The premier advocacy group for teacher colleges has launched a task force to investigate a unified system of accreditation for the profession.
At its annual meeting this month, the board of directors of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education approved the creation of a task force that includes two representatives each from the two vastly different national accreditation agencies—the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council—as well as two representatives of AACTE. The task force is expected to come out with a report by May.
Sharon P. Robinson, the president of AACTE, said her group has been “listening to the membership and hearing an expression that there is a real desire to coalesce and focus our energy on a single entity.”
“Choice for the sake of choice can sometimes be a real disappointment if you cannot sustain a choice among equally qualified and reliable systems,” she said.
Randy Hitz, the chairman of the board of directors of AACTE, said the existence of multiple accreditors sends the message that the profession cannot agree on a single set of standards.
“We should be able to establish standards for ourselves and hold ourselves accountable, and that’s what we are seeking to do here,” said Mr. Hitz, the dean of the school of education at Portland State University in Oregon.“The profession’s going to come out of this much stronger.”
While AACTE has long had a resolution on the books calling for a single accreditor, controversy reared its head at last year’s annual meeting when renewal of that resolution passed by a razor-thin margin. The narrow vote demonstrated what appeared to be growing support for TEAC, the smaller of the two accreditors.
When the resolution was previously voted on, in 2002, NCATE, founded in 1954, was the only major player on the scene; TEAC, formed in 1997, was a newcomer. Today, TEAC accredits 49 teacher colleges, including the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and four campuses in the State University of New York system.
Some saw the AACTE resolution as unfriendly to TEAC, because of NCATE’s long relationship with the teacher education group. AACTE is one of the founding members of NCATE and annually contributes $250,000 to the accrediting agency. The older accrediting body accredits 650 of the 1,200 teacher programs nationwide.
Frank B. Murray, the president of TEAC, said he is optimistic about the task force, which originated out of talks between himself, NCATE President Arthur E. Wise, and a number of teacher education deans.
“I am very sure that everybody understands that [asking for a single accrediting body] is a losing strategy, and that’s over,” Mr. Murray said.
He said he expects the task force would interpret a single system to mean something like a common set of standards, within which both agencies can exist.
That way, Mr. Murray said, “you could have choice between the two and no lowering of standards.”
Right now, the two accrediting groups have vastly different styles of operation. NCATE requires schools to provide evidence that their graduates have the knowledge and skills to teach successfully. Some colleges say the process of accreditation is tedious, expensive, and time-consuming.
TEAC, meanwhile, allows institutions to set their own standards for teacher proficiency within what it describes as “a framework of continuous assessment and improvement.” Critics say the group lacks a set of national standards.
Mr. Wise said it would be premature to speculate on what the task force might recommend. Still, he emphasized, a unified accreditation system is “imperative.” Teaching, he said, stands out right now as the only aspiring profession that has two different accrediting bodies.
Professions often compared to teaching, such as architecture, journalism, counseling, and occupational therapy, for instance, have a single accreditor, according to a list provided by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, a higher education membership group based in Washington that recognizes 60 accrediting agencies. That’s not true, however, of physical therapists and nurses, for example.
“Professions must come to an agreement on knowledge and skills that they expect new professionals and all professionals to have,” Mr. Wise said.
Joel Colbert, the director of the doctoral program at Chapman University’s school of education in Orange, Calif., said officials at his college have had initial discussions on getting nationally accredited, “and we’re having a grand time discussing the pros and cons of each [agency].”
“There’s only one choice when you have one accrediting system, and I still believe in choice,” Mr. Colbert said. “I could live with a single accrediting body, but I like choice.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2008 edition of Education Week as Panel Studying Concept of Solo Teacher Ed. Accreditor