Higher Education & Political Views: There’s More Common Ground Than You May Think

About six-in-ten Americans (61%) say the higher education system in the United States is going in the wrong direction, according to a new 2018 Pew Research Center survey. Political party affiliation seems to have an impact on their perceptions in many respects, but not in all. Here are some highlights:

How we think about politics shapes how we feel about higher education. 

  • Nearly 3/4 of those with conservative views believe that higher education is headed in the wrong direction:
    • Republican leaning: 73%
    • Democrat leaning: 52%
  • There’s a big difference in the viewpoints regarding faculty influence: Professors are bringing their political and social views into the classroom, and it’s having a negative impact on higher education.
    • Republican leaning: 79%
    • Democrat leaning: 17%
  • Conservatives think there’s too much emphasis on being politically correct: Colleges and universities are too concerned about protecting students from viewpoints they might find offensive.
    • Republican learning: 79%
    • Democrat leaning: 31%

 

Our age influences how we view higher education faculty. 

Regardless of their political affiliation, more older Americans place blame at the feet of faculty for problems in higher education. However, those who are more Republican-leaning feel more strongly than their counterparts:

  • 65+ years (Republicans 96%, Democrats 32%)
  • 50-64 years (Republicans 85%, Democrats 15%)
  • 35-49 years (Republicans 73%, Democrats 10%)
  • 18-34 years (Republicans 58%, Democrats 19%)

 

Most agree that higher education needs to do a better job of preparing graduates for the workforce. 

  • Regardless of our political party affiliation, Americans recognize the importance of a well-rounded education that includes career readiness: Students aren’t getting the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. 
    • Democrat learning: 73%
    • Republican leaning: 56

 

We all agree on one thing: Going to college costs too much. 

  • There’s lots of common ground when it comes to affordability: Higher education tuition costs are too high.
    • Democrat learning: 92%
    • Republican leaning: 77%

 

So what does all this mean? 

Most would agree that the United States has some of the best colleges and universities anywhere in the world. Students from all around the world come to the US to attend our institutions because they want the benefit of an American education. However, despite all the positives we can place in the “plus” column, we know we can do a better job in providing exceptional learning experiences. Specifically:

  • We’ve got to find a way to reduce costs. Yes, there are some expenses that just keep rising, such as the cost of healthcare, utilities, or construction. However, there are areas where costs could be reduced, such as offering students the option of purchasing digital textbooks rather than hard copies, or groups of colleges partnering up to gain more negotiating leverage with publishers. We can also look at innovative ways to cut or freeze tuition and expand work study programs. Paid internships sponsored by workforce partners would be of tremendous value in making college more affordable.
  • Once they’re enrolled, the focus should be on helping students succeed. Colleges and universities should be truly committed to partnering with each student they admit–perhaps even to the point of a memorandum of understanding or part of the acceptance process–to support that learner’s success. Institutions should embrace the WIT model–Whatever It Takes–to help each student thrive and graduate. Students are achieving their goals in a timely way without incurring a lifetime of student loan debt. When that happens, college retention, graduation, and satisfaction rates all increase, which keeps accreditors happy. It’s a win-win for all concerned.
  • A well-rounded education includes workforce development. We must continue to provide a high-quality liberal arts education in our colleges and universities. However, there’s also a real need to connect theory and application so when a learner graduates, they should be workforce ready–meaning they should have received a broad preparation in a variety of subjects; they should have developed important communication, critical thinking and problem solving skills; and they should have had multiple structured opportunities to apply what they were learning in the context of their chosen profession.

 

So, let’s agree to work together on this. 

While it’s certainly true that politics can influence how we view higher education, it’s also true that there are actually many areas where we can agree. Let’s start there. Let’s work together to strengthen our higher education system through reducing costs, supporting student success, and ensuring graduates are workforce-ready.

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions in areas such as accreditation, institutional effectiveness, competency-based education, and virtual teaching & learning. Roberta can be contacted for consultations, webinars, & on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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The Dominoes That Didn’t Have to Fall: Vatterott College, the ECA, and Others Like Them

Vatterott College couldn’t have found a better partner than the Education Corporation of America (ECA), according to its president Rene Crosswhite. In a press release, she stressed that schools under the umbrella of Vatterott Educational Centers “…will be strengthened through this partnership for the benefit of our students. We believe the acquisition will provide a bright future for VEC, and it should be relatively seamless for faculty, administrators and students.”

That was January 11, 2018. The acquisition didn’t happen, and Vatterott closed its doors without warning on December 17th.

Most of the students, faculty and staff at the 17 Vatterott campuses located across the Midwest learned of their school’s closing when they arrived on campus; others heard about it from friends and colleagues as the news began to spread like wildfire. They weren’t the only ones who were caught off-guard – VEC notified the U.S. Department of Education and various state departments of higher education of the immediate closures on that same day.

In its notification letter to students, Vatterott officials laid the blame at the feet of the federal government citing, “…the U.S. Department of Education recently decided to significantly increase the restrictions on Vatterott’s participation in the federal financial aid programs.”  The letter went on to say that as a result of the USDOE’s decision, Vatterott was unable to continue to operate, and was prevented from completing its planned sale to the ECA.

But there are two problems with Vatterott’s version of the story.

 

First, despite repeated warnings over several years, they lost their accreditation due to poor academic quality and financial instability.

Effective December 5, 2018, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) voted to withdraw Vatterott’s accreditation. However, this came as no surprise to Vatterott administrators – they had been well aware of their accreditor’s concerns for quite some time. VEC leadership had been given a formal warning by the ACCSC as early as December 2016 due to excessive turnover in management and student achievement outcomes across multiple programs that continued to be below that regulating body’s benchmarks. A system-wide warning from the Commission was issued in February 2017, followed by another notice of continued warning in August of that same year. Based on abysmal student graduation and employment rates, the ACCSC made the decision in November 2017 to force the Vatterott Berkley, Missouri campus to stop enrolling students in one program and to cap the enrollments of four others. Effective December 31, 2017, the St. Joseph, Missouri campus closed. In each case, the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the departments of higher education in each of the states where Vatterott Educational Systems, Inc. operated were notified of the accreditor’s concerns. By May 2018, the situation had worsened to the point that the Commission made the decision to move the entire Vatterott system from “warning” to “probation” status, citing continued low student achievement, high management turnover, and financial instability concerns. On June 8, 2018, two campuses in Iowa and Kansas closed. Finally, the decision was made to withdraw Vatterott’s accreditation during the ACCSC’s December 2018 meeting. According to the notification letter sent to the institution, Vatterott administrators could have chosen to appeal the decision and get serious about making necessary improvements. Instead, they decided to cease operations and blindside their students, faculty, and staff.

 

Second, the Education Corporation of America (ECA), which was planning to purchase Vatterott, lost its own accreditation at nearly the same time, was denied initial accreditation by another agency, and suddenly shut down its campuses, leaving approximately 20,000 students and thousands of faculty and staff out in the cold. The reason? Poor academic quality and financial instability.

 

The ECA was a parent company of Virginia College, LLC, which operated 69 campuses in 18 states as Virginia College, Brightwood Career Institute, Brightwood College, Ecotech Institute, and the Golf Academy of America; all had been accredited under the Virginia College, LLC umbrella by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), a regulatory body that specializes in putting its seal of approval on for-profit institutions. It should be noted that this body has faced its own set of challenges, with the Obama administration removing federal recognition of ACICS as an accrediting agency due to lax and non-compliant quality assurance practices, although Education Secretary Betsy DeVos permanently reinstated its federal recognition in November 2018.

Because the future of ACICS was in jeopardy, the bottom line of institutions accredited by that agency would be negatively impacted, meaning at some point students enrolled in their programs would be ineligible to receive federal financial aid. Very few students enrolled in the various entities owned by the ECA could afford to attend without receiving significant financial aid and ECA was dependent on those tuition dollars to keep the doors open and the lights on. To that end, ECA made the decision to seek accreditation through another quality assurance agency that serves for-profit institutions– the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET). However, that effort was unsuccessful and resulted in ACCET denying ECA’s initial accreditation, citing the institution’s non-compliance in 19 standards covering a broad spectrum pertaining to academic quality, financial procedures, and organizational structure. Two months later, ECA leadership received a show-cause directive from its original accrediting body ACICS, after it learned of the company’s dire financial problems that had resulted in lawsuits and possible bankruptcy. After being unable to make a convincing argument that it was financially stable, ECA’s accreditation was withdrawn by suspension. The next day, the ECA notified the USDOE that it planned to close its doors at all campuses by December 18. Similar to Vatterott, in his notification letter to students ECA President & CEO Stu Reed blamed the company’s woes on added requirements placed upon it by the USDOE, although he did not elaborate on what those additional requirements were. He went on to say that those requirements, “…resulted in an inability to acquire additional capital to operate our schools.”

 

Two Failed Companies, Many Similarities

Through its acquisition by the ECA, president Rene Crosswhite stated that Vatterott’s programs would be strengthened, and that its students would benefit. After all, their programs, procedures, and organizational structure were alike in a lot of ways, making it a relative seamless transition for all. It turns out that the two for-profit entities shared other similarities: Poor management, high turnover rates, low academic quality, unacceptable student success rates, and roller coaster-like financial instability.

There is rarely a single reason for the kind of systemic failure experienced by Vatterott Educational Centers and the Educational Corporation of America. Managing campuses in multiple states can be challenging for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is complying with programmatic and quality assurance practices required within each state entity. Regulations across state departments of higher education can vary widely and are subject to change as new laws are written and statutes approved. However, both institutions willingly made the decision to operate multiple campuses across multiple states. Furthermore, along with every other institution of higher education in the nation, they were responsible for monitoring, understanding, and complying with federal regulations which are also subject to periodic review and change.  In other words, laying blame at the feet of the federal government is not a viable excuse for the failure of VEC nor ECA.

In addition to similar concerns cited by their respective accreditors, these two institutions shared something else in common: Neither of their presidents had any prior experience working in higher education.

President Crosswhite:  According to Vatterott President Crosswhite’s LinkedIn page, she has a master’s degree in Health Administration and is a licensed CPA. Ms. Crosswhite worked primarily in financial oversight for various hospitals before joining Vatterott Educational Centers in 2013 as its Chief Financial Officer; she held that post until March 2016 when she took over as President. Ms. Crosswhite described her role by stating, “As President, I am responsible for all aspects of the college including Academics, Operations, Marketing, Regulatory, Compliance, Financial Aid, Information Technology and Finance.”  As stated previously, Vatterott received its first formal warning from its accreditor in December 2016, three years after Ms. Crosswhite joined the company’s leadership team.

CEO Reed:  ECA’s chief executive Stu Reed holds a master’s degree in management. He joined the Educational Corporation of America in October 2014 as Chief Operating Officer and served in that capacity for four months before transitioning to CEO in January 2015. Prior to that, Mr. Reed held positions at IBM, Motorola, and Sears. His LinkedIn page lists Management, Process Improvement, and Customer Satisfaction as his top skills.

So, Who’s to Blame?

 

Executive Level Leadership

President Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk in the oval office with a message as applicable today as it was during his administration. That sign said, “The Buck Stops Here.” Thus, the responsibility for any institution’s success or failure lands squarely on the shoulders of its executive leader. While numerous faculty and staff may be tasked with specific roles within an organization, the president or CEO is the person ultimately responsible for that institution’s overall performance outcomes. However, there are other entities who could have done more to support both VEC and ECA as problems began to be revealed.

 

Accrediting Bodies

The primary role of accrediting bodies such as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), and Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training (ACCET) can be summed up with two words — quality assurance. By granting an institution accreditation, these bodies are placing a seal of approval on that institution’s programs, faculty, financial stability, and outcomes. In essence, accreditors serve as consumer watchdogs to protect students and to ensure that institutions provide high-quality educational experiences by meeting specific standards. It is the responsibility of accreditors to hold institutions accountable when those standards are not met. In the case of Vatterott Educational Centers and the Educational Corporation of America, it appears as though ACCSC and ACCIS accountability mechanisms were not effective in protecting students and ensuring high-quality educational experiences. These institutions were allowed to operate for years despite significant concerns and as a result, thousands of students trying to make a better life for themselves and their families now find themselves deep in debt with credits that may or may not transfer to another school. Betrayal of trust seems to be an understatement in this context.

 

Federal and State Departments of Education

Governmental and regulatory agencies must also share responsibility for the failure of these two institutions and others like them. After all, it is those very agencies that grant authorization to operate after an institution submits an application and completes a lengthy review process. Earning state program approval requires yet another layer of scrutiny. Typically, state departments of higher education and the U.S. Department of Education require annual reports that provide updated information about an institution’s programs, such as enrollment, retention, and graduation rates; employment data, and student performance on examinations required for state licensure or certification.

What accountability measures did the USDOE and each state department of higher education have in place to monitor the quality of Vatterott College and all the various colleges operating under the ECA umbrella? Since each was approved to operate by those entities, do they share no responsibility in protecting students who enroll?

 

USDOE’s Recommendations

Per the directive of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the USDOE recently published two white papers targeted at accreditation and higher education. However, in Rethinking Higher Education, many of the department’s recommendations may actually do little for quality assurance – some focus on empowering institutions and innovators to an even greater extent, such as:

  • Provide regulatory relief by removing overreaching regulatory burdens, revising costly or ambiguous regulations, and providing a greater understanding of Department expectations concerning regulatory compliance;
  • Carefully construct accountability measures that take into account the unique mission of an institution and the needs and goals of its students;
  • Ensure that accreditors evaluate institutional quality in the context of the students an institution serves and the institution’s unique mission;
  • Reform the accreditation system to promote change and innovation, to allow accrediting agencies to accommodate educational innovation, and to reduce the cost of quality assurance; and
  • Identify new ways to expedite approvals for new programs and program modifications in order to keep pace with changing technologies and employer demands.

While the students at most colleges and universities could benefit from such reforms, predatory institutions where turning a profit is the top priority could take advantage of the latitude offered by the USDOE in these recommendations.

 

Common Sense Solutions Needed

Unfortunately, very little can be done to help the thousands of students who put their trust in the schools run by Vatterott Educational Centers and the Educational Corporation of America. The USDOE may or may not forgive their student loans, and the various state departments of higher education may or may not assist them with finding other schools who will accept their credits for transfer. For now, the extent of support seems to be mostly limited to posting a fact sheet about the school’s closure along with referral to numerous links and phone numbers for students to wade through on their own. One state site encourages these students to “explore their options for continuing their education” while another provides a link to that state’s Attorney General’s office if students wish to file a formal complaint. This is unacceptable, but a few common-sense steps could start to make a difference. For example:

Learning from Those Who Are Most Impacted

Lawyers, governmental staffers, accreditors, and political leaders should not be making regulatory recommendations and decisions without truly understanding how the lives of students, faculty, businesses, and communities will be impacted. Instead, a “best practice” recommendation is to host an ongoing series of roundtable discussions about student and workforce needs, academic quality indicators, consumer protection, etc. These discussions need to involve all stakeholder groups, and their input should be taken seriously. In many instances, those “in the trenches” often have the best insights and solutions.

Identifying the Root Cause

Since 2016, approximately 173 colleges and universities have shut their doors; 75 were for-profit institutions. We can and must do a better job of ensuring the fiscal health and academic quality of our colleges and universities. In order to do that, we’ve got to take a serious look at each institution and determine the reason(s) for their failure. After identifying patterns of failing institutions, agencies can create a set of red flags to identify at-risk schools. For example:

  • Does the school have enrollment quotas?
  • Does the institution have open enrollment policies that accept almost all applicants, regardless of whether students demonstrated a propensity for success?
  • Does the school have poor student retention and graduation rates? If so, are these poor rates across all programs, or specific to certain ones?
  • On average, must the school’s graduates have to take their state licensure examination more than twice before passing?
  • Has the institution had continued high rates of faculty and/or leadership turnover?
  • From an employer perspective, does the school prepare its graduates well for their chosen career?
  • From an alumni perspective, does the school provide a high-quality educational experience that is relevant and meaningful to their chosen career?
  • How much prior experience do executive leaders have working within a similar institution?

 

Triaging the Wounds

Accreditors and governmental agencies should do more to hold institutions accountable. Going through an accreditation review or state approval process can be rigorous, but submitting an annual report containing basic information without follow up is simply not effective, as evidenced by the fate of VEC and ECA. No institution should be allowed to continue to operate poorly for months or years. That approach helps no one – not the institution, not businesses counting on a skilled workforce, and certainly not students. When there are concerns about an institution’s performance, accreditation staff should establish a system to provide guidance and support as needed. A triage model could be implemented based on the level of concern: Cuts and scrapes are easy to take care of, but an institution should never be allowed to digress to the level of intensive care or hospice without significant intervention.

 

Shared Responsibility, Shared Accountability

Simply stated, all entities should be working together as partners toward achieving successful outcomes. Institutions are responsible for innovations, operations and data-driven decision making with the goals of continuous program improvement. Federal and state departments of education serve as the umbrella for authorizing those institutions to operate, while accrediting bodies must set high expectations, ensure standards are met, and provide assistance to institutions that are struggling. Each entity shares in an institution’s success and likewise, in its failure.

 

KEY EVENTS

 

RELATED SOURCES

 

OTHER IMPORTANT SOURCES

 

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 Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

 

Top image credit: lapertenencia.wordpress.com

Accreditation Stress: It’s Real, and You Need to Prepare for It.

In nearly every profession there are standards by which institutions, agencies, and programs are held accountable. State, regional, national, and profession-specific bodies determine the health and strength of an institution in a variety of ways, one of which is through an accreditation site visit. While each body’s requirements vary, accreditation is determined through a rigorous program review process. This requires a significant financial, personnel, and resource commitment on the part of each institution.

In many instances, staff involved in the accreditation process focus so much on preparing for the site visit they aren’t ready for the emotional or physical toll that it can take on them. Moreover, the stress usually doesn’t end when the site review team leaves. My experience in accreditation over the past 10 years has confirmed there’s a need for this kind of information, and yet it’s a topic I’ve never seen addressed at conferences or in professional literature.

Accreditation-related stress and anxiety are real. You might be able to function, and you may be able to hide it from others. But, how do you know if it’s starting to get the best of you? And what can you do about it?

Red Flag Alert: Signs the Stress is Negatively Impacting Your Life

You’re surviving, but you’re not thriving. You may be making it through each day, but the quality of your life is suffering. You aren’t enjoying the things you used to enjoy. You feel guilty about taking the time to watch a sunset or to read a book. Every waking moment is spent thinking about the site visit.

Those lights in your brain just won’t shut off. You can’t sleep, even though you feel exhausted. You’re worn out physically and mentally, but you can’t allow yourself to take even a few hours off to rest.

You’re numb inside. You have no appetite and aren’t eating. You’ve even managed to shut down your emotions. It’s like you’ve gone on auto-pilot and feel like a robot.

You feel empty, like there’s a gaping hole inside. But even though the emptiness isn’t from hunger you binge eat everything in sight. And then you still look around for more because you still have that huge gaping hole that just can’t seem to be filled.

You become obsessed with every detail, no matter how minute it may seem. It’s those little foxes that spoil the vine—and you’re determined that you’re going to make sure NOTHING is overlooked.  

You come to believe that you are ultimately responsible for the success of the site visit. If you’re honest with yourself, you don’t think others are as committed to success as you are. The little voice inside you says, “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself!”

You start to resent others who don’t seem as stressed out as you are. While you hate feeling like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, you refuse to delegate responsibility to others and then you get mad when you hear that they went to a movie or a concert over the weekend.

Drink the Stress Away: You may hear yourself saying, “I just need to take the edge off” or “I just need to relax for a while.” Having one glass of Chardonnay is one thing but knocking back five tequila shots in 30 minutes is another.

Ups and Downs: You may self-medicate by taking a pill or two to help you sleep because even though you’re exhausted, you’re wired due to all the stress.

Caffeine overload: You may guzzle coffee, soda, or Red Bull throughout the day (or night) because, “I’ve got to keep going for just a little while longer.”

Shop ‘til Your Fingers Drop: On a whim you may go on a shopping spree and spend a ton of money on things you probably didn’t really need. Not at a brick and mortar store or mall—that would be far too self-indulgent. Instead, you likely visited Zappos or Amazon, where you could remain close to your computer and be right there to respond to an urgent email should one land in your Inbox.

Keep Setting the Bar Higher: You set impossible standards for yourself to meet and then criticize yourself endlessly when you don’t meet them. It’s like you’re obsessed with proving something to others—and to yourself. Except that you’re never satisfied with your performance, even when you do things well.

Slay the Dragon: You plan things down to each minute detail, leaving no stone unturned. You review things in your mind, over and over again. You obsess about forgetting something. You are determined to emerge victorious, regardless of the personal cost.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Think the stress of getting ready for a site visit only affects you? Think again. If you have close friends, a life partner, or children, they are affected as well. It’s possible that your furry buddies at home can even detect your anxiety. You’ll know if your stress is out of balance if you hear a loved one say, “I miss you!” “I HATE your job!” or “Will this ever end?”

 

Moving from Surviving to Thriving: How to Manage Your Stress in a Healthy Way

Even Superman struggled at times with Kryptonite, but he found ways to adapt and overcome those challenges, and so can you. While an accreditation site visit always leads to a certain level of stress, there are things you can do to minimize the anxiety. For example:

Prepare ahead of time: It may sound simplistic, but a lot of stress can be avoided by getting a jumpstart on the process. If you don’t start on the process until 6 or 8 months before the site visit, you are putting yourself squarely in the crosshairs of some serious stress and anxiety. Ideally, quality assurance should be an integral part of every program, so there really shouldn’t be any significant scrambling or looking for data—your institution should already be reviewing, analyzing, looking for trends, and making data-driven decisions to improve programs on a continual basis. That said, you should plan on starting your self-study report (SSR) no later than 18 months prior to a scheduled site visit. The more you delay this timetable, the higher your stress level will be. Guaranteed.

Hire a consultant: Let’s face it–not everyone has a lot of expertise when it comes to writing self-study reports, gathering evidence, and preparing for site visits. In many institutions, departments are understaffed and often wear multiple hats of responsibility. Except in very large institutions or those that operate in multiple states, most institutions don’t have to deal with accreditation matters on a regular basis and so therefore few have a high level of confidence in that area. In some schools, new faculty are assigned to coordinate a site visit because more seasoned faculty refuse to do it. This is wrong on so many levels, and yet it’s a frequent occurrence. An experienced consultant could provide the kind of guidance and support that may be needed. Such an arrangement can actually be cost-effective, given that the institution isn’t having to pay for someone’s full-time salary, benefits, or office space.

Provide faculty/staff training: Letting others know what to expect and getting them on board early on will greatly reduce anxiety for everyone. Plan a kickoff event, and then schedule periodic retreats/advances. Create a solid communication protocol and stick with it. When team members are fully informed and are active contributors to the process, the stress is reduced for everyone.

Delegate to others as much as possible: It’s important to have a project manager/coordinator for every major project, and that includes accreditation site visits. However, that does NOT mean that this one person needs to take on the bulk of the responsibility—quite the contrary. Instead, that person should be seen as a “conduit” who facilitates the flow of information between internal and external stakeholders. That person should also play the primary role in delegating tasks to appropriate personnel and maintaining a schedule so that tasks are completed on time.

It’s OK to talk about it: Know that a certain amount of stress and anxiety are normal reactions to accreditation site visit preparation, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to talk with your colleagues and leadership about your stress level. It’s entirely possible that others share your feelings—it might be helpful to start a small informal support group. Getting together one day a week for lunch works wonders.

Be upfront with your friends and loved ones: Help them to know what to expect and make them a part of the celebration once it’s over. Your children, significant other, and close friends may not be writing the self-study report or creating pieces of evidence, but they are most definitely involved in the site visit process as a part of your support system.

Be kind to yourself: This may sound silly but it’s really important. Purposely build one nice thing into your personal calendar each day. It may be taking a walk, working out, or reading for pleasure for 30 minutes, but regardless what you choose it’s crucial that you make this a part of your schedule.

Be ready when it’s over:  You may find that you can hold yourself together from start to finish, but then after the site review team packs up and leaves your institution you have a feeling of not quite knowing what to do with yourself. What you’ve focused all your energy on for 18 months is suddenly over. This can result in your emotions taking a deep dive—and it can last for several weeks. You can greatly reduce this by planning a combination of fun activities and work activities for your next four weeks after the site visit. You’ve been functioning within a very structured paradigm for several months—to suddenly have nothing to do will likely lead to additional anxiety so it’s best to transition back slowly.

The bottom line is that while accreditation site visits are stressful by their very nature, they don’t have to get the best of you.

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Uniqueness vs. Accreditation: Why Must We Choose?

In the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Higher Education, Mark LaCelle-Peterson introduces the educator preparation community to a new way of thinking about quality assurance and accreditation of programs. In the piece, LaCelle-Peterson challenges the notion that measuring the quality of an education program through a compliance lens really isn’t necessary—in fact, it can sometimes inhibit quality by forcing programs to demonstrate adherence to a rigid set of standards and criteria that may or may not be an appropriate fit for all programs given the diversity of missions, visions, populations served, and instructional delivery approaches. For example, what may be appropriate criteria for measuring the quality of a program that serves 18-22-year-old students on a residential suburban campus may be quite different from one that serves learners whose average age is 39 and who pursue their academic studies online within a competency-based educational model. Both prepare educators. Both are committed to quality. But when it comes to making judgments about those programs, one size just doesn’t seem to fit all—and what’s more, why should it? Why is it necessary to have a single set of standards and criteria that all programs must adhere to?

It seems to me that as a community of educators we figured out a long time ago that creating one lesson plan and teaching to students in the middle was simply not an effective approach—nor was it ethical, because that model failed to consider the needs of students who did not fit into a pre-determined mold.  Today we encourage our teacher candidates to not only acknowledge the differences in students, but to embrace that diversity, and to celebrate it—because we know that a diverse group of learners contributes to a dynamic and robust community—one that thrives because of its diversity, not in spite of it.

Quality assurance measures through an appropriate accreditation model can be instrumental to preparation programs’ success through data-driven decision making, continuous program review, and collaboration within the community. Program leaders should not have to put their uniqueness on a shelf in pursuit of accreditation.

–rrf

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in education transformation, teacher preparation, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter and writer, she currently supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as educational systems design, online learning experiences, competency-based education, and accreditation. Roberta also blogs about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Practical Ways to Meet the Needs of Adult Learners

A huge chunk of college enrollments today is made up of adult learners—sometimes referred to as non-traditional students. Just as it’s not appropriate to teach all P-12 students in exactly the same way we must be careful to consider and address the unique needs of adult learners in our colleges and universities. In her article entitled, “4 Ways Universities Can Better Engage with Nontraditional Students,” Meghan Bogardus Cortez shares some tips for higher education programs, each of which can impact student enrollment, retention, graduation, and satisfaction rates. I’d like to add my own tips here:

Make what they are learning meaningful and relevant. Help adult learners to see connections between theory and practice. Show them why it’s important to be able to solve algebraic equations, or why they should know what the War of 1812 was all about. Try to tie it in to how key concepts and skills can be applied their current and future career goals.

Be respectful of them as adults. Non-traditional learners have very different needs than those 18-22-year-olds; treat them accordingly. Listen to them. Take them seriously. And don’t talk down to them.

Acknowledge that they are juggling a lot to go to school. Most adult students work at least one full-time job. They have a spouse and are raising multiple children. Perhaps they’re taking care of aging or infirm parents. Acknowledging that you know “sometimes life gets in the way” is not offering an excuse for them to fail but it’s important they know that you understand that sometimes other priorities must take precedence over their academic studies, and that’s OK.

Help them to set their own reasonable goals and support their efforts in attaining them. It doesn’t do any good to create a schedule for an adult learner or tell them how much they should read or complete in a week’s time—those decisions should be made by them, with some guidance from you. Help them avoid frustration and disappointment by steering them away from committing to too much at once. For example, most learners who are working full-time and trying to raise three kids while going through a divorce should probably not try to complete 18 credits in a semester or think they can read seven chapters and write a 15-page paper over a weekend. In some instances that kind of workload can be maintained for a while but eventually the stress builds up. It’s much better to take it a little slower and succeed than to let a student try to get through a program in record time and then fail.

Help them to see light at the end of the tunnel. Adult learners need an end game—they need to be able to know that their efforts will pay off for them when they are finished—and they need to know that this day will come sooner rather than later.

A dose of compassion and empathy works wonders: Sometimes you are the only positive, affirming, supportive person they will talk to in a give day or even a given week. Be a sounding board when things go wrong, and a cheerleader when things go right. You’re not their therapist nor their friend, per se, and yet so much of effective mentoring requires a dose of both.

These are all things that faculty members can do to help adult learners stay enrolled, graduate, and achieve their goals. Some students, particularly those who struggle or may be identified as “at-risk” could benefit from additional support through a mentoring model, which can be tailored depending on the structure of each college and university.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

A True Education

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

This philosophy as articulated so eloquently by Dr. King should steer the mission and vision of every P-12 and higher education institution in our nation, whether it be public, private, charter, or homeschool. The strength of our nation depends on an educated society—a society whose citizens are intellectually curious and who possess the ability to read and think critically.

Many years ago, I heard a pastor say, “You have to be able to separate the grass from the weeds.” This is the essence of critical reading and critical thinking: being able to comprehend, analyze, and evaluate what one is hearing and reading, and then drawing well-informed conclusions that perpetuate a solid body of knowledge that we can rely on.

However, as Dr. King cautioned us, simply having this ability is not enough—it’s what we do with it that’s important. That’s where character comes in, because simply being smart or informed doesn’t mean we are educated—we must use our knowledge to positively impact the lives of others–to serve the greater good. This requires a solid core of ethics and integrity—an inner compass. It requires being a person of your word so that others can count on you. It requires you to do the right thing even when no one else is looking. It mandates that we take a different path, even when it may be lonely or unpopular. Learning builds our brain, but character builds our core. When coupled together, the result is an individual who is a lifelong learner, who carefully considers and reflects, and one who uses his or her knowledge to make the world a better place.

I challenge every educator (teacher, school leader, paraprofessional, parent, curriculum director, etc.) to take a moment to seriously reflect and consider: Where does YOUR school fit on this continuum of academic excellence? Are you contributing to providing your students with a true education, as defined by Dr. King? If not, why not? What is holding you back? What would you need to light this match and make it happen? Make a commitment and get started. Today.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and non-profit agencies in areas such as competency-based education, new program design, gap analysis, quality assurance, leadership, outcomes-based assessment, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

Is Being Accredited Really That Important When Selecting a College?

We all hear and read about the benefits of earning a college degree: We make more money over a lifetime; we get better jobs; we receive company-paid benefits; we tend to be happier and healthier overall. However, choosing the right college or university can be quite daunting, and yet it’s terribly important, because not all institutions are alike, and the quality can vary widely. While there are lots of things to consider such as cost, degree programs, scheduling, and the like, one thing many college students often overlook is whether or not the university is accredited.

There are many types of accreditation–you may likely hear terms such as regional accreditation, national accreditation, functional or programmatic accreditation, and sometimes even state accreditation. Each plays an important role in quality assurance for specific programs or an entire institution but here’s a strong recommendation:

Don’t ever take a single course from an institution that is not accredited. Never. Ever.

While no guarantee of perfection, accredited institutions have provided certain levels of assurance to respected bodies within academia that students will be taken care of. Non-accredited institutions have had no one looking over their shoulder, digging deep and looking in various academic or financial nooks and crannies; they can accept your money with absolutely no guarantee that the course or degree that you completed will be worth anything at all.

Plus, if you complete courses from an unaccredited institution, there is no guarantee that those courses will be accepted should you decide to transfer to another university later on. Even worse, if you go the distance and complete an entire degree from an institution that’s not accredited, you may find that many employers or graduate schools will not recognize that degree–in their eyes it will be like you don’t have a degree at all–but you’ll still have those student loans to pay back just the same.

Here is an entertaining yet informative video that clears up some of the confusion:

ASPA 2016 Explainer

You should be able to choose a college or university that fits your particular needs:

  • faith-based
  • public
  • private
  • traditional brick & mortar
  • online
  • non-profit
  • for-profit

Regardless of which you choose, make sure it’s a program that is accredited.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

 

Meeting the Needs of Learners in Today’s Universities

In a recent piece entitled Survey: American Confidence in Higher Ed is Waning, it appears that only about 25% of the sample thinks the current higher education system is fine the way it is, and among millennials, that number drops to 13%. First of all, why do 75% believe the system is NOT meeting their needs? And of the millennial group, why do they feel even more strongly about the current system? In other words, what do today’s learners need that our colleges and universities are not providing?

We need to take a deep dive into this survey data in order to learn more about exactly what questions were asked, and what the demographics of respondents were. For example, are we reading the results of a representative sample, or were most respondents within a particular age group? Were the questions focused on seeking a first college degree, or did they include advanced studies? That sort of thing…However, just speaking in general terms, I’d say we need to focus on two things:

First, we need to revisit the relevance of curriculum found in today’s college degree programs. Are they workforce-driven? Will what students are learning really help them develop better job skills? I see very little true collaboration between higher education institutions and specific industries; this is essential for modernizing the curriculum and ensuring that what graduates will know and be able to do upon graduation will prepare them to be workforce-ready.

Second, we need to provide more structured support for those who need it throughout their programs, from matriculation to graduation. Mentoring models work wonders–This is particularly true for first-generation college students but really can benefit all learners. The key is to have a formal mechanism in place for continually monitoring and evaluating the progress of each learner, and to provide a safety net for them all along the way. Regular phone calls, emails, academic outreach, and the like can work wonders to help learners stay focused, achieve manageable goals, and attain success.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Competency-Based Education: Academic Excellence in Action

 

Competency-based education (CBE) is quickly becoming accepted as an effective way to facilitate powerful, authentic learning at all levels. Sometimes referred to as personalized learning, mastery learning, or proficiency learning, students must demonstrate what they know and are able to do, rather than just put in “seat time” and complete a prescribed set of courses. However, designing a solid CBE program is not as simple as it sounds–it requires a great deal of thought, understanding, and know-how.

I’ve worked in institutions using traditional learning models and spent 10 years working in one that employs the CBE model effectively. I’ve really come to appreciate the level of learning that takes place in a CBE model, and I’ve seen over the years how effective it is in supporting students’ learning. I’ve celebrated with students and their families who reached their goals and achieved their dreams because they were in an environment that enabled them to show what they knew and then move on at their own pace. CBE, when structured properly, helps educators to personalize learning experiences. I predict the CBE model will be a major player in the educational arena over the next two decades at the P-12 level as well as at the collegiate level.

There are some essential thoughts to consider for programs thinking about adopting the competency-based education (CBE) model, and I shared some of those tenets in a commentary published in the Journal of Competency-Based Education entitled, Implications for Educator Preparation Programs Considering Competency-Based Education. 

Helping students to demonstrate what they know and are able to do within the context of a set of well-articulated competencies and measured through high-quality assessments is certainly one example of academic excellence.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Alternative Educator Preparation: A Viable Option, or a Non-Starter?

There’s an interesting article about alternative teacher preparation programs entitled Analysis Finds Alternatively Credentialed Teachers Performed Equal to Peers in First Two Years–while the results are inconclusive on several fronts it does present some thoughtful information to consider, including:

  • Are traditional educator preparation programs the ONLY way to train future teachers successfully? Are they BEST way?
  • Can alternative (non-traditional) educator preparation programs support student learning in a positive way, whilst supporting supply and demand challenges faced by multiple school districts across the nation?
  • What are the long-term impacts of educator preparation on our country’s workforce? And, what are the long-term impacts of what we view as an educated society?
  • Will how teachers are prepared impact our standing in the world relative to student achievement?
  • How would we know? What research questions need to be posed?

 

An experienced consultant can help with these questions, and more. Reach out to me for program development, collaboration, accreditation, clinical partnerships, and other matters related to preparing educators with excellence.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Transition Points & Gateways: Stop Gaps Universities Should Consider

Each higher education institution’s program of study, regardless of major, contains specific phases of progression that each student must successfully complete before being allowed to graduate. In other words, there is a planned, purposeful order to completing a program or earning a college degree—an individual does not just apply for admission and have complete autonomy over the courses taken, the sequence of coursework, when/where/if practica or internships are completed, and so on. The institution makes those decisions after carefully designing each given program of study. They decide things such as:

  • Admission and enrollment criteria
  • General education requirements
  • # of semester hours required for graduation
  • Minimum GPA required to pass each course
  • Clinical experiences, internships, practica
  • Exit examinations required for graduation (or state licensure, depending on the program)

Transition points are sometimes referred to as “gateways”—they are specific points at which a student passes from one stage in his or her program to the next. As long as a student meets the stated expectations, the journey continues and he or she moves ahead toward graduation. If the student fails to meet one or more expectations in a given stage, the institution implements a plan for remediation, additional support, or in some case, counseling out of the program.

I have created a Transition Points framework that may be useful to some educator preparation programs. Of course, Transition Points must be tailored to fit each unique program but could include gateways such as:

  • Transition Point I: Applicant to Pre-Candidate Status 
    • Admission to the program
  • Transition Point II: Pre-Candidate to Candidate Status
    • Completion of Block #1 Coursework & Preparation for Formative Field Experiences
  • Transition Point III: Candidate to Pre-Graduate Status
    • Completion of Block #2 Coursework & Formative Field Experiences 
  • Transition Point IV: Pre-Graduate to Graduate Status
    • Completion of Block #3 Coursework & Culminating Clinical Experiences
  • Transition Point V: Graduate to Program Completer Status
    • Pass Required Licensure/Certification Examination(s)

Do you see the progression? When detailed out, a complete Transitions Points or Gateway table should paint a portrait of a student’s journey from matriculation to program completion; the sequence should represent a logical flow with at least some detail relative to minimum expectations.

I hope this has been helpful to you. Need more ideas? Want to collaborate on a project? Feel free to reach out to me.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Educator Prep: There’s a Better Way.

Numerous sources can point to a teacher shortage across the United States, with some areas having a much greater need than others. With some exceptions, Elementary and Social Studies teachers tend to be in greatest supply but in least demand, while the converse is true for Special Education, English Language Learning, Mathematics, and Science teachers. School districts typically have a much harder time filling teaching positions in urban districts, in Title I schools, and in remote rural areas. In many instances, a lack of experienced, qualified teachers in those areas forces districts to fill those classrooms with individuals who may be well-intentioned but lack sufficient training and cultural competence to be successful. Moreover, those districts often fail to provide adequate mentoring and support in the first two years of employment which results in new teachers feeling isolated and without tools to succeed. Consequently, we typically see a high turnover rate in those areas which has a negative impact on students and the local community at-large over time.

Various state departments of education have taken steps to address this problem. California has recently committed $25 million for scholarship money to help alleviate the teacher shortage by using a “grow your own” model. They are distributing this money to 25 school districts and county offices of education to help 5,000 support staff members earn their teaching credentials while continuing to work at their schools. While the idea has some merit, I see big gaps in the approach. Specifically, they are granting funds only to individuals who complete their teaching license requirements at one of the California State University campuses; this severely restricts the type of training these individuals will receive and it only supports the enrollment of those campuses. Moreover, EdSource reports 1,000 eligible employees can get stipends of $4,000 per year over the course of the five-year grant, which could cover all or most of the cost to enroll in those select institutions, depending on how many courses these employees take per semester. Acknowledging it could take up to five years doesn’t make a convincing case that these programs are innovative or cutting edge—in fact they are likely just serving as a feeder into their current programs. So, for continuing business as usual, these institutions are reaping the reward of 1,000 new enrollments and $25 million. The latest initiative proposed in California is to offer teachers who have taught at least 5 years in the state freedom from state income tax. While an interesting idea, I don’t see it encouraging sufficient numbers of individuals to enter or to remain in the teaching profession. Plus, it could have a negative impact on a state already short on cash.

The state of Nevada has attempted to alleviate the teacher shortage, most severe in the Clark County School District located in Las Vegas. School officials in that district, reportedly the third largest in the nation, face the daunting task each year of hiring approximately 2500 teachers. At the time of this writing, there are currently 672 openings for licensed teachers. The Nevada Department of Education approved an Alternative Route to Licensure (ARL) program designed to alleviate shortages across the state but it seems to be only a partial solution in its present form. What’s of equal concern is that once hired, districts struggle to retain teachers for a variety of reasons.

In addition to approaches that focus on state funding and providing paths to licensure through nontraditional means, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has recently begun looking at teacher preparation itself; staff have initiated statewide conversations amongst educators regarding how new teachers should be prepared. And of course, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has established itself as a national leader on educator quality and preparation through research and rankings of educator preparation programs.

 So what’s the answer?

The solution to having an adequate supply of qualified, well-prepared teachers who will positively impact the lives, learning, and development of their students is not simplistic—it is complicated, and that’s why no one has solved it yet. However, I believe one answer lies in how teachers are prepared. While many educator prep programs do a fine job, many do not and new teachers are simply not ready to enter the classroom, hitting the ground running. They have absolutely no idea how to effectively manage a classroom, deal with an angry parent, meet the needs of EVERY learner in their class, and so on. There is an apparent disconnect between what is being taught in colleges of education and the reality of teaching in today’s classrooms. Is one reason because those responsible for preparing those future teachers have little to no current teaching experience themselves? Have they stepped foot in a P-12 classroom in the past five years? Have they cleaned up vomit all over desks and the floor? Have they done before and after school bus duty? Have they had a student arrested in their class? Have they had to bring comfort to a child who is homeless? I think that while credentialed education faculty are well-intentioned, knowledgeable, and experienced, their skills may not be what’s needed in today’s classrooms.

I have been developing some specific ideas regarding how to train new educators some of which challenge the current preparation model. I’m working on creating an educator preparation program that could work for new teachers as well as new educational leaders that has features unique to any other program I’ve reviewed. Some would call it an alternative program, but I really don’t like that word and would love to see it disassociated with education preparation. Want to know more? Interested in partnering with me on a project of immense importance that is built from the ground level up on academic excellence? Let me hear from you…

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

 

 

Accreditation Site Visit Logistics

Preparing for an accreditation site visit is always stressful for university faculty and staff, even under the best of circumstances. Depending on whether we’re talking about a regional accrediting body, a state compliance audit, or a discipline-specific accreditor, there are certain processes and procedures that must be followed. However, for the sake of simplicity, this blog will focus on one discipline–that of teacher preparation–using the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) as the sample accrediting body. In this piece, I provide topics to be covered during a pre-visit conference call between the site team lead, the education preparation provider (EPP), and state representatives. By the end of this call, all parties should be “on the same page” and should be clear regarding what to expect in the upcoming site visit. Here are the topics that are essential to cover:

  • Any general questions the EPP has regarding completion of the Addendum
  • Confirm Addendum submission date
  • Review and revise draft visit schedule
  • Travel Details
    • Confirm preferred airport
    • If arrival and departure times coincide, team prefers to pick up a rental car at the airport and provide their own transportation during the site visit.
    • Otherwise, EPP will need to make ground transportation arrangements.
  • Reminder per CAEP guidelines: No receptions, banquets, poster sessions, dinners with EPP representatives, etc.
  • School Visits
    • Typically limit of 2 (from different grade levels such as 1 Elem & 1 HS)
    • Should not require significant drive time
    • EPP should provide a guide (typically faculty) to drive and serve as host/hostess
    • Usually should take no more than 1 hour on-site at school
  • Work Room at Hotel and on Campus
    • Must be secure and private; lockable.
    • Only site team members and state representatives are to enter the work rooms.
    • Conference table large enough to accommodate all team members and state representatives
    • Printer, secure wifi, LCD or HDTV projector
    • Shredder
    • Basic office supplies (i.e., stapler, paper clips, post-its, note pads, pens, highlighters, etc.)
  • Food/Snacks
    • There should be healthy snacks and beverages (i.e., bottled water, coffee, soda) in the work room at the hotel and on campus.
    • The team will eat breakfast at the hotel each morning.
    • If at all possible, the team will want to remain on campus for lunch, with the ideal arrangement to have lunch catered either in the workroom or in an adjacent room.
    • The EPP should suggest a variety of restaurants within easy driving distance of the hotel for dinner each night.
  • Interviews
    • Generate interviewee list.
      • Dean
      • Assessment Director
      • Field Experiences Coordinator
      • Full-Time Faculty
      • Key Adjunct Faculty
      • Current candidates representing multiple programs
      • Program completers representing multiple programs
      • Cooperating teachers from field experiences
      • Clinical supervisors
      • P-12 partners (i.e., superintendents, principals, teachers, etc.)
      • Other:
    • Interview Rooms
      • Depending on final schedule, 3 rooms may be needed simultaneously.
      • Should have a door for privacy
      • EPP representatives should not attend interviews with candidates, program completers, or cooperating teachers
      • EPP should prepare sign-in sheets for each interview.
      • A staff member should be responsible for get all participants to sign in and then leave the room.
      • All sign-in sheets should be sent to the site team lead.
    • Requests for Additional Information or Data
      • All requests should flow from and back to the site team lead.

There will be additional items to discuss but these are the most essential. Remember–advanced preparation is one key to a successful site visit. Do your homework and know what is required. Get organized. Appoint someone with experience to coordinate the event. Start well in advance. And if in doubt, hire a consultant. Earning accreditation is crucial to an institution’s overall success and should never be taken lightly.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

Supporting Learners in a Competency-Based Education Classroom

This is the fourth installment in a series of blog posts on the topic of competency-based education. Previous posts included: There IS a Better Way to Teach; What’s Under the Hood; and The Basics of CBE Curriculum Development.

How we teach is just as important as what we teach. In other words, instructional methods are just as vital to the learning process as the content being taught. Very few students learn by simply reading or absorbing material—if they did, we really wouldn’t need teachers.

Just as with traditional learning models, there are many ways P-12 and higher education faculty can instruct students within the competency-based education (CBE) model. However, the key here is to provide academic support in a way that helps learners attain essential content and ultimately demonstrate what they know and are able to do. Facilitation, as opposed to direct instruction, has been proven to be an effective way of providing this type of academic support primarily because by its very nature the CBE model creates a space for flexibility for instructors as well as for learners. Of course, face-to-face and online learning environments may require use of different facilitation models, but some good options to consider include:

 

Regardless of the facilitation model chosen, learning should be constant, and not time-dependent in a competency-based learning environment. In other words, learners should be actively engaged at all times but should not be forced to move in lockstep fashion with all other students. They should have the freedom and flexibility to learn at their own pace and in their own way—which is one reason why CBE is commonly referred to as personalized learning, although the two terms are not completely synonymous.

In the next blog installment, we will dive more deeply into the teacher’s role within a competency-based learning environment.

 

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

 

Is There Room for Two Accrediting Bodies in Educator Preparation?

Depending on their state’s statutes, many US educator preparation providers may soon have a choice regarding which accrediting body they want to evaluate the quality of their programs.

The Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP), developed primarily by an advisory council and a small team of staff members with previous accreditation experience, have finalized a process by which the quality of educator preparation providers (EPPs) will be reviewed.  If this sounds strikingly similar to the regulatory body that already serves in this capacity, that’s because it is. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) was birthed as a result of consolidation between the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC); it became fully operational as the nation’s sole accrediting body for educator preparation providers in mid-2013.

Similar to the CAEP model, AAQEP is partnering with several state departments of education for the purpose of streamlining and codifying expectations for program quality. According to its Spring 2018 newsletter, four providers are planning for AAQEP accreditation reviews in early 2019. As part of its adopted policy, the new body recognizes the accreditation conferred by the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, and any accreditor recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or by the Secretary of the United States Department of Education.

CAEP, on the other hand, is currently the only programmatic accrediting body for educator preparation that’s recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).    It also has the benefit of being in existence for five years and has had a chance to test its policies, procedures, and evaluation framework. Numerous changes have been made during that time, mostly because of feedback from institutions that have undergone program review. While providers embrace the need for quality assurance, many have expressed frustration by a lack of consistent messaging by CAEP staff and point to a perception that key elements of the program review process have been changed with little notice or explanation. CAEP leadership indicate they are committed to improving their system and seem to be taking steps to improve communication with providers but many challenges remain.

Common Goals, Different Approaches

While each body has developed its own set of program review protocols and standards, the goal is essentially the same – to ensure that educators are fully prepared to meet the needs of students in 21st Century schools. In order to make this happen, educator preparation providers responsible for training teachers and school leaders must work closely with P-12 school districts to provide high-quality learning experiences from curriculum that is current and standards-based. Performance expectations should be high with appropriate academic support, guidance, and mentoring as needed. Subject- and grade-appropriate field and clinical experiences should play an integral role in every program, and providers should monitor the success of their program candidates as well as the success of the P-12 students being served. And finally, an overarching goal for all providers must be a deep commitment to continuous program and systematic improvement.

Standards-Based Frameworks

While both bodies rely on a standards-based framework for program review, those standards are not identical. CAEP adopted five standards designed to evaluate programs that lead to initial and advanced level teaching credentials:

  • Content and Pedagogical Knowledge
  • Clinical Partnerships and Practice
  • Candidate Quality, Recruitment, and Selectivity
  • Program Impact
  • Provider Quality, Continuous Improvement, and Capacity

AAQEP, on the other hand, bases program review on a set of four standards:

  • Completer Performance
  • Completer Professional Competence and Growth
  • Quality Program Practices
  • Program Engagement in System Improvement

 

One functional accrediting body for EPPs is enough; why would we want to add another?

Programs want options for greater individualization. Not all schools of education are created alike, and while they strive to attain the same goal of preparing teacher and school leader candidates for their careers, they enjoy a variety of missions, visions, program designs, and delivery systems. For example, a completely online program operating in multiple states may have a very different model from one serving teacher candidates in a traditional, face-to-face learning environment. One that focuses on social equity and recruits 18-22-year-olds may take a very different approach from an alternative preparation provider that recruits adult learners who already have a bachelor’s degree. In other words, while a one-size-fits-all approach to accreditation doesn’t always support a provider’s diversity or uniqueness.

There’s a risk in having only one body to judge the quality of all programs. Having a monopoly is never a good idea, regardless of the enterprise. Competition ultimately helps all stakeholders to reach higher and become better. This is also true for accrediting bodies. Professional educators, preparation providers, public stakeholders, and accrediting bodies should all have a seat at the table while making important decisions about how teachers and school leaders should be trained. To do otherwise creates a risk of well-intentioned efforts that miss the mark and fail to accomplish our shared goal, which is to:

Strengthen our nation by building a well-educated society facilitated by exceptionally prepared teachers.

 

Is there really room for two accrediting bodies in educator preparation?

Will AAQEP be recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation? Will state departments of education be eager to partner with another accrediting body?  What will be the US Department of Education’s position, given that it currently recognizes neither? If given the choice, will some educator preparation providers want to be accredited only by one body, or will they choose to be accredited by both CAEP and AAQEP? Those are all questions that remain unanswered. However, if the addition of  a new accrediting body creates a space for freedom of choice and mission-specific program review while ensuring academic excellence, how can that be a bad thing?

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in education transformation, teacher preparation, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter and writer, she currently supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as educational systems design, online learning experiences, competency-based education, and accreditation. Roberta also blogs about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Tired of subs? Grow your own teachers. But do it with excellence.

Note: Updated on February 8, 2019

There has been a nationwide shortage of math, science, English language learning, and special education teachers for several years, and it will only get worse unless creative, out-of-the-box ideas are piloted. Gone are the days when individuals go into teaching just to “have something to fall back on” and to work the same hours as their children—teaching is a demanding profession and the classroom can be a tough place to be. As a result of increasing demands placed on teachers, low pay and long hours, and little respect, teachers are leaving the profession in droves and choosing a different career path. And, decreasing enrollment within schools of education confirms that many are not even considering entering the teaching field.

California education officials recognize this critical teacher shortage, and they are committed to finding a solution.  In my recent blog post entitled Accelerating the Pathway to Initial Teacher Certification, I wrote about the new initiative approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing that focuses on growing the number of qualified mathematics teachers. At the district level, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is trying to shore up its supply of special education and other hard-to-find teachers through its STEP UP and Teach program. This program provides mentoring as well as financial support to qualified candidates, often those who are already employed in the district as paraprofessional and who have strong ties to the local community.

This “grow your own” approach is similar in many ways to other nationwide efforts such as the Kansas City Teacher Residency project. Based on the premise that teachers are best trained on-site and under the careful mentoring of experienced teachers in real-life situation, such training is certainly workforce-driven. It’s also competency-based in many respects, because teacher candidates must demonstrate what they know and able to do on a daily basis. Admission requirements into programs such as the KCTR are strict, admitting only those candidates who demonstrate a strong propensity for long-term success as a caring, effective educator. This is as it should be—we want only the very best teaching our children and our grandchildren.

All these pilots share some things in common but there is still something they are missing—and that is a curriculum that is built by the best of the best—those educators and school leaders who have been recognized as high performing. A feature I would love to see embedded in other programs is evidence that teacher candidates are being trained by those who have been highly successful in today’s classrooms and who understand how to meet the needs of students in 2018 and beyond. Curriculum written by faculty who can talk theory but who have little teaching experience will fall flat on its face. Likewise, a program built by those who haven’t seen the inside of a P-12 school in 20 years simply cannot prepare teachers for 21st Century schools. It’s just not realistic, and yet we see those programs training new teachers by the thousands in every state across our nation. As a result, we are licensing new teachers who discover they have come down with a case of, “What have I gotten myself into?” syndrome. Those teachers leave the classroom in droves, headed for less stressful jobs often with more pay. That’s why about half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years of obtaining their license.

What’s more is that accrediting bodies, whose role is to ensure programmatic quality, don’t even look for evidence that programs have been created by high-performing university faculty with proven, recent success in the P-12 sector. How can something of such importance fail to be on their radar? And what’s it going to take to start building educator preparation programs by those who actually know what skills new teachers need to know in order to be successful in today’s classrooms?

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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Top Graphic Credit: www.educationcorner.com

Looking for Innovation? Think CBE.

Thinking about adopting a competency-based educational (CBE) model? This can be a great, innovative way to teach adult learners at the community college or university level, but it can also be quite appropriate for youngsters at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Here are a few basic tenets of CBE to consider:

Competency-based education is not an easy way to learn or to earn a college degree. Instead, it is a different way to learn. Rather than just sitting in a class and earning attendance points, learners really have to demonstrate what they know and are able to do through a variety of high-quality assessments.

True competency-based education is standards-based education. A house must have a solid foundation in order to stand over time. Likewise, curriculum must be based on standards, and from those standards, competencies, learning objectives, and assessments are developed. As industry standards change, so must a competency-based curriculum evolve to ensure relevancy and currency.

 

Competency-based education is carefully planned and developed. It is not a simple matter to create or switch to a competency-based educational model. It requires a great deal of thought, planning, training, and a commitment to various resources. Simply put, it is not realistic for an institution to believe this can be created by one or two faculty members given extra teaching load pay over a semester or two. It requires systemic commitment and long-range strategic planning.

The curriculum found in a high-quality competency-based educational program comprises both breadth and depth. As previously stated, a solid curriculum must be standards-based. In addition, a CBE curriculum can’t just “cover” certain key concepts and principles—this approach will not lead to deep, sustained learning. Instead, major content must be identified and embedded multiple times within signature learning experiences; they must be scaffolded throughout a program of study at increasing levels of complexity. Learners must be given multiple opportunities to understand and apply what they are learning in various contexts.

Self-paced learning is a cornerstone of the CBE model. Rote memorization has been debunked by many over the years as an ineffective way to learn. Likewise, educators now acknowledge that lockstep teaching and learning does not meet the needs of individuals. An age-old approach known as “Teach to the Middle” is still often the norm in environments where class size is excessive and teachers need to work as efficiently as possible simply to manage their classrooms. However, this approach neglects the needs of students who are struggling, and it neglects the needs of students who have already mastered those skills and are ready to move on. One of the most beautiful aspects of competency-based education is that it is based on a self-paced learner model: Students work at their own pace, taking as much or as little time as they need to understand, apply, and demonstrate their proficiency in the stated competencies and learning objectives. Learners are less frustrated; they feel empowered and more in control of their own progress.

The competency-based model lends itself well to online learning. CBE certainly can work well in traditional face-to-face learning environments. However, it can work equally well in distance learning models. There are different nuances to consider in the planning stage, but CBE is adaptable to all learning environments. What’s important is the strength of the curriculum, the learning resources, the quality of instruction, and the support given to learners. If the curriculum can be seen as the foundation of the house, then the other instructional elements can be viewed as the walls supporting the structure.

The quality of a competency-based program is heavily reliant upon the quality of its assessments. In a competency-based model, learners demonstrate what they know and are able to do relative to specific learning objectives. They demonstrate this through a variety of high-quality assessments, frequently in the form of internally-created objective examinations, performance assessments, field-based assessments, and externally-created proprietary assessments. If the curriculum is the home’s foundation, and the walls are comprised of learning resources, instructional quality, and learner support, assessments represent the roof. There must be direct alignment between what learners are taught and how their knowledge is measured.

Continuous, critical review of assessment data is essential. Many educators throw around the term “data-driven” decision making these days, but few really understand what it means. As with curriculum development, a comprehensive assessment plan is essential to any institution, regardless whether it adheres to a competency-based educational model or not. There are many steps that need to be taken to ensure the quality, integrity, and continual improvement of the ways in which learner proficiency is measured.

The bottom line: It’s all about efficacy. Irrespective of the educational model being implemented, the strength of a program actually can best be determined by the sustained impact on the lives of learners and those they interact with in their chosen profession. For example, do graduates from an educator preparation program demonstrate a positive impact on their P-12 students’ learning and development? Do graduates from a medical school demonstrate a significant impact on improving the quality of their patients’ lives?

Competency-based education is not just about learning in the moment; it’s about learning for a lifetime to serve the greater good.

–rrf

 

 

The Drive-Thru Approach to Teacher Preparation

The Drive-Thru Approach to Teacher Preparation

I read yet another article about national teacher shortages; this one was entitled Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional). As a result of their desperation to staff classrooms, school district officials are putting pressure on states to relax teacher licensure requirements. In some cases, this has led to the watering down of standards and expectations. Some are taking advantage of the current climate, smelling the sweet aroma of serious revenue by offering what is essentially a drive-thru teacher preparation program: The “customer” arrives at the window, attracted by the bright lights and yummy-looking food pics. Enrollment counselors take their order and send them on. Worker bees behind the scenes serve up a program that may be of questionable or untested quality and the customer is on their way in record time. They don’t know that their fries were cold or there was no straw until they are miles down the road. Programs know such a model is cheap to build and cheap to operate; it’s easy money and there are so many students rolling through the drive-thru lane that they can afford to have some unhappy customers and still turn a profit.

In the short term, school districts are happy because they have a less difficult time hiring teachers, and program completers are happy because they’ve gotten through their program at break-neck speed and haven’t had to “waste” their time on courses they perceive as useless. However, in the long term, a host of new cyclical problems are revealed, including:

  • Individuals are admitted to the programs who really shouldn’t be—they sometimes lack the academic preparation or the professional dispositions necessary for success in the classroom.
  • Program completers are often ill-prepared to enter the classroom; they require a great deal of on-site training by the school district.
  • Many new teachers quickly become disillusioned and leave the profession because they didn’t know how challenging teaching really can be. Some leave in the middle of a school year.
  • Students often suffer due to constant turnover and lack of consistency.
  • Test scores lag and fall behind state averages; impact outcomes tend to be dismal.

 

Not all for-profit alternative certification programs are of poor quality, but many are. While accrediting bodies have recently come under greater scrutiny for their standards and expectations, many of these programs fly under the radar and are not regionally accredited*, which is the foundational accreditation any legitimate institution of higher education should attain. Some are taking the easy path to accreditation through bodies that focus mostly on career schools** such as beauty schools, truck driving schools, at-home hypnosis training, etc. just to state on their program’s website that they are accredited. These programs use “sleight of hand” language with the lay public, saying they are “accreditation eligible” which in reality means nothing but it sounds very convincing to those who are not well versed in the lingo.  Make no mistake: The drive-thru teacher preparation model is very real, and it is having a very real impact on our P-12 schools. The question is: Are we going to accept it as the new normal, or are we finally going to draw a line in the sand and insist on academic excellence for our children?

 

–rrf

 

*The regional accreditation bodies in the United States include: (1) Higher Learning Commission (HLC); (2) Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE); (3) New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC-CIHE) Commission on Institutions of Higher Education; (4) Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); and (5) WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

**The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) awards accreditation to degree-granting, high school, military, and post-secondary schools. A search of accredited post-secondary schools, which would apply to alternative teacher certification programs, includes the Hypnosis Motivation Institute, At-Home Professions, and the Modern Gun School, to name a few.

Accelerating the Pathway to Initial Teacher Certification

In an attempt to ease the shortage of more than 33,000 mathematics teachers over the next decade, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing has given four state universities $250,000 each to create new preparation programs that will cut the normal time to earn math credentials and a degree from five and a half years to four. Cal State Los Angeles, San Jose State, San Diego State and Fresno State were selected to create curriculum and design accelerated (compacted) programs to encourage individuals pursuing a bachelor’s degree to consider becoming middle school or high school math teachers.

While this may sound good on the surface, I just don’t think it’s enough to really address the shortage in the long run—these prospective teachers will still have to jump through a lot of hoops just to earn their teaching credential, including all the requirements to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree.

I haven’t seen any emphasis on truly innovative training, or on measuring the longitudinal impact of graduates on their students’ learning—nor did I read anything about intensive mentoring support from the employing school district or the home university in the first two or three years following program completion. All those things, plus many more, are necessary for a teacher to be truly ready for the classroom. Otherwise, the likelihood of them being successful or of them staying for more than a year or two is greatly reduced. And—this grant program only focuses on mathematics—what about the critical shortages in sciences, special education, English language learning, and the like? And—why was this initiative focused only on those earning their bachelor’s degree? We mustn’t forget those who have already demonstrated a propensity for success in the classroom as well as strong ties in the school—those paraprofessionals and substitute teachers—many of whom already have a bachelor’s degree but just need their teaching credential.

I have built a preparation framework designed for this latter group. It’s innovative. It’s unique. It’s research-based. And it’s 10 months long. Care to learn more, California Commission on Teacher Credentialing?

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

 

 

Source: California colleges address math teacher shortage by accelerating pathway to credentials | Education Dive