To the editor:
Parents have always been concerned about the quality of the public schools and rightfully so. Education is a very challenging undertaking. We entrust it to well-trained and highly motivated teachers. However, they are operating within an increasingly complex and difficult environment. Changes in curriculum, assessments and evaluation systems have impacted the ways in which public schools and educators are judged and assessed. In this environment, how does one improve the performance of an entire school community and establish processes to support sustained high performance?
NEASC accreditation offers a valuable solution to that challenge. It provides a time-tested process that combines educator self-reflection with peer review at every level during a self-study and an on-site visit conducted by educational peers from other public school systems. Every teacher is involved in frank conversations about strengths, needs and areas that require improvement. NEASC reviewers talk to teachers, administrators, students and parents, examine student work provided by the school, and also survey all parents on their assessment of the strengths and needs of their students’ school. We provide a multi-layered approach that offers a professional, reflective and thorough school review.
Before enactment of the federal “No Child Left Behind” law and recent state accountability laws, there was no significant government role in evaluating school quality. NEASC was the only educational association designed and dedicated to the purposes of quality assurance and continuous school improvement. However, times have changed. We are aware of the increasing pressures that government accountability demands are placing on our member schools. Responses to a recent membership survey found that our schools are highly appreciative of the value of accreditation but also find it increasingly challenging to address the requirements imposed by government accountability and NEASC accreditation simultaneously. We have heard our members and agree that NEASC must make our accreditation process complementary to and more closely aligned with government accountability requirements.
To this end, the NEASC Board of Trustees has established a special committee to reach out to school leaders across the region to determine how to maximize the value of school accreditation at a time of increasing attention to school improvement. In this process, committee members are traveling throughout New England to hear the thoughts and views of superintendents, principals and government officials. We will turn that advice into action later this year with a set of improvements to our accreditation process.
While governments typically spend most of their time and resources on public schools that are most in need of improvement, every school has challenges that need attention. NEASC accreditation focuses all schools on the need for continuous improvement, while also recognizing a school’s significant strengths and the quality programs and services required to sustain those strengths. Accreditation gives parents and policymakers a valuable independent report on whole school performance and recommendations for improvement. Member schools have frequently noted how accreditation served as a springboard to school improvement; from new facilities to new teaching and learning processes, personalization of instruction, and financial support for staffing levels, instructional materials and supplies.
The value of this process is immense, and the costs are reasonable. The annual dues for a public high school average about $3,500, not the $13,500 reported in a recent editorial. Every 10 years, a school must also pay the expenses of hosting a visiting team of knowledgeable peer reviewers. Our experts volunteer their time and provide the school with an extensive performance report at a fraction of its commercial value.
Looking forward, we commit to improve and enhance the value of our accreditation process. As we support the continuous improvement of our member schools, we will always keep our focus on improving the educational experience and success of their students. The unique programs, classes and activities, necessary resources, school climate and safety issues are all vitally important to students and are not measured by standardized tests. Accreditation works because it pays attention to all things, big and small, that impact our students. In the end, it is their success that matters.
President and CEO
New England Association of Schools and Colleges