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Arguments in Support of NEASC
Accreditation Criteria Fall Short

Dr. Chuck Ormsby

My article, recently published in the Eagle Tribune and North Andover Citizen, criticizing the accreditation criteria used by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) has drawn several supportive letters and a storm of protests from North Andover’s “we need to spend more money” crowd.

Because the accreditation warning issued by the NEASC has raised community concerns, it is important for everyone to take a deep breath and make a reasoned assessment of NEASC’s credibility. Are they unbiased and objective?

Does NEASC’s process provide a balanced assessment of spending, expectations, standards and academic outcomes, or does it focus disproportionately on spending and class sizes?

Those offering arguments in support of the NEASC seem to prefer an assessment that focuses primarily, or even exclusively, on spending and directly related metrics such as class sizes.

Could it be that this preference is the result of their single-minded campaign to lobby for increased budgets and their unwillingness to manage cost increases?

The arguments employed by those who oppose a more balanced accreditation criteria either attacked positions I didn’t take, are embarrassingly flawed or, when actually analyzed, support my original position.

Here is just a sampling:

School Committee Chairman Al Perry begins his critique by listing reasons why various standards (MCAS, SAT, AP tests, etc.) are not, taken alone, adequate measures of a school’s academics. If these tests are such a poor measure of our academic success, why do we spend millions doing the testing?

Mr. Perry seems to conclude that any test limitations are an excuse for the NEASC to not include outcomes in its assessments. This position is just too outlandish to take seriously.

Later, Mr. Perry compares the investment in our schools – I prefer to think of it as an investment in our children – to investing in retirement funds. What a great analogy!! So I ask you: What do you judge when you review the performance of your investments each year?

Do you assess how much money you dumped into your funds, or do you judge how the funds performed? Of course you judge performance by outcomes – e.g., percent appreciation against benchmark standards. In the education arena, this translates to judging academic outcomes via standardized tests, not just how much we spend. Isn’t that obvious?

 It is incredible that the chairman of our School Committee can’t see this. And it was his analogy!

But it gets worse. Mr. Perry goes on to discuss the failed curriculum we had in math (TERC) and still have in literacy (the Leslie Literacy Initiative).
Incredibly, he then concludes that, “Our budget is not meeting our needs.” Is he blind to the fact that we have spent millions of hard-earned taxpayer dollars on these education boondoggles?

It isn’t our budget that was inadequate; it was a lack of standards and a lack of common sense oversight by our School Committee. What failed was a committee that abdicated its responsibility and permitted “the educators” to experiment on our children with curricula that didn’t even attempt to teach basic arithmetic methods, promoted dependency on calculators, and avoided teaching spelling and grammar.

What did a lack of money have to do with any of this?

Mr. Perry concludes with the impact of loss of accreditation on local real estate values. So let me get this straight: We should give credence to a flawed accreditation process, direct our attention to greater spending and continue to ignore expectations and standards, just to keep our real estate values up? While I don’t believe that our real estate values will be adversely affected by NEASC’s assessment – and such claims are never accompanied by any proof – I can’t imagine embracing a lie at the expense of our students merely to protect my real estate investment.

Liz Weber, in an October 29, 2006 Op Ed piece in the Eagle Tribune entitled “Without enough resources, school’s can’t teach” and in an identical letter in the November 3rd North Andover Citizen, also took issue with my thesis that NEASC should broaden its accreditation criteria.

Regarding the importance of money and class size, Ms. Weber suggests that I don’t want to pay “the going rate for teachers.”

But I do! If the union will just let us hire teachers on the open market like private schools do, paying approximately two-thirds what public schools pay and providing health benefits more in line with the private sector, we could employ many more teachers and have much greater breadth in our academic programs.

Remember, “the going rate” is the market rate, not an artificial rate coerced by the unions.

Ms. Weber then suggests that, if you wonder whether the NEASC accreditation process is focused on the right metrics such as spending and class size, you should just ask the NEASC. Hey, I thought the debate was whether or not the NEASC accreditation criteria were appropriate. So, Ms. Weber wants us to ask the NEASC, a bastion of ex-public schoolteachers and administrators, about the validity of their own process?

My goodness, that will be enlightening!

After detailing the stresses imposed by large class sizes, a problem that would disappear if we could hire teachers at “the going rate,” Ms. Weber concludes by saying, “Failing to tie in educational expectations and standards with spending and class size is na´ve and debilitating.” But that is precisely my criticism of the NEASC accreditation process.

Since “tying in” is a concept independent of order, I would merely reword her closing comment and conclude, “Failing to tie in spending and class size with educational expectations and standards is na´ve and debilitating.”

Thank you, Ms. Weber, for helping me make this most important point.

Ms. Weber signed off by sending “this half baked meal back to Chef Ormsby.” Hopefully, Mr. Perry, Ms. Weber, and the other members of the “just spend more” crowd will consider the matter fully baked. Bon appetite!

Charles Ormsby, Chief Chef, North Andover School Committee you can email him at
ccormsby@comcast.net
 


 



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The November, 2006 Edition of the Valley Patriot
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