 1987.)

But educators at liberal-arts institutions point out that teacher education programs are often the first to be cut in times of fiscal austerity.

"Education is seen as a kind of peripheral program, a luxury,'' said Ms. Travers, adding that the departments often are small and lack clout.

Ms. Travers also voiced alarm, however, that two programs that were "very well integrated into the curriculum'' have come under attack.

Wesleyan will offer its last full slate of education courses this year, as part of a plan to eliminate the program by 1996.

A faculty panel at Dartmouth has suggested that the education department be closed and a series of freestanding courses be offered instead. A full faculty vote on the recommendations is expected this fall.

'Political Protection'

Despite the consortium's attempts to bolster the state of undergraduate teacher education, many of the programs do not have a tenure track for faculty and, therefore, are more vulnerable when the institution shifts its priorities.

The programs "lack the political protection you get in professional schools'' at larger institutions, where faculty members can build support by voting on the tenure of colleagues, pointed out Thomas James, the chairman of the education department at Brown University and the head of the consortium.

Only half of the schools in the group have a tenured education program. At Wesleyan, for example, all 15 faculty members in the education program teach on a visiting basis.

Without a tenure line, the 40-year-old program became a "sacrificial lamb,'' as the administration "was under the gun to save money and cut the budget,'' said Hedwig C. Rose, the head of the program.

She added that the program was nearly eliminated two other times in the past two decades.

The university announced its decision last year, even though the program was given a "100 percent endorsement'' by the student association and passed all 49 standards under the state's five-year review, 13 with special commendation, Ms. Rose said.

"The only one we failed was institutional support,'' she added.

But Wesleyan's president, William M. Chace, argued that the program was too small to "reach the level of excellence'' expected of the school's liberal studies.

The university graduates about 20 to 25 certified teachers a year.

Like its counterparts in the consortium, Wesleyan is "in a period of retrenchment,'' added Mr. Chace, and "needs to concentrate on the things we do best.''

Ms. Rose, on the other hand, argued that the move will strip the 3,000-student school of its distinction as a diversified "mini-university.''

"I'm disenchanted with the rhetoric about doing things [to improve teacher education] but not doing them,'' she added. "This is not the time to be turning our backs.''

'People Who Say No'

Faith Dunne, a professor of education at Dartmouth, said schools like those in the consortium have a unique role in teacher education.

But she added that "periodically the question arises about whether liberal-arts colleges should be in the business of education, and there is always a predictable number of people who say no.''

At Dartmouth, that group was a committee set up to interview other faculty members, review old reports on the department, and make a recommendation to the administration.

Although the department, which certifies 15 to 25 teachers a year, was recently reaccredited by the state and got "glowing reviews,'' said Ms. Dunne, the panel suggested that the program be reduced to several ad hoc courses.

"Because the department is extremely popular at the college, there was probably some sense that students would be absolutely outraged if the education program was completely eradicated,'' she explained.

In addition, she said, the three tenure-track professors in the six-person department--which has enrolled about 60 people in its new education-minor program--would be "taken care of'' if a few courses were spared.

Despite the panel's recommendation, Ms. Dunne said she is "more optimistic than some of her colleagues'' that the student body and faculty will stand behind the department.

"Education departments are at the heart of our entire educational system and therefore should be strengthened, not cut--especially out of our best colleges and universities,'' added Ms. Rose.

Vol. 13, Issue 03

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