Whether you always knew your mission in life was to promote knowledge or somehow found your way into the field, owning a private school was a major step forward. Earning school accreditation is the obvious next move, but as with any worthwhile endeavor, there are stumbling blocks. Here’s how to surmount the hurdles the correct way – and why doing so might actually heighten your ability to fulfill your educational mission.
First, it might be good to clear up a common point of confusion. Owners can run private schools without accreditation; most states don’t require it. The authorizations you’ll need to teach students, however, are completely distinct from earning the full credentials and prestige of an accredited institution.
To operate legally, your school must satisfy basic laws, such as offering ADA-compliant facilities, filing yearly affidavits with the state, and providing safe student classrooms. You may have even distinguished yourself enough to attract credentialed teaching staff or gain membership in an association at the national, state, or regional level. If you haven’t actually gone through the accreditation process, however, your students might be missing out.
Similar to areas like publishing and other fields of academia, accreditation ultimately revolves around peer review. Being accredited means your school has satisfied the widely-accepted minimum quality standards for your profession as determined by a qualified and impartial third party.
There are multiple accrediting bodies you can choose from to match your region, methodology, religious affiliations, and other factors. It’s important to note, however, that accreditation isn’t a government affair. Accrediting bodies are independent entities that often serve multiple states. Before choosing an agency, it’s wise to review the National Association of Independent Schools’ criteria or reach out to a qualified consultant.
On the surface, becoming accredited makes it easier to promote your services as being worthy of investment. This applies to families considering enrollment as well as patrons and donors who might fund your ongoing mission. By showing your willingness to adhere to common standards – even if you take a unique approach to educational practice – you engender trust based on results.
Another hidden but equally critical benefit lies in your ability to teach, inspire, and care for students. Private school administrators that successfully complete the journey to accreditation learn new things about themselves along the way, such as how to more effectively meet the needs of diverse student populations, keep quality records, and foster feedback-aware community engagement. These skillsets contribute to more effective education, leaving you better equipped to serve.
To earn accreditation from an agency, a school must go through a multi-step process whose specifics vary depending on the type of accrediting body and the institution in question. In general, however, you can expect:
Your accreditation will start with a procedure known as self-study. As its name implies, this stage involves bringing teachers, parents, staff, and other community stakeholders together in a concerted effort at introspection. The overarching goal is to examine what makes your school work – and identify factors that might need to go.
A self-study typically unfolds over a two-to-three-year timeframe. This schedule can vary depending on the resources you’re able to devote to the effort and your accrediting agency’s requirements. It touches on diverse areas from your admissions process, student life, and academics to more administrative domains, such as financial oversight and staffing practices.
Along the way, you’ll need to generate comprehensive documentation revealing what you learned. This paperwork establishes a record of your efforts, but it also serves as a guidepost for the next step in the journey: the review.
After you’ve completed your self-study, your agency will assign a peer review team to go over the documentation. This group will be comprised of volunteers, such as board members, governors, administrators, and educators, from other schools that have already earned their accreditations. Following its review of your self-study report, the team will conduct an in-person visit that takes place over a few days.
The visit has a few important goals. First, it lets the reviewers assess first-hand whether your self-study report was accurate – and sufficiently thorough. Second, the team gets a chance to observe whether you comply with the criteria laid out by the accrediting agency. For instance, your specific curricular obligations will likely vary depending on whether you’re seeking accreditation from a religious or secular agency. Other standards, such as treating students with basic kindness and maintaining financial transparency, ought to be expected no matter what.
Once the observational visit concludes, the remainder of the accreditation process can play out a few different ways. In most cases, the peer observers will present you with a report that highlights their concerns and the things they liked. You’ll need to respond with a written plan for addressing any deficiencies. After that, the cycle may repeat as per your accrediting agency’s guidelines, including subsequent follow-ups and reviews.
Developing private schools can rightfully seem like a huge undertaking, particularly for administrators and owners who seek accreditation. The process takes time, hard work, and money. You’ll also have to jump through extra hoops to retain your credentialed status after earning it.
At the same time, school accreditation is definitely worth it. Going through the steps and persevering leaves you better prepared for the future.
Many modern private schools that recognize the value of accreditation partner with dependable third-party consultants. These informed advisors support schools as they apply for accreditation agency membership, gather engagement and self-review data, submit evidence, and prepare for observer reviews. In the process, consultants fulfill an essential role by smoothing the growing pains so that educators can focus on developing their strengths.
The JAG Consulting Services team is proud to have helped numerous private schools nationwide navigate the accreditation process successfully – and we’re here to support your institution at every step. Empower your private school to achieve elevated standards by reaching out today.