Establishing Teaching as a Profession: The Essential Role of Professional Accreditation

Article excerpt

A profession is an occupation that seeks to regulate itself by (a) developing a consensus concerning what its practitioners must know and be able to do and (b) developing an accreditation and licensing system to ensure the transmission of that knowledge and skill. An occupation becomes a profession when organizations such as universities, states, and the public accept that system.

Fifty years ago, representatives of the profession and the public decided to create a professional accreditation system for universities and colleges that prepare teachers and other professional school personnel. In 1954, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) began operation and developed a consensus concerning what new teachers should know and be able to do. Initially, like other professional accrediting agencies, it framed its standards in terms of inputs on the presumption that these would lead to the desired knowledge and skills. In 1987, it reframed its standards in terms of curriculum guidelines on the presumption that these would lead to the same desired result. In 2001, it again refrained its standards to directly express its consensus concerning the needed knowledge, skills, dispositions, and abilities through expectations for the graduates of its institutions.

During its first 35 years of operation, NCATE offered its accreditation services directly to institutions; by 1989, about 500 institutions were accredited. In the meantime, institutions that were accredited needed to undergo parallel review systems operated by each state. In response to interest expressed by both institutions and states, NCATE developed its state partnership program. Between 1989 and 2004, nearly all states determined that they should join forces with NCATE.

The result has been a remarkable integration of professional and state standards for new teachers. The bottom line is that more than two thirds of the nation's new teacher graduates are produced by institutions accredited by NCATE; most of the remaining new teachers are graduates of institutions approved by states using standards closely aligned with those of NCATE.

Not everyone was pleased at the growing alignment of NCATE and the states, which seemed to be making the accreditation of teacher preparation--with its ever-more-rigorous expectations--as much a part of the landscape as the near universal expectation of accreditation of other professional schools. In response, the presidents of some independent liberal arts colleges decided that they needed an alternative. That alternative is the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC), premised on the core idea that every institution should be able to set its own educational standards for teacher candidates and be held accountable on these terms. Advocates of professionalization see this development as a barrier to the creation of a profession of teaching.

INTRODUCTION

Teaching Today: The Beginnings of a Profession

To begin, we need to ask a question at the heart of our beliefs, commitments, and values regarding education. Do we want to propel the field of teaching further into the realm of a profession? If we do, we face years of hard work in teacher preparation--forging additional consensus on the specialized knowledge, skills, and dispositions required of beginning practitioners. If we accomplish this, there is the potential for great pride in the outcome and great benefit to the American public, through the preparation of caring, competent, and qualified professional educators that come from our ranks.

If we do not move our field toward a profession of teaching, through increasing professionalization of teacher preparation, we will likely face increasing government regulation that imposes its own brand of uniformity on teaching practice. Over the years, governmental agencies have vacillated among policies that prescribe specific courses, place limits on the number of credit hours allowed for teacher education, or banish it altogether. …