On Building a Unified System of Accreditation in Teacher Education

Article excerpt

In September 2003, Rod Paige, the secretary of education of the United States, formally recognized the newly formed Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) as an accreditor of teacher education programs in the United States, (1) thereby placing it on an equal footing with the longer-established National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and with 11 national, 8 regional, and 62 other specialized and professional accrediting organizations in the United States. (2) The secretary's recognition was based on the unanimous finding in June 2003 by the Department of Education's National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) that TEAC had complied with the secretary's standards for all accreditors whose positive accreditation decision serves as a gatekeeper for the receipt of federal funds by the program or institution.

Art Wise, president of NCATE, who urged its members in an e-mail message to oppose TEAC's recognition by the secretary of education, acknowledged all the same that federal recognition would constitute "a defining moment in the history of quality assurance in the teaching profession" (third-party communication, February 15, 2002). Although the recognition of TEAC is a watershed event for American teacher education, some worry that two accreditors in the same field would weaken teacher education, despite this not being the case in other fields where there is more than one accreditor. (3) Nursing has the Commission on Collegiate Nursing and the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission; business has the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and the Association of Collegiate Schools and Programs; and law has two accreditors, the American Bar Association and the Association of American Law Schools, that set an instructive example for teacher education because they cooperate with each other in their joint reviews of law schools and law programs.

With the view that contrasting and alternative approaches invariably raise quality, the U.S. Department of Education currently encourages, through its recognition process, multiple accreditors in the same field. Of course, the establishment of multiple approaches to accreditation initially gave rise to the fear that there would be a Gresham's law effect, in which lower standards would drive out higher standards. George Pruitt, president of Thomas A. Edison State College and a member of the NACIQI panel that recommended TEAC, commented at the June 2003 committee meeting that

   since 1992, when the regulations changed and removed
   the impediments for more than one accrediting
   body, the fear was that there would be
   accreditation shopping, there would be competing
   accrediting bodies with lower standards. In my
   judgment, the opposite has taken place.

Historically, the accreditation of teacher education programs in the United States has not been held in high regard. The completion of an accredited teacher education program, for example, has rarely been a requirement for the state's teaching license or for the hiring decision of any school district. This probably accounts in part for the fact that despite having more than 50 years to become accredited, fewer than half the nation's 1,300 schools of education are currently accredited (see http://www.aacte.org or http://www.nacte.org). That so many schools of education remain unaccredited might not be worrisome if it were only weak and undeserving schools that remain unaccredited. On the whole, however, some of the nation's premier schools of education have also not bothered with the prevailing system of accreditation. (4) In response to this peculiar feature of U.S. teacher education, the National Commission on Teaching for America's Future (NCTAF) concluded in 1996 that standards in teacher education, despite decades of reform initiatives since the Nation at Risk report, were still low and required further reform. …