Recent actions by school accrediting giant, Advance Education Inc. (AdvancED), have set off a firestorm of public discussion about accreditation, its value and how it is awarded. The interest has been fueled by AdvancED’s decision to place Burke County Schools on probation, and assign Wake County Public Schools – the state’s largest public school system – the status of “accreditation warned.”
Background: School accreditation traces its roots back to the turn of the century. As young people began to travel longer distances to attend college, colleges needed to know that applicants had the proper academic training to succeed. In general, accreditation meant a stamp of approval on an institution by practitioners. Later, accreditation agencies expanded to include colleges and universities.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, to accredit a school is “to give official authorization or status, to recognize as having sufficient academic standards to qualify graduates for higher education or for professional practice.1 Historically, school accreditation has focused on ensuring certain academic standards are met and that an educational organization’s graduates are proficient.
Although there is currently no requirement that public schools in North Carolina be accredited, most of the public schools in North Carolina have some form of accreditation. The most common form of accreditation is through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). In 2006, AdvancED acquired SACS and the North Central Association Commission on School Improvement. In addition to AdvancED, there are a number of other major regional accrediting bodies in the United States.2 For the most part, these organizations focus on schools in their region and will not accredit schools outside their geographical area.
The largest accrediting agency in North Carolina – and the world – is AdvancED. AdvancED provides four different types of accreditation: schools, school districts, postsecondary accreditation, and corporate and distance learning.
Types of accreditation of most interest to K-12 institutions are: 1) school accreditation and 2) district accreditation. Schools receiving accreditation status will receive one of four designations: Accredited, Accredited On Advisement, Accreditation Warned and Accredited Probation. Institutions that are not accredited fall into one of three designations: Non-accredited Status (i.e., entity’s seeking accreditation but have not begun the process), Dropped, or Ongoing Monitoring and Reinstatement.
Accreditation Costs. The cost of AdvancED accreditation is based on the type of accreditation. According to the AdvancED Web site, 53 out of the 115 school districts in North Carolina hold AdvancED school district accreditation. Readily accessible information on other districts is not available. However it is unlikely school districts would be accredited by entities other than AdvancED or SACS. In addition, 1,727 North Carolina public schools (elementary, middle and high schools) hold individual school accreditation. Schools must pay approximately $2,500 for an accreditation site visit. If approved, the school will pay between $550 and $625 in dues per year for accreditation. Schools are allowed to pay the lower dues if it they are from a district that holds AdvancED accreditation.
Over five years – the length of accreditation – schools would pay up to $5,625 in accreditation costs. This does not include the costs of professional services to improve areas highlighted for improvement by an accreditation review. Multipled over 1,700 schools, the costs quickly add up.
School accreditation is big business. Tensions surrounding this issue highlight the struggle for control over the direction of local schools. In an upcoming article, we will further examine AdvancED, an organization that has a virtual monopoly on public school accreditation in North Carolina.
1 Black’s Law Dictionary 19 (5th ed., 1979)
2 The six major accrediting agencies include; AdvancED (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and North Central Association), Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, New England Association of Colleges and Schools and Western Association of Colleges and Schools