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Iowa's 4 Largest Universities Withdraw From NCATE

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The four largest universities in Iowa announced last week that they were removing their teacher-preparation programs from the national accreditation process.

In a joint statement, the presidents of all three of the public institutions in the state--the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Iowa--and the largest private one, Drake University, said they were pulling out of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education because it does not facilitate self-improvement.

Moreover, the university presidents argued, the agency imposes a national system of accreditation that is "too prescriptive, time-consuming, and costly.''

The institutions' decision to withdraw from NCATE unleashed a barrage of protests from many in the education community. The move also caught educators off guard because Arthur E. Wise, the president of NCATE, had been scheduled to meet with representatives of the universities April 1 to discuss their concerns.

Mr. Wise and a number of leading Iowa educators said they were stunned by the announcement. "We are shocked to see such a pre-emptive action on the part of the Iowa university presidents,'' Mr. Wise said.

The criticisms voiced by the university presidents reflect an ongoing debate among teacher educators over the value of NCATE and its standards. Another indication of the controversy came last fall in West Virginia, where the state board of education announced it would no longer require teacher-training institutions to be accredited by NCATE. (See Education Week, Feb. 26, 1992.)

'Justifying the Status Quo'

None of the Iowa institutions has undergone NCATE's new, more rigorous process. While the presidents expressed confidence in their ability to meet the standards, others suggested they were retreating for fear they would not measure up.

In an interview, Constantine W. Curris, the president of the University of Northern Iowa, said the message the presidents were sending was that the benefits of the national accreditation process did not warrant the costs.

"We're spending an inordinate amount of time attempting to justify the status quo,'' said Mr. Curris. "Do we wish to commit our [resources] to the production of voluminous reports,'' he continued, "instead of focusing on the cutting edge of change?''

Peter E. Nathan, the vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty at the University of Iowa, noted that his institution had long sought reforms within NCATE, but to no avail. "I despaired of [Mr. Wise] being able to hear us at that meeting,'' he said.

Martin Jischke, president of Iowa State, said he believed withdrawal from NCATE would improve the quality of education at his institution.

But other educators in the state made clear that they regarded the action as contrary to the best interests of students and teachers. The Iowa State Education Association, for one, has pledged to fight the move.

Cal Halliburton, vice chairman of the state board of educational examiners, called the action "a slap in the face to every classroom teacher in the state,'' while State Director of Education William L. Lepley said it constituted a "black eye for our state.''

"If teaching is ever going to be a profession, we have to have national standards to work from,'' said Mr. Lepley. "The presidents could not get away with this with any other profession.''

At the same time, Mr. Lepley noted that he would encourage NCATE to listen to the institutions' concerns, many of which he considers to be legitimate. "If those universities have made this major a decision, I think that accrediting agency better listen to gain insights.''

State Response Possible

The state board of education has the authority to require NCATE approval, although Mr. Lepley said he would not urge that step.

Representative C. Arthur Ollie, chairman of the House education committee, said he will watch how the state board handles the situation before considering a legislative response. "Any time you give the perception you are backing away from quality is cause for concern,'' he said.

The board of educational examiners, which licenses teachers, also could issue a rule requiring that teacher applicants be graduates of accredited institutions, according to Mr. Halliburton.

Mr. Halliburton, a classroom teacher, also criticized the presidents for making the decision without holding a public forum.

But Mr. Nathan said university officials had conferred with deans and faculty.

During a series of meetings that began in the fall, faculty at the University of Northern Iowa expressed their views that the institution should continue in NCATE. A petition to that effect is being circulated.

"I think it's a real setback for teacher education in Iowa,'' said Peggy Ishler, the head of curriculum and instruction for the university. "That does take us out of the national arena.''

The decision was made by the presidents based on their interpretation of the factors involved in providing a high-quality program, said Thomas Switzer, the dean of education at Northern Iowa.

Mr. Switzer said his initial assessment is that the action will have minimal impact on his school's graduates. But he noted that the day after the announcement a superintendent in Missouri told him the move would cause a problem because the Missouri district preferred to hire teachers from NCATE-accredited programs.

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