Education Opinion

Professionalization and Standards

By Arthur E. Wise — June 01, 1994 10 min read

Through the passage of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, national education standards are here. To believers, they are an imperative--a lifeboat in a sea of mediocrity that has swept through our school system. To doubters, they are a reality to look upon with suspicion--a first step to a national curriculum and legislated learning. Whether viewed as hope or threat, they represent a new federalism in education.

The effects of the standards will be determined by how states implement them. For the first time, a federal investment to the states will be linked to national goals. The federal government is asking states to build new structures, use new standards, and create new assessments to determine how well students--and teachers--meet the standards.

The new federal role in support of standards-setting complements and reinforces an ongoing but unheralded revolution in education--the professionalization of teaching. Since the mid-1980’s, the profession has been actively engaged in standards-setting.

New standards and assessments for teacher preparation and performance have been and are being developed by various groups--the Council of Chief State School Officers’ task force on licensing; the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards; the content-area professional associations; the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. These efforts are being coordinated at the national level to form a unified system of quality assurance in teaching. Properly implemented at the state level, they can help achieve Goals 2000. High standards for teachers can be a powerful means to achieve goals for students.

The established professions--law, medicine, accounting, physical therapy--employ three quality-assurance mechanisms, which embody the profession’s knowledge base and standards of practice: national accreditation of professional schools, state licensing of new practitioners, and advanced board certification of experienced practitioners. Because state legislatures long ago required these professions to regulate themselves, the public is able to have a relatively high level of confidence that their practitioners operate according to established standards of practice.

Three organizations are leading the effort to professionalize teaching by strengthening its quality-assurance mechanisms. They are the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, NCATE; the Council of Chief State School Officers, through its task force on licensing standards, known as the Interstate New Teachers Assessment and Support Consortium, or INTASC; and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which is developing advanced standards for teacher performance. Each of these three organizations has developed or is in the midst of developing high standards for teacher preparation and performance. Their standards do or will embrace teaching’s knowledge base and standards of practice, including content expectations for teachers and students.

Therefore, these advances in professionalization should help states implement Goals 2000 expectations. Following is a summary of recent advances in standards-setting within the profession, and a look at how these efforts will assist the implementation of Goals 2000, which, in turn, will advance the professionalization of teaching.

  • Accreditation. In the past, many teachers have said that their experiences in schools of education did not prepare them for the classroom. Schools of education were often known for their “Mickey Mouse’’ courses. A transformation has occurred in the past six years. NCATE, through its 1987 redesign and emphases on research-based knowledge and practical courses of study, has helped remold the preparation experience at accredited institutions.

Rigorous new accreditation standards for teacher preparation have been developed, and NCATE continually revises them to incorporate new knowledge and new practices. New performance expectations are now part of NCATE accreditation standards. The standards require teacher candidates to demonstrate specific skills. For example, they must demonstrate that they can “apply strategies for developing critical-thinking, problem-solving, and performance skills.’' They must demonstrate that they can “adapt instruction for culturally diverse and exceptional populations.’' And they must demonstrate, among other skills, “planning and management of instruction.’'

What about content preparation for mathematics teachers, social-studies teachers, and teachers in the many other content areas? NCATE works with the professional specialty associations--the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Science Teachers Association, the National Council for the Social Studies, and 15 other such organizations--to set standards for each program area. NCATE expects accredited schools of education to use these professional standards in the design and delivery of their programs. Thus, for example, a future mathematics teacher will be exposed to “programs that include experiences with and opportunities to demonstrate ... the use of a variety of concrete manipulative materials for development and exploration of (in the primary grades) prenumeration concepts ... geometric concepts ... logical conjectures and conclusions ... probability, data collection ... '' (N.C.T.M. Guidelines). These mathematics standards are linked to standards for K-12 students, which have also been developed by the N.C.T.M. Each NCATE-affiliated association is now following the N.C.T.M.'s lead, by preparing standards for teacher preparation that are linked to their standards for students. The result is that, in accredited schools of education, teacher-preparation standards are now linked to teacher-performance standards and student standards. But currently, only 500 of the nation’s 1,300 teacher-preparation institutions are committed to implementing this approach.

Enter Goals 2000. This legislation is likely to have a profound impact on teacher preparation and professionalization. It reveals a new perception on the part of policymakers and the public of the way in which K-12 reform efforts should be linked to reforms in higher education. As reported in an Education Week special report (“Alliance for Learning,’' April 13, 1994), the Goals 2000 initiative may mean “that public higher-education institutions have an obligation to the taxpayers to become active players in school reform,’' because three out of four college-bound public school students attend taxpayer-supported colleges and universities. Thus, state efforts in K-12 reform are increasingly perceived as linked to the higher-education system, resulting in a need to increase coordination between the systems by sharing resources and developing partnerships.

In fact, Goals 2000 anticipates dramatic changes in the structure of teacher-preparation programs and schools of education. Partnering with K-12 schools is strongly encouraged by the legislation; grants for teacher-preparation reforms will go only to consortia of organizations--not directly to universities and colleges. This creates a new dynamic between K-12 and higher education. Because of the consortia structure, school reforms have a better chance of being integrated into higher-education curricula--sooner rather than later.

One of the requirements for state agencies awarding subgrants for teacher preparation to local education agencies or consortia is the formation of “partnerships with collegiate educators to establish professional-development sites.’' This effort could help revolutionize teacher preparation by stimulating close collaboration between K-12 and higher education. It could stimulate changes in reward structures for higher-education faculty, as well as changes in the structure of the schools of education themselves, by placing more emphasis on the clinical aspects of pedagogical education. Professional-development schools could become the norm in the clinical preparation of teachers, just as supervised internships play this role for architects, psychologists, and physicians. NCATE is supportive of the professional-development-school movement, and plans to develop standards for these clinical schools just as other accrediting agencies have done for their clinical programs.

  • Licensing. State policymakers have such low regard for their own state regulations for teacher licensure that they have now created routes around them. There are few defenders of state “certification,’' as it has been mistakenly called. The state system for “licensing’’ teachers has not been a licensing system at all. It does not determine the competence of individuals for autonomous practice. Instead, it has relied only on completion of courses in university programs that the states have reviewed and approved. Indeed, even though NCATE accredits only 75 percent of the 500 colleges and universities that volunteer for review, states continue to issue program approvals at the rate of 100 percent. It is time to replace this meaningless process with one that is based on the attainment of standards.

The Council of Chief State School Officers’ task force on licensing reform, INTASC, has worked with 22 states over the past three years to develop model core-licensing standards, and it plans to continue its work by developing subject-specific licensing standards. These new licensing standards, which require teachers to demonstrate specific knowledge and skills, can be the basis for a meaningful licensing system for teachers. It should replace the outmoded program-approval system with a new system based on achievement.

Meaningful licensing systems will involve multiple measures of assessment over a period of time--performance on licensing examinations as well as longitudinal evaluations by a variety of professionals. Assessment systems will be the big-ticket item in new state licensing systems. But states could save money by eliminating program approval and allocating these resources to the development and administration of a licensing system for individual teachers.

A number of states have begun developing licensing systems based on performance assessments--but legislative appropriations have not been adequate. A few other states have proposed or are experimenting with yearlong internships for beginning teachers, but these have not been adequately funded for more than a year or two. Goals 2000 should propel these efforts forward by encouraging state policymakers to expand their efforts. Through the collaboration among teachers, teacher-educators, policymakers, and the public called for in Goals 2000, new conceptions of teacher licensure have an enhanced opportunity of being realized.

Teachers will need adequate preparation to perform well on performance-based licensing assessments. A meaningful licensing system will determine whether teachers can exhibit the skills, dispositions, and knowledge necessary to perform their jobs. NCATE accreditation standards hold schools of education accountable for preparing teachers who have the requisite body of skills and knowledge needed by beginning teachers in each program area. Licensing assessments must determine that individual teacher candidates have mastered the knowledge and skills.

  • Advanced certification. The field has only recently begun to develop measurable performance expectations for teachers. The leader in setting performance expectations is the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, whose assessments for the advanced certification of teachers have led the way for other performance-oriented standards-setting efforts. These standards will have an impact on teacher preparation. They are, in fact, doing so already. INTASC was guided by the national board’s standards and assessments in its development of licensing standards, and NACTE now incorporates those standards in its accreditation standards.

The professionalization of teaching has begun. Accreditation, licensing, and advanced-certification standards embody high content expectations for teachers and students. To the extent that teaching’s quality-assurance mechanisms are implemented, teachers will be prepared to teach students to high content standards. State task forces called for by Goals 2000 can use these mechanisms to “improve teacher preparation and licensing,’' a goal of the legislation. They represent a powerful means to improve education for every child.

Properly preparing and licensing all teachers will substantially increase the probability that all children will learn.

A version of this article appeared in the June 01, 1994 edition of Education Week as Professionalization and Standards