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Holmes Group is hot on the trail of improved teaching. Deans of education join in effort to change their schools' programs

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WHO will bell the cat? That's becoming a critical question in education reform. In the fable about some mice terrorized by a predatory feline, one mouse suggests a warning bell be tied to the cat. Fine, says another - but who will do it?

In recent weeks, 97 top education school deans - known as the Holmes Group - formally agreed to take on the ``cat.'' They will try to reform their teacher training programs - an area that lacks clear principles, ideals, and practices, they say, and drives away many of the bright, prospective teachers now needed.

A critical mass of top schools working to make teacher training more intellectually sound may spark similar reforms nationwide, some experts say - and significantly upgrade the quality of American schooling.

But, say Holmes Group leaders, the education establishment will be a difficult cat to bell: It's characterized by ferocious special interests, patronage, and entrenched views. Requiring more hours of math and science, and upping teachers' salaries - typical of reforms in the early 1980s - is one thing. Deep, structural change is another.

Many Holmes Group members want to abolish the undergraduate education major. They want to establish serious ties with the liberal arts departments on campus, and create special teacher-training schools in local districts. They also plan to challenge what they say are ineffectual state course requirements.

The plans are all in the embryonic stage. They are all difficult. Some experts feel the nitty-gritty of long-term change may be more than the organiztion can manage.

Still, the group - named after Henry Holmes, a Harvard University education reformer of the 1920s - has sparked new enthusiasm for teacher training, long a ``tired'' field, as one dean put it.

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