Accreditation and Politics

Scholars' association charges groups that review colleges of education and social work with using ideological tests on students.
November 2, 2005

The groups that accredit colleges of teacher education and social work will come under fire today when the National Association of Scholars files a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education saying that they encourage standards that violate students' First Amendment rights.

The National Association of Scholars, a group that advocates a traditional curriculum, wants the Education Department to force the accrediting groups to change their standards -- or to withdraw the federal government's recognition of the agencies. Officials of the social work group said that they could not respond to the allegations last night, as they had not had time to study the association's complaint. But the head of the teacher education group sharply attacked the complaint, and said that it distorted his group's policies.

The complaints about the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education center on its "dispositions" requirement, which NCATE expects education colleges to use to evaluate students' capability of leading school classes. The complaint to the Education Department notes that "social justice" has been identified as a quality that students should have. That term is "necessarily fraught with contested ideological significance," according to the National Association of Scholars.

A conservative student at Washington State University has said that he is at risk of failing because of comments he made in his university classes that revealed his political leanings, and he has charged that he was punished under the "dispositions" system required by NCATE. (Washington State officials have said that they are investigating the matter and that no one would be punished for political views.)

Similarly, the National Association of Scholars complaint charges that the Council on Social Work Education expects its member colleges to look for evidence of a commitment to social justice among its students.

Stephen H. Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, said in an interview that while social justice may sound like a worthy ideal, it ends up violating students' rights to express their own points of view.

"Students are being required to adhere to a particular creed, and the federal government -- even indirectly -- cannot be a party to these violations of First Amendment rights," he said.

Arthur E. Wise, president of NCATE, said that the complaint was a "fabrication" about his group. Wise said that the "dispositions" requirements reflected the need for education schools to know how their students would perform as teachers. NCATE needs to know that there is a good system in place, he said.

"We mean that students, when doing their student teaching, are judged that they will do no harm to students," he said. "Our guidance to institutions is to evaluate behavior in context. We do not encourage or invite colleges to examine the beliefs of students."

Asked if conservative students could pass the "dispositions" requirements, Wise said that they could and that they do -- all the time. He noted that NCATE accredits "a full range of institutions," including places like Brigham Young and Oral Roberts Universities -- which are not known as hotbeds of liberalism.


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