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NCATE President Fleshes Out Plans to Update Process

By Stephen Sawchuk — March 06, 2009 3 min read
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In a wide-ranging speech delivered here last week, the president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, James G. Cibulka, laid out his most specific ideas yet for updating the group’s accreditation process.

Mr. Cibulka plans to create an option for teacher-preparation programs in good standing to seek “continuous improvement” status—essentially, an alternative to reaccreditation. He also seeks revisions to NCATE’s standards to strengthen content and clinical preparation.

NCATE plans to roll out details in the coming weeks. The proposals must first be vetted by internal committees.

The group last overhauled its teacher education standards in 2001, when it introduced a performance-based approach requiring teachers’ colleges to gauge their candidates’ acquisition of knowledge and skills.

Mr. Cibulka stopped short of indicating his proposals would require changes of that magnitude, but he drew parallels to those changes.

“NCATE has raised the bar,” Mr. Cibulka said about the 2001 effort, which initially increased the number of schools failing to receive accreditation. “Arguably, it has not raised the bar enough.”

Compliance to Improvement

Since assuming the reins of NCATE last year, Mr. Cibulka has promoted the accreditation process as a lever to focus teacher education on precollegiate student achievement. He has also sought a more efficient accreditation system.

During his Feb. 25 speech, sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank here, Mr. Cibulka underscored that such changes should include opportunities for teacher education to engage in research-and-development opportunities.

One way of effecting that change, Mr. Cibulka said, would be to offer institutions that receive accreditation without condition the option of seeking “continuous improvement” status, rather than going through the reaccreditation process. A number of regional accrediting bodies for higher education employ a similar option, as do national accreditors in other specialized fields, such as social work.

To apply, Mr. Cibulka suggested, a program would have to propose an in-depth project on an area of concern in teacher education. Such projects’ results, he said, could transform the field in new ways.

Changes to Standards

Mr. Cibulka added, however, that certain elements of the NCATE standards do need attention. In particular, he called on institutions to address content areas with “renewed vigor” to ensure they are focused and well-integrated with pedagogy. Although program-specific content standards are set by specialized professional associations, not by NCATE, their work is guided by an NCATE task force.

Mr. Cibulka also discussed NCATE’s standard for candidates’ student-teaching experiences, saying that revisions to that standard should aim to make those experiences the “centerpiece” of teacher education programs.

“We need to be, perhaps, more prescriptive asking programs to document the amount of fieldwork, the link between the area of content and how it is integrated, the selection of the site for student-teaching, and the quality of the supervising teacher,” he said.

Such ideas won plaudits from supporters of stronger field experiences for prospective teachers.

“Right now, coursework is in the foreground, and the clinical piece is in the background,” said Barnett Berry, the president of the Hillsborough, N.C.-based Center for Teaching Quality. “What we need to do is reverse that.”

Mr. Berry also suggested that the changes could help institutions focus their attention on specific program areas and on a smaller number of candidates.

“University programs tend to prepare almost every type of teacher,” Mr. Berry said. “In some states, they are preparing teachers who are not needed or will never find jobs. That money could be spent on a smaller number of candidates in fields who will.”

NCATE continues to explore the idea of accrediting alternative-route providers, Mr. Cibulka concluded, saying that he has had initial meetings with major groups such as Teach For America and umbrella organizations representing alternative routes. He hopes to encourage closer links between NCATE accreditation status and state oversight of teacher preparation.

“We need to have one high standard for all teacher preparation, with data for effectiveness and consequences for those who fall short,” Mr. Cibulka said.

A version of this article appeared in the March 11, 2009 edition of Education Week as NCATE President Fleshes Out Plans to Update Process

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