The two national accreditation bodies for teacher education have approved plans to merge into a single organization, in what might mean a more rigorous bar for teacher preparation in the future.
Under the terms of the agreement, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the much smaller Teacher Education Accreditation Council, both based in Washington, would initially continue to operate their activities separately as they flesh out a new body incorporated recently to serve as the sole accreditor for the field.
“A lot of people thought the time had come to present a more unified structure to the field—that it was a distraction to have two organizations viewed as antagonistic,” said Frank B. Murray, the president of the TEAC group.
The governing boards of NCATE and TEAC approved the merger plans unanimously at a joint meeting held Oct. 22. Under the plans, NCATE and TEAC would be subsumed into the new organization, dubbed the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation, within two years.
NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR ACCREDITATION OF TEACHER EDUCATION
• 32 membership organizations each appoint a governing-board representative
• Members include the National Education Association, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and specialized associations, such as the Council for Exceptional Children, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
TEACHER EDUCATION ACCREDITATION COUNCIL
• 16-member board of directors
• Representatives include current deans of education schools, subject-matter experts, principals, teachers, and state education officials.
COUNCIL FOR ACCREDITATION OF EDUCATOR PREPARATION
• 20-member governing board, with seats distributed as follows:
• CAEP president: 1 seat
• Postsecondary expertise, such as provosts, chancellors, presidents, teacher-educators: 8 seats
• Pre-K-12 practitioners, such as teachers, administrators, state school officers, and/or their membership organizations: 8 seats
• Public and at-large: 3 seats
SOURCES: Education Week; NCATE; TEAC
The merger would not mean immediate changes for the nearly 900 preparation programs already accredited or seeking accreditation by NCATE or TEAC. Under the terms of the agreement, the accreditation pathways offered by both organizations would initially be continued, pending minor adjustments to align to a common set of standards.
But the merger hints at long-term changes in the structure and substance of teacher-preparation accreditation.
“Our goal is not simply to bring together two organizations to do the same thing,” said James G. Cibulka, the current president of NCATE. “We really ought to have as our goal to raise the bar for quality educator preparation ... and to speak with one voice about what that standard looks like, and how it should be implemented.”
NCATE is by far the larger and the older of the two groups, with 656 institutions under its wing and nearly 100 more seeking accreditation. Programs seeking accreditation must submit evidence that they have met the body’s six main standards.
TEAC was founded in 1997 as a reaction to NCATE, seen then by some higher education officials, especially within smaller programs, as expensive and burdensome. Its process is generally less standardized. The group requires applicants to submit an “inquiry brief” about their program’s mission and goals. It then conducts a review to determine whether the schools’ programming and resources meet those goals. The group is in the process of accrediting about 200 schools in all.
Efforts to merge the groups began two years ago and have been generally supported by the field, including by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a Washington-based membership and advocacy organization and one of the board members of NCATE.
A design team, staffed equally by NCATE and TEAC officials, crafted the merger agreement. That team will now serve as the interim board of the new CAEP, with Mr. Cibulka as its president and chief executive officer and Mr. Murray as its chairman. Eventually, a new governance structure would be set up.
At least initially, CAEP will permit schools to seek its seal of approval under four separate accreditation pathways that correspond to the routes currently offered by NCATE and TEAC. Both groups offer one route focused on efforts to improve quality control and another that puts a premium on building the scholarly research base on effective teacher preparation.
Less clear at this stage is whether the merger will, in time, result in substantive changes to the system of education school accreditation in the United States.
One of the new body’s goals is to make accreditation more attractive and to bring in “other entities” that prepare teachers. To date, that has proved challenging. Only two alternative programs are in the process of seeking NCATE accreditation, and the organization has not yet brought high-profile programs, such as Teach For America or teacher “residency” programs run by nonprofit organizations, into its fold.
Once seen as a mark of quality, accreditation has been plagued over the past decade by questions of its value. Five states now require their education programs to earn national accreditation in order to be approved to produce new teachers, while other states have adopted NCATE’s standards, but the process remains generally voluntary.
Accountability policies for programs that prepare teachers, in the meantime, are increasingly homing in on the classroom performance of newly minted teachers, rather than on whether they’ve achieved national accreditation. A few states, including Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, are in varying stages of measuring teacher-prep graduates’ classroom success using longitudinal data systems linking them to their students’ standardized-test scores. Federal incentives, such as the $4 billion Race to the Top program, also have put a premium on such policies.
Arthur E. Levine, the president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and a critic of teacher-college accreditation who once called for an alternative to NCATE, said the merger “cleans the slate” by giving the new body a chance to craft much more rigorous standards. But that won’t be an easy feat, he added.
“If accreditation is to be vital in the years ahead, and seen as a mechanism for establishing and enforcing standards in the profession, this is the time to do it,” said Mr. Levine, a former president of Teachers College in New York City. “If it doesn’t succeed in this case, what we will find is that more highly selective institutions will continue not to be members, new alternatives being created choose not to join, and criticism will continue.”
The president of AACTE, Sharon P. Robinson, said that stakeholders in the new group are already discussing ways in which it could be better aligned to, and more influential in, state policymaking for overseeing teacher preparation.
“We’re talking about taking on the issue of how to be building CAEP so accreditation decisions inform state action—like closing programs that can’t seem to improve their results over the course of time,” she said. “To me, it’s not just a matter of coming together to implement some low-level, inconsequential nod of acceptance, but something that really serves the public interest.”
Mr. Murray of TEAC said that process of boosting standards over time would be an “evolving, organic” one.
“Teacher ed. is under attack because it doesn’t have highly persuasive evidence that its graduates are competent,” he said. “We have to keep pushing for that.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 03, 2010 edition of Education Week as Merger Lies Ahead for Accrediting Bodies of Teacher Preparation