Holmes Scholars: A Brief History

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As the AACTE Holmes Program has expanded its scope over the past year and brought many new members into the fold, several participants have asked about the program’s history. To supplement the brief overview available on our web site, I am pleased to present the additional backstory below, written by Holmes alumna Phyllis Metcalf-Turner, dean and professor in the Whitlowe R. Green College of Education at Prairie View A&M University (TX).

During the late 1980s, 96 American research universities joined together to form the Holmes Group. Named after Henry Wyman Holmes, the inaugural dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s establishment in the early 1920s, this national consortium was formed in direct response to two major events: the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform and the demographic study conducted by Harold L. Hodgkinson that predicted the “browning” of America was inevitable. The former report described the nature of PK-12 public education as homogenized and diluted and decried a teaching force that was perceived as ill-prepared, particularly in the liberal arts. The same report also criticized those responsible for teacher preparation, describing them as too distant and disconnected from the real world of schools. These reports served as an impetus for a period of introspection for many teacher educators, many of whom felt that the findings in A Nation at Risk to a large degree were accurate. Yet there was very little evidence that colleges of education were prepared to respond in a meaningful way to improving educator preparation or addressing the impending increasing diversity of PK-12 public education.

It was during this period that the Holmes Group committed to “help improve the quality of public schools through research and development and the preparation of professional educators.” Within that context, the education deans of member institutions acknowledged that central to any attempt to address the needs of PK-12 public schools must be the increased participation of educators from racially and culturally diverse backgrounds. They also acknowledged, however, that there was even greater underrepresentation in the faculties of colleges and universities. The Holmes Group expressed a sense of urgency in preparing “many more people of color to be education professionals in all specialties and at all levels of schooling.” Thus the Holmes Scholars Network was formed, and the deans committed to identifying, recruiting, and providing financial and mentoring support to what they characterized as “a select group” of graduate students enrolled at Holmes Group schools and colleges of education, in order to prepare them for careers in the education professoriate.

Sponsored by a grant from the Ford Foundation to the Holmes Group, 1991-92 was the inaugural year of the first group of Holmes Scholars. Fifty-five “outstanding” graduate students from 40 universities came together to form the Holmes Scholars Network. Forty-eight of the scholars were doctoral students, and seven were master’s-level students. At that time, the criteria for scholars’ selection included

  • Possessing outstanding credentials for graduate study
  • Commitment to The Holmes Group reform agenda
  • Preparing to be faculty in schools of education or professional development schools through a master’s or doctoral degree program
  • Member of one of the federally defined, underrepresented ethnic minority groups or other underrepresented group in the education professoriate

Equally important, each scholar received a scholarship, fellowship, or assistantship that included full tuition, fees, and stipend to support travel expenses to the Holmes Scholars annual meeting as well as other Holmes meetings. In addition, the national Holmes Group organization provided scholars with a stipend to cover the development of publications, communications networks, and support professional organizational memberships.

Throughout the 1990s, the Holmes Group, cofounded and led by Judith Lanier of Michigan State University, proved to be a strong, collective voice advocating for education reform at all levels but most especially in teacher preparation. During its brief history, the Holmes Group commissioned at least three publications: Tomorrow’s Teachers, Tomorrow’s Schools: Principles for the Design of the Professional Development School, and Tomorrow’s Schools of Education. Today, these publications are known as the Holmes Group Trilogy. Later the consortium changed its name to the Holmes Partnership to signal a stronger alliance with PK-12 public schools and affiliate organizations.

In 2001, alumni of the Holmes Scholars Network worked with the Holmes Partnership to form the National Association of Holmes Scholars Alumni (NAHSA), which works to sustain and strengthen interactions among faculties of color and other program alumni. Since the inception of the Holmes Scholars Network, a significant number of alumni have moved into positions as faculty and/or administrators in higher education, PK-12 education administration, and other education–related professional organizations and agencies. Although the exact number of alumni is unknown, some estimate that during the 10-year initial period under the Holmes Group and Holmes Partnership, at least 100 scholars completed their graduate studies at Holmes member institutions.

Around the same time, AACTE took a leadership role in sponsoring the Holmes Scholars Program, first in partnership with member institutions and later on its own, working in cooperation with NAHSA. Hundreds more doctoral students have since benefited from the program.

Following the dissolution of the Holmes Partnership, we opened participation in the program to all AACTE member institutions, and the number of both institutional and individual participants continued to grow. In 2015, we launched a historic expansion to bring the benefits of the AACTE Holmes Program to a broader community of underrepresented students. Participants now include not only doctoral (Holmes Scholars) but also master’s (Holmes Master’s) and bachelor’s (Holmes Honors) students. A pilot is currently under way with high school (Holmes Cadets) students as well.

For more information, please contact me at odavis@aacte.org or visit http://aacte.org/programs-and-services/holmes-program.

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Omar Davis

Manager of Member Engagement, AACTE

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