University-school partnerships encourage educational change

`WHEN you grow a tomato plant, you don't pull it out of the ground to see how it's doing.'' This analogy, expressing the need for heightened sensitivity in teaching and testing children, is classic John Goodlad, says his colleague Paul Heckman of the University of Southern Maine in Portland. Dr. Goodlad is the author of ``A Place Called School'' (McGraw-Hill, 1984). The campus is one of 14 sites implementing policies and methods that have emerged from Goodlad's Center for Educational Renewal at the University of Washington in Seattle. As Goodlad recently explained, his mission is ``to redesign [American] universities and schools, hopefully forever, with no backsliding.''

According to center literature, this means ``simultaneously improving schools and the education of educators.'' Unlike fields such as medicine and agriculture, Goodlad said, there hasn't been a fluent exchange between college schools of education and the grade and secondary schools. ``They've hardly spoken to each other.''

The University of Southern Maine program, coordinated by Dr. Heckman, demonstrates Goodlad's solution to the perceived great divide. University resources are linked with public schools in the area. School superintendents, principals, and teachers have met monthly since the Maine program's inception two years ago. The meetings, guided lighthandedly by university education faculty, are forums where educators voice mutual concerns and work toward answers.

The teachers, for example, setting their own agendas, have dealt with issues like tracking - grouping students according to ability. Also, in keeping with Goodlad's visions for education reform, they have been introduced to innovations in classroom practice.

If the Goodlad vision holds, once Portland's five-to-eight-year commitment to the program is fulfilled, all involved, from kindergartner to chancellor, should benefit.

Meanwhile, plans are underway to form a university-school partnership in New York City. The institutions in this case will be Fordham University, Bank Street College of Education, and a cluster of New York City schools. Thomas Mulkeen of Fordham's Lincoln Center campus, a coordinator of the program, explains that the venture has been ``an intellectual, academic agenda'' since meetings began in the city last October. The New York City Partnership, a well-grounded civic support organization, has offered to underwrite actual implementation, and participants met recently at Fordham with Goodlad to frame upcoming phases.

Dr. Mulkeen reiterates that the goal is nothing short of institutional metamorphosis - ``total redesign of how decisionmaking is done in the schools'' - attuned, he says to changing times.

According to Goodlad, schools have traditionally followed a ``factory model,'' with students and teachers in roles akin to ``unskilled workers.'' With the Information Age comes a necessary transition to schools as ``a knowledge industry: teachers as knowledge workers, not production workers; principals as leaders, not managers,'' says the Fordham professor.

The Center for Educational Renewal's literature is cautionary: ``The cards are stacked against improvement that is anything other than glacial or cosmetic.'' Mulkeen grants that this may too well apply to New York's bureaucracy-thick system. ``One of our issues is how do you manage the existing system when trying to introduce this new one?'' he says. Nonetheless, he adds, the aim would seem to justify grappling with the challenge.

The Seattle center sets both ideal and minimum standards for partnerships. The center recommends organization (governing board, operating budget, self-evaluation) and delineates functions. At ``exemplary school sites,'' for instance, teacher internships are advised, as is ``development of curricula that truly reflect the best analysis and projections of what young people need.'' The relationship between university and school should be ``symbiotic,'' the center counsels, so that a partnership will not be rank-bound as it creates its new order.

The center distinguishes university-school partnerships from the education networks that have proliferated since the 1983 publication of ``A Nation at Risk.'' (The US Department of Education report is often cited as the impetus for current education reforms.) Unlike most networks, maintains the center, its partnerships go beyond ``information exchanges, camaraderie, relatively undisciplined and sometimes noncumulative discussions of relatively unquestioned beliefs. Partnerships, to produce change, require a much more disciplined form of inquiry that questions current practice, challenges basic values, and promotes confrontations.''

The Goodlad team acknowledges that ``partnerships with characteristics like these are not for everybody. ... The point is obvious. If getting better schools means doing better what we now do, the job is relatively easy. But if it means living up to our rhetoric about what education should be, then the challenge is one of the greatest this nation has faced.''

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