Teacher Preparation

University of Colo. at Boulder Under Fire for Ed. School Programs

By Julie Blair — June 06, 2001 4 min read
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University of Colorado officials are fighting to save many academic majors offered to prospective educators on the Boulder campus after criticism from state regulators.

The Colorado Commission on Higher Education last month warned that popular majors—including English, Spanish, psychology, and women’s studies—failed to meet academic standards set by the state’s education department. The commission, by law, evaluates the state’s teacher-preparation programs.

The university’s board of regents will resubmit new plans for more than a dozen programs for approval on June 7, said Philip P. DiStefano, the school’s provost. Twelve other jeopardized programs still await action by the commission, he said.

All teacher-preparation programs in the state face a June 30 deadline for being reauthorized by the board, said Jeanne M. Adkins, the director of policy and planning for the Denver-based commission. Without that approval, institutions cannot admit future educators to the major. According to Colorado law, teachers must earn degrees in a major other than education, but are required to take a battery of pedagogy classes.

“We thought the majors were adequate ... but problems did come up,” Mr. DiStefano acknowledged.

Critics of the commission, however, argue that its members are creating roadblocks to shut down a teacher-preparation program that purposely promotes diversity. Others worry that the commission is trying to narrow the curriculum to content that appears on the state’s K-12 assessment.

Ms. Adkins said that the commission is making no judgments, but simply working to ensure that teacher preparation complies with state standards.

Out of Alignment?

The commission began evaluating the state’s 15 teacher-preparation programs 18 months ago, sending teams of K-12 administrators and teacher- educators to public and private campuses throughout Colorado to determine whether the programs are aligned with standards outlined by the state.

Of all the schools evaluated, only the University of Colorado at Boulder had big problems, Ms. Adkins said. In fact, a significant number of the 74 majors submitted for authorization in November were not aligned with state standards, she said. The commission reported the problems to the university and offered officials the opportunity to overhaul and resubmit their work this spring for recognition.

William Stanley

Many of the courses of study for the majors submitted did not mandate that students take basic liberal-arts classes, Ms. Adkins said, a key requirement put in place to ensure that teachers are well-rounded individuals.

“It was possible that a dance major might never take a math course in college and that they would be in an elementary classroom ... relying on their high school math,” she said.

Other majors did not comply with the 128 credit-hour maximum, Ms. Adkins said. Instead, students would have to take far larger course loads, a mandate that threatened to overwhelm the average student who wanted to graduate in four years.

The university has worked furiously to tweak the content of many of the majors over the last few weeks, adding requirements or downsizing course loads to meet the June 30 deadline, Mr. DiStefano said. Given the magnitude of the task, however, the school has opted to resubmit 14 majors for approval at the June 7 meeting, but will work toward earning recognition of the others throughout the fall, he said. Those up for evaluation later this week include mostly science majors, he said.

Detractors, however, say the commission’s sweeping criticisms of the university’s majors are a means to dismantle a teacher-preparation program intent on educating a diverse teaching workforce.

William B. Stanley, the dean of the school of education, was so upset about the situation that he announced his resignation effective June 30.

The majors labeled problematic attracted the largest percentage of ethnic minorities in the school of education. African-American and Hispanic students, for example, are drawn to majors in psychology, sociology, and ethnic studies, Mr. Stanley said. To eliminate such majors would be to cut off the pipeline of minority educators in a region of the country where they are desperately needed.

The gubernatorially appointed commission showed its political leanings last year when a conservative consultant was hired to evaluate teacher-preparation programs, Mr. Stanley said. The report’s author recommended that the school of education at the University of Colorado at Boulder be suspended and that the program at Metropolitan State College of Denver stop accepting new pupils. Both institutions wrongly pushed liberal positions in such areas as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, the study stated.

There is no evidence, the dean said, that the majors in question are lacking. The programs at the University of Colorado at Boulder were approved in a 4-3 vote last May by the state board of education and reaccredited in 1999 by the Washington-based National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

“This charge is just not accurate,” Mr. Stanley said. “It signals to me that CCHE is hostile to our position on diversity, democracy, and social justice.”

Ms. Adkins, however, called the study “absolutely irrelevant” to the most recent evaluation of the University of Colorado at Boulder conducted by the commission.

None of the assessors contracted by the commission who made the recommendations saw the report, Ms. Adkins said. Nor did any members of the commission view it.

“They need an excuse for their own poor performance,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the June 06, 2001 edition of Education Week as University of Colo. at Boulder Under Fire for Ed. School Programs

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