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Accreditation for Teacher Prep Needs a Makeover, Say Former Ed. Officials

The current system for accrediting schools of education isn't working, argue two former senior U.S. Department of Education officials in a recent brief. And they think school districts and philanthropists can help. 

Instead of letting teacher-preparation programs self-police, they say, school districts—which end up employing the education schools' graduates—should be assessing program quality.

David Bergeron and Michael Dannenberg, who issued the brief, helped write the teacher-prep regulations under the Obama administration. (The rules were recently scrapped by President Trump). 

The background on accreditation for teacher-education programs in the United States is somewhat complex, but here's what you need to know:

  • In many states, getting a national accreditation is voluntary. But the majority of teacher-prep programs participate as a way of demonstrating professional quality and improving their work.
  • The group currently responsible for accrediting programs is the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation. CAEP was formed in 2010 when the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, or NCATE, and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, or TEAC, merged.
  • CAEP released new program standards, which were meant to be tougher, in 2013. For the next few years, CAEP suffered from internal divisions and high staff turnover. Teacher colleges resisted the more-rigorous standards, and CAEP did make some changes. 
  • The accreditor is not yet recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, but aims to be down the road.

Among the major problems with accreditation is that CAEP dues are paid by members, who hail from higher education, write Bergeron and Dannenberg.

"If you think our accreditation system whereby existing suppliers effectively decide who else can be suppliers of services is a case of the fox guarding the taxpayer's hen house, you would be correct," they write. "Because the current teacher education accreditor has shown it cannot and will not reform itself, a new type of accreditor, not dependent on schools of education and their personnel, but instead on the employers of graduates from schools of education and teacher preparation programs, should be created."

As we've written before, schools of education are almost never closed for underperformance

Christopher Koch, the president of CAEP, said that fox-hen house characterization is "not valid."

Membership dues are "not our only source of revenue," he said, citing funding from the Council of Chief State School Officers and states, among other places. "Even if it were, we're still making tough decisions about accreditation." And only about half of the folks on the board of directors are from higher education, he noted.

But Bergeron and Dannenberg say in an ideal situation, district and charter school leaders would partner to lead the accreditation process.

"If you talk to school leaders in the building, they know what they want from new teachers. It's easily assessable what they want," said Bergeron in an interview. "Maybe if the schools that need the teachers were controlling the accreditor and making sure the accreditor was giving them what they need, they'd be willing to pay for it and would make sure the accreditor's standards aligned to what they're looking for," he said. The philanthropic community might also be able to play a role, he said. 

The authors of the brief offer three potential methods for overhauling accreditation. (See chart below.)

Ed Reform Now brief CAEP 10.2017.JPG

"I think there's bipartisan interest in doing something different on accreditation," Bergeron said. "This is not as pie in the sky as it would have seemed three or four years ago."

Koch said he doesn't see districts being willing to pay. But he recognizes that as of now districts spend a lot of money training teachers who come in unprepared. "The vision I have for CAEP is, going forward, if you're hiring teachers from an accredited institution, you can trust they're qualified," he said. 


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