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Q&A: A Scholar of the Teaching Profession Takes the Helm of Accrediting Body

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Arthur E. Wise, a prominent education researcher, was selected in May to head the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education.

His selection represents a break with tradition for the accrediting body, which has tended in the past to appoint education-school deans and professors to that post. For that reason, many in the field have expressed high expectations that the former director of the rand Corporation's Center for the Study of the Teaching Profession will lead the organization in new directions.

The following interview with the new ncate president was conducted last month by Staff Writer Debra Viadero on Mr. Wise's fourth day in his new job:


Why did you apply for this job?

I think the only way we can improve the quality of education is to improve the quality of the people who are in the field. There are two ways to do that: One is to attract the best possible people we can to the field; the other is to prepare people the best way that we know how to function effectively as teachers.

I have for the last 12 years been studying teachers and teacher policies ... and really have developed, I believe, some understanding of what it would take to improve teacher education. This is a practical setting from which to try to do that.


Do you have any specific plans for the organization?

Ncate has embarked on a new course that resulted from the recent redesign of [its standards], and I think we need to allow that to run its course and see how well it seems to be working. At the present time, I foresee only efforts to improve or streamline it.

Beyond that, there are a number of specific relationships that I hope to be fostering--relationships that are now weak and or nonexistent.

Teacher education and teacher licensing need to evolve together. In fact, they must be complementary. So I would look toward the establishment of tighter linkages between ncate and the state standard-setting authorities, so that what we call for in the accreditation process is the same thing as the state authorities call for in the teacher-licensing process.


You have in the past been somewhat critical of teacher-education programs. How will that affect you in your new position?

Well, I do think that teacher-education programs need to be strengthened. I think there is an emerging consensus in America about that, with much of the consensus emanating from pressures in the policymaking arena. Many states are beginning to insist that teachers have a strong general-education background, as well as in-depth preparation for the subjects that they teach. That ranges from places like Texas and Virginia, which have sought to place a cap on teacher education, with which I certainly do not agree. But I do agree that teachers' subject-matter preparation needs to be strengthened.

Other states are beginning to move in the direction of insisting that teachers have majored in a field at the undergraduate level and complete their education for teaching at the master's level. There is a push from both the left and the right to extend teacher education. That will continue to happen with or without any help from ncate.


Do you have any plans to try to make extended teacher-preparation programs a standard for ncate accreditation?

I think the accreditation process can and does reflect the emerging consensus about what is good practice. Accreditation standards cannot remain static. They evolve. As to when we, as a nation, and ncate, as an organization, will [work toward such changes], I can't say.


The first of the Texas institutions to be affected by that state's cap on teacher-education programs will be reviewed for ncate accreditation this fall. What is going to happen?

Anybody can stand up in front of a class and look like they're teaching, but, to teach effectively, you really need to know quite a bit, particularly as we become more ambitious as a nation about what we expect from our schools. Certainly, I look with a jaundiced eye--and have in the past spoken out against--a cap on teacher education. But, as to exactly what we will do, that remains to be seen.


Is there a role for ncate beyond accreditation?

Our main mission, certainly, is accreditation. But that cannot be effectively accomplished without our moving in some arenas we traditionally have not. I certainly would expect to build some bridges to institutions that have not been part of the ncate setting. For example, a number of elite institutions have not seen fit to be part of the ncate enterprise. While I am mindful of the fact that our main goal must be the mainstream of teacher-education institutions in this country, I think it is not right that the elite institutions have not seen ncate as an organization in which they want to play a role.

In a more general vein, I hope to build bridges to the Holmes Group [a consortium of higher-education institutions working to reformel10lteacher education].


You have never taught school or taught teachers. Will that help or hinder you in this job?

Certainly I do not come out of a traditional mold of people who have occupied this chair. But I have spent my whole career studying teachers, schools, and the educational system and I have been active in educational reform at the local, state and national level. In the process, I have talked to hundreds--if not thousands--of teachers, school administrators, and school-board members over the years. I was, for a time, an associate dean of a school of education.

The particular advantage that I have for this post is that I have, on the one hand, a thorough grounding in school life and, on the other hand, a fair bit of experience shaping policy at the state and national level. I hope that combination will help me to influence the evolution of policies at the state and national level--policies which will be congenial to the evolution of a proper teacher-education and licensing system.

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