Alternative Accrediting Organization Taking Form With Federal Assistance
Some college presidents and faculty members have grumbled for years about the accreditation process for teacher education programs. Now, they're planning to present an alternative--a prospect that concerns educators involved in the effort to professionalize teaching.
The fledgling Teacher Education Accreditation Council has been nurtured for the past five years by the Washington-based Council of Independent Colleges. The CIC, whose members are presidents of 440 small, liberal arts colleges, received a $218,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education last summer and a pledge of $600,000 from an anonymous donor to support TEAC's work.
The new organization, governed by a 21-member board, plans to select a full-time, paid president soon and start accrediting a handful of institutions this spring, according to Allen P. Splete, the president of the CIC.
The accreditation council also plans to submit this summer an application seeking formal recognition as an accrediting agency from the Education Department, said Cecil Miskel, the dean of the education college at the University of Michigan and a leading force behind the council.
Rather than grounding the accreditation process in external standards set by the profession, TEAC's approach will be "based very much on inquiry and self-improvement," Mr. Miskel said.
Control at Issue
The effort to launch a new accrediting body grows out of longstanding tensions over the control of teacher education.
Proponents of making teaching a full profession--such as the members of the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future--argue that all education schools should be accredited by the Washington-based National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. NCATE, the only recognized accrediting body for teacher education, now has partnerships with 41 states to evaluate programs in tandem. States grant licenses to teachers who graduate from approved preparation programs.
CATE is made up of representatives from 31 national organizations with a stake in teaching, ranging from both national teachers' unions to subject-matter groups to state policymakers.
The alternative accrediting effort is founded on the opposing belief that states should retain full control over approving teacher education programs and licensing teachers, and that accreditation should remain voluntary and separate from licensure. TEAC's founders also intend for college and university presidents to play a major role in governing the new council.
When NCATE came up for recertification by the Education Department advisory committee on accreditation in 1995, CIC officials testified against renewal. They contended that NCATE has a "monopoly" on teacher preparation, a "closed governance structure," and "a focus on input rather than output," according to a 1996 paper explaining the rationale behind creating a new accrediting body.
In addition, some higher education officials have complained about the cost of providing preparation programs that can pass NCATE muster.
"Many people want a choice, a different way to go," Mr. Splete said. "To challenge existing tenets and beliefs is not bad--it's a way to get new creativity and progress."
Arthur E. Wise, the president of NCATE, criticized the effort for lacking ties to the organized teaching profession and for its plans to allow institutions to set their own standards.
As NCATE toughens its guidelines and forges more state partnerships, he said, "small institutions that provide teacher preparation that is not consistent with professional standards are nervous."
"There is a fear that we have standards that many believe they cannot meet," Mr. Wise said.
Advocates for the creation of an alternative system note that NCATE accredits only 500 of some 1,260 institutions of higher education that offer teacher training. At least 75 institutions whose presidents are members of the Council of Independent Colleges are accredited by NCATE.
A committee is now writing "criteria of quality" for the new accreditation process, which will involve an audit by visitors to the school. Draft principles circulated last fall indicate that institutions would be expected to pay close attention to students' learning and to have a commitment to preparing professional educators.
Institutions would not be held to external standards set by the teaching profession. They would have to meet state standards for approval and be expected to consult relevant research and curriculum frameworks prepared by learned societies, the draft states.
Supporters of the movement reject suggestions that the new accreditation process will be less rigorous than NCATE's.
"Actually, what we are proposing is much more difficult," Mr. Miskel said. "We are asking institutions to look more closely at outcomes--what students are able to do and achieve."
CATE is also working on an update of its standards and procedures, called NCATE 2000, that will focus more closely on the performance of students in teacher education programs.
Given the number of institutions that aren't accredited by NCATE, said Keith Briscoe, the retired president of Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, who chairs the TEAC board of directors, there is plenty of room for another accrediting group."In higher education, people do not believe that there should be a nonelected body prescribing a national agenda for education of K-12 students, and that is what NCATE is working towards," he said.
Hendrik D. Gideonse, the dean emeritus of the University of Cincinnati's college of education, who has been tracking TEAC's progress, called it "an unfortunate distraction."
"It's going in exactly the opposite direction from where the whole policy structure and conversation of education reform is going," he said.
Mr. Gideonse and other teacher-educators expressed concern that the CIC has received a grant from the Education Department's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education to get TEAC off the ground at the same time that the new council intends to seek federal recognition.
The grant will help TEAC pilot-test its process with six institutions and study the results, according to Charles Karelis, the director of the department's fund, which he said supplies "venture capital" to help support innovation on college campuses.
The federal grant program is separate from the functions of the department that recognize accrediting agencies, Mr. Karelis said.
To underscore that point, the fund included a sentence in the grant award stating that the award "does not imply recognition of TEAC as an approved accrediting agency, either by the secretary of education or the U.S. Department of Education."