by B. Denise Hawkins — Nearly 40 years ago, Savannah State University (then Savannah State College) had a large, thriving, nationally accredited school of education until a state of Georgia desegregation order required a swap. Considered “duplicated programs,” the plan called for historically Black Savannah State to exchange teacher education for business administration at the traditionally White Armstrong Atlantic University (then Armstrong State College). That was in 1979.

By next fall, Savannah State expects to have a new school of education up and running. For the past three years, Dr. Elazer J. Barnette, the person responsible for its launch, has been securing full-time faculty and readying students eager to enroll in the STEM-based teacher preparation program that will offer biology and math with a concentration in secondary education. Looking down the road, Barnette, associate vice president for academic affairs, sees his graduates being snatched up by public schools in Georgia and in demand by corporations in need of those who know science and who can teach.

But for now, says Barnette, ensuring that the school of education is ready in 2014 to meet the rigors of a new set of national standards for teacher preparation and accreditation is at the heart of his efforts.

Over time, as national teaching standards have crept higher, HBCU education programs “have consistently stepped up and met the mark, and this time shouldn’t be any different,” says Barnette, who has spent more than a decade on the Board of Examiners of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, one of the two national accrediting bodies for the field. But as a new accrediting agency churns out standards aimed at improving teacher training and student learning, Barnette and a group of HBCU education deans say they fear the potential consequences such efforts may ultimately have on the continued existence of their teacher preparation programs and even on their institutions.

The Washington, D.C.-based accrediting body, which has operated as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation since January, was formed in 2010, the result of a merger between the larger National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the much smaller Teacher Education Accreditation Council. For them, the time was right for change. Eyeing the “winds of reform” sweeping through the field of P-12 education, the accrediting bodies set out to do more than unite. In their literature, CAEP officials say they also plan “to show the value we add to the quality assurance, accountability, and the overall performance of the profession.”

Such an undertaking is “huge and complex and will mainly impact the practitioners,” says Dr. Tina Marshall-Bradley, a CAEP commissioner and a professor and associate vice president at Paine College, of the accreditation merger and standards overhaul.

By the time the accrediting body releases its final set of new standards in January 2014 for what graduating teachers should know and be able to do when they enter the classroom, CAEP officials suggest those programs seeking accreditation will have, for the first time, standards that are “leaner, more specific and more outcomes-based.”

This summer, CAEP’s board plans to approve its five proposed standards and sub-standards that include: Content and Pedagogical Knowledge (Standard 1); Clinical Partnerships and Practice (Standard 2); Candidate Quality, Recruitment and Selectivity (Standard 3); Program Impact (Standard 4); and Provider Quality, Continuous Improvement and Capacity (Standard 5). According to CAEP’s schedule, by 2016, new standards will be mandatory for schools and programs seeking their accreditation.

In the past few months, the impending changes to the standards have spurred a group of HBCU education deans and administrators into meetings with each other and with CAEP officials about how to respond while also buffering the mainstay program on their campuses. Together they represent educator preparation programs that graduate more than 50 percent of all Black public school teachers. As proposed, several of the CAEP standards, they say, could negatively “impact the delivery of their educator programs.” Read More