New Standards Proposed for Teacher Preparation

Published August 1, 2000

WASHINGTON — The proponents of a national system of preparing and licensing teachers for America’s K-12 classrooms spared no hyperbole in a recent news conference here, unveiling revised National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) standards. But critics contend NCATE is engaged in a power play that will make it even more difficult–and much more costly–to get good teachers into U.S. classrooms.

NCATE announced that schools of education will have to meet “rigorous new performance-based standards” in order to win accreditation. What was left unsaid was that powerful elements of the education establishment, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, are pushing for NCATE accreditation to be mandatory for all teacher-training institutions.

The NEA was a founder of NCATE in 1954. As the nation’s largest teacher union, it remains today a dominant influence in NCATE. Bob Chase, NEA president, is the current chairman of NCATE’s executive board. Sandra Feldman, president of the AFT, also sits on the board.

In 1995, a Carnegie Corporation-funded commission, headed by North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt and also heavily NEA/AFT-influenced, pushed for mandatory NCATE accreditation. Fewer than a dozen states have mandated NCATE accreditation on their own, and 800 of the nation’s 1,300 teacher-training schools do not seek NCATE accreditation voluntarily.

By focusing on “candidate performance,” said NCATE President Arthur E. Wise, the “standards represent a revolution in teacher preparation.” But skeptics wonder how “revolutionary” it is to assess candidates–either aspiring teachers or students in today’s classrooms–largely according to videotaped activities, portfolios of projects, personal journals, or their compatibility with a team. That’s the emphasis of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, another Carnegie Corporation creation promoting nationalization of teacher certification and one that Wise hailed as a model.

“In spite of claims to the contrary,” commented Michael Podgursky, professor and chairman of economics at the University of Missouri (Columbia), “at present there exists no reliable evidence indicating whether or not graduates of NCATE-accredited teacher training programs are better teachers.”

Although several states are caving in to pressure to mandate NCATE accreditation, Podgursky added, “mandatory accreditation would almost certainly restrict the supply of teachers and exacerbate teacher shortages, yet its effect on the teacher quality pool is uncertain. It may also stifle promising state-level experiments with alternative teacher certification and the entry of new teacher-training institutions into the market.”

Wise disagreed. “As more institutions meet NCATE’s national professional standards,” he asserted, “more qualified teacher candidates will be available, since candidates from accredited institutions pass licensing examinations at a higher rate than do those from unaccredited institutions or those with no teacher preparation.”

Wise based that claim on a recent Educational Testing Service (ETS) study of the rates at which teacher candidates pass the PRAXIS II licensing exams. He neglected to point out that the same study shows that the SAT and ACT scores of NCATE graduates who passed licensing exams are lower than those of non-NCATE peers.

Podgursky noted that the released ETS data are so flawed as to make any comparisons problematic. For instance, 14 percent of the sample of PRAXIS II test-takers never enrolled in a teacher-training program, yet the researchers sorted them into NCATE categories based on the colleges they attended. The study also failed to take into account wide variations in how states test prospective teachers.

NCATE’s new standards focus on just six evaluation categories, a consolidation of the 20 the group proposed in 1995. Examiners will review the following:

  • teacher-candidates’ knowledge, skills, and “dispositions”;
  • the school’s assessment system;
  • the inclusion of field experience and clinical practice;
  • the institution’s devotion to “diversity”;
  • how the faculty model “best practices”; and
  • unit governance, including the wise use of information technology.

“We expect [the standards] will be much more challenging,” Wise told the news conference. “We are prepared to stay the course.”

J. E. Stone, an education professor at East Tennessee State University and founder of the online Education Consumers Clearinghouse, said the ballyhooed “new” standards implement largely the old ideas about teaching from the 1995 standards. As for the portfolios, classroom observations, and emphasis on PRAXIS II, “performance on these various assessments reflects nothing more than a grasp of the same old faulty teaching practices that education professors have been espousing right along,” said Stone.

Most parents, the primary consumers of education, want schools to stress academic achievement. But Stone points out that many education professors believe the “best practice” in education does not involve a teacher “teaching” in the traditional sense, but instead consists of “facilitating” children to construct their own meaning. This is the ideology behind NCATE’s standards, Stone said, where “social justice” is valued more highly than achievement. It would be far more productive, he believes, to use value-added assessment so that teachers would be rated according to how much they help raise the achievement levels of their students.

As Podgursky and fellow economist Dale Ballou note in a new Brookings Institution paper, public education already is a heavily regulated monopoly. In most school districts, parents have little or no choice of their children’s schools or teachers. In addition, unlike the situation in medicine or other service markets, education consumers lack the protection of antitrust or malpractice lawsuits. Within this structure, the NEA and AFT already exercise enormous economic power as their well-organized affiliates bargain with fragmented local school boards.

If the teacher unions also won absolute control of the gates to teaching through union-controlled organizations like NCATE, they would possess “market power not enjoyed by producers or unions in any major industry in our economy,” warned Podgursky. Given union opposition to expanded school choice options and alternative teacher certification, such a development would not bode well for efforts to expand consumer choice and get fresh blood into the teaching profession.

Moreover, when a monopoly can and does restrict supply, prices will rise. In this case, such a restriction would mean higher teacher salaries. That would fulfill a primary objective of the teacher unions, but it would be achieved without any guarantee of increased quality.

Robert Holland is a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank in Arlington, Virginia. His e-mail address is [email protected].

For more information . . .

NCATE’s new standards can be found at

The Education Consumers Clearinghouse can be found at