By Kimberley Harris
We’ve all been taught by our parents the difference between right and wrong. Moreover, we know what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate behavior, regardless of our parents being with or without us. We are expected to behave appropriately and do what is right whether we are away at a friend’s house, on a field trip, or off at college. This is just one of the many expectations of parenting. Teach your children what they need to know, so that when they are away they are well-equipped and know exactly what is expected of them. This same analogy can be applied to schools and how they operate, particularly with school accountability. Those who are in charge of running a school are responsible for quality assurance, or the checks and balances of that school. As a result, it is of utmost importance to have all appropriate documentation, accurate records, and student files in order, along with many other aspects that are vital for self-evaluation and school accountability.
What is the difference between accountability and accreditation?
Formal accreditation for private school is a rigorous process of internal self-evaluation and external review (much more rigorous than public school standards), whereby a private school is audited and must adhere to specific requirements on governance, best practices, financial transparency, curriculum quality, student safety, and staffing (Association of Classical and Christian Schools and Texas Private Schools Association). “Earning an accreditation in the United States is a voluntary, non-governmental process. Schools request to be evaluated and/or have their programs evaluated by an independent accrediting agency…Accrediting agencies are private educational associations.” (Texas Private Schools Association -Oct. 7, 2015)
If a non-accredited private school prides itself on doing what is right, what is just, and at the same time, always keeping the students and their well-being in mind, then self-evaluations will already be set in place. Consequently, there is a self-study (self-evaluation) portion that is also part of the formal accreditation process. “The self-study provides the institution with the opportunity to engage in a comprehensive analysis of all aspects of its operation. Essentially, the self-evaluation process forms the basis for the improvement of the educational effectiveness of the institution.” (www.acics.org) Therefore, self-evaluation from any educational institution, whether it be accredited or non-accredited, is a valued component for school accountability and success and requires major effort, time, and careful planning on the part of the school.
Is accreditation necessary?
All parents want what’s best for their children and when choosing the best school, parents need a gauge or compass to help them with their decision. As a result, accreditation can provide a sense of assurance for parents in helping them to know that a school has been evaluated and is meeting required standards. However, I pose the question, “Is accreditation necessary for a school?” A simple answer would be, “No, accreditation is not necessary.” In fact, it is not even a state or government requirement, and is completely voluntary. More notably, formal school accreditation is financially and politically driven. It can confirm that a school is committed to obtaining the best possible outcomes for its students. And some have the belief or opinion that accreditation is to a school, what an academic diploma or degree is to an individual (privateschoolreview.com/blog/From a Parent’s Perspective: Is Accreditation Necessary). Again, this is a matter of opinion. There are several other aspects to the accreditation process for private school education. Some of which are quality assurance, self-evaluations, outcomes, transformation, improvements (through remediation of action items with specific time limits), raising the bar, and starting all over again (as accreditation is performed every five years). In addition, it must be noted that if a school fails to follow up with remediation of action items within specified time periods, accreditation will be jeopardized.
Also, note that with the accreditation process, all accrediting agencies use the same standards across the board. Is it really fair to apply the exact standards to all schools, regardless of varying school characteristics? Are all schools created equal? Nevertheless, as a parent, you have to decide what’s important and what works for your child, but please keep in mind, that school accreditation is voluntary, but school accountability is not.