Merged NCATE Likely to Raise Teacher-Entry Bar

By Stephen Sawchuk — December 14, 2011 5 min read
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As the two bodies that accredit American teachers’ colleges prepare to merge into a single entity, its leaders are signaling that the new Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation plans to require training programs to improve their processes for selecting candidates.

“The new CAEP standards are going to be much more rigorous with regard both to admission policies and recruitment policies,” James G. Cibulka, the president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, or NCATE, said in a recent interview.

His comments give the first inkling of what the new body will consider as part of a revamped accreditation process, and are germane to a growing debate about how to recruit more academically capable individuals into teaching, especially at the elementary level.

Though details still need to be fleshed out by CAEP, the basic proposal already has backing from influential figures in the teacher education world.

“It’s exciting, and it’s been too long in coming,” said David M. Steiner, the dean of the school of education at Hunter College, in New York City. “Let’s pull our sleeves up and get to work.”

NCATE and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, or TEAC, announced plans to merge late last year. The new body, CAEP, is scheduled to begin accrediting programs in 2013. (“Merger Lies Ahead for Accrediting Bodies of Teacher,” Nov. 3, 2010.)

NCATE, by far the larger of the two accreditors, requires teacher-training programs to establish an admissions process, but has not set any particular standard for entry qualifications, such as minimum exam scores or grade point average.

New Thinking

In a recent letter to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mr. Cibulka intimated that the time is ripe to take a closer look at the issue.

“Accreditation standards have been mostly silent on admissions in the past; that must change,” he wrote.

In addition to admission, CAEP will consider requiring programs to document efforts to recruit top-caliber talent from a diverse pool, and the evidence behind those efforts.

“You can have high standards for admission, but if you do nothing to reach out to identify the target audience and attract that audience into the program, you may have very little effect,” Mr. Cibulka said.

A number of factors appear to have influenced the new accrediting group’s thinking. For one, empirical research over the past decade has identified some teacher characteristics that are correlated with better student academic outcomes. And NCATE, Mr. Cibulka said, has been examining the recruiting practices of Teach For America, an alternative-certification pathway that places graduates from top colleges in urban and rural schools. It is well known for its competitive admissions and detailed teacher-selection criteria, several of which have been linked by research to student achievement.

Mr. Cibulka also pointed to a congressionally mandated report on teacher preparation by the National Academies that identifies teacher selection as one of three leverage points for improving training. (“Draw Called Over Routes to Teaching,” May 12, 2010.)

And finally, case studies on foreign countries have consistently identified highly selective entry requirements to teacher training as a teacher-quality strategy used by some of the top-performing nations on international exams. An influential report from McKinsey & Co., an international consultancy with headquarters in New York City, for instance, recently examined the idea of recruiting teachers from the “top third” of academic talent.

Both states and programs have widely divergent minimum requirements for admission. Among those with the highest standards is Boston College, which requires students transferring to its teacher education program from other schools to have at least a 3.5 GPA in lower-division coursework. (Graduate students need at least a 3.0.)

“It just reflects the fact we know the kind of competition they’ll be up against, and we want to be sure they’re successful here,” said Maureen E. Kenny, the interim dean of the college’s Lynch School of Education. “We are not a place in the university where people come who are struggling academically; they need to be strong in their content area and major.”

Room to Experiment

Several groups have proposed a stricter entry cutoff. A contested review of teacher education programs being conducted by the Washington-based National Council on Teacher Quality, for instance, will look at whether programs require candidates to have at least a 3.0 GPA for admission to graduate programs or to attain a specific numerical score on college-entrance exams for entry to undergraduate programs.

And in an education reform plan unveiled in October, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad proposed a state requirement of 3.0 for students to enter state teaching programs. The proposal by the Republican governor needs legislative action and is expected to be included in a package of education bills.

But Mr. Cibulka promised that the new CAEP standards, which are to be fleshed out by a commission of experts to be appointed next month, will leave room for experimentation and will examine a variety of factors, not just GPA.

“We want to write the standards in a way that raises the bar, but not in such a prescriptive way that we can’t learn about what works from having the institutions try different things,” he said.

That flexibility is likely to be welcomed by teacher-educators, several of whom praised the idea but said there could be cases in which a hard-and-fast admission standard might bar potentially good teachers from enrolling, especially at the postbaccalaureate level.

“What’s always difficult is that there’s always a reason to make exceptions—maybe a candidate’s undergraduate work doesn’t reflect what they’re currently capable of,” said Richard De Lisi, the dean of the graduate school of education at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

But, he added, “especially now with some members of the public not having confidence in teacher education, I think [a higher standard] sends a nice, strong signal about rigor and the importance of having well-qualified students potentially entering into the teaching profession.”

Mr. Steiner of Hunter College argued that the change could, in fact, help upgrade the prestige of the teaching profession.

“If you make a powerful gesture policywise to show that teaching is really tough, and only those who are very able are suited for it, you make the profession more attractive,” he said. “You have a Teach For America effect on a much, much larger scale.”

CAEP is scheduled to begin accrediting programs in January 2013. Until the new standards take effect, programs will be allowed to seek accreditation or reaccreditation through the pathways offered by either NCATE or TEAC.

Coverage of “deeper learning” that will prepare students with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a rapidly changing world is supported in part by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, at
A version of this article appeared in the December 15, 2011 edition of Education Week as Teacher-Entry Criteria on Agenda of Merged NCATE


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