NCATE Told To Emphasize Technology
New teacher graduates aren't fully prepared to use technology, warns a report released here last week that calls for the national organization that accredits education schools to take "vigorous action" to remedy the problem.
The report, "Technology and the New Professional Teacher: Preparing for the 21st Century Classroom," was written by a task force convened by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. NCATE is a Washington-based coalition of 30 organizations that sets standards for education schools and accredits about 500 institutions.
"We are certainly concerned about the state of technology programs for the nation's teachers," said Arthur E. Wise, the president of NCATE. "If you believe that the day has finally come for technology to transform teaching and learning, it's time for the nation's teachers to be prepared."
The accrediting group in 1995 set expectations for incorporating technology into teacher preparation programs. Those guidelines are scheduled to be revamped in 2000 and will likely draw on the report's recommendations. Education schools could be required to incorporate technology into their programs in order to be accredited.
Currently, said James M. Cooper, the chairman of the task force and a professor of education at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, "it is possible to be accredited without showing much proficiency in the use of technology. We think the time has passed when [education schools] ought to be accredited."
Not a 'Special Addition'
After much debate, Mr. Cooper said, the task force agreed that NCATE should revise its standards to require education schools to have a vision and plan for technology that fit with their overall model of teacher education. Institutions should spell out both how they will use technology to prepare new teachers and how those teachers will be expected to use it in their classrooms.
The 20-member task force included classroom teachers, professors, and education experts from consulting and testing companies.
Currently, the report says, many colleges and universities are making the same mistake that was made by pre-K-12 schools: "They treat 'technology' as a special addition to the teacher education curriculum ... but not a topic that needs to be incorporated across the entire teacher education program."
In addition to tightening its accreditation requirements, NCATE should work with other professional organizations to encourage education schools to use modern communications technologies, the report says, and it should identify examples of exemplary practices.
"We are advocating not stand-alone computer literacy," Mr. Cooper emphasized, "but integration of technology throughout the program."
The report also calls on NCATE to set up pilot projects to explore how technology can improve the accreditation process itself, which now involves hundreds of pages of documents and costly in-person visits by accreditation teams.
Changes could include using interactive television to interview students and professors at the institutions under review, creating computer "chat rooms" to involve faculty members in discussions with the accreditation teams, and posting student portfolios for electronic review, the report says.
Finally, the task force calls on NCATE to improve its internal operations.
Protecting the Investment
Along with policy recommendations, the report offers examples of education schools that are making what it says is thoughtful and productive use of technology.
At Valley City State University in Valley City, N.D., for example, all students are required to own a notebook computer. A teacher education student describes creating an electronic portfolio in a language arts class, including digitized video of the lessons the student has taught.
At the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, teacher education students and their professor watch, via fiber-optic link, a live broadcast of a class from a lab school on campus. The technology allows prospective teachers to view the same class as their university instructors, and to converse with the lab school teacher using push-to-talk microphones.
While many such examples exist, Mr. Cooper said, most colleges and universities that have embraced technology have sought outside funding.
State legislatures are spending millions to equip K-12 schools with technology, he noted, but most are neglecting to put money into education schools.
With the nation's schools faced with hiring an estimated 2 million new teachers in the next 10 years, the report argues, the time has come for helping teachers use technology wisely. Otherwise, it cautions, "billions of dollars being invested in educational technology initiatives will be wasted."
'Timely and Focused'
David G. Imig, the chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a Washington-based membership group of education schools, called the report "timely in its message and focused in its effort to foster change through the accreditation process."
A recent survey on the use of technology conducted by his association and NCATE found that students at a typical teacher education institution will take one required course on technology and demonstrate the use of at least one form of technology on campus and during student teaching.
Mr. Wise said the report was being released well in advance of any new NCATE technology standards to "send a signal" to policymakers and university officials about the need for increased technology in education schools.
"A huge education job obviously needs to be done to help policymakers see the strategic value of investing in the proper preparation of teachers," he said. "That is the most effective means of improvement in K-12 education."