Accrediting Group Adopts Stiffer Standards for Education Schools
St Louis--In an effort to upgrade the teaching profession, the organization that accredits teacher-education programs in the nation's colleges and universities has approved a set of tough new standards that institutions will be required to meet if they are to receive and retain national accreditation.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, meeting here this month, voted unanimously to adopt the "redesign" of its standards and procedures for accrediting teacher-education programs. Those new standards, which will become mandatory in the 1988-89 school year, will require students entering ncate-approved programs to have at least a 2.5 college grade-point average and to take a standardized basic-skills test.
In addition to the admissions standards, the redesign requires accredited teacher-training programs to assess the ability of prospective teachers prior to graduation, to follow their students through their first year of teaching, and to provide "quantitative information" on the quality of instruction students receive. The redesign also establishes new procedures through which schools obtain and keep accreditation.
'Tough, Rigorous, Necessary'
ncate representatives admit that the new standards may prove costly for those universities and colleges that will have to upgrade their programs, and could exclude some of the roughly 550 teacher-training programs currently accredited by ncate.
"These new standards are tough, rigorous, and acutely necessary," said Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, one of ncate's 10 constituent organizations. Among the other organizations that compose and support ncate are the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the American Association of School Administrators, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the National Association of State Boards of Education, and the National School Boards Association.
The American Federation of Teachers has in the past considered ncate membership but has chosen not to participate because it felt "the ncate standards did not contribute to quality in teacher-education programs," said Marilyn Rauth, executive director of the aft's department of educational issues.
The 25-member ncate council, which is made up of representatives from the constituent organizations, is the voting body of the accrediting organization, which was formed in 1954 by the nea, ccsso, and aacte, to regulate teacher preparation.
According to ncate figures, the council currently accredits 542 of the nation's 1,276 teacher-education programs. Its officials estimate that more than 80 percent of American teachers and school support personnel graduate from ncate-accredited programs.
'Significant Piece of Reform'
"This is a significant piece of the education-reform agenda," said Ted Sanders, superintendent of public3instruction in Illinois, who is the chief state school officers' representative on the council. "The truth of the matter is that the quality of elementary and secondary schools is intrinsically linked to teacher training and the institutions that train teachers. Quality teachers make quality schools."
"What we are saying to the colleges and universities," Ms. Futrell added, "is that in order to meet the demand that has been placed on us as a profession, you are going to have to improve your standards."
David G. Imig, executive director of aacte and a member of the ncate coordinating board, the council's board of directors, said the redesign calls "for changes in university priorities."
Claiming that universities often underfund schools of education, Mr. Imig argued that if the institutions are not "serious about, and committed to, teacher education," then they should not be involved in it at all.
The standards have been criticized by some education-school deans as unrealistically high, expensive, and shortsighted in light of the impending teacher shortage. Others have claimed that ncate has moved too fast with its redesign, and that the proposals should have been debated longer by the council.
But no such objections were raised at last week's meeting, and when no one responded to a call for discussion, the council unanimously approved the new standards. "Somehow that seemed so easy," the council's chairman, J.T. Sandefur, said after the vote.
Criticism and Wrangling
The redesign is the product of more than two years of effort to reform ncate in the wake of growing external criticism and internal wrangling.
In recent years, the organization's accreditation standards and procedures have been attacked by its own members and by other higher-education organizations as arbitrary, inconsistent, and redundant. During the past three years, several prominent colleges of education have withdrawn from ncate and others threatened to drop out if reforms were not enacted.
According to Richard C. Kunkel, executive director of the council, the new standards are "much more specific" than those currently in effect, and are "driven by the knowledge about what we know about how to train teachers."
Although the council has now approved the new standards and procedures, the standards section of the redesign still must be ratified at ncate's October meeting, following four months of public comment. Consideration will be given to written comments received by Sept. 12, Mr. Kunkel said.
Schedule for Implementation
At last week's meeting, the council also passed a motion establishing a schedule for implementing the new standards. The timetable, according to the wording of the motion, "gives institutions adequate time to prepare appropriately for site visits."
The current ncate standards will be applied to all institutions for site visits during the 1985-86 and 1986-87 school years, but during theel15l1986-87 school year the council will encourage institutions to use the redesigned standards on an experimental basis. During the 1987-88 school year, both sets of standards will be in place, with the institution deciding which to use.
From the 1988-89 school year onward, the redesigned standards will be mandatory.
'Take Some Heat'
Responding to charges that the new standards are too high and may actually exacerbate the impending teacher shortage, Ms. Futrell of the nea conceded in an interview that ncate will probably "take some heat.''
"But that's okay," she said, "because in the long run, it will be better for the profession. If we don't set high standards for our profession and the teacher-training programs, who else will?"
"I think what this will do is attract even better-qualified candidates to the programs because they will see it as a challenge," Ms. Futrell said. "They will see that this is a meaningful program, that this is a rigorous program that is really going to train them. I can assure you that when teachers complete this program they will be well trained."
Shortage Impact Predicted
Robert L. Saunders, dean of Memphis State University's school of education and a member of the ncate coordinating board, said there is "a distinct possibility" that the elevated standards may contribute to the teacher shortage. "The higher the standards you have for admission to preparation and the higher the standards you have for exit from it, the fewer people might be able to qualify for it," Mr. Saunders said.
"We don't feel that we have a responsibility for preventing a teacher shortage by keeping standards lower to accommodate that," he added. "We think that is a public-policy de-cision and should not be made by the profession."
Mr. Saunders acknowledged that the new standards will "tax the capacity" of many of aacte's approximately 720 member institutions, not all of which are ncate-accredited.
But he said there is "no way we can estimate what the cost will be for a given institution because that will depend upon the existing condition of that institution and how near to compliance it already is. We believe, however, that those institutions that have programs that are not up to the standards we envisioned with the new design will have to spend considerable amounts of money."
In addition to the new standards, ncate also approved new procedures by which schools will be accredited.
The initial accreditation visits will be made by five- to six-member teams drawn from an ncate board of examiners. Board members, who serve three-year terms, will be selected on the basis of their demonstrated expertise in professional education, teaching, research, or evaluation. "They will be highly trained and stay together as a team," Mr. Kunkel said.
Currently, programs are reaccredited every seven years after inspection by teams of 10 to 12 members, who are teachers, college instructors, and subject-area specialists. "The individuals [on the teams] come together once and never work together again," Mr. Kunkel said.
Under the new system, after an institution achieves initial accreditation, it will not be required to develop elaborate institutional reports to continue its accreditation. A periodic five-year visit by a team of three or four members, along with annual reports and updates of prior institutional reports, will provide the basis for "continuing accreditation," Mr. Kunkel said.
The new procedure also establishes 11 preconditions that institutions must meet before they are eligible for ncate review. "We have taken anything that can be measured or seen directly and put it into the preconditions," said Mr. Kunkel, adding that this enables examiners to arrive at an institution and focus on "qualitative judgments."
'Most Creative Piece'
The new standards address five broad characteristics of teacher-education programs: quality of students, quality of faculty, knowledge and skills to be taught, relationship to the university as a whole, and ties with practicing teachers.
According to Mr. Kunkel, the knowledge-base section of the standards is "the most creative piece of the redesign."
"Faculty in the professional education unit model the best instructional programs and methods," states the final draft of the redesign approved here. "The curriculum design, instructional practices, and evaluative procedures to which students are exposed are fully congruent, in both content and process, with the current state of knowledge about curriculum design, instruction, and evaluation."
Two of the more controversial new standards require students entering an accredited program to have successfully completed university or college coursework with a grade-point average of at least 2.5 on a 4.0 scale and to take a standardized basic-skills test.
Monitoring and Evaluation
Schools of education also will be required to ensure that their students are "proficient in communication skills and their teaching or specialty field and [can] demonstrate skills for effective professional practice," according to the approved policy statement.
And prior to students' completion of the program and recommendation for certification, "multiple evaluation methods (such as standardized tests, course grades, and performance in classroom or school settings) are used to determine" their "academic and professional competence."
In addition, the standards require accredited teacher-training programs to provide at least 10 weeks of student teaching and to monitor their students through at least one year of teaching after graduation. This first-year supervision of a6teacher amounts to "a type of internship," said Mr. Imig of aacte.
The redesign also establishes standards for the faculty of teacher-education programs. For example, the faculty must be large enough to support the teacher-training programs offered by an institution and must be culturally diverse.
Additionally, each advanced program leading to the doctorate is required to have at least three full-time faculty members who have earned a doctorate in the specialty for which the degree is offered. The teaching load of undergraduate faculty members would be limited to the equivalent of 12 semester hours, and that of graduate faculty members to nine semester hours.
Governance Change Endorsed
The council also voted to endorse another key aspect of the redesign that changes the ncate governance structure.
The measure would condense the existing council and its coordinating board into a single national council made up of 13 voting members representing four major groups: aacte, the nea, specialty professional groups and learned societies, and the states, Mr. Kunkel said. Each group would have three representatives on the council, with one additional "public representative" as its 13th member.
This change in the group's governance structure is intended to provide a greater role for state "program-approval" agencies.
Under the current system, both ncate and the states approve individual teacher-training programs, thus the work they do often overlaps, Mr. Kunkel said. The redesign would establish an ncate "Stateel15lRecognition Board" that would validate state program-approval systems that are found to be of high quality.
Thus, in states with recognized program-approval systems, ncate can focus on accrediting entire units, such as colleges, schools, and departments that prepare teachers and other professional education personnel, while the states approve the programs within those units.
"I don't know how this will play out in dollars," Mr. Kunkel said. "But it is clear that this will reduce redundancy and duplication."
Because each institution bears the costs of its accreditation, he added, the change should provide financial and administrative relief to the colleges.
Joyce W. Rogers, the National School Boards Association's representative on the council, cast the only vote against the new gover-nance structure.
In discussion before the vote, Ms. Rogers said aacte and the nea would have too much influence on the redesigned council and complained that the proposal did not clearly define the role of the nsba in the organization.
"We are the employers, and where we fit into this setup, I have no idea," she said.
But Mr. Kunkel responded that roles of many of the constituent organizations have yet to be defined. "This piece is not yet finished," he said. "[Ms. Rogers] pointed out something that still needs attention and will receive it."
The next step, Mr. Kunkel added, will be for the ncate staff and the constitution committee to take the endorsed governance proposals and from them write a new constitution and bylaws, to be "received" by the council next October, voted on in March 1986, and, if approved, put into place in July 1986.