Accreditation is recognition that the offerings of schools or colleges meet standards, benchmarks and performance criteria in the advancement of student achievement. In the U.S., accreditation is voluntary.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) was founded in 1895. SACS is one of six regional accrediting agencies recognized by the federal government. Following a merger in 2006, the K-12 division of SACS (SACS CASI) is now part of AdvancED, which accredits more than 32,000 institutions in 71 countries, serving in excess of 20 million students. Accreditation reviews examine the institution’s teaching and assessing practices, its purpose and direction, the effectiveness of its governance and leadership, its use of data to guide improvement, and resources and support systems for students.
During the fall semester of 2012, AdvancED performed 1,200 of these reviews, with many of these schools or schools systems experiencing challenges being placed under review or on accredited probation. Only one of these systems was placed on accredited probation primarily over governance concerns, and that was in DeKalb County.
Our review structure allows for appeal when a school system differs with our findings or recommendations for improvement. In DeKalb’s case, the system had the opportunity to appeal our findings, but chose not to do so. As a result, the system accepted our findings and committed to making the necessary improvements. The most significant areas in need of improvement are student achievement, fiscal responsibility and governance.
AdvancED/SACS CASI works closely with the leadership and stakeholders of any educational institution towards improving student performance. We believe that it remains possible for the DeKalb County School District to effectively address its current challenges and achieve success in meeting the needs of its urban population of growing diversity.
The needs of students are changing as they prepare to be successful in our diverse world. Across our nation, we are on the edge of a major shift in the current education system, which is largely institutionally focused, to a system focused on the learner. This will require significant changes in the use of resources and perhaps a reconfiguration of thousands of schools and school systems. When accreditation began, ours was largely an agrarian economy. In the South, most children were never even expected to reach high school graduation. Today, there is an almost universal expectation of post-secondary education, and yet, we are still using a system designed for those earlier outcomes. This must change.
As a former teacher and principal, I realize that real and lasting change in large organizations is incremental and can take considerable time. As we watch the children of Asia and parts of Europe pull away from our children in terms of performance, aptitude and ability… do we really want to wait that long? As a parent with two children in public schools, I don’t.