4-7-14 – Yet Another Attack On Vermont’s Independent Schools

by Daren Houck

It was not the first time in my 10 years as a Vermont citizen, educator, and taxpayer that I was left baffled by the Agency of Education. At the March 25 State Board of Education meeting, Deborah Quackenbush (Director of General Supervision & Monitoring) shared that the agency may no longer be confident that an accepted third-party accreditation is enough to justify state approval of K-12 independent schools. It may just not be robust enough. Her solution? It’s not to reaffirm the quality of those third-party organizations, but rather insists that the Agency can do it better.

Now if Ms. Quackenbush insisted that Harvard University needed to be approved by the state because their own accreditation was not good enough, most folks would laugh, offer her some water and lead her to a chair, or both. But no…the AOE can do it better.

From its website we can read about one of these third-party accreditors: “Founded in 1885, the New England Association of Schools & Colleges, Inc. (NEASC), is the nation’s oldest regional accrediting association whose mission is the establishment and maintenance of high standards for all levels of education, from pre-K to the doctoral level. NEASC serves more than 2,000 public and independent schools, colleges and universities in the six states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, and American/international schools in more than 67 nations worldwide.”

Despite their history, integrity, accomplishment and quality, NEASC—the same accrediting body of Harvard and MIT, as well as our own UVM, Middlebury, and more—seems to no longer be good enough for Vermont’s K-12 independent schools. Ms. Quackenbush believes that they can do it better.

If this isn’t troubling enough, what was once a no-cost-to-the-taxpayer endeavor (yes, NEASC is funded by the member schools or private donations as a not-for-profit, not taxpayers dollars), required approval by the AOE will now create more Agency work, more people hours and, ultimately, more bureaucracy. And, of course, greater expense of public dollars. But, they can do it better.

I hope that the Agency stops and evaluates this nonsense before moving too far down the road. I fully support having high standards of all third-party accrediting agencies for Vermont schools, and I applaud a cyclical review of those agencies. Some may indeed not be good enough. But the answer is not refusing or accepting all accreditations for Vermont schools. NEASC is respected for its accreditation of some of the world’s most renowned and regarded schools and universities in the world. Don’t you think they actually may be able to do it better?

- Daren Houck is Head of School at the Mountain School at Winhall


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Gail Graham April 8, 2014 at 1:08 pm

I’m having to take a few deep breaths before responding to this one, as I best not say what I’m thinking. It is very obvious WHY they want that, as it makes no common sense. More Govt. control, and we know why. Thanks for writing the article Daren, and I will do anything I can to help support independent schools.


bruce buxton April 11, 2014 at 8:38 pm

Dr. Quackenbush is from the Agency and she is here to help. This would be the same Agency that has embraced every inane fad from the behaviorists in our universities for 50 years. A long while ago I led an evaluation team for the NEASC into a Vermont high school that has since closed. We refused them accreditation. But the Vt. Dept of Education (now “Agency”) approved the school. Soon after the NEASC turned them down, the school was subject to a devastating fire. It closed. The Vt. Dept of Ed. looked even more incompetent than usual. Historically the educationists in Montpelier have not been very good at helping. Or should I have said “transforming” to use the trite and overheated rhetoric popular in the Dept. a few years ago. I read that Dr. Quackenbush proposes more “robust” ways of school evaluation, to be developed by the Agency. I am pleased to see that the Agency has learned more recent forms of educational jargon. I put “robust” in quotation marks because it was a self-praising cliche at Columbia 9 years ago when I was directing a graduate program there. It was used by the behaviorists in the Dept. of Education to aggrandize their conspicuously weak research …a research often as comical as the Quackenbush self-parody.


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