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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, May 21, 2001

UH teachers college poised for accreditation

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

On the first floor of Wist Annex, down the hall from the dean's office, is a room that holds the keys to the College of Education's future.

In it, among tidy bookshelves and hanging file folders, is the evidence of the University of Hawai'i college's turnaround: binders full of self-evaluation, graduate student theses and dissertations, posters designed by student teachers on topics such as how to work with disruptive students and, finally, rows of applications seeking the approval of its peers.

For the first time, UH's College of Education is seeking national accreditation. And a visit by an accrediting team earlier this spring has indicated the college has met the 20 national standards and can likely expect final approval around October.

If UH succeeds in winning the blessing of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, it will represent a change in fortune for the college that turns out about 70 percent of the state's public school teachers.

"It means we will have met the highest standards of the profession, that our programs have been reviewed and evaluated using consensus standards in the profession," said Randy Hitz, College of Education dean. "It's part of accountability. It's also part of our attempt to raise the standard of the teaching profession."

The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education is the largest accreditor of teacher education programs in the United States. It reviews college programs using a process that starts with an in-depth institutional self-study followed by campus visits. An institution's facilities, personnel, and program are examined every five years.

Accreditation would also help the university keep pace with the rest of the country.

Although the movement toward national accreditation is relatively recent, about half of the colleges of education nationwide have NCATE accreditation, including about 70 to 80 percent of research universities like the UH-Manoa campus. And about 80 percent of all teachers in the country have graduated from NCATE-approved schools, Hitz said.

Hitz arrived at UH three years ago with the goal of winning NCATE accreditation. However, he brought in a consultant who met with faculty members to explain the lengthy process of obtaining accreditation, and then took a vote to make sure it was something the professors were committed to doing.

"It's a big risk for us," Hitz said.

Indeed, in the early 1990s, the College of Education was under fire with accusations that it was not adequately preparing teachers and suffered from a lack of permanent leadership.

In 1994, the Department of Education threatened to pull its accreditation of the college, saying the school was doing a poor job of training teachers. In 1995, the criticism mounted when state auditor Marion Higa issued a report condemning the college for a lack of a clearly defined mission.

Higa's report said the school was pursuing multiple tracks at once: training teachers, conducting academic research and providing public service.

Although the college had addressed those problems, the NCATE accreditation requires an intense self-study. The college discovered it was not doing enough special-education training, multicultural training and technology training for all teachers and made adjustments to its curriculum.

It decided to cut one program that wasn't working well. And it discovered that its faculty members were actually teaching too much and not working closely enough with local schools.

"I think if we hadn't made these changes, we would have been in trouble," Hitz said. "We kept looking under rocks and finding things."

The college also opened itself to the possibility of voluminous outside criticism when it submitted 21 separate accreditation applications to agencies such as the National Science Teachers Association, the National Council of Teachers of English and the Council for Exceptional Children for approval of its each of various degree programs.

At least 13 of those programs have been approved so far and the other applications are pending.

Patricia Lopes, a specialist in the college, led the accreditation team for the elementary education program. She said pursuing the accreditation pushed the college to adopt better standards and a new curriculum that gives all students a background in special education.

"It's needed," Lopes said. "If you're working in inclusion classrooms, which most of the classrooms are, then you'll have to be able to work with special-education children."

Clara Burrows, who works in the personnel certification and development group at the DOE, has worked with the College of Education on its national accreditation.

Normally, the state reviews the college every five years to evaluate its teacher programs. But the state has adopted the NCATE standards and will accept the group's evaluation of the college, Burrows said.

"We are confident that NCATE gives an institution national standards," Burrows said. "They've made major strides. There's been some major changes and all to improve the quality of education."

As for Hitz, he has felt confident the college would receive national accreditation since January, when a 260-page summary report that outlines the college's qualifications was completed.

That report and the contents of the room down the hall from his office, Hitz said, are all the evidence he needs.