Teacher Program Accreditation: What Those Acronyms Mean

If you’re in the process of researching an undergraduate or graduate teacher education program, you already know there’s a lot of information to digest. You need a high-quality program which will adequately prepare you to teach, while providing required certification and making you competitive in the job market.

With all this to consider, along with your own personal goals and needs, you may not be giving much thought to the assorted accreditation-related acronyms you’re encountering. Or maybe you have attempted to decipher them, only to find a mix of information that seems bureaucratic, not practical and relevant.

Ultimately, it’s good to have a basic grasp of what it means for a program to be accredited, to help you make the most informed choice. You’re about to make a substantial investment of time and money, so it’s important to work with as much information as possible.

What Does Accreditation Mean, Exactly?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Accreditation is the recognition that an institution maintains standards requisite for its graduates to gain admission to other reputable institutions of higher learning or to achieve credentials for professional practice. The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.”

If you choose an accredited program, you have confirmation that it went through a rigorous, lengthy process that’s not entirely different from becoming a certified teacher. Like a teaching certificate, an accreditation from a recognized accrediting body is an endorsement which shows certain standards of quality were met.

The Old Guard and the New Kid in Town

Accreditation is a voluntary process, and not all schools feel the need to enter into it. Until recently, two national accrediting bodies oversaw the process for all schools seeking accreditation. However, they have merged to create a new organization which continues their work. Because the process is executed over a few years, schools which began working with NCATE or TEAC have been grandfathered in, so you’ll continue to see references to NCATE and TEAC. Here’s some information about the three acronyms and the organizations they represent:

NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) is the oldest, largest, and probably most recognizable of the national accrediting bodies. Founded in 1954, it consisted of educators who wanted to ensure that schools were providing teacher candidates with high quality preparation. According to its data, NCATE-accredited institutions have produced about two-thirds of the country’s new teachers.

TEAC (Teacher Education Accreditation Council), founded in 1997, also strove to improve the quality of degree programs and school leaders in the K-12 sphere. It was created with support from administrators of smaller colleges, who felt NCATE’s approach was more suited to larger schools with more resources. Unlike NCATE, which established a set of standards for candidates to meet, TEAC allowed schools to select the standards they were evaluated on, provided those standards were supported by research.  

CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation) was created through a merger of NCATE and TEAC. In 2009, the board of directors of both organizations appointed a design team and initiated the merger which culminated in 2016, when the new accreditation standards were fully implemented.

Because some schools entered into the accreditation process between 2009 and 2016, you can expect to still see NCATE and TEAC in conjunction with your search for a program. However, NCATE and TEAC are not renewing their approvals with the US Department of Education, so eventually those acronyms will fade away in favor of CAEP.

What Does This Mean for You?

While the above might make for some interesting reading, you still might be wondering what it means for you, the prospective education student. Should you focus exclusively on schools which are accredited, or choose a school based on other factors important to you? Because individual states have their own requirements for teacher licensing and certification, it’s vital to look at what your state requires as there is wide variation. For example, New Jersey requires all its teacher education programs to have national accreditation through NCATE or TEAC. However, Washington and Oregon are examples of states which don’t require accreditation through NCATE or TEAC because they use their own standards to evaluate programs. Visiting or your state’s education department website will be the best place to find the most up-to-date information.

Finally, know that attending an NCATE, TEAC, or CAEP accredited school will not guarantee you an interview or a job. If you’re acquainted with any school administrators or others who make hiring decisions, it might be useful to get their perspectives on how much they weigh accredited schools when looking at job candidates.

Tracy Derrell is a Hudson Valley-based freelance writer who specializes in blogging and educational publishing. She taught English in New York City for sixteen years.

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