Independent School Accreditation
What it really means to be an NEASC Accredited School
Originally intended to help colleges gauge the level of incoming students in the northeast United States, NEASC has since become a global organization that handles accreditation for international, public, and independent (sometimes called private) schools.
There are other private school accreditors as well including NAIS and state-level agencies.
What is an Independent School Accreditation?
In general, an accreditation confirms that a private or independent school has high “institutional quality” and outstanding educational programs, as well as the dedication and means to continue developing and offering those programs.
Accreditation is an ongoing, peer-reviewed process in which schools are regularly evaluated, with complete accreditation visits occurring at least once every ten years.
Providence Country Day has been an accredited or candidate member of NEASC since 1952—that’s sixty-eight years. But how does PCD continue to earn this accreditation and what exactly does it mean? To answer these questions, we spoke to Jay Stroud, Director of the Commission on Independent Schools at NEASC.
How Independent Schools Get Accredited?
In order to earn or renew accreditation, NEASC requires that schools meet an extensive list of standards.
These accreditation standards include:
- synchronizing student enrollment and school governance to the school’s mission
- ensuring resources are available for current and future programming
- confirming that teachers and staff are qualified and able to support the school’s mission
- committing to pursuing academic excellence, providing for student needs, and encouraging professional development.
Accreditation occurs through an ongoing and cyclical process, rather than through a single approved application.
In this way, NEASC ensures that candidate or accredited schools maintain consistently high standards. Schools must show a demonstrated and consistent commitment to NEASC standards in order to keep their accreditation.
Independent school accreditation is a three-step process which includes candidacy, self-study, and evaluation.
1. Declaring Candidacy
Declaring candidacy for accreditation involves a preliminary visit to the school by a NEASC Commission on Independent School’s member.
If it is determined that a school is ready to apply for accreditation, then an application is submitted to NEASC.
The application requires extensive background information including enrollment numbers, school history and mission, school governance practices, long range strategic plans, admission guidelines, curricula outlines, faculty and staff information, administrative organization, and potential issues.
Once an application is successfully submitted, NEASC will schedule a date for evaluation and the school can begin preparing their self-study.
2. Self Study
An accreditation self-study includes:
- School data from the submitted application
- Information about the school’s mission and curricula
- A reflection and evaluation of the school’s major programs
- Surveys from parents, students, and faculty
- Statistics on admissions and student performance
- Policy documents and handbooks
- Historical financial information
- A financial review or audit
Schools must also write about how they meet NEASC standards and include reflections, plans, and goals for their future.
“The process is certainly extensive,” says Stroud, “with schools often working on their self-studies twelve to eighteen months in advance of their evaluation.”
3. Accreditation Evaluation
Usually scheduled a year in advance, the evaluation is an extended visit to the school by a NEASC Commission on Independent Schools visiting committee.
“NEASC gets a school’s self-study a month before our visit,” Stroud explains. “We’ll see all the questionnaires of the kids, the faculty, and the trustees, we’ll have the curriculum that they have provided, and we’ve got all their admissions material. The visiting committee comes to the school with a head full of what the school said about themselves, as well as their own experiences with schools.”
In order to better assist and evaluate schools during their visit, NEASC usually has the chair person and at least half of the committee come from a school with a similar background.
The visit is “always boots on the ground,” says Stroud. “Our job is to have a team on the ground of eight to ten people. They spend three days at the school, and they will talk to probably every person on the faculty. They talk to a lot of kids, they’ll interview parents. So when they write their report they really have a detailed, in-person, upfront knowledge of what’s going on at the school.”
Following the evaluation, the committee provides a report to the school containing suggestions for improvement and a recommendation for or against accreditation.
Why Is Private School Accreditation Important?
As a globally recognized accreditation organization with a 135-year track record of academic excellence, NEASC gives schools instant recognition and integrity in the private school sector.
Students, parents, and faculty know that accredited schools provide high quality education, encourage faculty growth and development, care about the success and well-being of their community, and plan for their future.
Accreditation may also be important for college admissions, says Stroud, with many colleges declining to accept transcripts from unaccredited schools.
Some colleges even require that accreditation be from regional organizations such as NEASC rather than state or religious accreditors. Although colleges base their admissions decisions on many different factors, accreditation is a "bottom line requirement that a college-preparatory school will want to meet.”
“However, accreditation provides more than recognition and college preparation,” says Stroud. To him, a key component of earning accreditation is joining a community that provides the resources, information, and motivation to constantly improve.
“If you’re part of a community of schools,” Stroud explains, “and part of a community of professional people who understand education, are devoted to kids, and are always researching and looking for ways to do it better, then you’re part of a community that’s always striving to improve itself. And that just has to be better for kids, that has to be better for parents and their communities. I always say if NEASC didn’t exist, someone would have to invent us again.”
“I think accreditation, as much as anything, is about these very, very personal commitments that people make to their work,” Stroud continues. “In the end, that’s really the essence of education. It’s people who care for other people, and people who care for kids. The accreditation process is part of that world of care in a school. Accreditation actually makes a difference to what they do.”
If you are interested in learning more about accreditation, visit NEASC’s website for guidelines and details.