Texas Restrictions On Teacher Training Cited in Complaint
Teacher-education programs in Texas may no longer meet national accreditation standards because of constraints placed on them by the state's legislature and regulatory agencies, a prominent teacher educator has charged.
Hendrik D. Gideonse, professor of education and policy science at the University of Cincinnati, filed the complaint against 26 Texas institutions late last month with the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Ncate certifies education schools, colleges, and departments of education nationwide.
The complaint charges that a Texas law, which barrs teacher-training programs from requiring students to take more than 18 undergraduate credit hours in education in order to be certified, prevents them from exercising "self governance" and thus makes them ineligible for accreditation.
Texas's attempt to "cap" the amount of professional coursework required of prospective teachers has cast a shadow over teacher educators nationally, who are worried about whether similar tactics will be tried elsewhere.
Although several other states, including California, New Jersey, and Virginia, have placed some limitations on the content of teachers' professional training, none are as severe as the Texas mandates.
Mr. Gideonse said his unprecedented ac- continued on Page 32
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tion, which colleagues last week described as "courageous," "creative," and "brave"--is an attempt to show states like Texas that they cannot infringe on the rights of higher-education institutions without repercussions.
"The aim of the complaint is not to punish" individual institutions, he wrote in an advisory memorandum filed with the complaint. "First and foremost, it is to maintain crucial professional standards in teacher education."
"Second," Mr. Gideonse wrote, "it is to try and persuade Texas how unwise, long and short term, the offending policies are. Third, it is to persuade other states of the professional and public-policy damage flowing from this unfortunate example."
Mr. Gideonse, former dean of the college of education at the University of Cincinnati, has a reputation as an activist and a freethinker within professional education circles.
In 1985, he sharply criticized the Holmes Group--a coalition of universities working to improve teacher training--for fostering "divisiveness" within the teacher-education community. In the last few years, he has also been actively involved in upgrading and redesigning ncate's accreditation standards.
His new action represents the first time that ncate's complaint process has been used against a group of institutions that are affected by state policies beyond their control. The accrediting organization, seen as the official voice of the education profession, comprises 22 national organizations, including the country's two largest teachers' unions.
Typically, said Richard C. Kunkel, executive director of ncate, in4dividual faculty members bring relatively narrow complaints against a particular practice on their campus.
Although only 26 of Texas's 67 teacher-training programs are currently ncate-certified, said Richard E. Ishler, dean of the college of education at Texas Tech University, those institutions prepare approximately 80 percent of the state's teachers.
Loss of national accreditation would diminish the status of such programs, educators warned last week, and could make it harder for their graduates to be licensed and find employment in other states.
"While other states are moving towards a requirement that all their teacher-education institutions meet ncate standards," said Susan Barnes, assistant dean in the school of education at Southwest Texas State University, "one could say that we seem to be going in the opposite direction."
Despite the threat to their programs, several Texas educators last week expressed support for Mr. Gideonse's efforts.
"I feel they're courageous" said Ernest O'Neil, professor of education at Pan American University. "They reflect his dedication to the profession and his belief that he may be able to do from the outside what we in Texas have had a very difficult time doing from within the state."
But Senator Carl A. Parker, chairman of the Texas Senate's education committee and one of the sponsors of the original bill, said he was not intimidated by the actions of an outside observer.
"I can't believe that a responsible group would be so high-handed as to try to threaten state government in Texas," he said. "But if it is, I think that Texans are the kind of folks that will take up the challenge, and we'll do what's necessary to protect our autonomy when it comes to shaping the minds of our schoolchildren."
"If those in the colleges of education would quit bellyaching and worrying about their little niche in life," he added, "and start making sure that the courses they teach are the very critical elements of pedagogy, we would all be better off for it."
Mr. Parker also predicted that a bill proposed by Representative Wilhelmina Delco, which would exclude student-teaching from the 18-hour cap and require all teachers to take a course in human reproduction, would not pass in this session.
The bill could provide teacher educators in Texas with substantially more breathing room for professional-education courses if it did pass.
But Ms. Delco said it was not her intent to back off from the legislature's limit on methodology courses.
"Unless and until it can be shown that you have to have more than 18 credit hours in education to be a good teacher," she predicted, outside threats to the state will not influence the legislature.
Barred Undergraduate Major
The Texas controversy began in 1986, when lawmakers passed Senate Bill 994. The bill requires that after Sept. 1, 1991, all prospective teachers graduate with an academic major in order to be certified. It also prohibits the state board of education from requiring those individuals to take more than 18 undergraduate credit hours in education--including student-teaching--in order to be licensed. (See Education Week, Dec. 9, 1987.)
Subsequent regulations, approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, have gone well beyond those initial mandates, according to teacher educators.
Under the new rules, teacher-training programs must eliminate all bachelor's degrees in education, such as a degree in elementary education.
In rare cases, public institutions could win approval for extended programs that go beyond the 18 credit hours. But they must meet certain preconditions, including continuing to offer a parallel, four-year track that would permit students to become certified after the minimal number of teacher-preparation courses.
It is not clear how tightly those constraints would be applied to private colleges and universities.
Many educators last week praised the state's attempt to improve the subject-matter preparation of teachers and said they had no quarrel with states that set minimum standards for teacher training.
The issue is whether states have the right to set maximum standards that, in effect, presume to tell experts in any field what body of knowledge is required for their profession.
"No other profession allows the legislature or regulatory agencies to completely dictate their curriculum," said Mr. Ishler of Texas Tech University.
In preparing his complaint, Mr. Gideonse wrote to a number of national accreditation bodies--such as those in architecture, engineering, law, medicine, nursing, and pharmacology--to ask if they had ever faced similar constraints on the professional preparation of their graduates.
In fact, several of those responding to Mr. Gideonse's inquiry expressed surprise and disbelief over Texas's action.
Wrote David R. Reyes-Guerra, executive director of the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology Inc: "I cannot imagine any authority restricting the amount of material needed by an engineer to practice his/her profession."
Community Speaks Out
Meanwhile, teacher educators both in and outside Texas expressed hope that the ncate complaint would bring some additional leverage to bear upon the state.
Although the complaint is the strongest action yet taken against Texas by the professional education community, it reflects a growing activism among the national bodies that represent teacher educators.
Last week, the Association of Colleges and Schools of Education in State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges and Affiliated Private Universities passed a resolution opposing "arbitrary limits on the scope and sufficiency of professional-education programs."
The resolution warns that its members may call upon the relevant licensing agencies in their own states to suspend reciprocity agreements with states like Texas that impose "arbitrary" caps.
Such agreements now enable graduates from one state to more easily achieve licensure in another.
The association's resolution has been endorsed by the executive boards of two other teacher-education organizations.
"For once, you have the perceived 'silent deans' of schools, colleges, and departments of education speaking out," said Donald W. Robinson, president of the land-grant organization and dean of the college of education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "The integrity of the field is at stake."
Ncate's executive board meets May 11 and 12. At that time, it will decide whether to pursue the complaint and, if so, what steps to take.
Vol. 08, Issue 25