NCATE To Join Fla. Agencies To Review Programs
Florida's education department, its state university system, and the national agency that accredits teacher-preparation programs have signed an unprecedented agreement to conduct joint reviews of teachers' colleges, using a similar set of standards.
Besides enhancing teacher-education programs in Florida, officials involved in the agreement say, the pact could help bring the country closer to a single set of rigorous standards for training teachers.
Announced last week at an executive-board meeting of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, the agreement calls for the coordination of standards by NCATE and the two state agencies.
Until now, state institutions seeking approval from the Florida education department and the state board of regents as well as accreditation by NCATE have been faced with meeting varying standards from the three agencies.
Under the new compact, all three will send examiners onto campuses simultaneously. The education schools seeking approval will prepare self-studies in the NCATE format. Out of that body of data, the education department and the board of regents--which governs higher education-will take their materials. In that way, an institution under review will have to prepare only a minimal amount of supplemental information for the department and the regents.
"Florida has acknowledged the need for common national standards of teacher preparation. Other states can use this model to mesh their standards with national standards," Arthur E. Wise, the president of NCATE, said last week.
According to Mr. Wise, any additional data required by a state agency would likely not be substantive, but rather information required for reporting purposes.
As part of the Florida agreement, the beard of regents will require its institutions to have NCATE approval. The education department will continue to make its own determination of program approval, although in practical terms, officials said, it is unlikely that the department would approve a program if NCATE had not found the school unit satisfactory.
Until the Florida agreement, only education departments in Arkansas, North Carolina, and West Virginia had required their teachertraining institutions to undergo NCATE accreditation. Unlike in Florida, the higher-education governing boards in those states do not coordinate their activities with NCATE's.
The Florida pact is "a great step forward," said Don J. Stedman, dean of education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"Most important, it gives a depth and quality of assessment that isn't inherent in the regular approval and accreditation process," said Mr. Stedman, who serves as a consultant to the Florida Board of Regents.
Betty V. Fry, chief of the bureau of teacher education for the state, added: "We think the process has potential for improving teacher preparation. People are examining themselves, measuring up."
The agreement affects only those students in Florida's nine state universities. For every 100 teachers certified annually in Florida, 60 are from out of state, according to Roy E. McTarnaghan, executive vice chancellor of the State University System of Florida. Of the 40 from in state, however, 33 are state-university graduates.
Mr. McTarnaghan said there already had been a high degree of overlap between the board of regents' requirements for teacher programs and those of NCATE.
"We didn't have to reconcile our standards; we had to reconcile some of our perceptions," he said.
Early on in the discussions leading to the pact, Mr. McTarnaghan said, he met with the state's education deans to discuss possible disadvantages to the plan.
One concern, he said, was the relationship between Florida's community colleges and its four-year institutions. To make teaching attractive and more meaningful to students starting at community colleges, introductory teaching courses had been instituted at the sophomore level. The question was whether such an arrangement could jeopardize chances for NCATE approval.
"I found out all NCATE wanted to make sure of was if the people [teaching the education courses] have the right credentials and know what they are doing," Mr. McTarnaghan said.
Since tougher NCATE standards were implemented in 1988, the accrediting body has renewed its quest for a national system of quality control for teacher education. Of some 2,200 teacher programs nationwide, fewer than half are NCATE-accredited.
By linking state approval with NCATE accreditation, the national group hopes to bring the remaining institutions up to its standards.
Many schools have balked at seeking NCATE approval, either because they could not meet the requirements or they did not want to be burdened by a process they saw as unnecessary.
"The large number of licensing and approval agencies has become disruptive... because everybody and their brother wants to evaluate us," said Mr. Stedman of the University of North Carolina.
In a related initiative, NCATE and the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification have appointed a joint committee to examine ways to cooperate and to coordinate their efforts.
"This action in Florida would appear to be one example of the cooperation that could take place," Ted Andrews, the president of the state directors' group, said last week.
Burden of Duplication
In addition to upgrading standards, the Florida arrangement is intended to streamline the review process, which state institutions have long criticized as duplicative.
"From the point of view of the institutions, they are not being pulled in three different directions; they're being assessed by a single set of substantive standards," said Mr. Wise.
David Smith, dean of education at the University of Florida, said his school's experience offered an example of how onerous the previous system could be. The last time the university's teacher programs were up for review, he said, NCATE came in One year with a team of 16. The next year, 20 education-department officials conducted a site visit; the following year, the beard of regents sent its four-person review team. Costs for such visits are paid by the university.
Preparing for the NCATE review, which is conducted at five-year intervals, took about 18 months, Mr. Smith said. Additional months of work went into the visits by the education department and the regents.
Last academic year, a joint review team conducted a pilot visit to the University of Florida program, and fewer than half as many examiners came as part of the joint team.
"They have some distance to go, but I would commend them in terms of what they are attempting to accomplish,'' said Mr. Smith, who noted there still was some duplication.
Vol. 11, Issue 06, Pages 1, 21