Kennedy Catholic works very hard every day at maintaining our Middle States Association accreditation. Every seven years, the facilities, records, staff, and student body undergo an exhaustive inspection and interview process to satisfy a team of investigators who “camp out” at the school for over a week. As one of our administrators noted, “They turn us upside down and inside out.”
So who are these guys, and why do we care so much?
Established in 1887, the MSA is a volunteer and not-for-profit peer-based association that – not to put too fine a point on it – evaluates how good a school is. They cover public and private schools throughout Delaware, D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
There is certainly no shortage of government-mandated homogeneity among all secondary schools in the U.S. Public or private, Catholic or secular, every institution has to teach to a minimum established curriculum set by the state board of education, conform to certain safety regulations and meet fiscal benchmarks.
Schools that receive accreditation by the MSA have taken those benchmarks, raised them, and added a few of their own. The MSA has specific criteria which must be met for information resources, student life, student activities, student services, school organization, and even planning.
The MSA’s standards are designed to serve as a mechanism for amping up students’ – and teachers’ – performance. They are research-based and mirror proven pedagogical practices. Importantly for Kennedy Catholic, they are not designed to make all schools cookie-cutter clones of each other.
The MSA even tracks “indicators of quality” for faith-based schools. These include:
Appropriate attention is given in all school programs and activities to values and traditions that demonstrate and reinforce the school’s religious nature.
Members of the faculty are provided with opportunities to advance their understanding of the religious beliefs and foundation documents of the school.
Formal and informal opportunities are provided for the spiritual development of the faculty and staff members.
Regular professional development opportunities are provided for the spiritual development of the faculty and staff as spiritual leaders in the school community.
The religious studies program for students is consistent with the mission of the school and the sponsoring institution.
Certainly much of what MSA inspectors look for before awarding accreditation to a school could be categorized as the kind of “inside baseball” items that don’t make it onto the radar of prospective parents shopping for a private school. Still, we think that MSA accreditation is a “need to have” and not a “nice to have.” Just as you wouldn’t buy a new house without it first getting a passing grade on an engineer’s report, so, too, should parents check into their children’s school’s accreditation to see if that institution is “structurally sound.”
The full set of the most recent MSA’s “Standards of Accreditation” (which Kennedy Catholic met, by the way) have been published here.