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West Va. Board Agrees To Scrap NCATE Mandate

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By Karen Diegmueller

Marking a setback for the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, the West Virginia Board of Education has withdrawn its requirement that teacher-education institutions be accredited by the national body.

Despite a recommendation by a state advisory panel to retain the Ĺ“our-year-old NCATE requirement, the state board voted unanimously in October to create a dual- accreditation track. The board reaffirmed its position last month.

Until the board's action, West Virginia was one of three states that required all its teacher-education institutions to meet NCATE requirements. North Carolina and Arkansas are the other two.

Two additional states, Florida and Georgia, require only their public institutions to meet NCATE requirements.

Moreover, NCATE, which had appeared to be steadily gaining state support for its policies recently forged a trilateral alliance with the Florida Board of Regents and the state education department to conduct joint institution reviews in that state. (See Education Week, Oct. 9, 1991.)

Under the system now planned for West Virginia, institutions can opt to meet either NCATE Standards or a separate set Of state standards, which has yet to be developed.

According to State Superintendent of Schools Henry Marockie, higher-education institutions also will be required to meet a generic set of standards regardless of the accreditation route they choose.

"We don't want to make it look like one is subordinate to another," Mr. Marockie said.

The rationale for the action is under dispute. State board members say they wanted to reassert state control over a regulatory process that falls squarely within their purview. Other observers suggest that the board succumbed to political pressure brought to bear by institutions that could not meet the national standards.

In all likelihood, failure to receive NCATE accreditation would have meant a decrease in enrollment for colleges because their graduates would be denied licenses to teach.

Since new, more rigorous NcATE standards took effect in 1988, three West Virginia institutions have won accreditation; three have been denied it. A seventh, Concord College, was denied accreditation the first time around, but passed it on a second try.

Reasserting State Primacy

During initial discussions about rescinding the NcATE requirement, college presidents raised a number of complaints, Michael D. Greer, the board member who spearheaded the vote for a dual-track system, acknowledged.

By the time the board voted, however, some of those institutions had been accredited, he said.

"With the passage of time and with modifications and changes that NCATE made, it was not clear to me that the board was closely monitoring this," Mr. Greer said. "We decided we would reassert state primacy."

Another board member, Patricia Hamner, said the decision reflects the trend toward judging institutions on the basis of outcomes. How they get there is their own business, Ms. Hamner said. "I was concerned that colleges and universities didn't have any option," she said.

Arthur E. Wise, the president of NCATE, down-played the effect the West Virginia decision would have on his organization's attempts to establish a quality-control mechanism for teacher education nationwide.

"It actually represents a setback for the state of West Virginia and the children of West Virginia," he maintained.

Four years ago, when the state beard mandated Nc ATE accreditation, "I assume it was because they wanted to raise the quality of teacher education... and use the leverage provided by national accreditation," he said. '@_s soon as we started to do that, they apparently began to retreat from their earlier decision."

Who Sets the Standards?

The state began examining its accreditation process with the creation last year of a Governor's task force on teacher education.

The task force's chief concern was that small, independent higher-education institutions might lack the resources needed to meet NcATE standards. It ultimately recommended a two-track system. Although resources play a role in the NcATE review, it is unlikely that, under NcATE policy, failure to meet such criteria alone would result in a school's being denied accreditation.

Mr. Marockie subsequently appointed a committee to review the NcATE process and to make recommendations to the state board.

The second committee voted 10 to 4 to retain the NCATE requirement, a decision that the board overruled.

As chairman of the Governor's task force, Jerry L. Beasley had recommended a dual system. Subsequent events, including accreditation of a small institution, led him to change his mind. As a member of the advisory panel, Mr. Beasley voted to retain NcATE accreditation.

"Maybe the concern for the small independents was misplaced," he said.

His reconsideration was also based on his experience as president of Concord College, as well as visits Mr. Wise made to West Virginia to address educators' concerns.

"I still believe the sacrifices we made strengthened our teacher'education program significantly," said Mr. Beasley, who noted his college received a glowing report on its second attempt to meet NcATE standards.

Superintendent Marockie said that the standards may be different from those of NCATE but that they are just as rigorous.

For example, he said, state standards will include criteria for mathematics and science education, which NcATE lacks.

"The definition of high quality is very subjective," he said.

Plans To Fight Decision The state's largest teachers' union, along with other educators who are concerned about the possible erosion of quality, have pledged to fight the decision.

Dennis N. Giordano, the executive director of the West Virginia Education Association, said that he respects Mr. Marockie's zeal to maintain or improve standards, but that he is skeptical it can happen.

"If they couldn't maintain the standards of NCATE, how are they going to go above and beyond that?" Mr. Giordano wondered. "Who is going to be the arbiter of whether they are better standards or not?"

Charles W. Manning, the chancellor of the university system of West Virginia, said his institutions would continue to seek NCATE accreditation.

"Our first recommendation was to have one track, the NCATE track," he said. "Our second was that there be two separate tracks, and either one would satisfy the requirements. We don't feel the need to be reviewed twice."

Despite attempts by the state board to seek equality for the two tracks, educators are doubtful it can succeed.

Mr. Beasley said prospective students, employers, and funding agencies will have to decide between the nationally accredited programs and the state accredited ones.

"I'm content to let the marketplace decide," he said.

According to Mr. Manning, the fundamental question comes down to the impact on student learning.

"Accreditation is about what experts feel that teachers need to know," he said."The argument gets into how much [is NCATE] a guild arguing for its own interests and how much is it arguing for what really matters. We believe it has the best standards that we can put in place today."

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