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NCATE Gets $1.5 Million Grant To Test Standards

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The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education has received a $1.5 million grant to field-test its new standards for professional-development schools.

The grant from the New York City-based DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, announced at a press conference here last week, will enable the accrediting body to work with 20 such schools over three years.

Pilot sites, which will be invited to apply and will be selected sometime in June, will use NCATE's draft standards to help create their programs and practices. Those chosen will also undergo formal assessments by visiting teams to see how the standards are applied and to provide data aimed at understanding practices in these schools.

In addition, the grant will allow the accrediting body to work with other education groups to provide information about professional-development schools, said Marsha Levine, the director of the project.

During the past 10 years, interest in professional-development schools for teachers--which are often likened to teaching hospitals--has continued to grow. NCATE officials estimate that there are now some 600 such schools in which colleges and universities, schools, and districts collaborate to improve teaching and learning.

Reality Check

"Up until now, they have been thought of as teachers' and teacher-educators' work," Ms. Levine said of professional-development schools. "In fact, they need the involvement of a much broader base than that."

By NCATE's definition, professional-development schools have four characteristics. They help prepare new teachers, provide learning experiences for veteran classroom teachers and higher education faculty members, support research directed toward improving teaching, and focus on improving the entire school program.

The rapid growth of professional-development schools has raised fears that the label has become a fad, rather than a real change in how schools, districts, and universities do business.

"We think it's very important to develop a leading-edge consensus about what a good professional-development school is," said Arthur E. Wise, the president of the Washington-based NCATE.

The new project, he said, "is NCATE's way of supporting this movement, but also finding out if it is real."

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