Alliance of Black Educators Seeks Greater Role in Reforms

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African-American educators should step up their involvement with national education reform efforts to ensure that members of their race and their perspectives are well represented, black education leaders advise.

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At the first "policy institute" of the National Alliance of Black School Educators, held here April 18-19, members drafted recommendations urging the organization to work closely with such groups as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Black teachers, for instance, represent an extremely small percentage of those awarded certification as master teachers by the national board, said Quentin R. Lawson, NABSE's executive director. NABSE hopes to collaborate with the national board to address the underrepresentation, he said, but not at the expense of standards.

"We're always evaluating and re-evaluating the instrument, but that in no way signifies that we are looking at diluting the requirements," Mr. Lawson said of the national board's assessment process.

Conferees at the two-day session explored many critical issues facing African-Americans in education, including school takeovers, charter schools, technology in education, and "ebonics," or black English.

One big concern was the need to get highly qualified minority teacher candidates into the teacher-preparation pipeline.

"Most of the time, districts are so desperate for warm bodies, if you're standing up straight, you're hired," said Velma L. Cobb, the director of education and youth-development policy and research for the National Urban League.

She said that resources have been put into higher standards for academic content and student performance, but not into so-called opportunity-to-learn standards--the support mechanisms that enable the most disadvantaged students to meet the other standards. "We need to create a market demand for those opportunity-to-learn standards," said Ms. Cobb, who served as the associate director of the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future.

Creating that demand, however, is likely to be difficult because many lawmakers, especially conservative ones, view the opportunity-to-learn standards as little more than a ruse to get additional money.

Higher Ed. Help

Very much in evidence at the gathering were the upcoming reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act and the recommendations of the report from the privately convened national teaching commission. ("Teaching Focus Called the Key in Reform Push," Sept. 18, 1996.)

For example, participants said they wanted assurances that historically black colleges and universities receive adequate money so that they are able to meet the rigorous standards called for in the commission's report. They called for full funding of the Higher Education Act's Title V, which addresses teacher recruitment and preparation but has often lost out in the appropriations process. ("Only Minor Rewriting Seen For Higher Ed. Act," Feb. 5, 1997.)

Arthur E. Wise, the president of the Washington-based National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, told the conferees that his organization is working with 14 historically black colleges to help them prepare for NCATE accreditation, one of the national commission's recommendations for colleges of education.

According to NCATE, about 44 percent of all African-American students in teacher programs are enrolled in traditionally black institutions. Of the approximately 85 teacher education programs at those schools, 41 maintain NCATE accreditation.

The black educators also recommended that the Washington-based NABSE write standards for an exemplary inner-city school to be used as a national model.

The recommendations will be referred to the board of the 5,400-member group, with the aim of unveiling them formally in June.

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