Maybe All Public Schools Should Be Independently Accredited
A friend of mine was recently appointed principal of a large Catholic high school, and in a stroke of great good luck, she found that the school was in the midst of the Middle States accreditation process. While it is a long and arduous exercise, the self-study focused the faculty on the school’s needs before the new principal even arrived, and it gave the school a direction in which to move.
“Because it was a self-study and a validation process, “ my friend said, “the goals for improvement will come from the teachers.” So as a new appointee, her job will be to facilitate the process rather than tell the teachers what to do, greatly enhancing her chances for early success.
I’ve been involved with the Middle States accreditation process several times myself. In one K-12 school, I was the head of the self-study team. Shortly after that experience, I was invited to be a member of the visiting committee at a high school several hours away. At a later date I represented the board of trustees at the college on the self-study team and also participated in the interim reports. In every case the accreditation process was a useful and rewarding experience for the participants and for the school.
If you’re not familiar with the process, here it is in a nutshell. A faculty committee usually surveys the staff and writes a report that follows a specific format and essentially identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the school. Later a team of experienced teachers and administrators visits the school for up to three days, observing and interviewing individuals to validate the self-study. Before they leave, the team presents their general findings to the school and the formal written report arrives later. That report validates good practices, makes recommendations for improvement, and awards or denies accreditation. (Remember, this is the nutshell version.)
But here’s the really important piece – self evaluation and improvement are ongoing because the school has to file a report every few years to describe how it is meeting the recommendations of the visiting committee if it wants to keep its accreditation. So unlike a great many school improvement models, this process isn’t a one-shot deal. It becomes part of the culture.
Private schools need to be accredited for academic credibility and consequently enrollment. Public schools are assumed to be accredited if they’re part of the state system. No self-study, no visiting team, no recommendations, no follow up. If public schools were required to be accredited by an independent agency, nobody would have to have their test scores published in the paper. Lack of accreditation says it all.