Charter schools office seeks accreditation

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Julie Moores 6th grade science class - fully furnished by the GVSU Surplus Store

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Julie Moore’s 6th grade science class – fully furnished by the GVSU Surplus Store

Drew Howard

Grand Valley State University is now the first in the nation to seek accreditation for its charter schools office, a move which aims to set higher standards for both charter schools and their authorizers.

The charter schools office will be put through a series of tests for accreditation by AdvanceEd, a nonprofit organization purposed with certifying and repairing Pre-K through 12 schools and school systems.

“AdvanceEd is an organization that establishes standards to make sure schools and authorizers are using best practices,” said Tim Wood, special assistant to the president for charter schools. “GVSU will be the first authorizer nationally to go through the accreditation process.”

To become accredited, the charter schools office must meet specific requirements through both internal and external reviews.

The internal review will be done by faculty within the charter schools office. For the external review, seven members of the AdvanceEd team will come to the office and provide a score based on various factors.

“AdvanceEd has developed six authorizing standards with 31 indicators or sub-standards,” Wood said. “One of these is the automatic school closure provision which states that if a school has been operating in the bottom five percent, then the authorizer will begin closing of that school.”

Another standard that must be met for accreditation is the transfer provision which states that an authorizer cannot transfer poor performing schools from one authorizer to another, said Wood.

By following these requirements and others, the accreditation process will provide a model that holds GVSU’s charter schools office to a higher standard.

The move toward accreditation is especially relevant considering that GVSU’s charter schools office was recently listed at risk of suspension due to underperforming schools.

However, Wood said the methods used to conclude that the charter schools office was at risk for suspension were incorrect, and there is a strong possibility the office will still meet accreditation.

“I don’t expect all to be accredited, but I expect our office will,” Wood said. “We’re doing our internal review now and we’re receiving high internal scores. In 2013, GVSU was ranked in the top authorizers by the State Board of Education.”

In addition to preparing for the accreditation test, Wood said the charter schools office is pushing to make the accreditation process into a statute that other offices must follow.

If the accreditation process was placed into law and expanded nationally, this means there would be a greater number of especially low-performing charter schools that would be at risk of shutting down.

“My response would be if there’s a low performing school, then it should be closed, and that’s what the accreditation model provides,” Wood said. “One of the standards in the accreditation process is that if you have schools in the bottom five percent, then they need to be closed.”

GVSU President Thomas Haas praised the move toward an accreditation model and said it reflects the university’s responsibility for high standards.

“Many of GVSU’s disciplines have accreditation, so when it was made known to Dr. Wood that there is accreditation possible for charter schools offices, I got pretty excited,” Haas said. “We take our roles and responsibilities with young people in schools we charter seriously. This model provides all those students and their families a measure that achieves higher standards.”

Haas added that the process of accreditation will have a larger impact outside of just charter schools.

“I think accreditation would impact all of us,” Haas said. “If we get good national standards that we need to be accountable for, all of us will be better as a result.”