Friday, August 22, 2008

Problems with teacher accreditation

I started reading an article in the Sydney Morning Herald suggesting that teachers who met new professional standards would elevate themselves above their colleagues.

When I first read this I thought good thing, recognition for better teachers. Then I looked at the details and found myself reacting very badly - this is another professionalisation thing that really is independent of performance.

In this part of the post I am simply registering my concern. I will outline the reasons a little later.


Before setting out my concerns, some factual information.

The process we are talking about is an accreditation process managed by the NSW Institute of Teachers. Accreditation simply means that some form of process has confirmed that your knowledge, skills and performance at a point meet a defined standard.

To this point there have been two standards - Graduate Teacher and Professional Competence. Two more are now being added - Professional Accomplishment and Professional Leadership - creating a standards' ladder. If you are interested, you can find details of the standards here.

If you look at the Australian debate about teaching you will see that it has centered on the attraction and retention of teachers on one side, the desire to improve teaching performance on the other. Central to this debate has been the need to create structures and opportunities that will reward and retain good teachers.

Accreditation based approaches of the type we are talking about have a different focus. They are concerned with professionalisation, the establishment of and recognition of benchmarks that those in the profession should meet.

I was a strong supporter of standards based approaches because I saw them as a device for establishing standards and then recognising performance against standards. In recent years I have become increasingly concerned at the way that they have led to creeping credentialism and to the creation of professional barriers independent of performance.

Most professionals learn their craft by doing. The best push the boundaries. The problem is that when you mandate formal standards you create a focus on the formal standard rather than performance. You cut out out those who want to try new things independent of the restrictions mandated by the standard. You also cut out those who may perform remarkably well, but who are not interested in complying with the professional consensus encapsulated in the standard.

I have had direct experience of this at a professional level.

Working as a consultant, a significant market was destroyed when the Federal Government was persuaded by a professional body to mandate their professional qualification as a pre-condition. The entry point then became the credential, not the competence to do the job.

This is my concern about the message in the Herald article. In broad terms, I have supported the Institute's desire to create standards that would enhance teaching's professional reputation. If those standards become the requirement rather than actual performance, then we may have a very real problem.

As a broader comment, the NSW Government's obsession with standards and measurement does not seem to have made NSW a model for good public management.

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