A maverick accrediting group for teacher education earned its official stripes from the U.S. Department of Education last week, clearing the final hurdle to becoming an alternative for many colleges of education seeking approval for their professional training.
By labeling the group “recognized,” the Education Department essentially put its stamp of approval on the process the Teacher Education Accreditation Council uses to determine which education programs are deemed worthy.
“We’re putting our trust in them,” said Jane Glickman, a department spokeswoman.
The Bush administration’s action, however, did little to assuage the concerns of those who question the way that TEAC operates: It allows colleges to set their own professional standards.
“There is no hospital in the country that defines its own standards in terms of how it is going to be accredited,” said Barnett Berry, the executive director of the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Education Department recognition is important for TEAC on a number of levels. Many states require colleges of education to earn accreditation from a group approved by the federal agency.
Moreover, students who attend such schools are eligible to receive federal financial aid.
“It is an important step for TEAC to be seen as acceptable and legitimate,” said Frank B. Murray, the president of the council, which has offices in Washington and Newark, Del.
The timing of the recommendation is crucial, Mr. Murray said. About 30 colleges of education in New York state are attempting to be accredited through TEAC, according to Mr. Murray. They would not have met state requirements if the body had not been recognized.
Those schools “took some risk,” he pointed out.
Until now, colleges of education could be approved only by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, a Washington-based consortium of 33 education groups that has established a rigorous set of standards by which programs are evaluated.
The group conducts a detailed, and expensive, external review of the entire education college, school, or department.
Under the TEAC program, colleges submit what is called an “inquiry brief,” which Mr. Murray describes as a scholarly work that lays out the evidence supporting why a college deserves accreditation. The documentation is then weighed by TEAC to determine its merit.
Since its formation in 1997, TEAC has approved seven programs and has about 100 “in the pipeline,” Mr. Murray said. Aside from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, all the other colleges accredited by TEAC are small, public and private liberal arts schools
By comparison, of the 1,300 education programs in the country, NCATE has accredited 550; another 120 are pending approval.
In addition, NCATE has formed partnerships with 46 states that base their standards for teacher education programs on the organization’s guidelines.
Supporters of TEAC hailed the federal department’s action for producing more competition in the field.
“It is incredibly important for institutions to have some flexibility and choices about who accredits them,” said Kate Walsh, the executive director of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington group that works to make student achievement the benchmark of teacher quality.
Now that there are two official accrediting organizations, NCATE will improve because “they will have to become more responsive to client criticisms,” she said.
Nothing will change about the way NCATE accredits colleges of education, according to Arthur E. Wise, the group’s president.
He added that aside from nursing, teaching is now the only profession that has more than one accrediting organization.
Having two different organizations with widely divergent standards capable of endorsing colleges of education will do nothing but weaken the profession, Mr. Berry of the Southeast Center for Teaching Quality contended.
“If we wanted to not improve teacher education,” he said, “we couldn’t come up with a better way.”