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Specialty Groups' Influence in NCATE Debated

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Members of several national subject-area organizations said last week they fear they are losing influence over how specialty programs in teacher education are accredited.

Officials from 14 organizations--which represent educators across a range of subjects including English, mathematics, and social studies--gathered here to discuss those concerns. Some claimed state-level accreditation has distanced them from the process by which teacher training programs are considered for accreditation.

Some of the officials blamed state partnerships created by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Those partnerships, the critics contended, allow some accredited programs to graduate students in a given specialty without consulting guidelines written by the subject group for that field.

"The bottom line is: Are institutions going to continue to be approved without meeting our guidelines?" said Fred Weintraub of the Council for Exceptional Children.

It was the first time the groups, all members of NCATE, gathered to discuss how programs are reviewed, according to officials of the International Reading Association who called the meeting.

Arthur E. Wise, the president of NCATE, defended the accreditation process, though he acknowledged that it is not perfect.

"We have grown increasingly successful through our state partnerships, but they are not in full flower," Mr. Wise told participants at the meeting. "They do not do all we want them to yet."

Such public criticism of NCATE, the national body that accredits teacher education programs, is rare. Other grievances in recent years have come from colleges and schools of education, which have complained about the high cost and red tape of the review process.

"As specialty groups, we wanted to have a discussion about how to make the process better," said Alan E. Farstrup, the reading association's executive director. "Our intent was not to undermine NCATE."

A Smaller Role?

Some participants said their groups' influence has dwindled over the past decade as the accrediting body has revised its procedures.

Only a few people at the meeting were openly critical of the process, however. Others sought only subtle changes.

But staff members from two of the organizations said they were concerned enough to question their membership in the accrediting body, a coalition of 30 constituent groups.

"NCATE plays less and less a role in carrying out our standards," complained Mr. Weintraub, who is the C.E.C.'s senior director for publications and professional standards.

Mr. Wise said, however, that full participation from the subject-area groups is vital. "There are many steps that we have taken--or are taking--that I think will strengthen your guidelines."

State Participation

There are now 36 partnerships between the accrediting agency and individual states. The agreements allow states to work with NCATE to set standards and procedures for approving teacher training programs.

Under some of those partnerships, NCATE agrees to let the state, instead of the national subject-area groups, review specific programs within education schools. NCATE uses those findings from the states in its overall appraisal of a preparation program.

Otherwise, colleges may undergo another review process that requires them to show that they have met specific guidelines of the specialty groups.

Jack Cassidy, the reading association's former representative to NCATE, said the partnerships give colleges too many options.

"These are transition problems, by and large," Mr. Wise said in a telephone interview after the meeting. "As we work the kinks out, I think these organizations will become comfortable with the process."

Not 'Up to Date'

After last week's meeting, members of some of the groups present made concerted efforts to distance themselves from the criticism. They said few people who make policy decisions for their organizations had attended.

"Some of those staff members are not up to date on positions their own representatives [to NCATE] have made," noted Charles B. Meyers, the National Council for the Social Studies representative to NCATE's governing boards.

Specialty groups make up one of NCATE's four major constituencies. The others are the National Education Association, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and policy-making groups such as the Council of Chief State School Officers. All members pay fees to NCATE.

Last week, the accrediting body announced that the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the National Association of State Boards of Education had also signed on as members.

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