Teacher education programs are now required to meet higher standards or increase their emphasis on classroom training in order to achieve accreditation, according to new guidelines being announced today by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.
One of the organization's new requirements asks teacher education programs to "demonstrate continuous improvement toward excellence." This means they must meet NCATE's highest -- not just "acceptable" -- levels of achievement in six areas, ranging from candidate knowledge and diversity to faculty qualifications. For instance, whereas the acceptable level requires professional education faculty to have "earned doctorates or exceptional expertise that qualifies them for their assignments," the superior level additionally requires that they "have earned doctorates or exceptional expertise, have contemporary professional experiences in school settings at the levels that they supervise, and are meaningfully engaged in related scholarship."
With regard to the program's finances, NCATE's "acceptable" level calls for a budget that "adequately supports on-campus and clinical work,"
whereas the target level requires that "budgetary allocations permit faculty teaching, scholarship, and service that extend beyond the unit
to P-12 education and other programs in the institution."
Alternatively, institutions can establish programs that foster real-world classroom training or research about teacher education.
NCATE President James Cibulka said the revisions mark the "biggest change in NCATE's accreditation process in the last 10 years."
"We need to recruit a diverse and talented teaching force," he said. "We need to induct novice teachers to their profession and to retain them once they are highly functional teachers, we need to raise achievements, we need to prepare teachers who can work with a more diverse student population. There are a whole host of challenges there and we believe the institutions that prepare teachers should be addressing those needs."
The majority of NCATE's 632 accredited colleges of education do not currently meet the "target" level of achievement,according to Cibulka. They have until 2012 to either raise their curriculum to that level or develop a new training or research program.
Larry Johnson, dean of the University of Cincinnati College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services, said that meeting the NCATE requirements is "critical" for American education, but may be difficult to measure in concrete terms. "It's really hard, any time, to hold people accountable to the impact of something they're doing," he said, adding, "You can't have 'highly trained' teachers unless you can demonstrate they impact the students they can teach."
In the past, supporters of a traditional curriculum have criticized NCATE for being too ideological. In 2005, the National Association of Scholars filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department regarding the organization's "dispositions" requirement, which NCATE expects education programs to use to measure students' teaching capability. At the time, "social justice" was listed as a quality that students should have; the phase was removed soon after.
Glenn Ricketts, a spokesman for the National Association of Scholars, said the new NCATE requirements sounded "encouraging," based on a description provided before the document's release.
"We'd like to see far more content-based education for teachers of history or English than simply pedagogy (and) things like service learning or community activism," he said. "We're hoping that this is an improvement."
The new requirements ultimately aim to dispel the notion that "what happens in a university is kind of an ivory tower perspective," said David Burgin, an economics teacher at Science Hill High School in Tennessee. He advised NCATE on forming its new standards after helping develop a local teacher-training program.
"In the past it's sort of been, 'What can we do to get approval? Check check check, OK, we're done,' " he said. "Whereas I feel like what we're asking NCATE to do ... is to develop relationships and see a product, not a finished work."
Frank B. Murray, president of the Teacher Education Accreditation Council -- a group formed as a rival to NCATE, but which has, more recently, been working with it -- praised the changes being announced today. "The changes NCATE is proposing are very much in line with TEAC's principles," he said.
"We are eager to see how the field responds to NCATE's ambitious plans because they fit so well with TEAC's approach. We have nothing but applause for this effort."