Outside the School

AboutAccreditation

What is accreditation?

Accreditation is a credentialing process by which schools verify they meet certain academic and institutional standards. It ensures that independent schools fulfill their unique missions and offers public schools a way to highlight their distinct strengths. Schools may be accredited by one, or multiple agencies. There is also oversight and collaboration between the different accreditation agencies. As stated on their website, ICAISA (The International Council Advancing Independent School Accreditation) has become "the international leader in independent school accreditation."[2] Originally commissioned by NAIS (The National Association of Independent Schools) in response to "emerging national and state accreditation issues,"[3]  ICAISA was formally launched as a non-profit in 2018.

NAIS | 

National Association of Independent Schools

NAIS is a "nonprofit membership association that provides services to more than 1,900 schools and associations of schools in the United States and abroad, including more than 1,600 independent private K-12 schools in the U.S."[4] On their website, the mission statement reads: "As the largest association of independent schools, NAIS co-creates the future of education by uniting and empowering [its] community. They do this through thought leadership, research, creation and curation of resources, and direct collaboration with education leaders."[5]

Provides quality assurance and accountability for accreditation programs of its 20 member associations.

AISNE
NEASC
18 other regions

*formerly the NAIS Commission on Accreditation

The problem

In Part 2 of its Core Standards, ICAISA states, "The mission of the school is congruent with principles of academic scholarship, permitting and encouraging freedom of inquiry, diversity of viewpoints, and independent and critical thinking."[6] Parents are asking that AISNE and NEASC uphold this standard. For example, AISNE should provide more balanced offerings

Do AISNE and NEASC value and prioritize true diversity of thought and freedom of discourse?

with respect to professional development, speakers, and other resources. At a time when many views are polarized, we want our children to learn how to converse with each other and value each person's unique experience and perspective. 

Are multiple and diverse perspectives represented by accreditation leadership?

One might ask if the very nature of the accreditation process could potentially create a system where schools feel pressure to adopt the accreditor's priorities in order to benefit from its resources. Accreditor leadership is comprised of current/former heads of school, school board members, and other school administrators, which can create a conflict of interest. It can also create an echo chamber of ideas, which stifles free and diverse thought. 

Solutions

Accreditors play an integral, overarching role in helping schools uphold their missions and create strategic plans for growth. As a result, they hold the power to influence school culture by providing professional development, conferences, speakers, and other valuable resources to their member schools.

We are asking AISNE and NEASC to uphold the core standards mission (set by ICAISA) by taking a principled stand in favor of free speech and to encourage diversity of thought. There are numerous ways to accomplish this important work, but we will suggest two:

1. As part of the accreditation process, schools must create, promote, and honor their own versions of the Chicago Statement (see excerpt below), which will compel institutions to protect the free expression rights of students, faculty, staff, and parents. The Chicago Statement is a free speech policy statement produced by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago in January 2015. 

“Because “the school” is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the “school” community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn. . . [I]t is not the proper role of the “school” to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.” [7]

—Excerpt from the Chicago Statement

2. Schools must commit to engaging presenters who represent diverse viewpoints to speak to faculty, parents, and students. Our students and educators need to hear from a variety of voices to provide much-needed balance. Schools need to prioritize professional development in this area so teachers have the tools to facilitate class discussions and promote critical thinking.