Accountability, Autonomy, and Academic Freedom in Educator Preparation Programs

Article excerpt

Teacher education programs across the country are encountering intense scrutiny. The current high visibility for issues of quality in teacher education programs has provoked a level of public discourse about the field perhaps unprecedented in our history. Although debates over teacher preparation have been controversial and highly politicized (Cochran-Smith & Fries, 2001; Melnick & Pullin, 2000), state and federal policy makers have moved quickly to implement efforts to alter the governance of the teaching profession, redesigning credentialing systems, altering the regulation of teacher preparation programs, and moving to "deregulate" access to the profession by promoting alternate certification. At the same time, consistent with efforts to use standards-based and test-driven systems to promote accountability in elementary and secondary education, recent state and federal requirements impose test-driven systems and new program approval requirements on college and university teacher education programs. And following new congressional mandates, both the federal and state governments are requiring evidence of "scientifically based research" to justify education programs and practices. These new initiatives create a tension between government, seeking to perform its public responsibility through efforts to reform education, and higher education, seeking to improve education while insuring its integrity as a forum for the free pursuit and exchange of knowledge. Many higher education programs and faculty are only in the early stages of understanding and implementing responses to these changes. Among the issues that should now be considered by both government officials and higher education institutions and their faculty are those concerning the long-standing traditions of autonomy and academic freedom that have been one of the great strengths of the nation's system of higher education.

This article addresses the potential consequences of the new external accountability forces on higher education institutions and their faculties. Although there are currently no court decisions concerning these contemporary issues in teacher education, the article reviews analogous issues of autonomy, academic freedom, and accountability in other higher education contexts. It suggests the types of legal protections that institutions and faculty involved in teacher education programs might have when challenging or resisting external mandates.

The U.S. Secretary of Education recently declared (U.S. Department of Education, 2002) that teacher preparation and state certification policies and practices must "change dramatically" (p. 8) to increase standards and align programs with the requirements of the new federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA) (2001). According to the secretary's report, "scientific evidence ... raises questions about the value of attendance in schools of education" (p. 8). The report also finds a "lack of rigor of courses offered in many schools of education, ... leaving [future teachers] ill prepared for the challenges and rigors of the classroom" (p. 15). As a result of his critique, the secretary called for increased use of more rigorous teacher tests, for more emphasis on the verbal ability and content knowledge of teachers, and for considerable expansion of alternate routes to certification independent of the "monopoly" currently held by teacher education programs (p. 40). Subsequently, in implementing the teacher quality components of the NCLBA, the secretary has moved aggressively to promote these goals.

States are moving quickly to implement the new NCLBA requirements to maintain their eligibility for the federal financial assistance available under that law, which is the largest federal aid program for elementary and secondary education. Moreover, the impending reauthorizations of the federal special education law (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and the federal Higher Education Act create the real possibility of further accountability requirements for teacher education programs. …

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