Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Overreliance of Accreditors on Consensus Standards

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Overreliance of Accreditors on Consensus Standards

Article excerpt

The standards traditionally employed in teacher education accreditation have their roots in a political consensus of the profession, supported, when possible, by the weight of research findings. Unfortunately, neither the political consensus nor the knowledge base in teacher education is robust enough to support the traditional accreditation standards. In this situation, a new approach to accreditation, one based on the profession's standards of evidence and validity, will satisfy the nation's need for greater accountability in teacher education.

Accreditation arose in the United States because colleges and universities needed a way to determine whether they should accept students and recognize courses from other institutions in their regions. Rather than making a direct assessment of the student or the course, however, they eased their work by assessing only whether the institution from which the student and course came was a true college. If the other institution had the essential attributes of their own institution, they felt comfortable in admitting the student and in recognizing coursework as if it had been taken at their own institution in the first place (Council for Higher Education Accreditation, 2000; Graham, Lyman, & Trow, 1995; Trow, 1998).

The keys to this kind of accreditation, of course, were determining the essential attributes of a college or university and codifying them as standards that differentiated between institutions that were sufficiently like true colleges and universities and those that were not. These standards were like the best-of-breed standards for animal shows that separates the pure and exemplar breed from those that are not acceptable members of the breed.(1) By and large, a college or university was content with standards that pertained to an institution's facilities, faculty, curricula, funding, policies, and students and determined whether these were sufficiently like its own so that its own degree could be granted to a student who had done a substantial portion of his or her work elsewhere. In time, the professions and specialized disciplines also employed the mechanism of accreditation to provide similar assurances about education in the professions and specialties. The key to specialized accreditation, like general or regional accreditation, was the credibility and legitimacy of the standards. This credibility and legitimacy; by and large, has had its roots in two domains: (a) political and professional consensus about the essential features of professional education and (b) a research consensus that supported and warranted certain professional practices over others. In other words, professional accreditation and the legitimacy of the profession itself were rooted in political power based on professional consensus and/or scholarship hat supported and validated the best-of-breed consensus standards. Both roots, however, have provided slender and fragile reeds of support for the profession of teaching and for the accreditation of teacher education programs.

THE LACK OF CONSENSUS IN TEACHER EDUCATION STANDARDS BASED ON POLITICAL POWER

One of the surprising facts about teacher education, given that the first public normal school was founded in 1839, is that so few standards for the faculty, students, curriculum, facilities, and funding in teacher education have been settled, owing to wide variation in acceptable practices and fundamental disagreements within the profession about any of the following basic matters in teacher education: funding, curriculum, faculty, instructional formats, and students.

Program Funding in American Teacher Education

The pattern of funding of teacher education programs in the United States suggests that the principles that determine its funding are different from the principles that determine the funding of other programs in higher education (Howard, Hitz, & Baker, 2000). Generally, for example, the disciplines that have more upper-division courses in the major, substantial clinical components, and higher proportions of graduate students are more costly because upper-division courses and graduate courses have lower enrollments and require more specialized facilities and because clinical courses require lower faculty-student ratios than other courses. …

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