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Teacher-Educators At Odds Over National Accreditation

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Thomas Toch

Houston--The proportions of an on-going debate within the teacher-education community over the effectiveness of its current system of national accreditation became apparent here last week at the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (aacte).

The deans of two Wisconsin universities--the Milwaukee and Eau Claire campuses of the University of Wisconsin--told a group of about 50 of their collegues in a crowded seminar room that they had decided to withdraw from the profession's voluntary national accrediting organization, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (ncate). They decided to do so, they said, partly because they had found that virtually no state or local school board required their graduates to come from ncate-approved college programs in order to be employed.

ncate is a non-profit body that accredits approximately 540 colleges and universities that graduate nearly 80 percent of the nation's new teachers each year.

At another session, members of the accrediting body's governing council heard harsh criticism of proposed new standards for the organization that would require schools seeking ncate approval to meet "quantifiable" standards, such as an undergraduate student-faculty ratio of 12 to one.

"It's an absolute red flag," H. Kenneth Barker, dean of the Akron (Ohio) University college of education, told the group in reference to the student-faculty ratio standard. "If it is adopted, it will mean the death of ncate," he said to considerable applause.

The new "quantifiable" standards, designed to toughen the 24 current ncate standards that are largely general statements about the quality of various aspects of teacher-training programs, may be voted on by the ncate governing body at its meeting next month.

The board of directors of the organization of teachers colleges voted here to have its eight members on the accrediting group's council move to withdraw the proposed standards from consideration.

But William E. Gardner, ncate president and dean of the University of Minnesota college of education, said that the aacte members are not bound to their leadership. Several of them, he added, might join forces with eight National Education Association representatives on the 26-member ncate governing council, giving the controversial standards "a good chance of passing."

Quantitative Information

In addition, an ad hoc aacte task force on accreditation submitted a plan here that would take the concept of quantitative standards even further. It would require education schools to supply ncate each year with quantitative information in areas ranging from student-faculty ratio to the grade-point average required for admission.

According to Dale P. Scannell, dean of the University of Kansas School of Education, this information would be published in a "Peterson's Guide to Teacher Education," in which institutions would be ranked in each of the 34 categories.

Several deans, citing the high cost of accreditation visits--$20,000, in some cases--and inadequate training of evaluation "teams," said their schools were also considering withdrawing from the national accrediting body.

However, many participants expressed strong suppport for the voluntary national accreditation offered by ncate, noting that the alternatives to voluntary national accreditation--evaluation by state departments of education and regional accreditation groups--are not sufficient to ensure the quality of teacher-training programs.

Marilyn C. Kameen, a professor of education at the University of South Carolina, told a group that met to discuss accreditation: "There is a severe conflict of interest [in the evaluation of teacher-training programs by state education agencies]."

She asked, "Is it reasonable to expect, in a time of budget cuts, for state agencies to deny accreditation to education programs within the state?"

Ms. Kameen noted that in South Carolina, alumni and current students of education schools in the state sit on the state's accreditation review panels that evaluate the schools.

Others at the aacte meeting said the six regional accrediting associations in the country do not offer teacher-education programs the benefit of having their own professional accrediting association. Regional accrediting associations evaluate resources throughout a college or university and only accredit an institution as a whole.

aacte is a Washington-based association representing 800 teacher-training schools that produce 90 percent of the newly licensed teachers each year.

In a separate development last week, U.S. Representative Paul Simon, chairman of the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Post-Secondary Education, held a hearing in support of a joint House-Senate resolution that urges states to establish a commission on teacher excellence to study ways of improving the quality of teacher training.

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