There is value associated with accreditation and there is an assumption that
most, if not all schools are accredited. The reality is that not all schools are
accredited. Is yours?
Accreditation is a valuable and prestigious achievement among traditional and nontraditional schools, colleges and universities throughout the world. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes accrediting or state approval agencies, including Middle States Association, as a "reliable authority as to the quality of education."
In recent years, accrediting agencies, including MSA, have revised their protocols and practices to reflect the latest research on school effectiveness, employ established world-class standards, and use volunteers trained in critical peer review. This approach provides an external validation of an educational institution's performance, whether it is serving preschoolers, high school students planning for college, adult community college students, doctoral candidates - or anyone in between.
Accreditation is an impartial, third-party validation that an educational institution meets challenging, but achievable standards of quality, and provides a mechanism for continuous school improvement. It is a dynamic process which requires the commitment and involvement of a wide range of stakeholders. It engages the community and ultimately assures the public of an organization's integrity.
Although attaining high levels of student performance is every educational institution's primary goal, understanding the process by which those results are achieved - or not achieved - is equally important. A school's effectiveness must extend beyond the measures of student performance highlighted in government rankings or standings published in national and regional magazines. It must also take into account factors such as:
- quality and continuity of the school's leadership and governance
- condition of school facilities
- finances and fiscal stability
- effectiveness of student services
- health and safety
- long-range planning
All of these factors directly contribute to student performance.
During the past several decades, we have come to understand what schools, colleges and universities need to provide a top-notch education so students can succeed in the workforce and in life. The puzzling part is: if we know what schools need for improvement, why haven't more schools improved and attained a high level of performance? Accreditation will provide the answers.
The critical differences among schools that succeed and those that struggle are:
- the degree to which the school or school district has a clear understanding of what it needs to do to improve;
- the extent to which the plan to improve is supported by school and community stakeholders;
- the capacity of the school or school district to implement and sustain its plan to improve over time.
Middle States Accreditation is transparent, executed in public and completed with the involvement of a wide range of stakeholders. It provides accountability by comparing the institution to widely held and recognized standards of quality. MSA accreditation also raises awareness of the positive aspects of education and, in turn, builds pride among the entire school community.
School reform takes time, often more time than the tenure of the school's leadership. Schools that develop comprehensive plans for improvement through the process of accreditation have a road map for long-term improvement that withstands the test of time, including changes in board guidance and administrative leadership.
Improvement has to come from within each school, from committed individuals, including board members and administrators, who are closest to the problems and best equipped to solve them.
Questions about where a school or district needs to go are replaced with the
statement: This is where we are going as a school community.