Lost Credit: College aims to regain accreditation for training elementary teachers
After Franklin College fails to keep elementary education program, new administrators strive to repair reputation
By Erica Irish
In what would become her last weeks at Franklin College, aspiring elementary teacher Hailey Pardue found herself “shocked” by an announcement that landed in her email inbox while working a shift at the Franklin Boys & Girls Club.
A key part of the major she had been working towards for a year — the two-year educator preparation program, designed to give students classroom experience and a path to a required teacher’s license — had lost its accreditation after an unfavorable review by its national accrediting body.
It’s this change that led Pardue, a rising sophomore, to transfer to the University of Indianapolis early this semester. Unwilling to risk her future, she made the tough decision to change her lifestyle, uprooting herself from her friends and fellow softball players.
“I wanted to find a school where I was 100% certain that I could get my degree,” Pardue said.
And for some of the students who stayed, like junior Lauren Schuld, that uncertainty remained as the conversation around accreditation welcomed more questions than answers.
“I came to Franklin assuming all of the professors and faculty and staff were doing what they needed so I could get the education they promised,” Schuld said after the department held an emergency meeting Aug. 24 to explain the issue to students. “I thought more of the people who were in charge."
The elementary education major remained a flagship of the college for years, despite declining enrollment. Data from the college registrar show the program had 48 declared majors and 11 graduates in 2019-2020. A decade earlier — in 2010-2011 — Franklin College reported 105 declared elementary education majors and 30 graduates.
Now, as the college is pushing to get the accreditation back, it’s become a priority for President Kerry Prather, a former high school teacher from a family of educators. “This is the hand we’ve been dealt,” Prather said. “So you have to play the best you can."
An Ambitious Timeline
Franklin College learned it lost the accreditation in April from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, or CAEP, after submitting a report that failed to meet all five of the council’s requirements.
But the college did not tell students until an Aug. 21 email, using the spring and summer to go through three rounds of appeals. Prather said administrators hoped this would resolve the issue before it affected students.
CAEP denied each appeal, and in a final letter to CAEP in August, Prather expressed disappointment in what he called “a strict adherence to process instead of a thorough review of the substance and quality of the college’s education program.”
Prather said the Indiana Department of Education, who partners with CAEP to review educator preparation programs around the state, is now working with the college to get the accreditation back as soon as possible.
“They recognized that this has...traditionally been the preeminent small college program in teacher education in the state of Indiana,” Prather said. “So I think they’re anxious to help get this behind us and reestablish that reputation."
If all goes according to plan, state accreditation could be granted as early as April 2021. That will require a favorable recommendation from IDOE and a positive vote from the Indiana State Board of Education. CAEP will then review the department’s plans for national accreditation.
The college wouldn’t name who was responsible for sending the failed report to CAEP or discuss specific pitfalls, though Prather emphasized the failure doesn’t indicate flaws in the program itself. But David Moffett managed accreditation efforts for the college in 2019, the period that would have affected CAEP’s latest decision about the elementary education major.
Moffett did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It is unclear what other employees, if any, may have been involved in the reporting process.
IDOE confirmed juniors and seniors already part of the elementary preparation program won’t be affected by the lost accreditation.
But where students are seeing changes is within their classes and the overall curriculum, which is part of an ongoing cleanup effort by two consultants — Sally Ingles, who formerly served as vice president for accreditation with CAEP, and Cindy Prather, who worked at the college for 23 years before leaving to enter consulting in 2018.
In a memo to faculty March 31, President Prather said Ingles and Cindy Prather, his wife, would report directly to him as they reviewed the college’s education programs. He noted Cindy Prather would serve in this role without compensation because of their relationship.
The college faced similar challenges in 2018, when it closed its secondary education program.
Franklin College students who want a license in secondary education will now get one at a separate school. After completing an education studies minor and a major in the area they intend to teach, students will practice teaching through St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in South Bend, Indiana, for a semester-long “transition-to-teaching” program.
Prather said he didn’t understand the logic behind this program, which was created before he became president in January. So when he hired Ingles, the two agreed to apply for this program to also return to Franklin College. IDOE officials said they will review this request this fall before offering a recommendation for approval.
Former administrators like Provost Lori Schroeder, who left the college in the spring, told The Franklin they saw the transition-to-teaching program as the only way to offer students a secondary education program. The college did propose a post-baccalaureate option, where students would have completed their teacher training through Franklin College in the semester after graduating, but IDOE did not approve the plan.
New Curriculum, New Opportunities
When Ingles and Cindy Prather began reviewing the college’s education programs in the spring, they also noticed changes needed to be made to the elementary education curriculum.
That’s because some of the classes included haven’t lined up with state standards since at least 2018, Cindy Prather said. For example, students often followed a strict sequence of classes, when the standards could be satisfied by a student taking one of a number of different classes.
“Did you ever have a closet that just kept getting fuller and fuller because you just could never find time to clean it out?” Cindy Prather said. “Instead of purging the things that perhaps were no longer necessary, and that other institutions had already purged, ours just kept getting piled higher and deeper.”
So a key part of the work Cindy Prather and Ingles did involved cleaning the closet, so to speak, by reviewing state standards and eliminating classes that were no longer needed.
The program also had to make adjustments because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the college is limiting internships to virtual opportunities, and because schools aren’t allowing many guests, education students, including the elementary education majors still on track to getting licensed, will work in digital classrooms this semester.
To do this, Ingles and Cindy Prather researched different options until they discovered TeachLive, powered by a website called Mursion. Here, education students will spend a few hours each week in a virtual classroom. The students will interact with live avatars, voiced by education experts, who will simulate real disruptions and questions.
It’s technology like this, Ingles and Cindy Prather said, that can also help the college regain favor with CAEP, whose standards look for how well programs use new technology to prepare teachers for the classroom.
When Pardue chose to leave Franklin College, she got a call from President Prather encouraging her to stay. But she couldn’t square what he couldn’t guarantee — a path to licensure and a job — with her own plans.
Pardue said she also wishes the college told students about the problem earlier, to give them time to consider alternatives. Because she didn’t find out about the issue and consider transferring until late August, Pardue’s options were limited: Her first choice was to transfer to Purdue University, but because of the timing, she said few schools were willing to work with her.
Pardue said it was this realization that damaged her trust in the college.
And trust is a theme that’s been repeated by the students who chose to stay, too, who said they hope that as the college pushes to repair what’s been lost, they’ll be more included in the conversation.
“I’m hoping that there’s more communication, and not just with the students, but between the professors,” said Katie Bond, a senior elementary education major. “It causes a lot of unnecessary panic and stress when not everyone knows what’s going on.”