Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — In 2007, Michigan state government made a policy shift that may have ramifications around the country, including in North Carolina. The state stopped accrediting Michigan’s teacher education programs and required them to obtain accreditation from a national professional organization such as the National Council of Accreditation for Teacher Education.
One school, Hillsdale College, decided not to seek national accreditation. The small liberal arts school with a fiercely independent spirit — it does not accept any federal funds, including student loans — decided to follow its own judgment about how to teach its education students.
The school recognized that meeting NCATE’s standards would be costly for a school of its size, with 1,300 students in total. And while officials of the school had not been happy with the state’s requirements, they considered going to national accreditation would make matters worse. The Hillsdale Education Department considered NCATE’s standards too vague, the process costly, and the results meaningless.
“At some point, you want someone to stand up and say that the entire process is a scam,” Daniel Coupland, an assistant professor of education at Hillsdale, told the Pope Center. “Well, it is a scam and Hillsdale College is better off without it.”
Faculty and administrators at the schools have to supply massive amounts of material about their “inputs,” with no need to measure student success. Yet for all that trouble, the NCATE standards are vague. “Specificity would quickly show that the emperor has no clothes.”
So Hillsdale embarked on a major revamping of its program. It will aim to be one of the best colleges preparing graduates to teach in private and charter schools — or in other schools that don’t require national certification.
Hillsdale’s decision could have a national impact because it coincides with a re-evaluation of education schools. A new report from the American Enterprise Institute says that there has been a “transformation” over the past decade in awareness of the problems of teacher quality.
Growing concern about student performance — exemplified by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act — revealed “the incongruence of holding students accountable for performance while holding teachers accountable only for their qualifications,” wrote Arnold F. Shober, referring to licensing credentials.
Also, he said, new programs that measure a teacher’s “value-added” by tracking student progress and correlating it with the student’s teachers make it feasible to focus on teacher effectiveness. Furthermore, blatant efforts by the states to evade stricter teacher-quality standards made it clear that there is something wrong with the process for certifying teachers.
So how has Hillsdale changed its program?
“We realized that many of our existing courses had been developed only to meet the state’s onerous standards, which had tightly controlled what was taught in teacher education courses,” wrote Coupland on the Pope Center site in July.
“With those requirements no longer binding, we were free to keep what was useful, eliminate that which was not, and create new courses to address whatever was being overlooked.”
Students at Hillsdale have always majored in a specific discipline rather than “education,” and the school has a strong liberal arts curriculum. But these changes were made:
• Courses in methods and educational psychology and technology were eliminated.
• Courses such as “Philosophy of Education,” “Explicit Phonics Reading Instruction,” and “Children’s Literature” became more rigorous.
• A course in English grammar was added.
• A semester-long apprenticeship for students was established at a local private school.
Finally, Hillsdale made sure that students who want to teach immediately after graduation can obtain state certification through Spring Arbor University, a nearby school accredited by the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, a national organization similar to NCATE. But graduates who don’t do so still can be outstanding teachers, thanks to Hillsdale’s new freedom.
Jane S. Shaw is president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. Ford Ramsey, a former intern with the center, provided research and reporting for this story.