Accountability for Programs and Institutions: A Core Value

Accountability is a core value of AACTE and its membership. Although the current trend toward measuring teacher preparation programs’ outcomes rather than inputs is a clear step in the right direction, it is often difficult to produce meaningful evidence of program impact amid the wide-ranging ideas of what such evidence might be. Still, our profession is ahead of the game in dealing with the performance expectations and reporting demands that now face higher education in general.

The voices calling for greater accountability for institutions of higher education have been growing in recent years. Much of this interest has emanated from outside the academy, often taking the form of proposals for holding institutions to some external system of accountability. In the last decade, these ranged from the Spelling Commission report, unleashing a wake-up call to the American higher education system in 2006, to the current U.S. Department of Education proposal for the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System, which would rate institutions based on access, affordability, and student outcomes.

For our field specifically, a variety of organizations recently have proposed new accountability measures and evaluation structures for teacher preparation programs: The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) released ground-breaking new accreditation standards. The National Academy of Education published a report on evaluation of teacher preparation programs, and a task force of the American Psychological Association (APA) issued a report on the same topic. Meanwhile, the National Council on Teacher Quality continued its annual review of teacher preparation programs.

Many of these proposals have a lot to offer; others are of little value. The fact that most teacher education professionals disagree with some of these efforts does not mean that we as a profession are unwilling to be held accountable, nor that we are unwilling to hold ourselves accountable. I believe most education deans are quite willing to have their programs evaluated and to demonstrate their performance. As we work to make sense of the wide discrepancy of opinions on what constitutes valid and reliable measures, to me the most important question is for what—and to whom—we should be accountable.

Should we be accountable to our students for offering a high-quality, relevant professional preparation program? Certainly.

Should we be accountable to PK-12 schools for providing a well-trained and responsible work force for tomorrow’s classrooms? I believe we do have a professional and ethical responsibility to do so.

Are preparation programs responsible for each individual alumnus teacher’s performance for an entire career? Certainly not—and no other profession holds itself to that type of standard.

We also should not waste resources participating in evaluations that fail to capture our true work—such as gauging the quality of a program based on an online review of course syllabi.

I do applaud CAEP, the National Academy, and the APA for their leadership in offering useful accountability measures and models for the field. The discussions may still be far from resolution at the institutional level, but at least in teacher preparation, we are making real headway in professional accountability.

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Julie Underwood

Chair, AACTE Board of Directors, and Dean, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison