you're reading...
Learning at its Best

Wastes of Time in Education: Do I Need an Accreditation Attitude Adjustment?

What does the phrase “waste of time” mean to you?  To me, it is when I spend time doing something that seems to serve no majorly useful purpose.  The “seems to” is a subjective qualifier here – what one person views as a waste of time may not beseen as such by others.  For example, spending time reading for leisure might be viewed by some as a waste of time (or a time killer), but to me, it wouldn’t be a waste of time because it serves the purpose of helping me relax or unwind.  However, doing paperwork that never is substantially used for anything would be, in my mind, a waste of time.  Why am I thinking about wastes of time and paperwork?  Because I am involved in my college’s NCATE re-accreditation process and it often feels like a colossal waste of time to me!

What is NCATE and what’s accreditation (or re-accreditation)?  NCATE is the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education– a professional organization which delineates criteria or standards for its members.  Membership in such an organization is meant to be seen as a sign of quality to outsiders, a sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval in a sense, for institutions, in this case, educational institutions.  Accreditation is the process whereby an educational unit (e.g. a public or private school, or university’s college or specific department) painstakingly proves that it meets or exceeds the membership standards.  To be an NCATE-accredited teacher education program is a “selling” feature to potential students.  Or to be a SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools)– accredited middle school is an accountability measure for public schools and also the same sort of “selling” feature to potential students and their parents (e.g. a parent might be unwilling to send her child to a non-accredited private school because there are no formal “markers” of the school’s quality).

Why do I see my college’s re-accreditation effort as a waste of time, though?  On the surface, going through such a process makes a lot of sense.  Who doesn’t think that quality checks are a good thing?  Would you want to eat it a place that has never had a health inspection?  Well…..  actually, I have and do on a regular basis – my house!  My home kitchen has never been officially inspected or accredited, yet I know that it produces quality products because I’m intimately involved with it on a daily basis.  I know the inputs and outputs.  I understand what causes good things to happen in it and what leads to and how to prevent bad things happening.

So perhaps I see reaccreditation as a waste of time for me because I am intimately involved in the work of my college.  I know what’s going on in my classes and how I’m seeking to make them better.  I have a good sense of how certain students “turn out” in terms of their teaching skills, and so on.  Why do I need to prove my worth to someone like NCATE? (NCATE, by the way, is not made up of some wholly impartial inspectors as would be the case with restaurants health inspectors; rather, the reviewers or visitors are fellow teacher educators at other universities – our peers, in other words.  Richard Rothstein, in his book Grading Education has a great chapter on this problematic aspect of the accreditation process in the United States –he advocates instead for unaffiliated/more impartial inspectors a la the British school inspection system.  It, too, certainly has potential pitfalls, but Rothstein convincingly argues that it is better than the peer-accreditation system with its inherent incentives for reviewers to “rate lightly” and its lack of significant repercussions for those institutions not meeting standards.)

Clearly, I have beefs with accreditation and re-accreditation.  I feel that the process is rooted in a distrust of the personnel implementing a program (“We have to check that you’re doing what we told you to do”), I feel like the reports and “exhibits” I need to create to prove I’m doing my job are just the pointless creation of “dog and pony” shows which take me away from other, more important, work I could be doing a (spending more time working with my students, for example, or refining my course content and pedagogy, etc.), and I feel too keenly the inherent impersonality and dehumanization of the process.  To me, the existence of accrediting agencies is proof that people are not intimately involved enough in their communities (communities at whatever level – neighborhood, school, university, etc.),  and that our institutions have gotten too big and unwieldy for human-level exchanges.

Yet, at the same time that I say all this, I recognize how curmudgeonly it sounds.  21stcentury life is not close knit and small enough in size to permit truly intimate involvement with the many organizations we encounter.  I’m glad that things like restaurant inspections happen and Good Housekeeping Seals of Approval or Consumer Reports exist as they do help me to navigate a complex world in an efficient manner.  Acknowledging this, should the accreditation process really bother me as much as it does?  Perhaps this is a case where we must make concessions for modern life, yet use our discomfort to spur us to try to make the impersonal more personal.  Could the accreditation/inspection process of schools be done in a better way – one that doesn’t make participants feel distrusted or feel as if they’re wasting their time?  Maybe such thinking can also be useful at the classroom level as well.  Are there things we do as teachers for the sake of efficiency that make our students feel distrusted or isolated or feel that they’re wasting their time?  With them too, we need to reframe our thinking and actions to try to build an intimate/known space within a de-personalized institution.

About Kristan Morrison

Dr. Kristan Accles Morrison taught for seven years at conventional middle schools in North Carolina, which drove her to research alternative forms of education based on critical pedagogy and social justice. She earned her Ph.D. in the Cultural Foundations of Education from the University of North Carolina Greensboro and is now a professor in a teacher education program at Radford University, where she makes a point of introducing her students to educational alternatives. In this blog, Kristan reflects on her attempts to bridge the worlds of conventional and “alternative” forms of education. She considers how to bring more democratic and freedom-based practices into the realm of standard education, and how to discuss educational alternatives with a conventional audience. She explores the paradox of many teacher educators: preparing her students for teaching in the schools as they are, while also preparing them to help create the schools that could be.


12 thoughts on “Wastes of Time in Education: Do I Need an Accreditation Attitude Adjustment?

  1. >he advocates instead for unaffiliated/more impartial inspectors a la the British school inspection system.

    For a glimpse into the problems of the British system, read this post:

    Posted by Sue VanHattum | September 22, 2011, 3:27 pm
  2. Kristen,

    Quite a pickle! Your description of the NCATE and SACS accreditation processes, coupled with what I know of the JCAHO (Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations) process make it appear that education and healthcare are quite alike. Providers and organizations seeking JCAHO accreditation have “complained” the process is a waste of time because they and their patients already know the “quality” of services being provided. Conversely, it is not a waste of time because the “Seal of Approval” ties into reimbursement.

    I think it far fetched anyone would believe an organization that serves hundreds or thousands of individuals annually through correlatively smaller numbers of service providers can be “accredited” across the board. It seems to be hokum, but it may be necessary hokum due to its ties with finance.

    Education and healthcare accreditation seem akin to the steps of commercial milk processing and grading. All three involve purification, separation, homogenization and pasteurization. All seek to eliminate the “impure”, broadly separate out batches of various qualities, blend those batches so they are uniform, and then sterilize them – assign what seems to be an objective grade of “quality”.

    The processing and grading of milk is scientific – results are reproducible by following identical steps. Humans, being creatures of body, mind and spirit do not tidily stay in place and do not respond or react like milk.

    I sense that the religions of economics and science have run amok in connection with the quantification of “quality” as representing an economic “value”. This seems apparent in relation to education where questions of “how much does it cost” and “what is the return on investment” supersede the question about how we (individually and collectively) “value” human lives.

    What is it about education that accreditation protects the public against?

    Posted by Brent Snavely | September 25, 2011, 8:50 am
    • >The processing and grading of milk is scientific…

      That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. Pasteurization changes the proteins. I drink raw milk from a dairy I trust. We need human scale.

      Posted by Sue VanHattum | September 25, 2011, 10:09 am
    • Thanks for your comments, Brent! I suppose that accreditation is protecting the public against poor teaching or lack of consistency in curriculum (or lack of a specified curriculum), or things of that nature. It is (supposedly) a form of accountability to the public for how public tax funds are used. But what is funny/ironic is that such wide-scale accountability might not be needed! For example, when you go down to the personal level, studies/polls have found that most people are generally quite satisfied with their areas schools (the Gallup poll is one that comes to mind–when parents/families are asked if they approve of the job their local schools are doing, the majority of them are!) Why this isn’t enough, I don’t know. Well, actually, I do. Schools are an easy scapegoat target for politicians who control the purse strings. Read a great quote today that is sort of related to this: John Kuhn, superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt (TX) school district said (as quoted in the Oct 2011 Virginia Journal of Education), “If we really believed that accountability works, wouldn’t we have accountability for all public servants? Why do we not require our legislators to make ‘Adequate Yearly Progress’? We have the data from their congressional districts, do we not? There is crime data, health care data, poverty figures, and drug use statistics for every state and federal legislative district. Why, exactly, do we not establish annual targets for our legislators to meet?”

      Posted by Kristan Morrison | September 25, 2011, 4:08 pm
  3. Dear Kristan,

    Why not set up NCATE accountability as perfomance assessment with feedback during the teaching-learning process? Although the NCATE feedback helps along program changes, it still seems more summative in nature. Would it be more beneficial if “inspectors” witnessed teaching and learning in action and held this ethnography or observation against their standards of excellence?


    Posted by Kristine | September 25, 2011, 5:50 pm
    • Yes, this is exactly what Rothstein advocates in his book Grading Education – that observations by outsiders could be less disruptive and potentially provide more helpful formative feedback. Now, of course the British system which does this form of inspection is guilty in the past of passing extremely negative judgements on different types of schools (e.g. the Summerhill School), so this process would need to be carefully designed and monitored as well!

      Posted by Kristan Morrison | September 25, 2011, 5:53 pm
  4. I especially like this:

    To me, the existence of accrediting agencies is proof that people are not intimately involved enough in their communities (communities at whatever level – neighborhood, school, university, etc.), and that our institutions have gotten too big and unwieldy for human-level exchanges.

    I see the need for “Good Housekeeping Seals of Approval or Consumer Reports” as a check against the quality of products manufactured out of sight. Teaching and learning, however, are not products in the same sense, nor need they be out of sight. I wonder how much outside accreditation would be necessary with better coöperation between schools and community stakeholders, including parents. It would be okay for me to hear community dissatisfaction so long as my school and community worked in partnership to address any dissatisfactions and my community supported the kinds of staffing and scheduling solutions that lead to more authentic education.

    We struggle with the false dichotomy that someone must be doing something right (credential granting bodies), so someone must be doing wrong (schools), just like we struggle with the false dichotomy that someone must be teaching something right (teachers), so someone must be learning wrong (children).

    Are we here to credential one another, or learn from and share with one another? What are our schools here to do? The answers are as rhetorical as we want them to be.

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | September 26, 2011, 3:36 pm


  1. Pingback: Wastes of Time in Education: Do I Need an Accreditation Attitude Adjustment? | E-Learning-Inclusivo | - September 22, 2011

  2. Pingback: Wastes of Time in Education: Do I Need an Accreditation Attitude Adjustment? « juandon. Innovación y conocimiento - September 22, 2011

Join the Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,103 other followers

Comments are subject to moderation.

%d bloggers like this: