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The Accreditation Process

November 26th, 2007

Today we had several meetings at my college concerning accreditation. When I was a student, I was completely unaware of the process; I just took for granted that colleges got by on reputation or something, and didn’t think about how they got the authority they have. In the U.S., colleges are accredited by one of several regional accreditation agencies, which use thousands of volunteers (educators and administrators from colleges and universities) to observe and investigate institutions, and hand down decisions based upon those observations. This is an oversimplification, but will serve for the time being. Colleges have usually been reviewed every ten years or so; an institution falling short is given warnings and a chance, over several years, to correct itself.

The accreditation agencies derive their authority from the federal government, through the Department of Education. In the past, the DoE has not been overly controlling, and educators have pretty much run the show. It is unsurprising that this has changed under the Bush administration. In another crony hiring, Margaret Spellings was installed as Secretary of Education by Bush at the beginning of his second term. Spellings’ highest degree is a B.A. in Political Science, and was Bush’s political director in his first campaign to become governor of Texas. She has not done any teaching beyond work as a substitute–and she was not even certified for that (Texas, at the time, did not require certification).

Spellings has demonstrated a pretty clear but unstated preference for dismantling the current regional accreditation system and replacing it with direct federal control. Her husband is an advocate for school vouchers, a position which usually claims that government cannot be trusted to manage the education process. Spellings is a big “No Child Left Behind” advocate, and wants to apply the same standardized assessment system to higher education. So now big buzzwords in our accreditation process are “outcome assessments” and “transparency.”

The problem is, no one has assessed the assessment policy. Just as NCLB sounds good in principle and has a lot of support, but is underfunded, the new paradigm of assessment is big on concepts but short on demonstrating how A leads to B. Standardized tests look good in a political campaign, but they do more to encourage “teaching to the test,” which focuses on test scores rather than actual learning. Japan has suffered from this for a long time, producing students with high scores but not as high comprehension of the subject matter. “Transparency” sounds great, but there is no reason to believe that this will lead to lower tuitions.

There’s a rule in education: learning is a personalized experience. Everyone learns differently. It’s hard enough to maintain quality teaching in a class with 20 students, each with individual quirks and styles of learning. The more generalization and standardization there is, the less freedom each individual student enjoys, and the less likely it is that they will be able to learn. Standardized tests veer the lesson away from the student advancing in their skill or understanding, and emphasize instead rote memorization and test-taking strategies. Scores might increase, but that does not mean that learning will increase.

As a teacher, I will have to devote less of my class time to addressing individual student needs, and more time administering tests which are written by people who have never met my students, much less instructed them. We got a taste of that recently, when Writing class teachers had to administer a test in their classes which included questions they felt had little relevance to what the students in the class needed to learn.

Worse is that our students, being mostly non-native speakers learning in an English-only environment in a country where English is not widely spoken, have even more unique needs which will be ill-served by standardization.

And we’re still in the early stages of preparation, with the review coming in two years. A lot of headaches down the road.

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  1. ykw
    November 27th, 2007 at 02:26 | #1

    I think the amazon Kindle like device is going to have a big effect on education. It can hold one’s text books, highlighting of books, and notes; and if you loose it, all this can be restored automatically due to it transparently being backed up on servers. I think kids are therefore going to be able to take their notes and texts with them into their career, and be able to reference things (e.g. with search) that they were taught in class w/ ease. Perhaps we will have tests where kids are not expected to memorize, yet instead, use their kindle like device as a reference, because in the real world, they can use their kindle like device as a reference. And if kids spend less time memorizing, they can spend more time doing other things. Wow !

  2. Hachi Gatsu
    July 26th, 2008 at 14:31 | #2

    What is this device? And why have I not heard of this seemingly amazing tool to end the era of the heavy backpack (and text book bill).

    LCJ is indeed a unique situation, being an American school in Japan, it has to be “American” in every way (well, according to DoE), but what the government doesn’t really realize is that, not every Japanese student knows English like their own native tongue…Hell, I’m an English major and I STILL can’t fully figure out the English language. I honestly think Shakespear didn’t know either, why do you think he invented so many words.

    I’m all for efficiency, but standardized tests will not work. It doesn’t work in America, and I know it won’t work there. Not saying kids are dumb or the school is not doing their job, hell no. It’s just that every teacher teaches their own way, every student learns their own way, and unless you want to create a world of “perfect beings”, someone is going to “fuck up” the system by “not doing every thing to standard”.

    When it comes to common sense things, yes, standardization should reign supream (i.e. fire is hot, don’t touch it), but when it comes to education…there is a designated space for learning and thats where standardization should end.

    The best way to keep children learning is to make it seem like they’re not (meaning they’re having fun…and heavens forbid…laughing!), not bored them out of their skulls.

    Indeed, I realize I’m posting this on one of my former professors blogs, who, is indeed a professor and I, just a student, but perhaps that adds merit to my comment…considering I’m one of the many “children not being left behind”…yeah right.

  3. December 17th, 2008 at 16:57 | #3

    Japanese universities, their programs and departments don’t have much capability at evaluating foreign language education here. And what holds for regular content teaching won’t hold for foreign language courses (mostly EFL classes).

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