Teacher Preparation

Pro-Accountability Ed School Dean to Take on Bigger Role in Teacher-Accreditation Group

By Brenda Iasevoli — June 15, 2017 4 min read
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Dean Karen Symms Gallagher of the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education will soon have more of a say in shaping the quality of teacher preparation in the United States. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, or CAEP, has elected her to lead its board of directors. She takes over the role on July 1.

CAEP was conceived in 2010 to unite the embattled teacher education field behind one set of national accreditation standards. (Read more about the group’s history here.) The new—and some say tougher—standards for evaluating the quality of ed programs were unveiled in 2013. The first major test of the new standards came in December of last year when 17 of 21 teacher-prep programs seeking accreditation passed all requirements.

So how does Gallagher view the teacher-prep landscape? When I spoke with her in February about the possibility that the Obama administration’s teacher-prep regulations would be scrapped, she expressed wariness of unregulated programs, saying ed. schools won’t hold themselves accountable for the teachers they prepare if they don’t have to. (President Trump signed a bill scrapping the federal teacher-prep rules in March).

Yet Gallagher wondered whether there would be consequences for sub-par teacher-prep programs, even if they were regulated. She pointed out that few ed programs have ever been shut down in the past for ineffectiveness. “So you are not a good school of ed., what happens?” she said in February. “I don’t know of any school of ed. that was closed under No Child Left Behind. In the past, no program was judged to be of poor quality.” (A 50-state Education Week analysis of teacher-preparation programs conducted in 2014 found that closures for performance reasons are quite rare.)

At the time, Gallagher highlighted CAEP accreditation as one way for programs to prove their quality in the absence of federal regulations, but still expressed some reservations about how far the group would go to hold programs to higher standards. “CAEP has attempted to put more teeth in accreditation, not only in the standards, but in outcome measures, what programs have to show,” she said. “It remains to be seen if any programs will lose their accreditation, but [CAEP] has moved toward more accountability in what it means to be nationally accredited.”

Currently, more than 900 teacher preparation programs participate in the CAEP accreditation system, including those that have passed muster under former standards. And while national accreditation of teacher-prep programs is not mandatory in many states, 29 have so far said they plan to use CAEP to evaluate the quality of their programs.

In her role as chair, Gallagher will guide the board of directors in making policy for CAEP that could shape the accreditation process and the standards by which teacher-preparation programs are judged. She and the board of directors will also be responsible for reviewing all CAEP activities, signing off on its annual budget, and completing independent audits.

Gallagher has more than 30 years experience working in the teacher-prep field. She has served as the dean of University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education since 2000, and the dean of the school of education at the University of Kansas from 1994 to 2000, leading accreditation efforts at both schools. She has also served as senior policy consultant to the Ohio General Assembly’s Commission on Education Improvement. Gallagher served on the CAEP presidential search committee, and has been a board member since January.

“As an experienced dean of both a private and public school of education, I know Karen understands what it takes to prepare students to teach and lead in diverse academic settings,” said CAEP’s current board chair Mary Brabeck in a statement. “She brings her informed perspective to the accreditation process. She is committed to excellence in educator preparation, and understands the challenges providers face, with budget demands, admission goals, and faculty needs in a time of enormous change in higher education.”

Gallagher said she looked forward to working with board members and fellow ed school deans to “strengthen the accreditation experience,” and affirmed her commitment to ensure teacher-preparation programs prove their worth using data.

“Accreditation is an opportunity for us to work together to demonstrate excellence in educator preparation, and to create a broad vision of successful preparation of professionals for diverse learners based on equitable, data-driven practice.”

Photo: Courtesy of USC’s Rossier School of Education

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.