The nation’s major accrediting body for teacher education has given its stamp of approval to a nonprofit online university, the first time a nontraditional program to prepare teachers has won national accreditation.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education awarded accreditation last month to Western Governors University, which opened in 1998 with the backing of 19 Western states. In 2003, the online university launched its teachers college, where prospective and currently employed teachers can earn degrees and certification through a combination of Internet courses, assessments, and time in the classroom. (“Online School Could Address ESEA Decrees,” March 19, 2003.)
The college was designed to answer the need for more teachers who meet the federal standard of “highly qualified,” especially in geographic and subject areas where teachers are in short supply. The recipient in 2001 of a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the college enrolls students in nearly all the states.
“We view ourselves as a teachers college that is national in stature and in scope, so I think it makes sense that we have national accreditation,” said Philip A. Schmidt, the director of curriculum and instruction for the college.
“It’s an assurance to states,” he added, pointing out that more than 40 states either require their teacher-preparation institutions to be NCATE-accredited or use the same or similar standards to evaluate institutions that do not seek national accreditation.
“We created a program to be aligned with various state and national standards,” Mr. Schmidt said, “and this is a sign we’ve done it the right way.”
A degree from the university’s teachers college, according to school officials, meets the requirements for licensure, either directly or through reciprocity, in 48 states. The other two, Indiana and Kansas, are in negotiations with the school. Western Governors, which has administrative offices in Salt Lake City, offers degrees in technology, business, and education.
Ready for the Change
The teachers college uses a “competency” model, in which students advance through a program by passing assessments that range from multiple-choice tests to classroom performance. Schedules are arranged so students take only the courses they need, drawing from a list put together by the college from a variety of online resources. Teacher-candidates are required to spend at least 12 weeks in “demonstration teaching” under the supervision of an experienced teacher.
The college expects about 600 candidates for licensure to graduate this academic year.
Arthur E. Wise, the president of NCATE, said the Washington-based group—a coalition of 33 organizations, including specialty teacher organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics—was ready for the online university’s approach. In fact, he said, its competency model dovetails with the accountability system NCATE put into effect in 2001.
“One of the reasons we made that change,” Mr. Wise said, “was we saw new kinds of providers of teacher education emerging. Our greater focus on candidate outcomes rather than methods of instruction was deliberate.”
NCATE’s constitution was also altered so that it could accredit nontraditional programs and programs that are not part of universities, he added.
Mr. Wise said two other nontraditional programs have applied for NCATE accreditation: the Boston Teacher Residency, run jointly by the Boston Plan for Excellence and the city’s school district, which grants licenses and degrees to teachers, and the Foundation for Educational Administration in Monroe Township, N.J., which runs programs to certify school leaders. The foundation was established by the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.
Some for-profit online universities with education programs have expressed interest in accreditation, according to Mr. Wise, but none has yet applied.
A version of this article appeared in the November 08, 2006 edition of Education Week as NCATE Accredits Its First Online Teacher-Training Program