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Process Versus Results – Accreditation by SACS

I thought it would be useful to provide some historical context to the whole accreditation issue.   Five years ago, if you had asked me what accreditation means, I probably would have told you that it meant something about the quality of the education that kids received; that it judged in some way the results of how well children were educated.

It does not.

Accreditation by SACS/AdvancED is big on “process” and “continuous improvement.”  It does not rate how well schools perform their mission to educate children.  Given the recent graduation rates that were released nationally one must wonder about the nature and efficacy of accreditation “processes” and to whom the benefits of “continuous improvement” accrue.

Click here to read the November 26th AJC article showing Georgia ranked 48th out of 50 states in graduation rate.  For even more detail, you can read my November 5th blog.

You will note that we are not graduating even 50% of our African American students in four years of high school instruction, even with an opportunity to take 32 credits on a block schedule of the 24 required to graduate.  Yet, we are in the top ten for money spent on education.   It appears to me that our emphasis on process is quite expensive, but ineffective.  How can we have such poor aggregate graduation rate results and have so many accredited schools and districts in our state?  Shouldn’t we be focused on honestly assessing the results?

State law requires that I must have 9 hours of training annually.  The Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA) holds large conferences where board members can attend seminars to meet the training requirements.  Your tax dollars pay for board members to attend these conferences.

I recently attended a GSBA conference to get my required training hours.  (I’ll have to blog in the future about how much of the seminar seemed designed as an infomercial for products that GSBA or their vendors sell.  Also, the seminars are largely conducted by educational bureaucrats that tell elected officials how to treat the educational bureaucrats in their district.  But I digress …)

During my seminar, two executives from AdvancED spoke to the group.  I learned that the concept of “district accreditation” is relatively new.  This accreditation product was rolled out from 2004-08.  Many districts in the state do not seek district accreditation. Instead, they have only their schools – or only their high schools — accredited.   State law requires students to graduate from an accredited school to qualify for the HOPE scholarship.  There is NO requirement that a district be accredited.  For Georgia public schools the law permits accreditation by either SACS or the Georgia Accrediting Commission (GAC).  State law also provides methods for homeschoolers to qualify for HOPE scholarships.

During the Q&A at the GSBA conference, I asked AdvancED officials questions about how student achievement should factor into accreditation.  (I recorded this exchange and I’ll try to put it up on my website.)  I noted that our state does not compare well in the recently released graduation statistics.  I further asked:

If processes are used effectively, but achievement results are not improved, what does that say about accreditation?  What is it we’re accrediting?  If it doesn’t correlate strongly with, or have a causal relationship actually, to results for children in achievement then it is a …  the whole process seems to dichotomize there and I’m concerned about that.  Are we focused on process or are we focused on results?”

The response from the AdvancEd official was:

“As far as results … it is a process.  Going through this process, the school or district will go through and look at what is happening.  Accreditation is not based solely on student results.” 

So, there you have it.  And you pay for this process with your tax dollars and cede power over your property values to a concept administered by an unaccountable group, made up of educational bureaucrats.  In the end, the process does not guarantee, judge or rank the quality or results of the education provided to students in your school or district.

Our graduates – our frighteningly few graduates – cannot take “process” to the bank.

Additional reading on this subject:  http://www.nccivitas.org/2011/to-accredit-or-not-to-accredit/

–Stay tuned for more of my thoughts, including: the pronoun police, the circle of trust and solutions.

(15) comments
  1. Thank you thank you thank you. Perhaps more people will realize “the emperor wears no clothes.” I became increasingly suspicious of the true mission of SACS when I and some other parent/taxpayers could generate no real response to piles of files of documented corruption and incompetence at DCSS. We were naive enough to think that SACS would care about the lack of quality outcomes (i.e.graduation rates; SAT scores (eventhough the College Board is another racket) AP scores etc etc) at th same time dollars spent (where???) were rising. Elgar has created a pretty meaningless but very lucrative bureaucracy using our tax dollars.`School systems, schools, teachers and parents have been duped. When do we rise up and say “enough is enough?:

  2. You are right on Nancy. Thanks for speaking openly. If SACS does have an important role, hopefully this will be a wakeup call to them to step up to prove their impact and value and to correct for any overstepping or lack of focus on what an outside group can and should do.

  3. Nancy,
    Thank you for shedding light on this, and as always, for your honest and open communications with your constituents. There are many who appreciate your work. (Not nearly enough, but many.)

  4. Thank you for sharing this! As with many parents, this has been a question on my mind for quite some time.

    I hope that what I’m about to say makes sense…it’s based on my current understanding of this idea of accreditation and it’s use as a punishment for a dysfunctional Board. Please correct any misunderstandings or confusions I may have.

    If this “process” isn’t based on the quality of education, then the punishment shouldn’t be one that potentially impacts the quality of future education of our children that are graduating. The word “accreditation” cares an implication of education and the quality thereof. Without this accreditation, which isn’t dependent upon quality of education, many college choices are no longer available to the students. It seems that a punishment designed to punish the board members actually punishes students, parents and teachers, especially graduating seniors, all of which are innocent in the wrongdoings of board members.

    I believe punishment choices need to be reevaluated so that board, members, not students, etc, actually feel their wrongs. Jeopardizing a student’s entire future somehow doesn’t seem to be a punishment for wrongs of board members. Punishment doesn’t fit the crime.


  5. We agree that SACS is not the best method for determining success, but if it were not for the complaints to SACS, what recourse do we have in order to bring about change? If your school personnel will not listen or take action, your board member will not speak to you, the chairman will not speak to you, the board cannot engage in something as simple as requesting a financial report from the administration without being accused of micromanagement, and SACS is the only authority remaining that is willing to at least call pubic attention to the problems, then we must suffer the consequences of not finding a better way ourselves.

    SACS appeared to have met almost primarily with staff members and fewer than 10 stakeholders while in town this particular time. The report only discusses problems found with the way the board operates, yet it is the entire system that has been operating with an unspoken, unwritten set of rules. The board is only one part of a puzzle that all fits together.

    If we are not all willing to take a look at how the pieces fit together, it will not matter who sits in those board chairs, they will eventually end up in the same set of circumstances. The parents do not get answers and DO follow chain of command many times. The fact that so many complaints make it to the board level should be cause of concern, regardless of how the board handles them once it reaches them.

    The staff and Superintendent must take responsibility for running the system effectively and not through the fear and intimidation they use to rule the principals who in turn rule over the teachers and the PTA. The parent councils and booster clubs may be more likely to escalate right to the board level, but wasn’t that what they were intended to do?

    The roles are not defined and so much of they system is run in a manner that is a mystery and with such adversarial relationships at every level.

    We wish you the best at the state BOE hearing and hope they are smart enough to exclude you from the suspensions, if any are recommended.

    Do you know if the NEWLY elected BOE members are expected to participate in the hearings as well?

    Get the Cell Out – ATL

  6. Nancy,
    I echo the previous comments…thanks for shedding light on this important topic, especially in the context of DCSD’s recent probation. It is so frustrating to know how little emphasis is actually placed on learning and achievement. I feel powerless to effect meaningful change for my children when so few of your peers on the DeKalb BOE appear to be in this for the right reasons, when there appears to be such animosity between the BOE and DCSD administration, and when SACS/AdvancED accreditation appears to be a hoax. It’s all so very frustrating. Thanks for all you are doing to make a difference!

  7. So much going through my mind here, I apologize if I ramble. I have been running errands and just thinking about all of this while driving – not a smart thing to do! I believe that SACS FINALLY took action, basically because there was no other course. To do nothing would have brought additional questions on SACS as to their purpose, which Nancy points out, does not really concern itself with academic improvement. I understand this, but like Get the Cell Out, where else could we look for relief but SACS, and hopefully suspension of the majority of board members by the Governor? We are beyond crisis mode in this school district and, it appears, academically and fincially sinking like the Titantic. The Georgia State Constitution requres an adequate public education for all students. Too many of the students in the DeKalb School System are not receiving an adquate education. The buck stop with the Superintendent and the Board of Education. For many years, all have failed the children of this county. It’s this stops and if it takes drastic measures by the Governor, then so be it.

  8. I do apologize for my typos – laptop issues.

  9. If not SACS, then who? – SACS isn’t the only game in town. We also have the Georgia Accrediting Commission. Better yet, the state could accredit.

    Why did SACS finally take action? – DCSD has been going down the crapper for 10+ years while receiving checks from SACS all the while. There is no way SACS is acting because of recent complaints … they’ve been getting them for years. Think about the complaints they received during Crawford Lewis’ reign.

    What’s changed? SACS is stepping in on Dr Atkinson’s behalf. You’ll notice that Dr Elgarts special report can be summed up by “The board is getting in the way of the administration”. Yeah, Nancy is asking too many questions about finances. The administration needs to comply with Open Records Requests in a timely manner as dictated by the law. These things were becoming to much for Cheryl, so she went to Elgart for some relief.

    Now we have the text messages legal issue. Dr Atkinson needs the board removed if she wants to keep her job and stay out of jail.

  10. I agree with Dekalb Inside Out. DCSD has been in decline and has had serious mismanagement issues as well as serious governance issues for 10+ years. SACS refused to step in until Nancy presented us with her report indicating serious financial mismanagement. She was doing what every Board Member has a responsibility to do but has not. Essentially shaming them into action. Until then, all was well as long as their check cleared.

    SACS is a farse as is complicit in the failure of our system to adequately educate the children of our County. In my opinion they were the legal cover to the malfeasance that has culminated in the waste of hundreds of millions of tax dollars meant to educate our children. Millions of dollars spent by DCSD (our tax dollars) on legal fees, millions of dollars spent by the DA (our tax dollars) prosecuting and the additional tax dollars we will be paying to cover more of the same.

  11. I agree that it is grossly unjust to punish the children for the incompetence of adults. The Hope scholarship should not be tied to accreditation. Students do not choose where they are born, where their families live, or where they attend school. They should not be punished financially for attending a system that is not accredited.

    Also, so glad that SACS stepped in after TEN years of mismanagement. Evidently 9 1/2 years is fine, but they draw the line at ten.

  12. Like Mr Oselette said, SACS only stepped in to provide cover for the administration’s malfeasance. SACS came down on the board for approving bad budgets and bad financial reports over the years. Elgart came down on Nancy for questioning the administration on these bad reports.

    Where is the administration’s culpability in these reports they provided? Nancy doesn’t have access to the financial systems. The board can only ask questions. Every month Nancy asks for the same info, so the administration seems to be stone walling her.

  13. I have to Agee with Dek. Inside out. Dr. A. Knows what SACs is supposed to do. She was looking for relief from those board members who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave her alone. She has control, she wants to do what she wants to do, period. Queen Cheryl. She could care less about what the parents, taxpayer or other stakeholders want, why should she…she is not an elected official and she has a big contract.

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  15. O, nancy, you tell the truth. People do not know what to do with that. Maybe, even the governor, doesn’t know what to do with it. Shhh — don’t spread that one around.
    Imagine, people on the board who know anything.
    Some one once said:
    “God takes care of fools, drunks, and American foreign policy.” Well we’re still here!

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