Accrediting giant AdvancEd says school board actions – not academic performance – will be the focus of a special review team visiting the Wake County Public Schools System to decide if High Schools will lose accreditation. AdvancED says it is acting on a complaint by the North Carolina NAACP and its head, the Rev. William Barber, filed after the board declined a presentation by Barber, who was later arrested twice on school property for trespassing.
WCPSS high schools have been successfully accredited for over 70 years with over 100 individual reviews. Never has a single high school been denied accreditation and just last year AdvanceED renewed several schools accreditation. If the public thinks accreditation focuses merely on academics, they need to think again!
AdvancED pitches accreditation as a way to guarantee excellence. The Advance Ed web site gushes, “AdvancEd insists on the relentless pursuit of excellence — for itself and for the institutions it accredits.”
Glowing words, but true?
In March 2009, Judge Howard Manning wrote the chairman of the State Board of Education and stated there was “… irrefutable evidence of a complete breakdown of academics in Halifax County Public Schools”. Manning went on to say “This is academic genocide and must be stopped”. AdvancED has been accrediting public schools in Halifax County since the late 1980s. All the public schools in Halifax County have AdvancED accreditation!
In 2005, Judge Manning threatened to close four low performing high schools in Charlotte because of low scores for at-risk and low income students. AdvancED accredited three of these schools.
In 2009-2010, thirteen schools in North Carolina named “low performing” (where fewer than 50 percent of students make expected growth) were accredited through AdvancED.
Now AdvanceED threatens to pull the accreditation for Burke County Schools for “board actions”. Burke schools are above average in just about every academic category measured.
Is this excellence?
Now AdvancEd wants to evaluate WCPSS board actions. North Carolina General Statutes speak clearly on the role and power of the local school board. “All powers and duties conferred and imposed by law respecting public schools, which are not expressly conferred and imposed upon some other official, are conferred and imposed upon local boards of education.” (G.S.115-C36). In addition, the statutes say board members, “shall have general control and supervision of all matters pertaining to the public schools in their respective administrative units and they shall enforce the school law in their respective units. (G.S. 115-C36)”.
Simply put all authority and responsibility is vested in the duly elected local board of education. Local voters render a decision on school governance every time there is a school board election. In fact, Wake has a school board election this year where 5 members including the current chairman are up for election.
While ensuring academic quality and effectiveness is important, is it time to consider a different model for accreditation?
Accrediting grew out of the past need to determine whether high school students from different states and regions were ready for college. Few would argue that need exists today. With a couple of key strokes, an admissions officer can access test data by school and district. The web and accountability legislation has made information widely available.
AdvancED contends the accreditation process is much broader than academics and AdvancED conveniently sells services that will help schools meet these “other” accreditation criteria. WCPSS paid AdvancED $25,000 last year.
Ensuring quality schools is a concern for not only students and parents, but all taxpayers. If WCPSS drops AdvancED accreditation what will happen?
First, students will still be eligible for academic and athletic scholarships. Academic quality doesn’t improve or decline overnight. WCPSS is the 18th largest school system in the nation and is a known academic quantity nationally. Secondly, thousands of young people from across the country apply for college every year from non-accredited institutions and home schools and they do just fine getting scholarships and admittance to the top schools in the nation.
In North Carolina the Department of Public Instruction used to accredit local schools. Might state authorized accreditation be an idea whose time has come again? In this time of tight budgets why spend scarce resources on outside groups that don’t truly focus on academics?
Evaluating academic quality is important; also important is the choice of how to evaluate quality. Continuing a relationship with an organization that demonstrably fails to guarantee academic quality and wants to second guess local voter’s underscores why WCPSS should sever its relationship with AdvancED and if necessary seek alternative accreditation.