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Towson's credentials questioned Teacher program's accreditation at risk


An article about Towson State University's teacher-education program in The Sun yesterday gave an incorrect figure for the proportion of education programs that are failing to gain accreditation nationwide. Thirty percent of the schools are failing.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Towson State University's teacher-training program, tholdest and one of the most respected in the state, is on the verge of losing its accreditation -- partly because of budget cutbacks, college officials say.

One of the accrediting agency's chief concerns is the large number of part-time faculty at the university. Towson officials said cuts in state aid in the past two years have forced the university to hire cheaper, part-time instructors.

The loss of accreditation, while mostly symbolic, would be a blow to Towson State, which was founded in 1866 as the state's first teacher-training school.

This year's evaluation, which was delivered in March, was the first for Towson under a tougher set of standards established in 1988 by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).

NCATE objected to the number of part-time faculty and to the excessive course loads some faculty members must carry. It also said Towson State should have more minorities in both its faculty and student body.

"Where they hit us was in our faculty," said James B. Binko, dean of the college of education. "That's not a disparaging comment on our faculty. They're saying you don't have enough full-time faculty.

"If you look objectively at the score card NCATE left us, they are not criticizing us for the quality of our programs or the quality of our graduates," Mr. Binko said.

The accreditation report noted that some faculty members have teaching loads well beyond NCATE's accepted load of 12 hours a week for undergraduate courses and nine hours for graduate-level offerings.

The college disputed many of the factual statements in the accreditation and appealed the rejection.

"We believe the process as it was applied to Towson was flatly and bluntly flawed," Mr. Binko said.

Towson State President Hoke L. Smith said he would wait until the appeal is decided in late June to comment.

Although it was primarily a teacher-training institution for most of its existence, Towson branched out into the liberal arts and sciences in the 1970s as the market for teachers waned with the end of the baby boom. The school now trains more business majors than educators.

Still, Towson State's education program has made a comeback in recent years. Four years ago, some 1,100 students majored in education. Today, Towson State has about 2,000 education majors, but the college has added only three full-time professors, Mr. Binko said.

"That means I've had to hire a lot of part-time faculty," he said.

The state has cut its budget for Towson State from $50 million to $43.6 million in the past two years, according to figures from the Maryland Higher Education Commission. The budget recently enacted by the General Assembly does increase the annual payment to $45.2 million.

Three years ago, before the budget cuts, the university hired 60 new faculty members, Mr. Binko said. The next year, as the money dried up, the school hired only 10.

News of Towson State's failure surprised some educators.

"They have an excellent reputation and an excellent faculty," said O'Dell E. Jack, chairman of Bowie State University's education department. "I do have the greatest respect for the faculty and the program there."

Bowie State was reaccredited last spring under the more rigorous NCATE standards.

Roughly 70 percent of the 259 schools that have applied for reaccreditation since NCATE adopted its new standards have failed.

The new standards have prompted several schools, including the University of Michigan, Arizona State University and the University of Iowa, to leave NCATE.

Only five of the 20 Maryland colleges that train teachers are accredited by NCATE. Many schools have decided that the benefit of having the accreditation is not worth the expense and bother of preparing for the accreditation team's visits.

Some colleges have estimated that it costs as much as $300,000 in fees, materials, expenses and salaries to go through the accreditation process. But NCATE officials said that figure is much too high.

Teachers trained at non-accredited institutions are still qualified for jobs in Maryland schools as long as their programs are certified by the state.

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