By Leon Galis
When the Board of Education announced its separation agreement with CCSD's former superintendent Demond Means, I was sure that people would be so preoccupied with saving their and their children’s lives that they’d have little appetite for relitigating his tenure. I should’ve known better. And when the war of words cranked up, as before in these discussions, somebody waved the bloody shirt of accreditation loss.
Last October, I argued in this space that the District’s accreditation wasn’t at risk. In spite of—actually, in part because of—Cognia, the accrediting agency, downgrading the District’s status to “Accredited Under Review,” I still think accreditation isn’t at risk for two reasons. One has to do with what accreditation in general means. And the other is based on Cognia’s findings about our district in particular.
The general point is that accreditation isn’t a mark of excellence. It’s an indication that a school or school district meets what in an accrediting agency’s judgment are minimum performance standards. In other words, it just assures taxpayers supporting public schools and families paying tuition to private schools that they aren’t throwing their money down a rat hole. That’s why accreditation loss is pretty rare. When the Clayton County school district lost its accreditation several years ago, it was the first district to have its accreditation revoked in nearly forty years. So that doesn’t happen when schools commit minor infractions. It happens when they melt down.
That’s what you’d expect since accreditors bend over backwards to give schools every opportunity to stay accredited. The agencies really don’t want to pull that trigger and don’t unless a school gives them no choice.
Under Cognia’s policies, CCSD can’t lose its accreditation as long as it’s under review. Even if Cognia isn’t impressed with the BOE’s response to the review report, the worst that can happen is that the District gets demoted to the next level down, Accredited Under Conditions. According to Cognia, “Only an institution or system having a status of Accredited Under Conditions may be recommended for drop of accreditation.” So accreditation loss is off the table unless the BOE screws up badly enough to get knocked down another notch. And even then, revocation isn’t inevitable. The BOE would still have a generous opportunity to dodge that bullet.
As for what specifically the BOE has to do to get out from under review, the reviewers’ report addressed five Cognia standards, but requires BOE action with respect to only three of them.
The BOE’s deficiencies under the first two standards amount, as far as I could tell, to the same thing: not understanding and observing its own established policies and procedures. So the BOE’s assignments under these two standards include pretty routine things like being sure that its policies and procedures are up to date, more training in its policies, conducting meetings in accordance with Robert’s Rules of Order, conducting a self-study of its own operations, and similar measures.
None of this seems like a very heavy lift. Robert’s Rules of Order, for example, has been the standard manual for conducting meetings since 1876. It doesn’t seem to be asking much that the BOE adopt it after most other such bodies have found it serviceable for 144 years.
The third standard that Cognia found the BOE straying from created a lot of buzz on Facebook during the Means’ era. And really thinking about it shows how little an accreditor can do to resolve hot button issues that school communities are struggling with.
Leon Galis is an Athens native who returned to town in 1999 after retiring from the faculty of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. Since 2008, he has written dozens of columns for local Athens publicatuons, and is a frequent contributor at LikeTheDew.com and Medium.com.Galis is a professor of philosophy emeritus, with broad interests in current events and cultural commentary. You can read additional works by Galis at https://medium.com/@leongalis