Reclaiming Accountability in Teacher Education

reviewed by Alisun Thompson - January 31, 2019

coverTitle: Reclaiming Accountability in Teacher Education
Author(s): Marilyn Cochran-Smith, Molly Cummings Carney, Elizabeth Stringer Keefe, Stephani Burton, Wen-Chia Chang, M. Beatriz Fernández, Andrew F. Miller, Juan Gabriel Sánchez, & Megina Baker
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807759317, Pages: 240, Year: 2018
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In Reclaiming Accountability in Teacher Education, Marilyn Cochran Smith and members of the Teacher Education and Education Reform (TEER) research team at Boston College provide an in-depth account and multidimensional analysis of accountability reform and its effect on teacher education. The authors make a case for reclaiming more than the system of accountability that has been in place for the last two decades. What needs to be reclaimed, they argue, is the accountability narrative dominated by neoliberal market-based ideology that has become firmly entrenched in the public imagination and that threatens the democratic ideals of public education. This is not to say that the book engages only with discourse or dwells entirely in theory. In addition to deconstructing the logic of market-based accountability and documenting the lack of evidence that accountability reform has improved teacher education since its inception, the authors also offer a vision of accountability that strengthens democracy and equity through descriptions of promising practices.


In Part One, the authors document the history of accountability reform in the United States and its intrusion into teacher education. Roughly beginning with A Nation at Risk (1983), the accountability narrative associated a sluggish U.S. economy with mediocre student performance that was ultimately brought on by ineffective teaching (which in turn was the result of ineffective teacher preparation). Teacher education was fully drawn into the reform narrative with the 1998 reauthorization of the HEA (Higher Education Act), which required ongoing reports on the quality of teacher preparation. One of the strengths of the book is its focus on framing and its description of how, after the publication of A Nation at Risk, a simplistic and pervasive accountability narrative took hold; that the way to improve student performance was to improve the quality of teaching, and that the way to improve teaching was by fixing teacher education through rigorous outcomes-based accountability reforms. Also illustrated in this historical analysis is the shift in focus from inputs to outputs as the basis for teacher education accountability; in other words, the increasing emphasis on student achievement metrics as the primary indicator of program effectiveness.


With the historical foundations of accountability reform established, the first section continues by laying out a framework for analyzing the theory of action underpinning policy and reform initiatives. The framework has three interrelated dimensions: the foundations dimension, which includes the values and purposes that underpin the initiative; the diagnostic/prognostic dimension, which looks specifically at how the problem is being framed and what viable solutions exist to fix the problem; and the final dimension, which focuses on power relationships, addressing who decides, what counts as evidence, and what happens in terms of intended and unintended consequences. The authors advance the framework as a tool to deconstruct the logic of accountability reform and analyze its discursive structure.


The third section of the book makes use of the framework by applying it to four cases representing national-level teacher education accountability initiatives or policies: (a) the HEA Title II reporting guidelines of 2016; (b) the establishment of CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation) as an accrediting agency controlled by the profession; (c) the emergence of NCTQ (National Council of Teacher Quality) as a leading voice in teacher education policy, and (c) edTPA, the teacher performance assessment designed collaboratively by two professional organizations, SCALE (Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity) and AACTE (the American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education). What is particularly compelling about the cross-case analysis is the degree of coherence in the foundations domain. While these cases represent diverse arenas of policy influence (with some originating from within the profession and others originating externally), they nonetheless espouse similar market-based values: that teacher quality is the single most important variable in the global knowledge society, that public confidence in (and the overall status of) the teaching profession will be improved by rigorous accountability systems and better data, and that closing the achievement gap depends on improving teachers. In other words, even policy initiatives that emerged from within the profession (such as CEAP and edTPA) project a similar narrative about the role of accountability in improving teacher education. The authors argue strongly that there is no clear evidence that these initiatives have produced their desired outcomes. They also argue that more damaging still is the hijacking of public discourse about how to improve education and the way in which these reforms have distracted us from the real issues that undermine public education.


Grounded in promising practices, the last section of the book offers democratic accountability as an alternative to the current system. Democratic accountability differs from high-stakes accountability in significant ways. The authors juxtapose the market-driven accountability goal of thin equity, which focuses on access to resources (such as teachers) in order to fairly compete for social and economic goods, with strong equity and strong democracy (Barber, 2003). Strong democracy has at its core a commitment to democratic principles of collective governance, civic engagement, and social justice. From the perspective of strong democracy, the work of schools is not to enable everyone to play the neoliberal game, but to change the game altogether. What does this mean for teacher education and, in particular, for a model of accountability? The book concludes with examples of where this vision of accountability is currently being enacted, including at Center X at the University of California Los Angeles, which expects teachers to be activists and evaluates teacher candidates on demonstrations of activist skills. (p.174). Also reported on is the New Hampshire Institutions of Higher Education (NH IHE) Network. Founded by teacher educators and endorsed by the New Hampshire Commissioner and the DOE, this consortium brings together all 13 preparation programs to work collaboratively toward the improvement of their programs. The authors make clear that the examples they provide are not necessarily intended to be exemplars or models, but are rather meant to illustrate how various programs are working to enact accountability principles that stand in sharp contrast to the models documented throughout the rest of the book.


Rethinking Accountability in Teacher Education is timely and important. It does far more than expose the limits of our current accountability model and the dire consequences of continuing to look to market-based solutions as a means to improve public education. Its most important contribution is the call to action for teacher educators to fight against these reforms and to protect the democratic promise that our strained and beleaguered system still holds.



Barber, B. (2003). Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

United States National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform: A report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education, United States Department of Education. Washington, DC: Author.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 31, 2019 ID Number: 22652, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 9:11:24 PM

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