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NCATE Network To Focus on Historically Black Colleges

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The national body that accredits schools of education is expanding its efforts to improve teacher-preparation programs at historically black colleges and universities.

About 44 percent of African-American students in undergraduate teacher training programs attend such schools, according to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

That finding, coupled with the growing gap between the percentages of black students and black teachers nationwide, spurred NCATE to help create a network to assist black institutions that prepare teachers, said Arthur E. Wise, the president of the Washington-based accrediting group.

Last week, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation awarded a two-year grant for about $300,000 to NCATE to train and send teams of advisers to participating campuses to evaluate their preparation programs and recommend improvements. In addition, institutions can apply for financial help from the network.

The consulting teams will be made up of faculty members and administrators from 10 historically black schools that have been accredited, according to Boyce Williams, the network's coordinator.

Nationwide, there are about 85 historically black colleges and universities that train teachers. Ms. Williams said more than 40 percent of them have been accredited.

Accreditation for all such schools will not be the network's primary goal, but some of the institutions that participate likely will go that route, Ms. Williams said.

NCATE helped establish the network this year with seed money from the Lilly Endowment. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education is coordinating the effort.

Getting 'Proactive'

The collaboration on the network comes at a crucial time, teacher education officials said.

Historically black institutions "are now seen as leaders in terms of helping all teachers--not just black teachers--educate minority students," said Gwendolyn Trotter, the curriculum and research coordinator for the college of education at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Fla.

"We need to start changing the culture," she said. "It's time to be in the proactive mode."

Ms. Trotter, the lead consultant for the network, also cited the "browning of the school population" as a reason for institutions to take a long, hard look at their training programs to determine whether they meet high standards.

Although the network's job is to provide overall support in strengthening preparation, she said it makes sense for institutions to undergo NCATE's rigorous accreditation process.

Ms. Williams said the colleges and universities that apply to the network will be visited by a consulting team that will assist them through a four-phase process. The schools' programs will be assessed, options for improvement will be discussed, the institutions will be coached on making changes on their own, and, in some cases, the schools will set up partnerships with other institutions.

In some cases, the network will help set up those partnerships to assist a college preparing to seek accreditation, Ms. Trotter said.

Leaders in the effort have stressed that they are bringing together experts from higher-education, accrediting, state-licensing, and other bodies working to professionalize teaching.

A few institutions already have expressed interest in the network, even as it continues to evolve, NCATE officials said. They expect to have colleges selected to participate by next spring.

Because many of the institutions started as schools to prepare black teachers, there is already a high level of commitment to the profession, Ms. Trotter added.

"Now we need to start sharing what we know and what we don't know, what works and what doesn't," she said. "And the schools that complete accreditation are going to have a lot to give to other institutions."

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