The nation’s leading accreditor of teacher-preparation programs has unveiled standards for professional-development schools, which team up with school districts to train prospective and beginning educators.
The Washington-based National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which accredits 525 colleges and universities, released five benchmarks last week.
“This represents a superior strategy for the preparation of teachers,” Arthur E. Wise, the president of NCATE, said of professional-development schools. “Now there is a set of agreed-upon standards for what it takes to run a successful professional-development school.”
No other organization has outlined national standards for such partnerships, which are an increasingly important strategy for training and retaining teachers, said Robert J. Yinger, the dean of the school of education at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Mr. Yinger is also the president of the Holmes Partnership, a network of schools, universities, agencies, and national professional organizations working to improve teacher preparation.
The new standards are not required for accreditation by NCATE, but are a guide for those operating professional-development schools, Mr. Wise said.
But not everyone agrees that NCATE has emphasized the right goals.
“They are focusing on process, rather than results,” said Michael B. Poliakoff, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based panel set up last year by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. “I can’t see this as likely to improve existing student teaching and internship programs.”
The new NCATE standards set out objectives for professional-development schools. They must:
- Provide supervised, real-world training and experiences for prospective and beginning teachers;
- Enhance student achievement in preschool through 12th grade;
- Serve as a site for professional development for educators; and
- Support research and inquiry about teaching and learning.
To date, 30 percent of the institutions accredited by NCATE have established professional-development schools, the organization reports, and the list will likely grow.
Louisiana, Maryland, and North Carolina have required that all teacher-preparation programs in those states develop professional-development-school models in the past few years, NCATE reports. Meanwhile, Georgia, New Jersey, and South Carolina have adopted policies that encourage them.
The concept of the schools dates to a 1987 report by the Holmes Group, the precursor of the Holmes Partnership. It suggested that teachers be provided with extended clinical experience similar to that given to young physicians in teaching hospitals. Traditionally, prospective teachers have completed a relatively brief period of student teaching before earning a license.
Since the late 1980s, researchers have studied professional-development schools and written about their benefits. They say that educators who participate in such programs have higher scores on state licensure tests and perform better on pedagogy exams. They are also less likely than their colleagues to leave the profession.
Moreover, children and adolescents who attend schools where the models are in place score significantly higher than their peers on standardized exams, research has shown.
But some experts argue that any national standards for professional-development schools also need to make a strong connection between teachers and student achievement.
“Only once in a while do I see a focus on what really matters the most to children—[documented] student-learning gains,” said Mr. Poliakoff, who added that he is a proponent of professional-development schools.
NCATE contends that such criticisms are unfounded and points to language in the standards that reflect the need for a focus on student learning.
The standards were drafted over the past two years in conjunction with a national advisory group that included representatives from professional-development schools and their school district partners, state policymakers, teachers’ union representatives, and advocacy groups.
They were pilot-tested at 18 partnership sites around the country.