Do Accreditation Requirements Deter Curriculum Innovation? Yes!

Article excerpt

      Point/Counterpoint is a regular feature of the Journal of Social Work
   Education. Its purpose is to provide a vehicle for the expression of
   contrasting views on controversial topics in social work education. Our
   goal is to illuminate important debates and explore the diverse
   perspectives that are shaping social work education.

      In each feature, two or more individuals are invited to comment on a
   topic about which they have differing viewpoints. Each commentator is given
   an opportunity to make a brief rebuttal. In this issue, Martha Markward
   (associate professor, University of Georgia) and Carol S. Drolen (associate
   professor and MSW program chair, University of Alabama) address the
   question: Do Accreditation Requirements Deter Curriculum Innovation?

In reviewing Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) curriculum policy and accreditation standards for 1952, 1961, 1969, 1982, 1988, 1994, and, due to revisions, 1997, the core curriculum of master's-level social work education has changed very little. What has changed is that the master's curriculum has become standardized and regulated. For example, no accreditation standards existed per se in 1969, and in fact the expectation was that there "will be diversity among schools in the kinds and numbers of concentrations offered, as well as in the designations, and in the instructional activities and learning experiences provided" (CSWE, 1969). By 1982, standards were established to ensure that curriculum content in the foundation year of MSW education is congruent with content in undergraduate social work education, as well as to ensure that content in the concentration year prepares students for licensure. Unfortunately, standards that currently regulate MSW education deter curriculum innovation within the context of contemporary thinking about curriculum.

Conceptual Framework

Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery, and Taubman (1995) suggest that an educational curriculum should be a moving form that is continually critiqued, evaluated, reformulated, and re-expressed (p. 866). Yeager (1997) proposes that curriculum development is also social change--that is, about changing people, particularly faculty and students--rather than about revising statements written down on paper (see also Miel, 1946). Additionally, Applebee (1996) notes that, instead of identifying an exhaustive list of tasks and activities to guide curriculum or distinct guidelines for what should be included or excluded in the curriculum, educators and students should identify topics of conversation that allow the latitude to discuss relevant past, present, and future experiences.

Relative to these notions about curriculum development, CSWE accreditation requirements related to faculty, student development, curriculum, and innovative programs are among those that deter curriculum innovation. I will take these up in the context of the master's-level evaluative standards (EVS).

EVS 4--Faculty

This standard states that faculty responsibilities will include "classroom instruction and field liaison; professional advising; planning, implementing, and evaluating the program; and continuing professional development as a teacher-scholar" (CSWE, 1994, Interpretive Guideline 4.0, p. 123). In addition, faculty members are expected to "participate in other professional activities and to undertake community responsibilities essential to the attainment of the program's goals." With these responsibilities, many faculty, especially junior faculty, have little time to think meaningfully about curriculum. Bisno and Cox (1997) also note that faculty members have little motivation to engage in in-depth discussions about the curriculum; as a result, "systematic and ongoing curriculum review, innovation, and coordination are often lacking" (p. 385), even though this scrutiny is warranted.

EVS 5--Student Development

The student development standard mandates that "academic credit for life experience and previous work experience must not be given in whole or in part, in lieu of the field practicum or of courses in the professional foundation areas specified in the Curriculum Policy Statement" (CSWE, 1994, EVS 5. …