No One Wants To 'Pull the Plug' On Teacher-Training Programs
Lyn Gubser has resigned as the executive director of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (ncate), a position he has held since 1978. On July 1, he will become the executive director of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, a 5,500-member organization of educators and industry representatives that promotes the use of technology in education.
ncate is a 30-year-old, nonprofit body that accredits the teacher-training programs in about 540 colleges and universities that graduate nearly 80 percent of the nation's new teachers each year. It is governed by the National Education Association, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and a group of representatives from a variety of other education associations. Education schools submit their programs for ncate review voluntarily.
Critics of its procedures have accused ncate of setting weak standards, conducting superficial program reviews, and failing to deny accreditation to substandard programs. More recently, some universities have withdrawn from the accrediting body, arguing, among other things, that their graduates did not need an ncate endorsement in order to get a teaching job.
Mr. Gubser, who was dean of the college of education at Western Illinois University before coming to ncate, spoke recently with Thomas Toch about his five years at ncate, his reasons for leaving the organization, and his views on teacher education.
QWhy are you leaving ncate?
AI have an opportunity to become involved in the mushrooming area of instructional technology. The application of high technology to instruction presents the brightest light, really the first bright light in American education in over a decade. But we have to be careful that it is used to illuminate knowledge and to improve teaching. In my new position, I'll have an opportunity to promote better cooperation between education and technology, between curriculum specialists and software producers, and between teacher and technologist.
I'm also very disappointed in the support that I've received at ncate from some of the people who have for many years occupied the spotlight of our profession. .. They talk a good game, but don't play it. They are really not serious about quality education, only about maintaining a "good-ole-boy" [accrediting] organization with rules that aren't going to effectively discriminate between good and bad [teacher-education] programs. Frankly, they are afraid that people will determine that the fire is out in their colleges.
QIs that lack of support you have described the primary reason for your decision to leave ncate?
AI probably would have taken this new job even if we had continued to make advances in such things as the quality of the training of [ncate's] evaluation teams and in the quality of the standards. But in the past year there has been a hell of a backlash against our efforts to improve the standards--I'm really troubled by it--and that has made it a lot easier to leave.
QWould you discuss the backlash?
ANow there is a backlash developing among some land-grant institutions against ncate for embarrassing them with its [accreditation] denials. Also, there are some deans of large land-grant and large private institutions who have told me that no system that involves practitioners [classroom teachers] will be acceptable to their faculty. That's a suicidal attitude about the organized profession. The [recent] withdrawal from ncate of the University of Wisconsin at Madison was first and foremost a rebellion against having practitioners on campus. I think that's a Neanderthal attitude.
QWhat has been the effect of the backlash?
AIn the mid-1970's, fewer than 5 percent of the institutions that were reviewed by ncate were denied accreditation in one or more programs. Beginning in 1978, that figure jumped to almost 25 percent of those institutions we reviewed annually being denied accreditation in one or more programs. In fact, in 1979 the figure approached 30 percent. And we have better evaluation teams than ever before. But in the last year, the standards have not been enforced with adequate rigor; the denial rate is back to 5 percent.
QWhat other reservations do you leave with?
AI am disappointed that I have not been able to convince the [ncate] council to have higher standards for admission into teacher-education programs. It is absolutely imperative that we do a better job of screening people going into education.
QIn June, an ncate committee will report on a proposal to reorganize ncate submitted by the leadership of the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education, which represents the teacher-training programs that you regulate. What are your reactions to it?
AMuch of it was predicated on a proposal that I and David Poisson [a former ncate official] authored in 1981. I like its recommendation that ncate accredit a school or college or department of education instead of individual programs, as it does now. And I support its recommendation that something like a "Peterson's Guide to Teacher Education" be published each year that would rank various programs in a range of categories. On the other hand, the aacte proposal eliminates one of the pillars of ncate accreditation--the evaluation of graduates. The failure of education schools to evaluate the performance of their graduates is the most common reason they are denied accreditation. Yet that standard is not in the aacte proposal--it's gone.
QDo you have other concerns about the proposal?
AFinancially, we have tried to create a less-regressive form of institutional- dues payment, whereby small, private institutions that offer only a couple of small programs would pay less dues to ncate than those with large programs and graduate offerings. The aacte proposal is totally regressive in that it charges a flat fee--and a sizable one--for all institutions; it is a fee some schools would clearly find difficult to accommodate.
QAre you suggesting that some of the larger teacher-education programs in the country are trying to take control of or reshape the ncate accreditation process in a way that makes it more favorable for them?
AI'm convinced there are too many colleges and universities of all sizes preparing teachers and school-support personnel. But to decrease that number by variables that equate to size rather than quality strikes me as pure folly, though the aacte committee that drafted this proposal may not have intentionally sought this result.
QIs there a need for voluntary, national accreditation of teacher-training programs today?
Ancate is needed more now than it's ever been, particularly because of the large number of institutions with extremely questionable resources that are offering educational programs. State program-approval systems have totally failed to provide any kind of discrimination among education schools, largely because they have been held political hostage by state legislatures. As one executive secretary of a state teacher-licensing commission told me, 'There is not an institution in this state that wouldn't make our lives absolutely miserable if we really tried to take decisive action against them.' They try to encourage, to cajole, but seldom, if ever, do they actually pull the plug on programs that perform poorly.
QWhat does ncate accreditation of an education program tell an observer about the student who comes out of that school that would also not be ensured by a state stamp of approval?
AI wouldn't sit here and tell anyone that a person who has graduated from an ncate-accredited school is ipso facto the kind of teacher I'd want in front of my own kids' classroom. But in gross terms, graduates of ncate institutions have come from schools that have been more highly screened.
QHow important is it for a would-be teacher to have graduated from an ncate-accredited school?
AUnfortunately, I don't think ncate accreditation is very important for a person looking to be certified. I know of practically no state where a person can't get certified if they've got even what looks like an accumulation of four years of course work. So when people say, 'Hey, what's wrong with ncate that ncate accreditation isn't required [for certification] in our state?' I say ncate can't require that; that is something the profession must convince the public is necessary.
QWhat is the incentive for colleges of education to submit their programs to ncate's scrutiny?
AWe are a fairly cheap source of external review and consulting services. And a lot of education programs use ncate to acquire resources from their central administrations. Deans will say, 'If we don't have a media center, we will lose our accreditation.' Accreditation is a very meaningful concept to central administrators. No school president wants to read on the front page of the newspaper that his programs have been denied accreditation.
QYou endorse the idea of practicing teachers playing an active role in the education-school accrediting process. But the National Education Association controls one-third of the votes in ncate, while the 550,000 members of the American Federation of Teachers are totally unrepresented.
AThe fact of the matter is, where has the aft been since 1952 [when ncate was founded]? Where were they when they were asked to talk about this? I think they have been totally oriented to bread-and-butter issues and haven't had time to get into professional preparation. They have chosen to put their dollars behind other things. I haven't heard the aft say they want to get in yet. To castigate the nea for not letting them in seems to me to be wrong. I'm curious to know what Al Shanker's position is.
QIf you went to the nea leadership now and said, 'We want you to help get the aft involved in the accreditation process, would you consider reducing your role in ncate in order to bring a prorated number of aft members into the so-called teacher third of the organization?' what do you think their reaction would be?
AI think the nea sees their interest in the council as sufficiently pervasive that they would not be willing to share the long-term commitment that they have made. They have put millions [of dollars] into [ncate] over the years. They have contributed not only an average of $65,000 per year in institutional dues, but they have also spent, some years, over $50,000 training their members to be on ncate visiting teams.
QThe nea has endorsed, and is promoting in 10 states, teacher-controlled teacher licensing boards. What is your opinion of this concept?
ADoctors and attorneys have the primary say in who goes into the medical and law fields; we allow that right to almost every other profession. Until teachve that right, they are going to be in a second-class profession.
QWhat kind of a mark do you give the education schools, having been in them and having evaluated them?
AFar higher than the public would be prepared to believe. I have a positive feeling about the work of most colleges and schools of education. I guess my credibility is high on this point because I don't have anything to gain by saying that. I can pick up any one of the action letters I've been writing lately and read you stacks of good things. Our teams don't put anything down as a strength unless it is so good that it needs to be called to the attention of the general profession. Most institutions will have at least one or two or three things that are that good, that they are recognized. I'll show you some random samples. University of Rhode Island: materials in the media center found to be excellent; the University of Portland, a Catholic school in Oregon, here again, multi-cultural education techniques and coursework in classroom management were cited. ... Overworked, underpaid, low on staff, yet they are still doing these terrific things. That is my sense of schools and colleges of education.
QIn what ways is ncate stronger now than when you arrived there five years ago?
AWithin the last five years, we've tripled the number of associate and constituent members of the council. ncate had terrible fiscal problems in 1978. We've more than doubled the budget since then. For the first time in a long time, ncate is more than solvent. We made some major improvements in the standards, though not as much as I should like. There are now standards on multi-cultural education, education of the handicapped, and greater emphasis on clinical work is demanded at all levels. ncate is being taken much more seriously by colleges than in the past.