This is a complicated issue requiring some explanation.
What, exactly, does accreditation mean?
Most think it means that a high quality educational program – verified by experts — is in place. “Fully accredited” therefore would mean This is a good school you can trust. Accredited schools market themselves that way. For example, an online school claims, “Accreditation is your assurance of K12’s academic excellence.”1
Yet consider these statistics: only 30% of Oregon public school 8th graders are rated proficient in reading and only 25% are rated proficient in math. Only 68% of ninth graders graduate on time if at all.2 Moreover, half the high school graduates that attend community colleges place into developmental education; they are not ready for college level work. The Roseburg School District has a 63% graduation rate. Of all district students, only 55% met English/Language Arts standards and only 43% met Mathematics standards.3
With such poor academic results, how many Oregon schools have lost their accreditation? None.
Accreditation also is said to assure continuity in and quality of governance, as well as the stability of the administration.
In our area, one college experienced an unprecedented vote of no confidence by the faculty towards the president; there were lawsuits and conflicts of interest. The turmoil had no impact on the college’s accreditation. A private school had major changes in its board, administration, and instructional program without an impact on its accreditation.
In Massachusetts, a Christian college president signed a letter requesting a religious exemption from federal sexual orientation anti-discrimination hiring rules. The college’s accreditation was called into question.
So then, if 1) accreditation doesn’t guarantee academic excellence, 2) schools can remain accredited despite major institutional events, and 3) politically incorrect stands might impact accreditation, then what, exactly, does it mean? Is it something Geneva Academy should even pursue?
Before proceeding, one should know that there are different accrediting bodies. Most public and private schools in Oregon are accredited by the Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC), which is part of a parent business called AdvancED. All local schools are accredited by NWAC. Colleges have a separate regional accreditation commission. Looking towards the future, the Association of Classical Christian Schools (ACCS) provides accreditation to classical Christian schools, though only 30 schools so far have passed its very rigorous process.
As it now stands, there are several advantages to pursuing accreditation with NWAC/AdvancED. First of all, once accredited, students who leave Geneva while still in high school will have no difficulty with their credits transferring. Secondly, the accreditation process will prompt Geneva to put in place several administrative processes and policies it has not yet completed. It will prompt us to document some things that have never been set in writing (for example, parent surveys, standardized testing policies, evaluation of annual strategic plans, etc.). Thirdly, it may create opportunites for grants only offered to accredited schools. Finally, it will eliminate an objection that some parents have to not being accredited, even though those parents might have erroneous assumptions about accreditation.
Therefore, accreditation is worthwhile to pursue. There are stipulations, however.
Geneva Academy will not surrender its mission and vision to an outside body, or be coerced into teaching practices that undermine its core values. At present, NWAC/AdvancED is supportive of classical Christian methodology and will not interfere in Biblical instruction. The NWAC officials I have met with admire our instructional program and believe accreditation will come easily.
There may be a day, however, when secular humanist educational philosophy and the coercion of an anti-Christian federal government turns NWAC accreditation into a tool of absolute state control. If that were to happen, Geneva would set that accreditation aside.
As Christians, we must understand that the secular education world rests on shifting sand and there may come a day when “normal” could come only at the expense of denying Christ. The Geneva Board is unwilling to fall in step with the world, especially if it means walking away from God’s Word and Law.
So to us, right now, accreditation will mean we have in place the processes larger schools have. It will accomplish a few things for transfer students and grant seeking. And it will remove an objection inquirers may have about the school.
What about the “assurance of academic excellence”? Well, that is the responsibility of not only the Board, but each and every parent. If what we’re doing is not consistently excellent, with clear objectives, fair grading standards, an identifiable sequence and plan of instruction, great teachers, books, etc., then our teachers and administration need to be held accountable. The most valuable recognition, or accreditation, Geneva seeks is that of the parents.
1. See claim at K12.com at http://www.k12.com/what-is-k12/accreditation.
2. Such statistics are easy to find. One source is http://oregonlearns.org/oregons-challenge/where-we-stand/
3. This is according to the 2011-12 District Report Card proudly issued by the Oregon Dept. of Education. It can be found at http://www.ode.state.or.us/data/reportcard/RCpdfs/13/13-ReportCard-1991.