By TAYA FLORES, Capital News Service
BALTIMORE - A little competition may soon be coming to the obscure and complicated process of accrediting Maryland's teacher training colleges. The State Board of Education is pondering a recommendation from a special committee that it begin using a second accrediting agency because some institutions say they feel increasingly burdened by the demands of the first.
"Some (accreditation) teams need to look at all the details, their expectations can be unrealistic and exhausting," said Patricia Welch, dean of the School of Education at Morgan State University and member of the committee that recommended the board approve a second option. "It's hard adjusting to timing and expectations, sometimes conditions are outside of what you can control."
State law requires that institutions with 2,000 or more full-time students have their teacher education program accredited by a national agency. Since these colleges train teachers for the public schools, the Maryland State Department of Education has to approve the program as well.
Until 2003 the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education was the only accrediting agency for teacher preparation in the country. But, that year the U.S. Department of Education recognized the Teacher Education Accreditation Council as a competitor.
Now, the State Department of Education's teacher advisory committee is recommending that the state hire the new agency to promote competition and improve service.
The difference between the two agencies is that the current accreditation agency sets the standards that teacher colleges must meet to become accredited. But the new agency lets the college set its own standards and evaluates whether the schools meet these standards.
The cost of assessment for each accrediting agency is about the same and Maryland colleges undergo review every five to seven years. For the current agency, costs range from $6,000 to $9,600. The institution also has to pay an annual fee, ranging from $1,900 to $4,300.Both prices depend on the size of the institution.
For the new agency, the cost is about $6,000 to $9,000 for an audit, depending on the size of the education program and traveling costs. Also, the school has to pay $2,500 a year in membership fees once accredited.
Morgan State's Welch said that the major benefit of adding a new accreditation agency is for schools to be able to choose what works best for them.
"This does provide an option for institutions," Welch said. "There will be no monopoly. Schools won't have to be locked into just one agreement. It's just good to have a choice."
However, there is no unanimity that another approach is necessary or even desirable.
The National Education Association, a professional organization that supports public schools, does not support the new accreditation agency because it is not as rigorous as the current process, a spokeswoman said.
"The NCATE process has high standards, it ensures that the classroom teacher is there to assess the program when in many cases the voice of the teacher is left out," said Nikki Barnes, a liaison in minority community outreach for the National Education Association.
Of the 22 colleges offering teacher training in Maryland, 14 are accredited. Of those, 10 are public schools. The unaccredited schools are colleges or universities with less than 2,000 full-time students, art schools or schools in the process of accreditation.
Although only five other states require that all teacher colleges be accredited, 29 states have all their public colleges accredited because of a state law, board of education policy or desire to have an accredited program.
But graduating from an accredited program is not required to become a teacher. Some school districts will hire graduates who have not graduated from an accredited college, said Arthur Wise, the president of the current accrediting agency. In light of this, he said that accreditation is still necessary to ensure the quality of the program and allows a teacher greater career mobility. "They (students) can be sure that they have met rigorous standards set by the profession and find it easier to get new state certification," he said. Barnes also supports accredited education programs. "An accredited program shows that you know the complexities of teaching, content knowledge and have the demonstrated skills in actually teaching," Barnes said.
At a Board of Education meeting last Tuesday, discussion of the accreditation requirements was the subject of some debate by board members.
Board president, Edward L. Root, said that the process was too burdensome.
"It requires too many courses in math, physics or chemistry that the teachers do not teach in high schools," Root said. "We need a program that meets the needs of high schools."
Root said that while he disputes the accreditation process, he still sees the need for another accrediting agency.
While Welch agreed with Root's request for qualified teachers to keep students in schools, she did not agree with limiting course requirements.
"We don't want to water down the curriculum for educators," she said. "You don't want to send the wrong message about the importance of education." Although Welch said that the accreditation process was exhausting, she said it is a needed process to validate good work.