Accreditation Agencies Promote Change at CCNY School of Ed
The Education Department of the City College of New York has undergone a transformation in the last few years. In 1998 the department was placed under intensive review by the New York State Education Department as a result of poor performance of teacher education students on the New York State Teacher Certification Examinations (NYSTCE). Less than five years later the department (now the School of Education) is a profoundly different place with 90 percent of graduate and undergraduate students passing the certification examinations, new and revised courses of study, and many individual programs that have achieved national accreditation.
Emblematic of this turnaround is a recent $2 million grant to the School of Education from Stanley Kaplan (testing entrepreneur and CCNY alumnus '39) to teach assistant principals how to improve the performance of the math teachers that they supervise. This is the largest grant by a living donor in the history of the college (New York Times October 22, 2003 p. B9). To do the same training with high school assistant principals, the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation has awarded the School of Education an additional $3.66 million.
The faculty and staff could not have brought about such significant changes and improvements without pressure from the outside. In 1998, as a condition of maintaining accreditation, the state demanded that the Department of Education improve passing rates of students on the NYSTCE and established aggressive goals for raising scores.
The 30-plus faculty members and staff of the department of education began a major effort. Together they tightened admissions requirements, developed new admissions examinations that could predict results on the NYSTCEs, evaluated courses to ensure coverage of material on the examinations, and offered free preparation sessions for students taking the teacher certification examinations. Faculty members continued to write and receive major grants for materials development and teacher training in mathematics, science, and English as a Second Language. They developed new programs in middle school education. The CCNY Center for School Development received a $1.3 million grant (now in its third year) to provide technology training for education students and faculty, upgrade the existing computer laboratory, and establish a new multimedia laboratory.
Competitive admissions is a strategy that can eventually lead to higher student scores but over the short-term it reduces enrollments and departments of education feel great pressure to maintain their enrollment numbers. In a resource-starved public university education program, pressure to keep up enrollments can lead to a virtual open admissions policy. Regardless of one's position on open admissions, the state's demands on City College greatly helped in the successful implementation of practices such as higher admissions standards and the establishment of examination preparation sessions for students. Together, these changes contributed to the raise in scores on the NYSTCE.
In 2000, to meet new state regulations for teacher education, all departments of education in New York State were required to re-register their programs. City College's re-registered programs included changes such as early fieldwork experiences, new content courses in the sciences and mathematics, the integration of technology, and careful distinctions between programs designed for initial teacher certification and advanced teacher certification. A requirement by New York state that the number of courses taught by adjuncts stay below 50 percent led to university approval for new faculty lines in the School of Education. The new faculty in turn brought talent and energy to the School of Education.
As a second condition for maintaining state registration, New York State required that all schools of education achieve national accreditation by 2004. This put education faculty, staff and administrators on a complex and time-consuming path toward national accreditation by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). This effort included the development of a comprehensive assessment system to document the growth and achievement of students and the quality of programs.
The New York City Teaching Fellows Program was another outside pressure on the School of Education. Started by the New York City Board of Education in 2000, the fellows program brought an influx of teacher education students into City College at the rate of about 500 a year. The program was designed to provide certified teachers for hard-to-staff New York City schools, most of which were under registration review (SURR schools). Teaching fellows tend to have strong academic backgrounds and writing skills and they bring these strengths to the City College classroom as well as to their public school classrooms. Increased enrollments due to the fellows program helped the dean in his requests for resources such as faculty lines. But program resources were also stretched thin as faculty struggled to keep up. Student enrollments can rise quickly; hiring of new faculty is a necessarily slow and deliberate process.
State and national accreditation requirements can seem onerous to a School of Education but can also play a critical role in initiating and sustaining improvements. Because of national and state accreditation requirements, the college administration is more responsive to the needs of the School of Education and more aware of its achievements and contributions to the college as a whole. But School of Education faculty and staff cannot rest easy on the basis of their accomplishments so far. NCATE's demands for the development of a unified conceptual framework or philosophy, for the collection of measurable data on graduates based on this framework, and for increased communication with local schools, have made faculty realize that putting in place a comprehensive assessment plan that will continually improve its programs must become a part of the ongoing life of the School of Education.#
Gretchen L. Johnson is an Associate Professor of Education at The City College of the City University of New York.