Raising the Bar

A new national commission will set accrediting standards for schools of education, with the hope of producing better, more well-rounded teachers.

February 28, 2012

In 2010, a report commissioned by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education made the case for more immersive teacher education programs. It was a call for radical changes that would revamp curriculums with constant feedback and interaction between teacher education programs and school districts.

Today, those goals will take a major step forward when the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation announces the formation of a national commission on standards and performance reporting that will come up with tougher accrediting standards for teacher education programs. CAEP is a new accrediting body formed by the merger of NCATE and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, which between them accredit more than 900 schools of education. (NCATE and TEAC decided to merge because it was more efficient to have one set of standards with one accrediting body.)

The commission -- which will have about 30 members, including deans of schools of education, superintendents of school districts, union representatives, and even a Parent-Teacher Association leader from a school district -- will meet in late spring, and is expected to come up with its recommendations in about a year to 15 months.

Reforms are necessary to provide teaching programs with feedback to make teachers and administrators in school districts more effective and create fundamental standards of quality, said David Steiner, dean of the School of Education at Hunter College of the City University of New York, who will serve on the committee. “In creating the commission, CAEP is -- to its credit -- acknowledging that reforms in its practices and requirements may well be necessary to make good on these two goals,” Steiner said.

The commission will start working with the understanding that teacher preparation is a shared responsibility between higher education institutions and school districts. More ambitious goals are possible now because of the availability of more data, in terms of student outcomes, and performance assessments, said James Cibulka, president of NCATE and CAEP.

“We are on the verge of having much more data; we have more data on teachers as they teach. We have better teacher evaluations available. This provides opportunity for program improvement. The standards will take on more power as more data becomes available,” Cibulka said, adding that the accreditation process will provide strategies to institutions on how to improve a program.

New data are available from “Teacher Performance Assessment” pilot programs that are being tested in more than 25 states and from nonprofit entities such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching Project, which has suggested reinventing the way teachers are evaluated and developed.

All this means that schools of education will have to step up their game or lose accreditation. “The goal is not to eliminate any programs. We want to make sure that the programs we have in place are preparing teachers well to work with today’s diverse student body,” said Cibulka.

One way of turning out better-prepared teachers might be to develop stronger partnerships between school districts and universities. The California State University at Long Beach partners with Long Beach Unified School District so that prospective teachers get to experience diverse and urban classrooms, while in Chicago, aspiring teachers at the Academy for Urban School Leadership take part in a one-year residency program in a city program while being mentored by a senior teacher.

One commission member, Arthur Levine, who is the president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, said that the United States needs to raise the proportion of top students who want to be teachers, echoing an idea that the Obama administration is tossing around in the federal rule-making negotiations it is holding now: higher admission standards for teacher education programs. He mentioned a study by McKinsey in 2010 showing that nearly 100 percent of new teachers in Finland, Singapore and South Korea come from the top third of their graduating class, while the figure is 23 percent for the United States.

“Self-policing is critical; this might be the last chance for teacher education in this country,” Levine said.

Another commission member, Susan Neuman, a professor at the University of Michigan's School of Education, said teachers need to be helped at the beginning of their careers. “Teachers need a sound foundational base. We need strategies that will teach them that,” she said.


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