The Journey toward Professionalism: Accreditation, Licensure, and Certification

Article excerpt

A sustaining dream of American parents traditionally has been to see their children grow up, become educated, and enter a profession. To be delicious, the fantasy must include success not in just any old occupation--it must be in a profession. Such a dream is reasonable, parents want the best for their children, and it has been shown that vocation influences not only one's standard of living but also the social affiliations, personal tastes, level of status, and lifestyle that one enjoys or endures.

In our society only a handful of universally acknowledged established occupations--medicine, law, dentistry, and the clergy--appear to reach all the standards of a profession. Some others, such as architecture and engineering, seem to meet most but not all of the marks well. These latter are often referred to as the emerging professions. For decades teaching has aspired to recognition as a profession, but it generally is seen as falling short of its aspirations.

The road traveled by any occupation in its quest to become a profession is both long and bumpy. In the case of many of the established professions, the journey to their present enviable level of recognition took decades and in many cases even centuries. Invariably all went through periods of advancement and times of setback in the process. Occasionally a leap forward in this process occurred in one case or another. A most noteworthy example of rapid progress took place in medicine early in the twentieth century. The stimulus for this spurt of development was the appearance of the so-called Flexner Report, which had a powerful and significant effect on the field of medicine. (See Albert Flexner, 1910, Medical Education in the United States and Canada, Merrymont Press.) The report was a blueprint for attaining professional status. In the decades that followed, as the recommendations of the book were taken seriously and implemented, medicine moved rapidly up the ladder of professional status until it epitomizes what a profession should be.

Reaching back some seventeen years, we find a report by Robert Howsom, Dean Corrigan, George Denemark, and Robert Nash (Educating a Profession, AACTE, 1976) that many in education hoped would become teaching's Flexner Report. It issued a challenge to teachers to join together in a movement to attain professional status. It cited the benchmarks of a profession and outlined what would be necessary for teaching to attain professional status. Although Educating a Profession addressed factors in several areas--including academics, social issues, ethics, and law--this article concerns the legal aspects of achieving recognition as a profession.

Howsom and his colleagues explained that every society has critical functions to be performed that sustain and ensure progress within it. In complex societies, work specialization is achieved and institutions and organizations invented not only to deliver these important services but also to monitor the standard of care and protect the consumer in the delivery of the services. Requirements and sanctions relating to these services typically are established by statute or administrative code. Those occupations that are responsible for the most fundamental needs of the society, without which the quality of life and/or life itself would be impaired, are acknowledged to be professions. Few would disagree with the assertion that education and teaching are among the activities most vital to maintaining and sustaining our society. Therefore, the legal underpinnings of teaching are critical to its attaining professional status.

Legal Considerations for the Teaching Profession

Among the marks of a profession are three that fall into a category of legal or pseudolegal considerations. The first of these is accreditation, that being the process or strategies by which consumers are assured that minimum standards of preparation are being met by the institutions of higher education that prepare functionaries of the occupation. …