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Timothy D. Slekar

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Why NCATE?

Posted: 11/08/11 11:01 AM ET

There is certainly value in assessing the quality of learning and teaching, but that doesn't mean it's always necessary, or even possible, to measure those things -- that is, to turn them into numbers. Alfie Kohn
As I cited in my last blog, NCATE appears to be pursuing the use of Value Added Measures (VAM). In fact, NCATE president James Cibulka said, "Working within this climate of heightened expectations, [NCATE] will ask for more performance data and greater transparency in reporting performance, as these data become available." In other words, everybody is starting to use VAM and we should get ready to use it too. However, all the credible research on this use of VAM is unequivocal -- it is not ready for prime time.


This announcement, to me (and I hope any credible researcher in teaching and learning) signals the end of any need to be affiliated with the NCATE accreditation process. They have crossed the line. They have been pushing up against it for years but now they have crossed it. How can any credible teacher education program that is constructed on the understandings and deep inquiry about the nature of children, the nature of teachers, and the nature of the teaching milieu continue to align with NCATE?

There was a time in my career when I supported the foundational idea of the NCATE accreditation process for teacher education programs. The idea was solid. Take the best research and practice from the diverse field of teacher education and design a system of assessment for institutions that prepared future teachers. The system was driven by educators and supposed to be a collaborative process -- an experience in program assessment with a flat hierarchy. In other words, teacher educators would help other teacher educators design and implement programs supported by the best research on teaching and learning. It's kind of hard to disagree with the idea. Who wouldn't want to make sure that their teacher education program was offering students the best preparation possible based on the best empirical evidence available? However, somewhere along the line something happened. NCATE slowly turned into an organization that devalued collaboration with professionals and decided that NCATE itself (not teacher education scholars) was the expert. This is a sad state of affairs. How did a collaborative assessment process become corrupted by the idea that a single approach to teaching and learning was revealed to a certain privileged group -- NCATE?

Understand that NCATE as a symbol of excellence is really a joke any way. I recently asked ten principals if they considered NCATE accredited teacher candidates superior to teacher candidates without NCATE's stamp of approval. Eight of them had never heard of NCATE and the others (Professional Development School principals) stated that they would only look at teacher candidates from a PDS program that demonstrated a rich partnership between actual schools and teacher preparation programs.

I know that in my last blog I lamented the fact that my colleagues in teacher education programs are largely absent from the critical discussion concerning NCATE's indication that it plans on using VAM, but what about the leaders in teacher education? I randomly searched the internet for various mission statements of teacher preparation programs. I searched Research I institutions, State Universities, and private schools (Penn State's mission statement for teacher education). There was not a single mission statement extolling the virtues of raising high-stakes standardized test scores. I saw words like democracy, justice, positive environment, child centered, and powerful pedagogy. So for those of you that were offended by my last post you have some homework. Start asking questions of your own institutions and academic leaders in teacher education. When will they take the lead of the Long Island principals and just Opt Out?

As a colleague of mine once said concerning the mission of teacher education, "We're not preparing our students to teach in schools as they are. We're preparing our students to teach in schools as they should be."

 

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