Occidental Teacher Credential Program Put on Probation by Outside Committee

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Author: Margaret Gabuchian & Ryan Strong

Occidental’s teacher credential program was put on “probation with stipulations” by a state accreditation committee on June 23, leading the College to discontinue accepting candidates for both this program and the master’s in Teaching program, as well as withdrawing the program from the accreditation system. However, it will continue to instruct the fifteen students already enrolled under probationary rules.

“The team brought a lot of points that I am certain, talking with the education department, that we can address, that we can correct,” Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Jorge Gonzalez said at the hearing in front of the Committee on Accreditation (COA) which was recorded on video. “However, it also gave us the opportunity to look at overall what kind of education we should be providing at Occidental and what role Occidental should play in the educational field. At this point, we have made the decision that we would like to withdraw our program from the accreditation system.”

Because of the College’s withdrawal, there will be no teacher credentialing program at Occidental College for at least two years due to a mandated waiting period for reapplication.

The decision to place the College on probation was based largely on a multi-day visit to the College, in which state workers concluded that the College did not meet several criteria. The Committee on Accreditation accepted the recomendation. This Thursday, the state will revisit Occidental College to ensure that all 15 remaining students in the program are getting a high-quality education, according to an August update on the Commission on Teaching Credential’s (CTC) website.  

The report recommending probation states that Occidental’s credential program fails six of the nine “Common Standards” assigned by state law. It only fully met two standards in the areas of “Resources” and “District-Employed Supervisors.” Four overarching concerns noted by the report include, “Operations, Communications and Collaboration, Fieldwork, and Assessment.”

The committee also concluded that not all “Program Standards” were met. The report, however, contains inconsistent information regarding how many program standards were not met, stating seven out of 19 in one section of the report but eight in another.

“The accreditation team identified serious and pervasive deficiencies in the institution’s implementation of the Common Standards and Multiple and Single Subject Program applicable that substantially impact the preparation of credential program candidates,” the report states. “The team identified issues that prevent the institution from delivering high quality, effective programs.”

 Occidental College did not fully agree with the conclusions drawn by the visiting team.

 “We believe that we have a good program. Obviously, we don’t agree with everything that was said. But, we do understand that there are areas of concern,” Professor Ronald Solorzano said at the June 23 meeting.

Professor Solorzano expressed particular puzzlement on how the visiting team reported deficiencies in the College’s teaching of “differentiated instruction techniques.”

“The only thing I can say is that differentiated instruction permeates the syllabi in our program. So, how it comes out on the other end, you know, it’s hard to figure out what happened in the interview process,” he said, referring to the state’s visit to the College.

After the state finished judging Occidental College’s quality of education, Dean Gonzelez and Solorzano sat through approximately two hours of committee questions. During that time, the committee on accreditation, based in Sacramento, utilized strong adjectives to criticize Occidental College via its teacher credential program. “Massive,” “shambles,” and “appalling,” were just a few of the adjectives thrown out by members on numerous occasions. 

Committee members also commented on the College’s “hefty price tag,” and openly disagreed with the private decision of the College to withdraw its program rather than adjust it during probation. 
 Solorzano responded to the committee’s adjective-laden commentary many times by talking about the program’s strengths and his belief that the program prepares students well for teaching. He cited the number of successful graduates, the reputation the program had earned among schools in the community, and the students’ love of the program and the experiences it provided.
 Committee member Nancy Watkins, who professed no intimate knowledge of Occidental College, proceeded to criticize Professor Solorzano’s pride for his students, program, and the College. At the same time, she implied that Occidental may try to mislead current candidates instead of giving them an honest notification of the College’s accreditation status as required by state law.
 “I certainly hear the pride you have in your students and your institution…but some of the language about students choosing to stay concerns me…and I’m curious about what spin will be put on that [the notification]. I’m a high school teacher and I can give my students an A and they can have a great experience in my class but that does not mean they know a thing about economics,” Watkins said. Member Watkins failed to produce any evidence on why she thought the College would “spin” the notification. 
Right now, the College is focusing on making sure that remaining students in the program are able to complete the program successfully.
“That is, in my eyes, our number one obligation,” Dean Gonzalez told the committee.
The College has written an action plan to provide a program that meets standards for the 15 remaining candidates, per the CTC’s first stipulation. That action plan has been accepted by the state.
 Soon though, the College will have to make a decision regarding the future of the Education Department.
“We see this as an opportunity to start with a blank piece of paper and say okay, we want to redesign a program from the bottom up, what can we do better than anybody else. What can we do really well. And then, perhaps, come back to the accreditation board at the appropriate time and say this is what we’re going to do of the utmost quality,” Dean Gonzalez said in response to questioning on the College’s decision to withdraw. He also noted that the decision to withdraw will likely be controversial among alumni.
Occidental’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program has existed for over 20 years. After completing four years of undergraduate study, students have had the opportunity to enroll in the program and receive their Master’s credentials in no more than a year. The loss of the MAT program has left the College with only one current graduate program, in biology.
The news of the accreditation issues came as a surprise to many graduates of the Occidental Education program, who believed that their Occidental education prepared them well for teaching. 
“Some principals actually asked to interview Oxy grads because we had more experience in student teaching,” upper-level History teacher at Clark Magnet High School in La Cresecenta Kimberli Naka said. 
“On several occasions as a new teacher, I was approached by more experienced teachers asking about things I did in my classroom, including classroom management and grading, as well as teaching, writing assessments, group work and creative projects,” AP English teacher at Clark Magnet High School in La Crescenta Carol Pettegrew said. “It surprised me that they were in the classroom longer than I was and were yet so under-prepared.”
Over half a dozen teachers at Clark Magnet High School are Occidental graduates. 
Another alumnus of the Occidental education program, Gerald Gruss (‘89), was very concerned, stating that recent events will affect younger generations of Occidental applicants.
“I am not only concerned as an alum of the credential program but also as a parent,” Gruss said. “My older daughter, who is a high school junior and plans to become a teacher, was looking at Oxy as her first choice. She wanted to get her undergraduate degree as well as her teaching credential and Masters degree at Oxy. With the current state of the department, it pains me to say that she is looking elsewhere.”

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