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It's Official: Teacher-Ed. Accreditor Approves New Standards

The board of the national accreditor for teacher education programs today gave a unanimous vote of approval to a new set of standards that put a much heavier emphasis on program outcomes.

Today's vote was the final hurdle for the new standards.

Among other things, programs seeking the seal of approval from the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation will be expected to show that both candidates and districts are satisfied with the quality of preparation and to document that graduates go on to boost student achievement. Programs will also, for the first time, need to ensure each entering cohort of candidates averages a certain level of academic qualifications.

Scoring will be based on the quality and weight of the evidence each program brings with respect to the five standards.

A panel tapped by CAEP to write the standards completed that process last month, as I reported. Already, some preparation programs have begun to take stock of where they stand in relationship to the standards, and what they'll have to change in order to win accreditation.

The finalization of these standards also marks a new era of a sorts for teacher preparation, which has been under a great amount of scrutiny from both nongovernmental bodies and the U.S. Department of Education. Teacher educators and interest groups have been deeply divided about some of the ideas that were eventually incorporated in the CAEP standards, such as candidate-selection benchmarks and the place of "value added" test-score-based approaches in teacher preparation. Other groups were concerned about the elimination of a stand-alone standard on diversity and a new "gold standard" level of accreditation reserved for only the best programs.

Against that backdrop, it was not even clear that the panel could reach an agreement on the standards. But in the end, pragmatism won out. As newly confirmed CAEP board Chairwoman Mary Brabeck noted today, that group "approved the standards unanimously, which I found astounding, and enormously affirming,"—and which provided momentum for today's vote.

Panelists and others close to the process gave credit to CAEP President Jim Cibulka and his quiet leadership for keeping the standards-setting process on track. By contrast, a 2012 federal attempt to negotiate new teacher-prep-accountability rules with the field ended in an impasse. (The U.S. Department of Education's version of those rules remains inexplicably delayed.)

There will, nevertheless, be hurdles ahead as the CAEP standards begin to take effect. Unlike other professions, teacher-college accreditation is still largely a voluntary enterprise in the U.S. (Only a handful of states require their programs to seek national accreditation.)

Although CAEP gets financial support from a number of entities, the teachers' unions among them, it is dependent on colleges seeking accreditation. Whether accreditation will remain attractive in the future remains to be seen, given some of the ideological divisions in the field.

Other challenges concern implementation, both for programs and for CAEP.

Programs and the districts they serve will need to work in closer proximity than ever before, noted Blake West, a board member, teacher, and IT director at Blue Valley High School in Kansas.

"I think it will be up to us to show that the quality of the partnership shows up not merely on paper," he said. "We have to think about the policy decisions we can make that will encourage those quality partnerships to be developed that really get the best teachers working with the candidates."

The accreditor will also have to watch whether programs carry out the standards in good faith. Despite the intent of the rules, "whenever you set up new policies, there are always ways to game the system, and people will figure them out," acknowledged Camilla Benbow, dean of Vanderbilt University's education school, who chaired the committee that crafted the standards.

Finally, CAEP will have to balance its dual roles of program support and accountability. It will have a third role, too: that of technical-assistance provider that vets and determines best practices vis-a-vis the types of evidence programs submit.

"This is about more than ratings systems, which are becoming increasingly popular," Cibulka said. "It's a more complex endeavor."

The balancing act of the accreditor has not always been an easy task: As I noted earlier, NCATE, one of the two bodies that preceded CAEP, denied or revoked accreditation only a handful of times in its last six years.

CAEP will begin accrediting all programs with the new standards in 2016. Until then, it will pilot them with programs that volunteer.

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