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Trivializing Teacher Education: The Accreditation Squeeze

reviewed by William F. Pinar - August 22, 2006

coverTitle: Trivializing Teacher Education: The Accreditation Squeeze
Author(s): Dale D. Johnson, Bonnie Johnson, Stephen J. Farenga, & Daniel Ness
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 0742535363, Pages: 240, Year: 2005
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Once a nuisance, and now a scandal, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) threatens the profession through the institutionalization of its misrepresentation of teaching. A subjective expression with social significance, teaching cannot be standardized. Dale Johnson and his colleagues appreciate that “the identification of good teaching is not much different from one’s evaluation of a painting, play, or a piano sonata” (p. 87). Moreover, politicians’ meddling means “that the direction of the field of education is almost entirely navigated and influenced by the political climate and pressures at any given time” (p. 74).  As a consequence, “one never knows what the ‘right thing to do’ is in the field of education because so much of the field is determined through political policy” (p. 74). In my view, one can never know the universal “right thing to do,” given the context and specificity of classroom life.

Historically, Johnson and his colleagues locate the nightmare that is the present with A Nation at Risk (see p. 70); I locate it three decades earlier, in the gender and racial politics of the Cold War era. While its historical genesis does structure our understanding of the present, it does not alter the political reality of the present: that the academic field of education is determined not by the intellectual labor of its professoriate, but by anti-intellectual interventions by politicians determined to manufacture a crisis for their own political gain (see p. 68) such as the scapegoating of teachers—and now, during the Bush Administration, teacher educators. Holding teachers and teacher educators accountable for low student achievement (attributable to many other factors—see p. 184—in addition to teaching) distracts the public from conservative politicians’ intensifying poverty and exploiting poor parents’ dreams of a better life for their children.

NCATE exploits teacher candidates’ and teacher educators’ concern for social justice through its Standard 4. As Johnson and his colleagues point out, Standard 4 substitutes field placement for intellectual analysis, requiring teacher candidates to work with diverse college faculty, diverse teacher candidate colleagues, and diverse pupils during their field experiences, while ignoring “the real and serious problems that affect youth and their education—poverty, unequal [not to mention inadequate] funding, and all the ills associated with them” (p.87). NCATE renders the concept of “diversity” intellectually vacuous by making it a “catchword for establishing that NCATE helps foster the education of minority students.”

Among the NCATE standards, there is no support for intellectual diversity. Indeed, through its opportunistic exploitation of the notion of “standards”—Johnson and his colleagues recognize that standards are “proxies” (p. 91) demanded by politicians to cover up their own negligence and avarice—NCATE exercises “domination over programs, disciplines, instructors, and students” (p. 103). This domination is achieved by effacing the academic, intellectual freedom of teacher educators.

That academic programs such as teacher education ought to undergo rigorous review for accreditation is obvious, but such accreditation cannot be conferred by pseudo-professional organizations in the political service of presidential administrations. Whatever aspirations NCATE may have had to represent the profession have been forfeited in its complicity with conservative politicians’ agenda of scapegoating public-school teachers and the university professors who educate them. In its arrogant ignorance of the academic field—serious scholars know that “teaching is far too complex to be evaluated by fragmented assessments of school pupils’ outputs” (p. 225)—NCATE is guilty of anti-intellectualism. In our profession, anti-intellectualism is anti-professionalism. In its uncritical acceptance and bureaucratic rearticulation of the Bush administration’s rhetorical game of scapegoating teachers, NCATE is guilty of betraying the profession it claims to represent.

It does so in specific ways: First, NCATE substitutes bureaucratic maneuvering for intellectual analysis, as mentioned above in the discussion of Standard 4; secondly, by making the NCATE accreditation “process” labor intensive (p. 2), the quality and quantity of research and teaching in schools of education is negatively impacted, as the busywork performed in anticipation of NCATE site visitations siphon off not only funds from tight budgets, but also precious faculty energy and time; thirdly, in Standard 5, presumably focused on the faculty’s productivity and effectiveness, NCATE employs terms and phrases that seem sensible (e.g., “best professional practices in scholarship, service, and teaching” and “collaborate with colleagues”). As Johnson and his colleagues suggest, however, these terms and phrases “may mask a desire for faculty conformity” (p. 88). In my view, there is no “may” about it. In its demand for intellectual conformity, NCATE accomplishes the higher-education version of public school teachers’ de-skilling. With the diminished intellectual quality of teacher preparation programs NCATE accreditation reviews guarantee, schools of education will be made even more vulnerable to conservative politicians’ agenda to dismantle them (see p. 226). Lastly, by insisting on a “shared vision”—intellectual conformity—the NCATE demand for the “conceptual framework” of the “unit” (any notion of an academic department representing an intellectual discipline disappears) produces not only intellectual conformity but the “de-intellectualization” of schools of education, thereby exacerbating the problem of anti-intellectualism, already no stranger to a field dominated by instrumentalism, bureaucratism, and social engineering. Significantly, the NCATE “standard” concerning “governance” nowhere mentions the centrality of academic—i.e., intellectual—freedom to the educational process.

Despite NCATE’s “standards,” the truth is that the graduates of NCATE-accredited schools are in no way superior to graduates of institutions not accredited by NCATE (p. 3). Indeed, only one of the top fifteen graduate programs in education in the United States is NCATE accredited (p. 195). NCATE is in complete collusion with the Bush administration’s preoccupation with testing (p. 85)—including the testing of teachers (p. 158)—in order to distract the public from the material causes of low student achievement, poverty being one of the most prominent ones (p. 70). Public school students in NCATE states perform below the national average and below non-NCATE states like Iowa (p. 164). NCATE’s healthy appetite for funds (p. 201ff.) supports NCATE President Arthur Wise’s salary and benefits totaling over $200,000 (p. 214).

Rather than representing university education faculty and teacher candidates, NCATE ensures their de-legitimization and de-professionalization. Through its trivialization of teacher education, NCATE threatens to destroy the profession. Trivializing Teacher Education is essential reading not only for the education professoriate, but for university administrators and politicians as well.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 22, 2006
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12691, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 11:43:43 AM

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About the Author
  • William Pinar
    University of British Columbia
    WILLIAM F. PINAR teaches curriculum theory at the University of British Columbia, where he holds a Canada Research Chair and directs the Centre for the Study of the Internationalization of Curriculum Studies. He is the author of What Is Curriculum Theory? (2004), Race, Religion and a Curriculum of Reparation (2006), and The Synoptic Text Today: Curriculum Development after the Reconceptualization (2006).
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