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Accreditation: Going Through the Motions

       Is your kid’s school accredited?

       Of course it is. And of course you assume the solemn-sounding word represents an educational licensing process overseen by scholarly people deployed to carry out a complicated evaluative task based on a precise set of academic standards. Right?


       Based on a visit by a quartet of accreditors to the Boonville high school a few years ago, and a careful reading of the garbled report which resulted from the accreditation team’s visit, my suspicions that there is no intelligent life directing high school education in Mendocino County have been reaffirmed.

       This is how California schools are accredited.

       Every five years a team of “educators” — principals and teachers from comparably-sized school districts — visits another school to see if that institution is doing what it says it’s doing.

       Which presents an immediate complication. The education mission is so larded in pseudo-academic jargon few, if any high schools in the state can tell the typically appalled parent exactly what his sugar-fueled, internet-raised little savage is supposed to know after 12 years of “education” or whether he knows it.

       The accreditation team operates under the auspices of the Association of Schools and Colleges (ASC), a private, for-profit business. In the case of Boonville’s last accreditation visit, the accreditors were drawn from Tomales, Middletown, Lake County’s Office of Education, and Eureka. A vice-principal from Eureka High School, adorned with one of those EeD’s — the academic equivalent of a degree in swizzle stick swooshing from the College of Mixology —  functioned as lead evaluator.

       Naturally the team’s visit to Anderson Valley occurred on work days, meaning that the four visitors were away from their own jobs which, in the case of the teachers on the team, meant their schools would have to hire substitutes in their absence. The taxpayers paid at least twice for the accreditors to visit Boonville. And once arrived in Boonville, the accreditors, after a heavy six-hour day accrediting, rested their weary bones in the $140 per night Boonville Hotel, with the taxpayers again picking up the tab.

       There are “General Criteria” that the ASC is paid to assess based on “the degree to which a school is accomplishing the purposes and functions outlined in its own statement of purpose, and on the appropriateness of those purposes and functions for an institution of its type.” (Emphasis added.)

       In theory then, and as is nearly the practice of many public high schools in practice, the administration of a given local high school could simply say, “It is our purpose to field the best football team in Mendocino County and to ensure that our pom-pom girls can perform the triple-stack, double-whack, paddy-knack, whoop-dee-doo pep yell.” The accrediting team would consist of a couple of football coaches, a pep squad advisor, and a sports-oriented school secretary.

       That’s an exaggeration, of course, but we’re talking seriously flawed honor system when we talk for-profit accreditation. It borders on fraud: a deliberate hoodwinking of the public that there are public school standards in California which are periodically investigated by an independent body of exacting EeD-wielding pedagogues.

       In fact, the accrediting body doesn’t have any standards for the schools they accredit, and the schools they accredit don’t have any standards. The accreditors rubberstamp whatever a particular school claims it’s doing, both parties to the process churning out reams of jargon-ridden, semi-literate gibberish.

       Such as: “Fundamental to accreditation is the quality of the educational program experienced by the students. The relative weight of each criterion depends upon its effect on the educational program experienced by students at the school. In addition, a school must give evidence of an ongoing process for improving its educational program.”


       And, “The school [should have] a clearly stated vision or purpose based on its beliefs, student needs, and current educational research. Supported by the governing board and the central administration, the school's purposes [should be] defined further by expected schoolwide learning results: what all students should know and be able to do by graduation.”

       Notice the less-than-objective word “should” as in,  “Wouldn’t it be neato if…”

       If the ordinary high school graduate could write a coherent paragraph and perform a few simple calculations, most of us would be very pleased and the school monopoly would have its “what all students should know.”

       Beliefs? Can you imagine what a school board meeting in Mendocino County devoted to a discussion of district beliefs might sound like? You’d have every purple-clad ding from Covelo to Westport babbling endlessly about everything from macrobiotic diets to how to talk to trees.

       Anderson Valley High School’s 110-page accreditation report contained absolutely nothing tangible.

       Among the random “student comments” concerning “Academic Skills and Knowledge” we find helpful remarks like, “less academic classes should be required” and “outlaw boring lectures.”

       There are two full pages listing such staccato student comments, none of them illuminating, except perhaps negatively.

       Under “Major Recommendations” we find such revolutionary ideas as development of a yearbook course and assignment of a female P.E. assistant.

       Former Anderson Valley school trustee, the late, Tom Smith, one of the few to take the job seriously in our lifetimes, said the basic problem at AV High is, “The entire school is staff driven, not administration or school board driven. There is no curriculum because it changes as staff changes or as staff changes its mind on what they want to do. And nobody at the board level has any idea what’s going on in the school.”

       The final seven pages present the “Schoolwide Action Plan.” The “Actions” include: “establish a process for choosing a leadership team; investigate and evaluate ongoing programs; review and revise school policies; look at meeting schedules; perform an annual review of goals; define standard level of proficiency in all core areas.”

       Over 100 pages of this.

       Somehow one single honest statement slipped through: “Do students use assessment results to modify their learning in order to enhance their educational progress? The unfortunate answer is, ‘No’.”

       Of course not. They speak English.


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