The Problem with Conventional Accrediting Agencies

the one-size-fits-all syndrome


Conventional accreditation agencies in the United States today use systems and methods that were born in the early twentieth century even though the rationales then used may no longer be relevant. Quality assurance insists on common standards that put schools in a conventional form where uniformity is imposed and innovation penalized. These conventional standards from the past have little to offer independent, private, progressive, democratic, or alternative schools that adhere to the values of holistic or child-centered principles.
Compliance with standardized accrediting agencies often forces schools to sacrifice their progressive cultural objectives and mission-inspired methods to conform to agency criteria. Agencies are privately organized and maintained. So, although agencies will often use duplicate procedures that cover the same ground, they each do it in a slightly different manner. An example is the current debate about how to evaluate academic standards in schools that use electronic or online offerings.  
Activities of some accrediting agencies break down school cultures as they destroy the freedom of faculty responsiveness to students’ interests, child development needs, or emotional development curriculum (to name a few). These limitations are imposed and accepted in the hopes that the school will have greater access to resources such as degree recognition or grants. Moreover, high administrative costs to comprehend and fulfill the requirements, along with long timelines, impose excessive burdens on school budgets. This costly, top-down approach has strict guidelines that are often unyielding and neglect the important details associated with the culture of an individual school. If conditions deteriorate in subsequent accreditation reviews, re-accreditation may be denied without providing explanation for the denial.

Standard accreditation criteria include review of very basic and often logistical functions such as the following:

  • governance practices
  • financial sustainability
  • student enrollment and placement
  • standardized academic curriculum and programs (often including testing)
  • health and safety code compliance
  • behavioral standards
  • staffing and faculty development
  • non-discriminatory practices
  • faculty titles and positions
  • articles of incorporation and bylaws
  • organizational structure, management, and compliant school operations

Though such criteria are important, they neither fully support nor advance education designed for whole-child development.

Children are not all the same, and standardized, one-size-fits-all, conventional approaches will not adequately meet their needs. Moreover, schools that have educational programs based on whole-child principles or holistic methods are not all the same. They call for accreditation services that meet the diverse needs of schools, children, and families seeking more progressive and holistic educational systems. Read more about how we define this need here.