A top-notch, three-part series (here, here and here) running in this week's Education Week sheds new light on one of the most non-transparent of states' regulatory functions: their approval of teacher preparation programs. Journalist Stephen Sawchuk spent months doggedly investigating this largely dysfunctional system, trying to figure out why states rarely yank program approval from any of the nation's 25,000 programs. The pursuit may not rise to the level of who really killed Hae Min Lee (surely you're listening to the hit podcast Serial)—but, in our view, it comes pretty close.
Sawchuk weaves a compelling narrative about the reluctance of state officials to intervene (and how convoluted intervention can become) by highlighting controversies involving programs in Michigan and New York. The third and last article grapples with the root issue: a fundamental lack of agreement about what teacher prep should be about. As a quote from Jim Cibulka, president of the national accreditor CAEP (the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation) puts it, the curriculum for teacher preparation "has been largely driven by ideology and tradition, rather than empirical knowledge and investigation...We have allowed a thousand flowers to bloom, including weeds, because there was no empirical basis on which to separate the wheat from the chaff."
The next piece on Sawchuk's list should be a cold, hard look at the way that many states' oversight became so entangled with national accreditation, mostly during the 1990s when NCATE was on a roll. Only eight states now approve programs entirely independently of accreditation. The arranged marriage certainly wasn't appropriate under the NCATE regime and there's a strong argument to be made, no matter how weak or strong CAEP ends up being, that program approval should never be intertwined with program accreditation. Sawchuk references their entanglement, but it's a huge topic in and of itself that needs exploring.