Teacher Preparation

Teacher Education Group Airs Criticism of New Accreditor

By Stephen Sawchuk — March 17, 2015 4 min read
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An apparent fracture has opened between two major players in the increasingly edgy teacher education field, with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education criticizing the national accreditor for teacher colleges.

While underscoring that the AACTE is still committed to the success of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, or CAEP, the board of directors of the teacher colleges’ group contends in a recently approved resolution that there is a “crisis of confidence” toward the accreditor.

“Specific concerns are related to the accreditation standards, process for accreditation, costs associated with accreditation, the capacity of CAEP to implement the accreditation system, and the representativeness of the CAEP governance structure,” the resolution says.

The resolution was not originally on the board’s agenda during its Feb. 26 meeting in Atlanta, and its passage apparently took CAEP officials by surprise. The AACTE represents some 800 members.

In response, officials at CAEP acknowledged that they’ve sometimes struggled to supply tools and timely updates to program officials trying to understand the accreditor’s updated standards for teacher colleges. But they reiterated what they see as the importance of staying faithful to the new, more rigorous expectations.

“It’s a heavy lift. It’s a real cultural change to say we’re going to judge ourselves on the data we produce. A lot of places are not finding it easy to meet these standards,” said Mary M. Brabeck, a New York University professor and the chair of CAEP’s board of directors. “And part of this means a change for CAEP. It has to step up in terms of the information it provides.”

At its heart, the debate underscores the two groups’ different tacks in addressing the challenges facing the field. Under the leadership of James G. Cibulka, CAEP has sought to walk a fine line between competing policy visions for teacher education. One, as embodied in rules recently proposed by the U.S. Department of Education, emphasizes greater accountability for programs that prepare teachers; another, largely the perspective of the AACTE, argues that applying too much outside pressure could detract from program innovation and integrity.

CAEP was created from the merger of two former accreditation organizations. In 2013, it approved a new set of standards that, among other tenets, require teacher colleges to produce evidence that they are training candidates to be effective in classrooms. The updated expectations will go into effect next year.

About 900 colleges are somewhere in the accreditation process, and CAEP has signed agreements with 16 states to use its process to supplement, or substitute for, their own quality-review systems.

Concerns Detailed

The litany of concerns in the AACTE resolution suggests some programs are beginning to balk at the changes before them.

Mark R. Ginsberg, who chairs the AACTE’s board of directors, said his organization’s members have found aspects of the standards confusing or ambiguous. They’re worried about having the cash to develop systems for producing the CAEP-required data in an era of tight higher-education budgets. And they want to be sure that CAEP’s governance represents the field’s diversity.

“They are not concerns generated out of whole cloth by the board of directors, but from listening hard and carefully to its constituents,” Mr. Ginsberg said.

CAEP’s governance structure has been in place for nearly five years, and it does differ from the one used by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, by far the larger of CAEP’s two predecessors.

Certain constituencies, such as the teachers’ unions and the AACTE, were delegated spots on NCATE’s governing panels. By contrast, CAEP now uses a nominations process and performs its own vetting.

As for the substance of the standards, Mr. Ginsberg highlighted CAEP’s selectivity requirements as an area that has created widespread concern among teacher education institutions.

The standard, which will be ramped up over time, will require all programs to recruit cohorts of candidates who have posted scores in the upper third on a nationally normed entrance exam. Long before the AACTE resolution appeared, teacher-educators expressed worries that raising admissions standards could disproportionately affect black and Latino candidates.

CAEP officials have commissioned a study of how the step-up in selectivity would affect the teacher-candidate pool and pledged to consider the results as it puts that requirement in place.

Some teacher-educators, meanwhile, said they’ve experienced frustrations negotiating the new expectations and noted several staffing changes last year at the accreditor.

“CAEP has been extremely disorganized throughout the entire process,” said Michael J. Maher, the assistant dean for professional education at North Carolina State University, in Raleigh, which will be among the first institutions to be judged under the new standards. “They changed the format on us while we were in the process of submitting our report, and when you attend their meetings, you get different answers to questions.”

CAEP officials agreed that certain elements, such as the accreditation handbook and exemplars for the standards, should have been released sooner. But many of those work products are now final and are being disseminated, they said.

Some contributors to CAEP’s efforts expressed disappointment in the AACTE resolution. “I was just very surprised by this resolution because [the AACTE] has been heavily involved,” said Terry Holliday, the Kentucky commissioner of education and the co-chair of the panel that developed the CAEP standards.

“A critical piece is that a profession should police itself, and I think that’s what an accreditation process does,” Mr. Holliday said. “I’m afraid if we don’t police ourselves, someone else will do it for us, like the Department of Education. They’re certainly trying to.”

A version of this article appeared in the March 18, 2015 edition of Education Week as Teacher Education Group Airs Criticism of New Accreditor

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