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Teacher Training Group Trounces NCATE Mandate

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Washington

Teacher-educators soundly rejected a proposal last week to make national accreditation a prerequisite for membership in the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

At the association's annual meeting here, members voted 796 to 256 against a resolution to change the membership criteria. The proposal called for institutions to become approved by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education by July 1, 2001, in order to be full members of the association.

The proposed change was hotly debated in teacher education circles over the past year. Because of the interest, the association scheduled a 40-minute "town meeting" on the resolution before the vote was taken.

Supporters of the change, led by Richard Wisniewski, the association's outgoing president, argued that education schools should unite behind common standards to help make teaching a true profession.

But many teacher-educators balked at excluding some institutions from the association, saying it should remain an inclusive group that helps institutions improve their programs.

To that end, members approved a resolution, crafted as an alternative to Mr. Wisniewski's proposal, that calls on the association to encourage its 720 member institutions to pursue or maintain national accreditation. About 200 of its members are not nationally accredited.

'Two-Tiered System'

In arguing for his resolution, Mr. Wisniewski said he was confident that all members would become accredited by July 2001.

The real problem, he argued, was with the 500 additional institutions that prepare teachers but are neither nationally accredited nor members of the A.A.C.T.E.

"What that means is we are committed to a two-tiered system of teacher education," said Mr. Wisniewski, the dean of the college of education at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. "I believe that the improvement of public education depends on drawing a line here."

Some members, however, warned that such a move could harm the association.

Thomas J. Switzer, the dean of the education college at the University of Northern Iowa, listed several respected institutions that might leave the association because their teacher education programs are not nationally accredited.

"This is designed to exclude those institutions that are not NCATE-accredited," he said. "Will this organization survive or not survive?"

Budget problems also would make it difficult for some institutions to become nationally accredited, said Sydney Schwartz, the director of teacher education for the City University of New York system.

"We are struggling dreadfully to stay alive financially," she said. "Are we going to punish those institutions that really don't have the money?"

Barbara G. Burch, the dean of the education school at California State University at Fresno, called herself "an ncate supporter to the core."

But national accreditation, she added, is not the only measure of quality.

"We need other indicators," she said, "and not to drive out one-third of our members."

'Lack of Cohesiveness'

The question of requiring national accreditation for membership has been a perennial topic for the teacher colleges' organization, which last formally considered the issue in 1987.

Several other teacher education groups voted independently on the proposal. The deans of education schools at land-grant institutions, although closely split, favored changing the membership rules. But the association of liberal-arts colleges that prepare teachers did not.

"I try to imagine this conversation happening with a group of physicians or lawyers, and I just can't," said Barbara Brittingham, the education dean at the University of Rhode Island and the president of the land-grant deans' group.

"If we want to work together to develop a profession, then this is an essential commitment we all must make," she said.

Debate on the resolution focused more on the nature and mission of the association, however, than it did on the merits of national accreditation.

"National accreditation is the victim, when the problem is the lack of cohesiveness in this body," said Nancy L. Zimpher, the dean of the education college at Ohio State University.

Hendrick D. Gideonse of the University of Cincinnati agreed: "We are far more political than professionally grounded in our dealings with one another."

The vote contrasts with the recent decision by the Holmes Group, an organization of education deans at 87 research universities, to call for its members to become nationally accredited. (See Education Week, Feb. 8, 1995.)

Arthur E. Wise, the president of NCATE, said he was pleased that the discussion last week left "virtually no doubt of A.A.C.T.E.'s commitment to support NCATE and the overall positive attitude of the organization toward us."

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