Friday, May 29, 2015

Clarifying NEASC Accreditation Concerns in Burlington

From Superintendent Dr. Conti's Blog:

Due to some questions at our May 26th School Committee Meeting surrounding our high school’s current accreditation status with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC), we thought it was important to provide an update regarding Burlington High School’s current status.  Following a discussion at our September 25, 2012 School Committee Meeting and a follow-up meeting with NEASC officials, it was decided that Burlington High School would suspend its membership in NEASC.
What is NEASC?
NEASC is a private organization that is funded by school districts across New England.  It has been in operation since 1885.  The accreditation process is voluntary and occurs in 10-year cycles.  The NEASC process is not connected to the state Board of Education or a high school’s authority to grant diplomas.
Why Suspend Our Membership?
The decision came about due to the fact that Burlington High School was due to begin the self-study process for the NEASC Decennial Visit. The work involved in preparing for the self-study visit would have impeded the school’s ability to implement a number of the new mandates put in place by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (i.e. New Evaluation System for Teachers, ELL Training for staff, Common Core and PARCC testing).  In addition, the Decennial Accreditation Visit brings with it a cost of $25,000-$30,000.
A number of other local high schools including Arlington, Bedford, Belmont, Brookline, Lexington, Lincoln-Sudbury, Newton, Reading, Weston, and Winchester have publicly voiced similar concerns.  Reading Superintendent of Schools John Doherty was quoted in the Daily Times Chronicle back in March 2013 citing concerns about both the expense and the time commitment involved in the NEASC process.  These same decisions have been made by some high schools in Maine.
Moreover, the NEASC organization and process originated well before the Ed Reform movement of the early 1990’s with the intent of establishing some standards of practice across schools.  Since that time, school districts have to comply with a prescribed state curriculum and test thresholds.  In addition, the College Board now requires us to certify our Advanced Placement teachers and courses, the NCAA certifies that our courses meet their threshold if our students are to compete in Division 1 or 2 athletics, and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education conducts comprehensive program reviews every 6 years to ensure that we are in compliance with federal regulations.  The state also annually rates schools and school districts.  Burlington High School has achieved their highest rating – Level 1.
n short, in the last 20 years there have been many mandated standards that schools/districts have had to meet.  In addition to these mandated standards, we have been working with NEASC as a member to better align their standards and accreditation process with our mandated standards and accreditation processes.  Our hope is to continue with the voluntary NEASC process, which has typically been on a ten-year cycle, when it is updated.
Our Concerns:
Our first concern when we considered changing our status with NEASC was the impact on students and whether this decision would affect their ability to attend the college or university of their choice.  We have not seen a negative impact in the three years since this decision was made. In addition, our high school has received feedback from college admissions representatives that our students will not be negatively impacted if our high school continues to have a strong school profile.  We continue to do our diligence to ensure that our students will be able to pursue any post secondary option that they wish. This year’s senior class seems to support this with acceptances to Dartmouth, Columbia, Northwestern (7-year medical program), Wellesley, University of  Michigan, Ithaca, UNC Wilmington, Cornell, Boston University, University of New Hampshire, WPI, Bentley, UMASS Amherst, Purdue, Holy Cross, and many more reputable institutions.

One specific concern that was brought up at the school committee meeting was a concern regarding Boston College.  With the help of a local reporter we were able to contact John Mahoney, the Director of Admissions at Boston College, and ask for his comments on NEASC. 
He stated the following:
  • “This issue would in no way ever be considered a disadvantage for any student applying to Boston College.”
  • “Even in cases where a school has “fallen out” of accreditation it would never be held against a student and that is not the case with Burlington…as they have chosen to suspend.”
  • “I completely concur that this is an extremely costly and time consuming process and Burlington is not the only school that has made this difficult decision.”
  • “We will always make our admissions decisions on a case by case basis taking each student into consideration individually.”
Our Communication:
There were also concerns expressed at the school committee meeting that the conversations regarding NEASC were not conducted publicly.  The minutes from the school committee meeting from September 25, 2012 reflect that NEASC was discussed in open session.  Our point in referring to the minutes is to address the claim that there was no public discussion.  We are not stating that the amount of public discussion was adequate.  Clearly, if there were middle school parents not focusing on the high school, these conversations could have been missed and, in hindsight, should have been repeated – especially given the amount of misinformation we are correcting.
In closing, Burlington Public Schools made a conscious decision to suspend our membership in NEASC.  While suspending our membership, we choose not to participate in a public campaign to negate the work of NEASC and the many thoughtful educators who give their free time to serve on the Commission for Public Secondary Schools. We instead chose to correspond with Director Janet Allison in September of 2012 and then subsequently meet with her in December 2012 regarding our decision to suspend our membership and participation in our scheduled 10-year self-study. Our relationship with NEASC continues in that we are supportive in their work to modify their accreditation process.  After these changes occur, we plan to resume our membership (pay our dues) and pursue the updated, voluntary, peer accreditation process.  During this hiatus, Burlington High School continues to be an innovative, high performing, well respected institution that is sending our graduates to the top schools in the country.

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