Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards: Do They Work for Clients?

By Gambrill, Eileen | Journal of Social Work Education, Spring-Summer 2001 | Go to article overview

Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards: Do They Work for Clients?


Gambrill, Eileen, Journal of Social Work Education


The Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is now being redrafted (CSWE, 2001).(1) Questions that seem reasonable to ask regarding educational policy and accreditation standards include the following:

1. Who and what are they for?

2. On what criteria should standards and policy be based? For example, should they be based on authority (consensus) or on evidence that pedagogical theories and practices contribute to preparing social workers who provide effective, efficient, ethical services to clients (i.e., contribute to solving problems)? Should standards be consistent with research findings regarding the evidentiary base of educational theories and practices used in relation to promoting client well-being and justice?

3. Should we be honest about the evidentiary status of claims we make?

4. How prescriptive should standards be? Should standards be hortatory (describe what should be done) as well as minatory (describe what must not be done)? (See Dawes, 1995.)

5. How clear should standards be?

6. Should aspirational aims be clearly noted as such or is it acceptable to make claims for which there is no evidence?

7. What indicators most accurately reflect the effectiveness of educational policy and standards in accomplishing CSWE's mission?

8. Should clients be involved in identifying standards and criteria used to select them?

9. What (if any) should the relationship be between educational standards and standards of practice?

Who and What Are Educational Policy and Standards for?

Policies and standards are designed to solve problems (Magee, 1999). The purpose of the EPAS is to function as a guide to accreditation teams as well as to educational programs in planning curriculums that satisfy CSWE's mission. Problems described in the mission statement of CSWE are as follows:

   CSWE is a national association of social work education programs and
   individuals that ensures and enhances the quality of social work education
   for a professional practice that promotes individual, family, and community
   well-being, and social and economic justice. CSWE pursues this mission by
   setting and maintaining national accreditation standards for baccalaureate
   and master's degree programs in social work, by promoting faculty
   development, and by advocating for social work education and research.

Under "Purposes of Social Work Education" (I.B) in EPAS we read that one purpose of these guidelines is "to prepare competent and effective professionals" (I.B, p. 5). In the Annual Report of the Council on Social Work Education (entitled Promoting Quality Education), it is claimed that "in setting and maintaining national accreditation standards for baccalaureate and master's degree programs in social work, the Council ensures minimal standards in nearly 600 social work programs in the United States" (CSWE, 2000, p. 1). Thus, problems of concern as expressed in official documents seem to be preparing competent and effective professionals, ensuring and enhancing professional education that promotes well-being and justice, and ensuring minimal standards to achieve these goals. Given this, we can (if we choose) explore the extent to which policies and standards achieve claimed aims (solve problems of concern).

CSWE's mission statement and EPAS clearly imply that we are interested in education that prepares competent and effective professionals who promote client well-being and justice and who provide "effective and ethical services" (p. 3). We appeal to client outcomes as our reason for being, yet we find no attention to client outcomes in evaluating the quality of educational programs in the body of either former EPAS statements or in the draft in progress. And, to my knowledge, there is no evidence for claims made in the above statements (i. …

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