The Learning Coalition: Professional Development Schools in Partnership

Article excerpt

During the last decade, calls for structural and radical reform have inundated American schools (Lewis, 1989). Teacher educators, legislatures, and the general public question the value, productivity, and relevancy of teacher preparation programs (Goodlad, 1990; Stallings & Kowalski, 1990).

Strengthening relationships between public schools and higher education through school-university partnerships is one strategy to improve education. Numerous collaborative groups are attempting such efforts (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 1996; Berg & Murphy, 1992; Glickman, 1993; Goodlad, 1990; Sizer, 1992). One of the most visible is a group of research institutions, initially called the Holmes Group (1990) and more recently called the Holmes Partnership. A central strategy of the Holmes Group/Partnership is the establishment of Professional Development Schools (PDSs).

Diverse in structure, governance, and operation, (Fullan, Galluzzo, Morris, & Watson, 1996; Hardin & Kunkel, 1994), PDSs conceptualized by the Holmes Group are a new kind of public school that would serve itself and professional education the way teaching hospitals serve medical education (Murray, 1996, p. 29). The Holmes Group has established the following guiding principles for these partnerships: teaching and learning for understanding; creating a learning community; teaching and learning for understanding for everybody's children; continuing learning by teachers, teacher educators, and administrators; thoughtful, long-term inquiry into teaching and learning by school and university faculty working as partners; and inventing a new institution (Holmes Group, 1990, p. vii).

Numerous institutions of higher education, including the College of Education at Auburn University, Alabama, seek to reach these ideals through school-university partnerships.

Forming the Learning Coalition

Auburn University initiated its Professional Development School (PDS) and extended collaboration by uniting with other institutions to establish a group of PDS partnerships. In 1993, the dean of the College of Education acquired funds from the Alabama Power Foundation to unite with four other institutions of higher education and their partner schools to form a coalition of PDSs called the Learning Coalition. The partners selected the word coalition because it signifies that partners are equal and able to decide how to organize and operate within a mutually agreed-upon framework (Tushnet, 1993). The aim of the Coalition was to create a community of learners sharing a common purpose, operating in a diverse manner, learning from one another, and being a change catalyst in the state.

Initiating the Process of Collaboration

The Auburn University dean invited deans of four other institutions to become part of the Learning Coalition by creating PDS relationships at each of their sites. They committed to sharing information, knowledge, and ideas over a 3-year period. The deans joined with superintendents, school systems, principals, and schools to begin the process of collaboration. PDS partnerships exist at five sites: Alabama State University/Carver Junior High School, Montgomery County Schools; Auburn University/Sanford Middle School, Lee County Schools; Jacksonville State University/Southside Elementary School, Piedmont City Schools; Troy State University at Dothan/Ozark and Dothan City Schools; University of South Alabama/E. R. Dickson Elementary School, Mobile County Schools. In addition to the Holmes principles, the partnerships are founded upon six guidelines:

* Each partnership will include one or more schools and a university.

* Each partner will be considered equal.

* Open communication and support will be cornerstones of the relationship.

* The partnership will be a long-term commitment.

* Partners will meet, share, and support one another and the other four partners. …