The umbrella group for teacher colleges wants a single accrediting body to elevate the status of teaching as a profession, but the move is under fire from some members who see it as a blow against the smaller of the two groups that judge teacher education programs.
Members of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a Washington-based group that represents nearly 800 teacher colleges, voted 158-151 at the group’s annual conference here last week to renew a resolution calling for a single accreditor.
Although the resolution has been on the books for a while, it wasn’t controversial when last voted on five years ago because the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, or NCATE, founded in 1954, was the only major player on the scene. The Teacher Education Accreditation Council, or TEAC, formed in 1997, was still a newcomer.
In the years since, TEAC has made minor inroads into the field, and now accredits 34 teacher colleges, including some heavyweights such as the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, and three campuses in the State University of New York system.
Members of the teacher-college association are still free to choose either accrediting body, and the resolution has no bearing on the operations of TEAC or NCATE. But some see the resolution as a threat to TEAC because of the long relationship between the association and NCATE, which accredits more than 600 of the 1,200 teacher-preparation programs in the nation. In the long run, those members believe, having the resolution on the books will lead the association to favor NCATE as it continues its push for a single accrediting body.
Carol E. Smith, AACTE’s vice president of professional issues and partnerships, acknowledges that her organization has a “vested interest” in NCATE. “We are one of the constituent members; we participate in accreditation reviews,” she said. The association helped found NCATE and annually contributes $250,000 to the accreditor. Several AACTE members are on that accrediting council’s governing board.
But AACTE has no such relationship with TEAC, and, in fact, opposed the smaller accrediting body’s attempt to get federal recognition when it was created.
“Sometimes it takes courage, but there are historical examples before us.”
—Sharon P. Robinson
American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education
AACTE officials say their intention is not to favor one over the other, however. Rather, they say, they hope that both accrediting groups will begin a discussion to agree on a common set of standards. They also hold out the possibility that the single accreditor could be an entirely new entity, such as a self-policing agency created by teacher colleges.
Sharon P. Robinson, AACTE’s president, said a bold step is needed to ensure that teaching is taken seriously as a profession. She pointed to the field of nursing, where the umbrella group for nursing colleges pushed for the recognition of a single accrediting body. “Sometimes it takes courage, but there are historical examples before us,” Ms. Robinson said.
Differences between the two accreditors are striking. NCATE requires schools to provide evidence that their graduates have the knowledge and skills to teach successfully, but some colleges have complained that 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,” but critics say the group lacks a set of national standards.
Officials from both groups hailed the vote, although for different reasons. Frank B. Murray, the president of TEAC, said the fact that the resolution passed by just seven votes shows the extent of support for TEAC among teacher colleges.
He also pointed to recent overtures from AACTE to his group. TEAC was invited to hold sessions at the AACTE conference, which it did. Moreover, he said, Ms. Robinson sent a letter indicating that the teacher-college organization was interested in exploring a relationship with TEAC similar to the one it has with NCATE.
While that was a positive turn of events, Mr. Murray said, there is also no doubt that AACTE leaders still prefer a single accrediting body—and the one the association is already invested in. “But their members are choosing something else, and they have to figure out how to serve their members,” he said.
Arthur E. Wise, the president of NCATE, pointed out that 81 percent of AACTE members are accredited by his group. “NCATE is committed to working with AACTE to continue strengthening, streamlining, and improving professional accreditation,” he said in a statement in which he praised the vote as “AACTE’s affirmation of the importance of accreditation.”
Conflict of Interest?
Some deans and directors who opposed the resolution cited a conflict of interest for what they see as AACTE’S financial support of NCATE.
“As long as NCATE receives money from AACTE, this is a problem,” said Joel Colbert, the director of the doctoral program at Chapman University’s school of education in Orange, Calif. He added that his school is exploring TEAC accreditation and would like the freedom to make that choice. “When there’s a common system, you have a one-size-fits-all approach,” Mr. Colbert said.
But Curtis Martin, the vice president for academic affairs at Paine College, in Augusta, Ga., and a member of AACTE’s board of directors, pointed out that other professions do not have such a choice, and he argued that the single-accreditor approach has served them well.
“Do the medical and legal professions have a choice? If we want to be recognized as a profession,” he said, “we need to have a single accrediting body.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 2007 edition of Education Week as Teacher-College Group Presses for Single Accrediting Body