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Teacher-Prep Accreditor Closer to New Standards; Some Issues In Flux

The national teacher-preparation-accreditation body today inched closer to approving a new, tougher set of standards.

Today's meeting in Washington was the first of two days in which the commission tapped by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation to craft the new standards will deliberate over their final form.

The proposed standards are quite complicated, but they are likely to shape much of what's going to happen in teacher preparation for years to come. (If you're new to this topic for the first time, here you can review some prior coverage of CAEP.)

In brief, the CAEP commission has proposed a set of five standards. They would include heavier attention to who is selected into teacher preparation; the design of the "clinical" or student-teaching portion of training; and the requirement that accredited programs produce teachers who boost student learning.

The commission also proposed eight criteria programs would have to report annually. The rationale here is that a lot can happen in the seven years between accreditation cycles, so an annual report would provide a dipstick to gauge shorter-term change.

In all, the proposal is a bit unusual in the higher-education universe, observers said.

"This is the most measured and evidence-heavy proposed accreditation process I've ever been privy to," Peter Ewell, the vice president at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, a research center that works to improve college efficiency, told the panel this morning. "You are being very gutsy."

Panelists spent much of the day reviewing public comment on the draft and wordsmithing the document to avoid misconceptions of the standards. But they also made some big decisions on key areas that have launched a lot of chatter among education faculty. Below are some highlights.

Selection Criteria

This is a hot-button topic, especially among those who fear that increasing selectivity will harm teacher diversity. But the subcommittee handling selection didn't waiver on its proposal to require programs to set minimum entry requirements for each cohort of entering candidates, including a minimum GPA and academic-assessment score.

The group went so far as to say that prospective teachers who have been out of school for some time (as in an alternative route) should have to submit adequate scores on an achievement test to enter a program. In an acknowledgement of the difficulty some providers will face with this requirement, though, CAEP will probably phase in the entry standard over several years.

This is a strong, and notable, position to take. Some teacher-preparation programs maintain what amounts to open-admissions policies, noted Mary Brabeck, the dean of New York University's education school and the chairwoman of the selection subcommittee. The proposed CAEP standard on selection essentially means such programs could not be accredited unless they revised those policies.

Student-Loan Default Rates

A proposal to require programs to detail what percent of teacher-candidates defaulted on their student loans evoked a lot of discussion. Several panelists felt it didn't really provide much insight into program quality. In the end, the consensus was that institutions should report this information, but individual programs should not be "dinged" for high default rates, given that factors including differences in demographics, student income, etc., fall outside of their control.

"Gold Standard" Accreditation

The commission got a chilly reception from the field for its proposal to highlight a small number of programs that go above and beyond on the five standards. Nevertheless, it appears the commission is holding firm to this initiative, though its name will probably change.

Outcomes Measures

And then we come to a possible sticking point. The draft standard on outcomes specified that preparation should use multiple measures in determining their effect. Among them, the draft, as currently written, says that programs must use "value added" measures (VAM) if that data is available, among the mix.

Becky Pringle, representing the National Education Association, felt that value-added should be an example of evidence programs can submit, but not a requirement, even if a state produces such data.

"We want to be very clear that we wanted this tied to student learning and growth, but we don't want our institutions of higher ed to chase things that have been put in place that are not serving our kids or our teachers," she said. "I don't want us to build on top of things that were not done well."

Her position stood in contrast to most panelists', who were in favor of leaving the requirement stand. In fact, possibly the strongest defense of VAM came from Rick Ginsberg, the dean of the ed. school at the University of Kansas. Though he doesn't love the trend towards VAM, Ginsberg argued that it was unfair to subject it to a higher standard of validity and reliability than other ways of measuring student growth.

"I'm no fan. But having said that, almost every measure we use is lousy," he said. " ... We're holding VAM up to a level of scrutiny we hold nothing else up to."

Near the end of the day, though, Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers expressed an interest in revisiting the topic.

If you're thinking, "It's like negotiated rulemaking all over again!", you might be right. Last year's attempt by the U.S. Department of Education to get the field to agree to new federal accountability rules for teacher preparation fell apart largely over debate about VAM.

Will the unions dig in over this issue come Tuesday or not? Stay tuned.

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