Evolving Teacher Prep

What do school boards need to know about the recent changes in educator accreditation?

Lori Dassa & Greg Sampson-Gruener

With respect to teacher education programs we can safely proclaim, “The times, they are a changing.” School board members and administrators need information to position themselves in the evolving landscape of educator preparation. In this article, we summarize some key issues in teacher education accreditation and give some practical advice and ideas to school board members.

Our central belief is this: the top consumer of teacher education programs are local education agencies, governed by elected school leaders, the very readers of ASBJ. As such, it is important for all stakeholders to have a good understanding of the current issues.

What is educator program accreditation?

Educator program accreditation is the official recognition that an institution upholds designated standards essential to achieve appropriate credentials for professional education practice. For teacher education purposes, this means that an institution offers an appropriate foundational curriculum, developmental learning experiences, and capstone projects where aspiring teachers are allowed to demonstrate their skills in the classroom. Higher education institutions that can demonstrate these activities and outcomes are eligible to become nationally accredited through a rigorous peer review process.

In 1954, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) was established as a nonprofit, non-governmental accrediting body for teacher preparation programs. Concerns with the NCATE processes and standards, and the desire to have more options for educator accreditation, resulted in the establishment of the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) in 1997.

The mission of TEAC was directed more towards improving the learning experience of future educators, particularly those who wished to move into school administration and leadership roles. By this year, new accreditation standards will be fully implemented and NCATE and TEAC legacy standards will no longer be used for accreditation. The new accreditation standards will fall under the direction of yet another body, CAEP (Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation). As can be imagined, this is not without controversy.

Vote of no confidence by AACTE

During February 2015, the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education passed a resolution to serve as a vote of no confidence in the organization. The main point of the passage of the resolution was to strongly iterate the fact that the leading professional association for teacher educators had no ability to see how the CAEP organization was to achieve its goal of a single, unified educator accreditation organization. The results of the vote have yet to be seen but it is highly likely that the vote prompted changes in senior personnel.

Leadership challenges

Following the vote of no confidence, the first chief executive of CAEP, James Cibulka, was dismissed from his position. Cibulka had successfully led NCATE for several years and was primed to become the leader of the next generation of educator preparation programs. Many members of teacher education institutions did not support this change in leadership and wished for Cibulka to stay on in his role as CEO because of his extensive track record in educator program accreditation.

Moving forward, the board is trying to transition the procedures for accreditation through the initial development of four accreditation pathways. These pathways follow similar guidelines and processes from NCATE and TEAC. This is supposed to help guide the variety of institutions accustomed to the previous processes.

Unfortunately it has opened the door to many questions by institutions. And, where questions have arisen, CAEP has provided limited answers. Accrediting agencies periodically revise their standards to reflect perceived best practices. Perhaps this was the foundation for the creation of CAEP yet the "best practices" have not been identified and when questioned about these changes deflection is the only response. Needless to say, there is a great deal of turmoil being experienced by educator preparation programs.

Accreditation changes: The heart of the matter

We do know that there will be two major changes to teacher education programs. Teacher education programs, in addition to meeting all programmatic standards for accreditation, now must demonstrate two key pieces of information that is of great interest to school boards. First, teacher education units must demonstrate they have a positive impact on student learning. Simply put, teacher education programs are now required to document that they can produce students that are capable of demonstrating increases in student knowledge and skills.

On the surface, this is a very good and worthwhile goal. However, the devil is in the details because there is no defined set of criteria for what constitutes measurable student learning outcomes. At this point, it is anyone’s guess.

Second, teacher education programs must demonstrate that stake-holder input is considered during program planning. This means that school leaders, community members, cooperating teachers, etc… must be invited to the table to plan for the preparation of educators. What this looks like will vary from district to district. Many educator preparation programs are adopting round-table processes, community input processes and working groups to accomplish this task and document that they consider the needs of the community in their planning for educators.

Why complete the accreditation process?

Accreditation is an arduous and daunting process on even the most experienced and well equipped teacher education programs. Many perceive accreditation as a barrier to innovation. Although there is a need for these bodies to create specific mandates, many universities (of all shapes, sizes, and types) jump through the accreditation hoops to meet the standards, as opposed to developing programs to meet the needs of individual institutions. Thus, there are tensions from universities related to accreditation.

To maintain accreditation the institution or program must endure a comprehensive peer review on a regular basis, usually every seven to 10 years. Simply put, when an institution is accredited, it can report that it meets the set standards on behalf of the academic community, professionals, and all other stakeholders. This is a seal of approval by all stakeholders that the institution provides quality programs, especially in teacher preparation.

This accreditation mandates that educator programs prepare new teachers in content, students, and clinical training that sanctions them to go into the classroom ready to teach effectively. Accreditation also provides a framework that guides these teacher preparation programs to consistently conduct self-assessment and evidence-based analysis of their programs. A set of standards is developed and the institution has to prove that they are able to exceed expectations in these specific areas.

This sounds solid on a specific institution basis, but when one begins to use this as a comparison for a variety of institution the controversial side is revealed. Can there truly be one set of standards that are appropriate for all of these institutions, big and small, across the country? The verdict is out on that question.

Advice to school boards

Despite all of these challenges and problems, we encourage school boards to support the accreditation process for teacher education programs. As school boards develop policies on hiring teachers and participate in an important part of democratic governance of school systems, the right choice is to insist on high standards for the preparation of educators. As noted above, accreditation provides a marginal guarantee that graduates have gone through a program that is rigorously peer-reviewed and meets minimum standards for the profession.

Second, we encourage school board members to become active in the teacher education process that is now mandated by CAEP. They can be ideal representatives for community input and feedback. Moreover, boards can actively participate in educator preparation roundtables and provide information to teacher education programs on hiring practices and needs. And, perhaps most importantly, boards can actively make local policies that support the preparation of high quality educators. With regards to policies and procedures, boards can ask these key questions for self-reflection:

  1. Does our district have policies that support data sharing with teacher education programs for the purpose of quality improvement?
  2. Does our district encourage strong relationships with teacher education programs? Who is leading those relationships? And, how are our needs being addressed?
  3. Do we have policies that encourage the best teachers to train and mentor up-and-coming teachers? If not, how can we develop this and encourage this?

Our intention with this article was twofold: (A) give school boards some broad information on the changing educator accreditation landscape and (B) provide some practical ideas on ways that school boards can be engaged in the teacher education process despite the changing tides of the accreditation bodies. We invite commentary and discussion on these topics.

Lori Dassa is an assistant professor at Florida Atlantic University and coordinator of the Effective Teaching Practices program. Greg Sampson is chair of special education at Minot State University. Both are veteran educators who are currently co-editing a special topics journal on issues in educator program accreditation.

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