JITE v34n1 - The Standards of Quality: A Reaction

Volume 34, Number 1
Fall 1996

The Standards of Quality: A Reaction

Jerome Moss, Jr.
University of Minnesota

This is not the reaction of an expert-that is, a student/scholar of teacher education in general and of vocational teacher education in particular. Rather, it is the reaction of a former practitioner of trade and industrial (T&I) teacher education who has not been involved in the current NAITTE efforts to develop standards, but who has always been somewhat discontented with the traditional T&I teacher education process and its product.

As a practitioner reading about the justification and rationale for standards, as well as the standards themselves, I found myself asking four questions. First, why have standards? Second, should T&I teacher education have its own separate standards? Third, are the standards realistic and complete? Fourth, what role should NAITTE play in the process of establishing standards (presuming there should be some)?

Why Have Standards?

Standards provide a basis for making judgments about program characteristics needed to produce qualified graduates, and/or the characteristics of graduates required for satisfactory performance. In the sense that the term is usually used, standards for program accreditation, the acceptance and implementation of standards are a hallmark of all professions. They evidence a degree of professional solidarity, a commitment to the profession, and a willingness to assume responsibility for the performance of graduates. A lack of standards, on the other hand, will inevitably lead (and in our case has already led) to a loss of credibility by the public and by other professionals, as well as a proliferation of alternative teacher education programs and processes.

To be effective, standards (in the program accreditation sense) must represent a reasonable consensus among members of the profession regarding what is considered acceptable program characteristics and/or performance by graduates. By endorsing a set of standards, practitioners accept the obligation of meeting them or of eliminating their programs. Standards, therefore, tend to force the faculty and administration of each institution to decide whether the institution should stay in the business of preparing T&I teachers-whether there are adequate and sufficient resources and incentives within the institution to justify the conduct of the programs-or give up the program. A rational decision by each institution can only serve to improve the overall quality of both teacher education programs as well as (in time) vocational education programs across the nation.

I believe there should be accreditation standards that apply to the preparation and certification of T&I teachers. Unfortunately, the NAITTE Committee has shied away from proposing accreditation standards, and has instead advanced what are really "guidelines." The intent of the "guidelines" is to inform the field about desirable principles and practices for T&I teacher preparation programs in the hope that the information will influence institutions to change. The Committee, I believe, has stopped short of what is really needed to make significant changes in the practice of T&I teacher preparation programs.

There are, of course, some good reasons why the Committee did not take the critical step of proposing accreditation standards. The uncertainty about what high school vocational programs will look like in the future, and our present lack of certainty about what makes for the most effective and efficient teacher education processes are among the reasons for keeping any set of standards flexible and for proceeding with caution. Perhaps it is most useful to think of the "guidelines" as the first step in creating accreditation standards. As the Committee now begins to test the applicability of the standards to teacher education programs and state certification agencies around the country, and as it examines the policies and practices that might enhance or impede the adoption of standards, the current "guidelines" will no doubt evolve and their acceptability will be more accurately assessed. Hopefully, a set of reasonable and forward-looking accreditation standards will be the result of that review and examination.

Should T&I Teacher Education Have Its Own Set of Standards?

Since desired practice in the field must be reflected in teacher education programs, the issue of whether T&I teacher education programs should have its own set of standards or whether it should have a subset of the standards for vocational education depends upon whether most practitioners believe vocational programs at the high school level should emphasize the commonalities or the differences among the several occupational fields. For example, those who believe that the last two years of high school should continue to be used to develop entry-level skills in a trade or technical occupation (or cluster of closely related occupations) would opt for specialized standards. Their rationale is that occupational competence and familiarity with the culture of occupational practice are particularly important components of the T&I teacher's competence and should play the major (even dominant) role in a teacher's preparation. Proponents of this traditional view also argue that the nature of the subject matter, where it is found, the way it is selected and organized, and the interaction of subject matter and instructional methods all reinforce the need for a distinct teacher preparation process and separate standards. In many cases, this traditional view has led to vocational teacher education programs being administered in several different academic colleges (e.g., agriculture and home economics) to emphasize the subject matter differences among the fields.

At the other extreme, some vocational educators ( Copa & Plihal, 1996 ) believe that vocational education in the high school should be taught to all students as one "broad field." The purpose of instruction would be to enhance success in vocational responsibilities at work, at home, and in the community by focusing instruction on understanding the problems in and among the three related aspects of life. Viewed in this way, vocational education is a composite field rather than a group of separate occupational fields. Teacher education programs would emphasize a common core of subject matter for all vocational teachers drawn from sociology, economics, philosophy, psychology, physical sciences, and biological sciences. Some degree of subject matter specialization would be permitted, but the emphasis on the common core would call for a single set of standards for all vocational educators, with a subset of standards for the specializations.

Although the rationale does not make it explicit, there is little doubt that the traditional forms of secondary T&I programs are envisioned by the NAITTE Committee. T&I teachers are expected to prepare high school students with entry-level skills for a specific trade or technical occupation, and therefore, (despite the Committee's recognition of the lack of strong relationships between tested occupational competence and teaching performance or student achievement), makes the attainment of occupational competence the sole prerequisite for entry to teaching. The Committee does not even question the assumption that T&I should have its own set of standards.

In my view, that assumption should be carefully examined and seriously questioned. For a variety of reasons (all of them familiar to JITE readers), I see the desired direction (and the actual trend) of secondary vocational programs as moving from (a) occupationally specific content to content drawn from more broadly defined career clusters or industry-based groupings; (b) a focus on developing entry-level job skills to an exploration of "all aspects of the industry" and a range of career paths; (c) limited attention on the development of basic skills to incorporating more academic content into vocational courses; (d) teaching in relative isolation to working collaboratively with others from several academic fields as well as the workplace; (e) relative independence from postsecondary programs to carefully articulated programs; and (f) a behavioristic model of instruction to a more student-centered, project-based, problem-oriented, and cooperative learning environment. These desirable trends require less specialized occupational competence but much better preparation in the liberal arts, in mathematics and the sciences, and more complex pedagogical and professional skills. This shifts the emphasis among the components of the preparation program for "T&I" teachers, and makes their program much more similar to that of prospective teachers in the other vocational fields. In light of these substantive reasons, as well as the political benefits inherent in greater unity among vocational educators, the Committee should carefully examine the desirability and feasibility of developing a common set of standards for vocational educators, with a subset of standards for a T&I specialization.

Are the Standards Realistic and Complete?

There are obvious differences between the NAITTE Committee and me concerning our assumptions about what secondary T&I programs should be. The differences are clearly reflected in our perceptions of the proper preparation program for secondary T&I teachers. But to carry out my role as reader fairly, the critique of the Committee's standards will be based upon the Committee's assumptions-that the standards are intended for the preparation and certification of teachers who will help students develop entry-level skills for specific trade and technical occupations (or clusters of closely related occupations).

The standards have many admirable qualities. The format is understandable and the indicators are clear (stated as outcomes), reflecting the increasingly complex pedagogical and professional competencies needed by all vocational teachers. Creating three levels of teachers and requiring the baccalaureate degree for the second "qualified" level is a device that could bring T&I closer to the mode for all teacher certification requirements (more about this later). Recognizing the need for continuing education in accord with a professional and technical improvement plan is a significant feature of the process standard. But there are a few questions and issues about the standards that deserve to be raised.

It is desirable for the Level I Associate Teacher to acquire his/her subject matter competence in a two-year technical associate degree program especially since it facilitates progress toward the baccalaureate, but it would be too restrictive if the standard is interpreted as requiring the associate degree. Training in the armed services, four-year engineering or technician programs, and even relevant work experience without postsecondary schooling are some alternate means of acquiring subject matter competence. Students applying to teacher education programs with subject matter competence but without an associate degree (or a baccalaureate degree) will simply have more credits to earn as a part of the teacher preparation program. The possibility of awarding credit toward the baccalaureate for prior work experience or other non-credit bearing training should not be excluded by the standard.

It is not clear whether verified work experience is an optional or a required part of the qualifications for Level I Associate Teachers. Some work experience in one or more relevant occupations should be required before beginning to teach. Technical competence can be learned in many ways, but some work experience is essential to understand the culture of practice in the occupation-what people do in various roles, how the work role and the organization fit into the economy, modes of dress, qualitative and quantitative standards for satisfactory productivity, ways of relating to other workers and supervisors, how internal problems are solved, how and why workers are promoted, etc. These kinds of information, attitudes, and values are important for teachers to incorporate into the learning environments.

The Level I Associate Teacher should be seen as a contingency to be used as infrequently as possible-only when it is absolutely necessary to employ an unqualified instructor. As the standard is now worded, the unqualified probationary teacher would have up to ten years to become qualified-a very long time. Yet, no provision is made in the standard for a mandatory rate of progress toward the baccalaureate, or for any limitations on the kinds of on-the-job responsibilities of the probationary teacher, nor for mentoring, assistance and supervision by a master teacher and/or university supervisor. Without some provisions like these in the standard, there is little reason to believe that the quality of the probationary teacher's instruction will improve during the ten years, or that the educational level of T&I teachers as a group will increase over time.

There is some question about the realism of the overall credit distribution called for by the standards. The teacher preparation program with which I am most familiar has had a credit distribution very much like the one specified in the standards, but I have never been very satisfied with the amount of liberal education that students have received or with the degree of pedagogical and professional competencies students have been able to develop within the allotted credits. Now, the Committee is proposing standards requiring a greater range of professional and pedagogical competencies-involving more complex cooperative and teaching skills-than called for by our present program. These new competencies are very much needed, but is it realistic to expect that they can be developed to a functional level with no more time (credits) than is now available? Given its view of the proper role of secondary T&I teachers, the Committee is probably reluctant to decrease the credit emphasis given to developing teachers' specialized occupational skills. Is there some other solution? One possible answer is to delay the development of some of the more complex pedagogical and professional competencies to the post-baccalaureate level. Master teachers should possess some skills and perform some tasks that are not ordinarily expected of Level II (qualified) teachers. The standards should make these explicit.

What Should Be The Role of NAITTE?

NAITTE, and particularly the Committee, is to be congratulated for the willingness to tackle the thorny task of developing standards, the effort made on behalf of our field, and on the progress made thus far, as evidenced by the standards. NAITTE is fulfilling one of its major responsibilities as a professional organization.

NAITTE has done an excellent job of involving members of the T&I field in the development of the standards, and now plans to provide opportunities for further discussion of the standards with teacher education institutions and state certification agencies throughout the country. The culmination will be a status report at the 1996 AVA Convention.

If, as I hope, the standards are eventually to be used for accreditation purposes, or if they are simply to be used to influence the accreditation standards employed by regional accrediting agencies or the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (1996), NAITTE should make arrangements to involve those other accreditation groups in discussions as soon as possible. Changes in teacher education programs are more apt to be influenced by the accreditation process than by "guidelines" from our professional organizations.

Finally, if ever there was a time to work more closely with the other vocational fields, now is that time. The teacher education resources of all the fields are declining, and the ability of each field to provide high quality teacher education programs is diminishing. At the same time, the character of high school programs that seems to be emerging will demand greater pedagogical and professional skills of all vocational teachers, and will put increasing emphasis upon the content common to all the vocational fields. If there is some hope, as I would wish, of working more collaboratively with the other vocational fields to establish a framework for a common set of standards (with subject matter specializations), then certainly discussions with those fields should also begin as soon as possible.


Moss is Professor Emeritus, Department of Vocational and Technical Education, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota.


Copa , G. H., and Plihal, J. (1996). General education and subject matter education components of the vocational teacher education program. In N. K. Hartley & T. L. Wentling (Eds.), Beyond tradition: Preparing the teachers of tomorrow's workforce (pp. 91-112). Columbia, MO: University Council for Vocational Education.

Vocational Education Standards for National Board Certification: Draft. (1996, May). Southfield, MI: The Board.

Reference Citation: Moss, Jerome, Jr (1996). Trade and industrial education standards of quality: A reaction. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education , 34(1), 75-82.