It has been five years this week since the teacher-preparation landscape was shaken up with the adoption of standards for accreditation that focused on evidence and outcomes, and teacher-training programs are still feeling the ripple effects.
The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, which was created by a 2010 merger between two national accrediting bodies, officially approved its new standards on Aug. 29, 2013. Since then, teacher-prep programs seeking accreditation have worked to meet more rigorous standards, including ones that created minimum criteria for teacher-candidates’ academic achievements and that forced institutions to demonstrate graduates’ impact in the classrooms where they ended up working.
“In that period of time, it’s been a very complex and challenging road to implement the standards, and that’s in part because the standards are very ambitious, and they take accreditation in a new way,” said Mary Brabeck, a member of CAEP’s board of directors who was the chairwoman of the board when the standards were approved. “CAEP standards are charting a new path, and it’s a complicated one for everyone.”
Indeed, that path has been rife with roadblocks. There has been significant internal-leadership churn. The group has already revised one standard on candidate GPA requirements because of enormous pushback from the field, changing it from an admissions requirement to one programs must meet before candidates graduate. And just last fall, a new national accreditation group emerged to challenge CAEP’s market share.
The external pressures on institutions are mounting, too. Enrollment in teacher-preparation programs is steadily declining. Some states have lessened the requirements to obtain a teaching license amid severe teacher shortages.
Federal regulations requiring states to rate their teacher-training programs were approved by President Barack Obama’s administration in 2016 and then scrapped by President Donald Trump last year.
Despite the challenges and changes, “we’re going to be holding onto these standards through the storm,” said Christopher Koch, the president of CAEP since 2015.
This month, Tennessee became the latest state to sign a partnership agreement with CAEP, bringing the total to 35 states and the District of Columbia. Nearly 150 preparation programs have been accredited under the CAEP standards, while 13 have been approved under probation, and 14 have been approved with stipulations.
Programs have two years to address any problems with their accreditation. If stipulations are not addressed in that time period, programs could be put on probation or have their accreditation revoked. If programs under probation do not fix the issue, their accreditation will be revoked. So far, CAEP has revoked accreditation three times and denied it once.
Reality on the Ground
CAEP started requiring all programs seeking accreditation to meet its standards in fall 2016. Ask the people who are tasked with making sure their institutions meet those standards what the new process is like, and you’ll hear a similar refrain: It’s worthwhile, but it can be incredibly frustrating.
“It forces you to take a good, critical look at yourself and what you’re doing with your program,” said Sue Corbin, the chairwoman of the division of professional education at Notre Dame College in Ohio. The teacher-training program has gone through CAEP’s process and expects to receive accreditation in the fall.
“You can go along and say, ‘Well, I know our students are doing well,’ but when you look beyond the surface, you can find things that could be going better,” she added. “It does help you to really reflect, be more introspective, look in some places that you haven’t looked at in a while.”
Still, staff turnover and internal divisions within CAEP have led to some conflicting messages, program leaders say. And many institutions have struggled meeting Standards 4 and 5, which measure program impact and quality assurance. Programs are expected to provide multiple data showing that when their graduates enter the classroom, their own students are learning and showing growth. Under those standards, teacher-preparation providers are also supposed to gauge the satisfaction of both the principals who employ graduates and the graduates themselves.
Much of this information has been difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, several institution leaders said. Not all states have systems in place to collect that kind of data, and teacher-preparation programs are left trying to forge their own relationships with districts, which may be unwilling to share some of the personnel data.
“It lies outside my immediate control,” said Tom Philion, the dean of the college of education at Roosevelt University in Illinois. Last fall, his program was granted probationary accreditation because it didn’t meet Standard 4. The program has two years to correct the condition, or its accreditation could be revoked.
Philion said the college had participated for several years in a statewide survey sent to recent graduates from teaching programs, but there was a very low response rate. The college also struggled getting K-12 student data to understand the performance of its graduates, since the state of Illinois has only recently developed a system to collect that data.
Now, Philion isn’t sure if the college will seek full accreditation before the probationary period ends. He doesn’t think that will be enough time to get enough data for graduate outcomes, and he isn’t sure if it’s worth the cost to try again. (Philion estimates that it would cost about $10,000; the fees vary based on program size.)
Worth the Effort?
“The assessment that we’re getting from CAEP is not really an assessment of the quality of the program,” Philion said, adding that while he supports the standards, he has reservations about the intense focus on data.
“What we found from our recent [site] visit is we did not receive very useful feedback [from CAEP],” he said. “There wasn’t anything about how we should improve our curriculum, how we should improve our instructional strategies. ... Those are the kinds of questions I have as a dean; the responses to those questions will help us get better as a college of education.”
Koch, a former Illinois state education superintendent, said he understands the challenges institutions have had obtaining needed data. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor, he said.
It starts with building relationships between districts and teacher-preparation programs, Koch said. But it extends to CAEP building partnership agreements with states.
“It helps if the state is also messaging that this is the right thing to do,” he said, adding that many institutions have put “solid plans in place” to eventually get the data, even if they don’t have it right away.
Meanwhile, a new national accreditor is moving into the field. The Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation formed last year and already has 43 programs seeking accreditation in 10 states and the territory of Guam.
“We’ve tried to build on the established expectations [of the field], but to also add standards that encourage innovation and [support] local context,” said Mark LaCelle-Peterson, the group’s founding president. Teacher-preparation programs should be working to meet the needs of their local school districts, he said.
The standards seek to add more flexibility and a “sense of ownership” for institutions in the accreditation process, LeCelle-Peterson said. Initially, CAEP had offered three separate routes for programs to meet the standards, but under Koch, CAEP narrowed those down to just one pathway.
The 2010 merger that spawned CAEP was itself an attempt to unite a diffuse field.
“All the reasons of the merger ... are still there,” Koch said. “For the profession of teaching, I believe it’s important to have [a set of standards] in place, and that they’re in one place.”
While some program leaders want to pick which accreditor works best for their institution, others say they still support the goals of a single, national accreditation process. But CAEP’s growing pains have led to some restlessness.
“I would like to see some kind of consensus of what we believe good teacher preparation is,” said Corbin of Notre Dame College. “I feel like CAEP has been floundering for so long, and that’s part of the reason this new group formed—people were so frustrated that CAEP has been building the plane as they’re flying it.”
As CAEP settles into the second half of the standards’ first decade, the group’s leaders are optimistic that they are moving past the initial hurdles of implementation and closer to their goal of improving teacher preparation.
“We do have a high bar at CAEP; we are making consequential decisions that aren’t popular,” Koch said. “But I think it is important to have a standard, and when you have standards, that means not everyone meets them. I know people are afraid of that, ... but we have a fair and balanced process. Our goal here is not to be punitive; it’s to promote above all continuous improvement within institutions.”
Koch said one of his visions for the organization is that it’s better recognized and utilized in state licensure decisions. For instance, he said, states could ease license-reciprocity requirements for teachers who graduated from a CAEP-accredited school.
Group leaders are also hoping to prove through research, which is currently underway, that candidates who graduate from accredited programs contribute to more learning gains for their students.
“CAEP set out to improve K-12 learning through improving teacher preparation, and the question is still out—is CAEP achieving that goal?” said Brabeck, the board member. “I would like to see some progress made in answering that complicated question.”
A version of this article appeared in the August 29, 2018 edition of Education Week as Colleges Grapple With Teacher-Prep Standards