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Teacher Education Group Asserts 'Crisis of Confidence' in Accreditor

An apparent fracture has opened up between two major players in the increasingly on-edge teacher education field, with the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education criticizing the national accreditor for teacher colleges. 

While underscoring that the organization is still committed to the success of the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, or CAEP, the AACTE board of directors contends in a recently approved resolution that there is a "crisis of confidence" in 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 states.

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. AACTE represents some 800 members.

In response, officials at CAEP acknowledge that they've sometimes struggled to supply tools and timely updates to programs trying to understand the accreditor's updated standards for teacher colleges. But they reiterated 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 group's different tacks to the pressures 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 the U.S. Department of Education's recently proposed rules, emphasizes more accountability for programs that prepare teachers; another, largely the perspective of the AACTE, asserts that too much pressure could detract from innovations.

Concerns Listed

The AACTE's move came as an unusual development for groups that have historically been closely linked: The AACTE was one of five organizations that, in 1954, helped form one of CAEP's predecessors, and it has long been a proponent and financial supporter of national accreditation.

CAEP was created from the merger of two former accreditation organizations. In 2013, its board unanimously approved a new set of standards that, among other things, require colleges to produce evidence that they are recruiting academically capable candidates and training them to be effective in classrooms. The updated expectations will go into effect next year for all seeking the group's seal of approval.

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.

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

Mark R. Ginsberg, the chair of AACTE's board of directors, said members find 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 stagnant and declining funding for higher education. And they want to be sure that CAEP's governance represents the field's diversity.

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

Process and Substance

CAEP's governance structure has been set for nearly five years, and it does differ from the one used under the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, by far the larger of the CAEP's two predecessors. Certain constituencies, such as the teachers' unions and the AACTE, got to delegate spots on NCATE's governing panels. By contrast, CAEP now uses a nominations process and performs its own vetting. (Two AACTE members currently sit on CAEP's board of directors.) The board also includes more representation from the K-12 field and policymakers than previously.

As to 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 will require all programs to recruit, on average, candidates with a 3.0 GPA who have posted scores in the upper third on a nationally normed entrance examination. The requirement will be ramped up in stages.

Long before the resolution appeared, teacher-educators have generally harbored concerns that raising admissions standards could disproportionately affect black and Latino candidates.

CAEP officials said they have worked hard to respond to those anxieties. The group has commissioned a study of how the step-up in selectivity would affect the teacher-candidate pool and pledged to consider the results as it implements that requirement.

Some teacher educators, meanwhile, seconded the AACTE resolution's concerns about CAEP's capacity, saying that they've experienced frustrations negotiating the new expectations, and noting several staffing changes last year at the accreditor.

"The new standards really call for a new approach, yet we're not convinced that the reviewers have been trained in any substantially different way," 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.

"CAEP has been extremely disorganized throughout the entire process," Mr. Maher said. "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 finalized and 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 new CAEP standards. "It is very concerning, and I think they're kind of speaking out of both sides of their mouth. They say they want a universal accreditation system and to have high standards, but they don't come up with alternatives."

A former AACTE president added that he was puzzled by the resolution, noting that the group recently opposed the Education Department's proposed rules for teacher preparation and the quality review propogated by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based advocacy group.

"There is a need to move to embrace a couple things they are for­—other than the edTPA," said David Imig, a University of Maryland, College Park education professor, referring to a teacher-certification exam that itself has proved controversial.

If disagreements destabilize CAEP, that would likely have unintended consequences, Mr. Holliday warned.

"A critical piece is that a profession should police itself, and I think that's what an accreditation process does," he concluded. "I'm afraid if we don't police ourselves, someone else will do it for us, like the [U.S.] Department of Education. They're certainly trying to."

Correction: A previous version of this post misstated the location of North Carolina State.

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