Rethinking Teacher Education

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The call for a stronger, more proficient teaching force naturally directed the critical gaze of education reformers to the college and university programs that prepare teachers.

State legislators and policymakers rushed to raise entrance standards for schools of education, toughen program requirements, and mandate competency tests for beginning teachers. However, critics charged that most of the corrective actions were ill-conceived and lacking coherence.

Although a number of groups released reports that addressed teacher preparation, it wasn't until April 1986 that a comprehensive blueprint for change emerged, and it came from an unexpected part of the teacher-training community. The tract, titled Tomorrow's Teachers, was the culmination of more than two years of work by the Holmes Group, a coalition of 40 deans of education from some of the nation's leading research universities—institutions that historically have given low priority to teacher preparation.

Because of its wide-ranging scope and controversial recommendations, Tomorrow's Teachers jarred the education community and attracted widespread national attention.

The report sharply criticized traditional teacher preparation and called for "radical" changes in teaching and in the education of teachers. Teacher-education programs are "intellectually weak," the deans wrote: "Basically a `nonprogram' at present, professional courses are not interrelated or coherent. The curriculum is seldom reviewed for its comprehensiveness, redundancy, or its responsiveness to research and analysis."

The Holmes Group proposed that prospective teachers major in an academic subject rather than education, receive the bulk of their professional training at the graduate level, and then complete a year-long supervised internship. In what has proved to be the most controversial of their recommendations, the deans advocated the abolition of the undergraduate education major.

They also suggested that the teaching profession be entirely recast into a three-tiered hierarchy that has "career professionals" at the highest level and "instructors," with only a liberal arts degree and limited responsibility, at the lowest.

The recommendations contained in Tomorrow's Teachers were directed to all of the approximately 1,250 colleges and universities that train teachers, as well as to the nation's public schools and policymakers. Thus, the group's decision, following the release of its report, to restrict its membership to a select core of roughly 100 research universities was denounced as elitist and exclusionary by a number of teacher-educators.

Although its recommendations remain to be implemented on a wide scale, the Holmes Group—and Tomorrow's Teachers—has focused and dramatically influenced the debate over teacher preparation.

Vol. 01, Issue 01, Page 52

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