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NCATE Accredits First 'Nontraditional' Program

In a first, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education has given its blessing to a non-higher-education-based preparation program, the Denton, Texas-based iTeachU.S.

iTeachU.S. is approved to recommend teachers for licensure in the states of Texas, Louisiana, and Tennessee. All of the coursework is conducted online, and candidates access it at their own pace. Upon entering the classroom as a full-time teacher of record, each candidate is assigned a field-experienced supervisor, generally a retired teacher from the local community who works with the teacher's mentor.

"We thought it was important to establish the credibility factor," said Diann Huber, the founder and president of iTeachU.S., about her decision to apply for NCATE accreditation. "When states approve alternative programs, they meet minimum standards. I wanted to show we really take the responsibility of certifying educators so seriously that, even though we are online and trying to be cutting edge, we have not sacrificed the integrity and the rigor of our education program, and the way to demonstrate that was to have the national accreditation."

iTeachU.S.'s accreditation is currently for 18 months, not the full seven-year period; it will still undergo a full visit from NCATE teams.

The move also serves as a sign of the ways in which the teacher preparation field is changing, and how some of its old vanguards, like NCATE, are adapting to the times.

"I'm sure we're going to continue to see other types of organizational forms that break the boundaries of bricks-and-mortar higher ed. institutions," said James G. Cibulka, the president of NCATE. "We'll probably see the emergence of new providers and linkages between higher ed. and non-higher ed. The challenge for us has been to be inclusive, to apply the same standards in a rigorous manner and use the same process."

It's a question that will also be faced by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation—the body created by the merger of NCATE and a smaller rival accreditor. CAEP, which will begin to accredit programs in January 2013, will use a new set of accreditation standards now being developed.

"As we create the new CAEP standards, we'll look at all of this to make sure we're not unintentionally including some things that are really reflective of higher ed. delivery systems," Cibulka continued.

NCATE also accredits the New York City-based Relay Graduate School of Education, another nontraditional program. But that program was still part of Hunter College when it started the accreditation process, which can take a while to complete.

NCATE officials said at least one other such program is beginning the process: the American Museum of Natural History, which has a hands-on program to prepare science teachers. Read more about that effort in this Education Week story.

The accreditor has also been trying to drum up interest in other providers, like district-based teacher "residency" programs, essentially yearlong apprenticeships that are sometimes (but not always) run out of universities.

Online Universities Also Get Stamp

In addition, NCATE has also quietly been busy accrediting some online-only universities. In 2006, it welcomed Western Governors University into the fold with much fanfare. Since then, it's added three additional online-university programs: Walden University, Capella University, and Nova Southeastern University (a brick-and-mortar school that offers degrees earned online).

Walden University, headquartered in Minnesota, is the single largest preparer of teachers in the country, with about 5,000 master's degrees awarded in 2008, according to federal statistics.

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