"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

Search This Blog

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Accreditation Game

If you live in or around St. Louis you are very familiar with the crisis created when St. Louis Public Schools lost their accreditation from the Missouri State Board of Education. Loss of accreditation is meant to send a message to the school district, "You really need to do better."

For the individual student the consequences are less dramatic. They still receive a diploma. They are still eligible for all scholarships they would otherwise be eligible for. While they might, in theory, have a harder time qualifying for college admissions, MO DESE says it "has not identified any instance where a student who graduated from an unaccredited school district has been disqualified from consideration for admission." So where might they feel a pinch?

If they play a sport the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) provides that students who transfer schools or do not meet the requirements for residency upon enrollment at the school are ineligible for 365 days unless they meet one or more exceptions.  There is an exception for students transferring from an unaccredited public school:
 A student may be eligible upon his or her first transfer from an unaccredited public school to an accredited public school where the student’s tuition is required by state law to be paid by the home district provided the transfer does not involve undue influence and is not for athletic reasons.  Likewise, a student may be eligible upon his/her first transfer back to his/her home school if the school regains accreditation provided: 1. the student transfers within 365 days of accreditation being regained and 2. the transfer does not involve undue influence and is not for athletic reasons.

As the Turner Decision showed, the other consequence for students is that they become eligible to transfer to an adjacent accredited district, provided the moon and the stars line up just right to allow that to happen.

James V. Shuls, the new education policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute wrote in a piece for The Missouri Record, "the state’s board of education has set the bar for accreditation and provisional accreditation very low; so low, in fact, that the distinctions are essentially meaningless. The distinctions are also inconsequential because they change very little for the district besides the label. And as Shakespeare noted, 'a low-performing school district by any other name would smell like a low-performing school district.'”

Susan Turk at St. Louis Schools Watch has another point of view. The distinction is not inconsequential for everyone. In a recent post she explored the State Board of Education's recent surprising turn around on its position regarding St Louis Public School District accreditation. Just one year ago they earned the required six points to regain their accreditation and it seemed the SBE was poised to give it to them. Then they made an abrupt change and said they wanted to see a two year upward trend in scores before they granted accreditation.  Yet just ten months later they have reversed themselves again and granted provisional accreditation, which DESE describes as being considered accredited. Mr. Shuls was right. It's just a label and one with very little meaning.

SLSW has a more pessimistic view. The SBE's decision comes at a time when St. Loius Mayor Slay has a challenger in the upcoming election, Lewis Reed who had reclaiming St. Louis public school accreditation as one of his main platform goals.

SLSW explained it this way,  
... Lewis Reed supports returning SLPS to the governance of the elected board of education.  He does not support the mayor controlling the SLPS.  

When the state board voted to find the SLPS unaccredited in 2007, they did so for political reasons.  They took the unprecedented step of removing accreditation not after a regularly scheduled once in 5 year accreditation review, but 2 years early. They did so because as has been documented by Wilbur C. Rich in the Winter 2008 issue of the Hoover Institute’s Education Next journal, “Mayor Slay” formed “an alliance with the governor (Blunt) to take over the schools.”
Mayor Slay’s sudden support for the approval of provisional accreditation for the SLPS, Dr. Adams’ and the SAB’s request for consideration of it and the state board’s approval at this time, after academic progress has slipped somewhat, only makes sense in the light of political expediency, the upcoming mayoral primary in March of 2013. Mayor Slay fearing the anger of SLPS parents, needed to take an issue away from Lewis Reed. 
So while accreditation has little impact on the students, it has huge impact, and political capital, for many others: the mayor, adjacent district superintendents, and parents.  Right now it is just a game.

It is important to remember what accreditation is supposed to accomplish.  It is supposed to assure parents that the services and operations of educational institutions are of an acceptable quality. Hence the provision that if a district loses its accreditation parents may apply to have their child attend another accredited district. This is parent choice based on information supplied by some outside agency that is supposed to be trustworthy. In the case of SLPS that can be debated. 

The Show Me Institute report made a useful suggestion based on this understanding of the purpose of accreditation. Such a rating system should allow parents to know how the actual school they send their child to is performing. The current system only tells them how the schools in their district, as an aggregate, perform. The magnet schools in St. Louis have helped pull up the districts scores, while the scores at individual schools remain dismally low. If parents are to be able to make an informed decision about where they send their child, the individual school should receive the accreditation or rating. Mr. Shuls recommends a report card type system. 

"The current system pre-supposes that the state can hold schools accountable by accrediting the school district, when in reality, school accountability is best achieved when families are allowed to hold their child’s school accountable," he writes. This would give parents useful information and remove the political capital inherent in the current district accreditation process. Not bad. It also means, at least in theory, that fewer students would be eligible for transfer at any one time since only individual schools would fit into that scenario. Parents with more ability to hold their individual school accountable might have better success at changing it and keeping their kids there which would be preferable to moving their kids out of their local district.

Too bad we're headed in the other direction with less and less local control and more control coming from Washington DC. But we can always dream.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Keep it clean and constructive. We reserve the right to delete comments that are profane, off topic, or spam.

Site Meter