Our Mandate column offers members information about particular aspects of the College’s responsibilities as a self-regulatory body and explains how we carry them out.
Accreditation – maintaining the public’s confidence in Ontario’s certified teachers
It’s important and stimulating work.
Ruth Ann Penny, OCT, is already well acquainted with the contents of her stack of binders from Laurentian University, even though her February visit to the Sudbury-based university is still several weeks away.
Laurentian’s School of Education has applied to the Ontario College of Teachers for initial accreditation of a proposed consecutive teacher education program for the Intermediate and Senior divisions. Penny is Chair of the College’s Accreditation Committee and one of seven panel members on the accreditation review panel who will examine Laurentian’s application.
This is Penny’s third accreditation review panel. “It’s important and stimulating work,” she says. “You’re watching what’s happening on the cutting edge of education.
“It’s an intense week with 12-hour days. I’ve already done 20 hours of preparation, and we haven’t even got to Sudbury yet. People do it because it’s intensely interesting.”
Penny, who formerly resided in northern Ontario, has a Bachelor of Education from Laurentian, has taught for 34 years and is Vice-Chair of the College Council.
The fact that the College accredits teacher education programs might be one of its best-kept secrets, and yet accreditation is a core responsibility of the teaching profession’s self-governing body.
The College has accredited more than 50 full- and part-time teacher education programs in 18 Ontario university faculties of education. The Accreditation Regulation, which came into effect in 2002, gave the College the responsibility for accrediting programs of professional education in Ontario.
“We’re working with the faculties of education to ensure the quality of teaching in Ontario,” says Janis Leonard, OCT, the College’s Manager of Accreditation.
So how does the accreditation process work?
A faculty or school of education that intends to offer a teacher education program in Ontario applies to the College. The College assigns a program officer to work with the institution to prepare its submission for accreditation. Fifteen requirements, covering areas such as curriculum, practicum and faculty, must be met before a program can be accredited.
Once the materials are submitted, the College’s Accreditation Committee issues a decision within six months.
An accreditation panel is constructed with the expertise and knowledge to understand the requirements of the institution’s program, including specialty programs. For example, panelists may be selected to provide a First Nations, Métis or Inuit perspective. Each panel has at least six members. At least three must be members of the College Council. Panel members are to be objective.
Panelists are drawn from every corner of the province and from all disciplines and levels. The idea is to achieve depth and breadth across a variety of factors. Classroom teachers, principals, vice-principals, consultants and teacher education faculty from other universities can serve as panelists, and the College encourages their participation. Members are trained in the process, the regulation requirements and report writing.
Penny considers the experience a wonderful professional-development opportunity.
The College values input from the teaching profession and invites members to participate on accreditation panels through advertisements in this magazine.
“Members and faculty provide an important voice in the accreditation process,” says Leonard. “Our faculties value a peer-review process.”
E. Clyde Glasgow (foreground) and Annilee Jarvis, OCT, were among Accreditation Committee members attending a training session at the College in February.
The panel reviews all documents submitted by the faculty. Panel members visit the campus to interview program administrators, faculty members, teacher candidates, associate teachers and others linked to the program. The public is also invited to make submissions in writing or in person to the panel.
The panelists and the assigned College program officer work quickly and efficiently as a team. The pace is hectic and intense. College staff works diligently to support the panel by co-ordinating the submission of documents and managing the hundreds of details for the site visit, so that when panel members land, they’re ready to go.
Typically, panel members arrive for the site visit on a Sunday, and will meet that day to prepare for the next day’s faculty visit. They will be looking for evidence that the school or faculty is meeting the program requirements.
Monday and Tuesday are usually dedicated to interviews, meetings and faculty tours during the work day, and in the evening, the panel shares its findings. The panel will also meet evenings to prepare for the next day’s work. On Wednesday and Thursday panel members discuss the review and construct a draft report. Late Thursday the dean of the faculty of education answers any outstanding questions. On Friday panel members review the draft report a final time.
Penny views the accreditation process as a wonderful opportunity to build partnerships with faculties and schools of education.
“Both sides are ready and nobody anticipates a surprise. This isn’t a gotcha exercise,” she explains. “This is meant to be a meaningful examination and one that draws from multiple perspectives. It’s meant to be thorough but not antagonistic.”
Members and faculty provide an important voice in the accreditation process.
The draft report is sent to the faculty or school of education, which has 20 days to review it for factual accuracy. The final report and any faculty response are forwarded to the Accreditation Committee. The committee decides if a program will be accredited, accredited with conditions or denied. Its written decisions are public and posted on the College web site under Accreditation Reviews.
“From the perspective of a faculty of education, the self-study required by the accreditation process provides an opportunity to thoroughly examine one’s own program,” says Colleen Willard-Holt, Dean of the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University. “It allows us to highlight areas that are outstanding and others that may need attention and perhaps a redistribution of resources.
“Accreditation also provides some consistency across BEd programs in the province, assuring that all certificate holders have a similar baseline of pedagogical knowledge and skills.”
New and renewing teacher education programs in Ontario must be reviewed on a cyclical basis. Renewing programs are reviewed every seven years and new programs more frequently. Last year, the College worked with faculty deans to harmonize the review of their programs, so that all of a faculty’s various programs are reviewed at the same time.
Whether a faculty is large, medium or small, the same process and due diligence for accreditation are followed. In this way, accreditation provides quality assurance for Ontario’s teacher education programs, letting students, parents and the public know that the teachers in our classrooms are highly educated professionals. When programs are up for review, the College welcomes feedback from members of the public, who are invited to provide input through our web site.
“Through the process of initial and ongoing accreditation of pre-service programs, the Accreditation Committee is able to assure the public that teacher candidates are being educated as intended,” says Bill Kirkwood, an Accreditation Committee member. “As well, the committee becomes aware of emerging issues related to the education of prospective teachers, ensuring that teacher education will be kept up to date.”
Accrediting teacher education programs maintains public confidence in Ontario’s certified teachers and protects the public interest. The ultimate beneficiaries are Ontario students.
The Accreditation Regulation is available on the provincial e-laws page.
Step-by-step guide to the accreditation process
- The school or faculty submits an application.
- The Accreditation Committee selects a panel.
- The panel conducts an accreditation review.
- The panel drafts its report and forwards it to the school or faculty.
- The committee considers the finalized report.
- The committee issues a decision.
- The school or faculty may offer the approved program until the expiry of the accreditation period.
- The school or faculty may apply for renewal.