Teacher-Training Schools Face Tougher Accreditation Standards

Stephanie Banchero | Wall Street Journal
08/30/13

Teacher preparation programs will have to raise admission standards and ensure graduates are boosting the achievement levels of elementary and high-school students to earn national accreditation, according to a revamp of the process adopted Thursday.

The overhaul comes as colleges of education are under scrutiny from many quarters, including the Obama administration, amid complaints they are failing to prepare teachers for K-12 classrooms.

Under the new standards, adopted by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, colleges of education will be required for the first time to track graduates' performance in K-12 classrooms and ensure they are contributing to student growth, as measured by test scores or other factors.

Teacher preparation programs also will have to ensure each incoming class has an average grade point of at least a 3.0, and college admission scores in the top 50% of the nation, beginning in 2017. The bar will be raised over time, until 2020, when an incoming class must have average college-admission scores in the top third. The typical grade-point average to get into a program is about 2.5.

Most states don't require programs to garner national accreditation. But the council accredits about 900 programs, which educate about 62% of all teacher candidates, council officials say.

James Cibulka, president of the nonprofit group, said there is an "urgent need" to transform teacher preparation and focus on effectiveness. The new standards will be "challenging" for some institutions, he said, and might result in lost accreditation.

Over the last four years, teacher preparation programs have faced intense pressure to overhaul themselves. Critics say they have lax admission standards and don't give teachers enough hands-on classroom experience. The Department of Education requires states to identify low-performing programs, but only 38 were tagged in 2011.

Critics also say the accreditation process is superficial, with virtually every program earning—and keeping—the stamp of approval. In 2011, 90 programs were up for review by the national accreditation group, and only five were revoked.

Terry Holliday, the commissioner of K-12 education in Kentucky, said the new standards are in line with the push to focus the nation's entire education system on outcomes. "Too often teacher preparation programs just put graduates in jobs and don't worry about whether they are helping children," said Mr. Holliday, who co-chaired the commission that crafted the standards."I think that time has passed."

Michael Maher, assistant dean for teacher education and accreditation at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., praised the new standards and said programs should be accountable for the effectiveness of their graduates. "The best use of this data is that you use it to inform your programs and make alterations if there are weaknesses," he said.

But others worry the changes might not go far enough. The new standards, for example, don't spell out how colleges will measure graduates' effectiveness in the classroom. or by how much they need to boost student achievement. Those details will be worked out in the coming months.

Elizabeth Hinde, who oversees the teacher preparation at Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, said her program hasn't sought national accreditation in part because it lacks rigor. And she isn't sure the changes will matter. "Will they just continue to accredit everybody or will this have some teeth?" she asked. 

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