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Reforms in education: new paradigms for the 21st century.

The figure on page 4 will look familiar to you. Although it is a depiction of only one area of student achievement (Science) at one point in time (1988), it is representative of the information we constantly receive regarding the comparative status of education in the United States in relation to other nations of the world. If this were a report on the operations of a significant division of a major corporation, the board of directors would probably fire its management or try to liquidate the division and move into a more profitable area of endeavor.

Of course, it is a report on a significant element of any organization in the United States. It is a status report on the quality of the labor force from which future workers are recruited. It is a report on the status of the raw material on which corporate futures rest. It is not a pleasant report, and something must be done.

Part of what should be done is to actively demand of the community and the local university that the college of education produce at the highest levels possible. But what should be expected of a college of education as we approach the 21st century? What are the areas in which we must improve to become competitive in the world market?

In an effort to improve education, reform in this nation has moved through at least four waves. These reform waves have resulted in increased high school graduation requirements/educational program indicators such as testing, radical curriculum changes, and to a focus on teaching. The beginning reform efforts, which focused on efforts to regulate or legislate better education, resulted from a national report released in 1983 by the National Commission for Excellence in Education entitled A Nation at Risk. The report suggested that education reform was needed to insure that students graduating from elementary and secondary schools would be prepared to be productive workers in business, industry, science, and technology. Otherwise, America would be unable to compete with other increasingly educated industrial nations.

Since A Nation at Risk, schools, teachers, and the colleges which prepare teachers have been scrutinized, criticized, reorganized, and constantly "reformed." Many of the efforts to regulate or legislate have been unsuccessful, and we have come to realize that, if America is to be educationally ready to enter the 21st century, we must abandon our old ways of thinking about teaching and learning and embrace new, creative paradigms of schools and schooling.

Getting in Focus

The most recent reform effort, in which Memphis State University's teacher education program is deeply involved, is focusing on the student and teacher at the classroom and school levels. These efforts denounce earlier national approaches to reform that consider the teachers as part of the problem and accept the thesis that teachers can and must be part of the solution. Excellence in education means excellence in teaching from prekindergarten through graduate school. Closer relationships between teacher preparation programs and the local school systems are a critical element in this approach.

To support the philosophy of improved education through collaborative K-12 and university programs, Memphis State University is phasing in Professional Development Schools. Described by Mary Kennedy of the Institute for Research on Teaching at Michigan State University as "the only serious solution being proposed to solve the improvement-of-practice problem," Professional Development Schools are carefully selected public schools which represent the cultural and social makeup of the community. Faculties of these schools choose to become involved in the reform effort and commit to additional responsibilities such as serving as mentors to practice teachers and interns, participating in intense training to become clinical professors, developing and implementing school improvement plans, and teaming with their university counterparts to bring increased research and new practice into their classrooms.

The commitments of the university in the Professional Development School partnership include seeking more direct involvement of classroom teachers in the development, delivery, and evaluation of the teacher education program; supporting and assisting in the implementation of school improvement plans; and seeking and implementing improvement-of-practice research agendas with K-12 practitioners.

New Research Approach

A second area in which new paradigms are being developed in the College of Education at MSU involves educational research. In the past, most educational research has been driven by individual faculty interest and the interest of funding agencies. Its purpose has been to describe learners and learning settings or to show that some instructional technique, curriculum, or delivery system worked. We have generated massive amounts of knowledge about what could be and what should be but, in the main, have not changed the fundamental practices of schools. The faculty have conducted their research and the schools have taught students; each has not really affected the other's daily practices.

To help the College of Education provide more effective leadership in daily practices of education, the College is changing its approach to research. Led by the Center for Research in Educational Policy, College research is moving toward examining systemic problems rather than individual projects or isolated components, and utilizing multidisciplinary research teams rather than individual researchers. Research is becoming site-based and applied, requiring College researchers to form partnerships with school systems, individual schools, businesses, and other community agencies concerned with teaching and learning. With the goal of developing research agendas which are comprehensive and methodologically rigorous as well as practical and workable, team members work as co-equals to identify the problems worthy of research within the context of the daily life of educational institutions.

Research planning is shifting from the traditional quantitative paradigm to a systems and holistic approach which employs qualitative and ethnographic techniques as well as quantitative methods. The richness of the data from this kind of research paradigm provides answers to the questions of what happened in educational settings, how it happened, and how well it happened. Such answers can provide the larger picture of education requisite for meaningful, systemic decision making. We are better understanding how the parts fit together to make the whole and how changes in one part affect the operation of the whole.

Accepting the realities of teaching and learning in an urban environment as the legitimate focus of educational research, moving from the individual researcher to multidisciplinary research teams, and using a broader, more holistic research paradigm creates the opportunity for educational research to have a meaningful impact on some of the major challenges of education and society: at-risk learners, school performance, school violence, site-based decision making and management, dropouts, staff development, lifelong learning and continuing education, substance abuse, family violence, etc. The size or complexity of the problem will not be the determining factor for educational research in the 21st century. Research, and the active role of an urban college of education in research, is essential to solving the educational problems affecting all of us.

Regardless of its other roles, the primary mission of any college of education is the delivery of quality instruction. While the focus of that instruction varies, every community has a right to demand that the quality of instruction provided by its college of education is at the highest possible level. In fact, it must actively seek such instruction or face potential obsolescence in its labor force.

The Role of Technology

Technology has a direct role in supporting this instructional effort. Today, all instruction is dependent upon some form of technological support, and both content and delivery of instruction have technological components. Colleges prepare students for future employment and must anticipate the skills that will be required of a community's workforce five or ten years in the future. These skills, and the readiness to adapt to new technologies, must be provided today.

College professors must model the integration of technology into effective delivery of instruction. This requires equipment and knowledge which is futuristic, not just up-to-date. Providing access to today's best word processing equipment is inadequate; a college of education must provide access to tomorrow's best equipment. Distance education to remote sites may be a commonplace future in the competitive business world. Teachers must understand this technology today if their students are to use it tomorrow.

This creates the requirement for a college of education to be continually exploring new, emerging technologies. The college must be actively involved in evaluating these technologies through implementation and research and in improving them when necessary.

Paradigm Support

Most students studying at Memphis State University are local citizens preparing to be teachers. They enter the local workplace as teachers, for the most part, and impact the quality of the labor force as they pass on their skills to their students. If poorly trained, these students reduce the labor quality of the community. More profoundly, many of these students will enter the same college as their teachers.

If standards of instruction, research, and technological literacy are not kept high, a degenerative spiral can develop which creates and perpetuates an environment incapable of competitive performance in even a national labor force, not to mention the world-class labor pools which are demanded in support of today's business.

The community has a vested interest in the quality of its college of education. It is good business to support and participate in the development of new paradigms for improvement of practice, educational research, and technological advancement.

Dr. Beach is an assistant dean in the College of Education at Memphis State University. Dr. Chance is Director of Teacher Education, and Dr. Etheridge is Director of Graduate Studies.
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Author:Beach, Robert H.; Chance, Lucindia; Etheridge, George W.
Publication:Business Perspectives
Date:Sep 22, 1992
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