Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Dance of Accreditation


This year we are going through NAEYC re-accreditation.  At the beginning of this process I looked on it as a way to reflect on my teaching and my classroom.  I had hoped that I would be able to find things that I should improve upon or at least think about.  Now, however, I’m just tired.

The accreditation process is geared toward full-time programs.  I work in a part-time program.  I have some children who I only see for four and a half hours each week.  Other teachers I know who are also being re-accredited work in places where planning time is built into their days, often for as many as two hours each day (I know, some of you barely have time to pee all day while others get nap time to themselves).  These people are in programs where the kids are with them for 40 hours or more each week.  While it’s a bit of a time pinch, they are able to spend a little time each day working on their classroom portfolios.  The teachers in my school only get paid time for set-up and clean-up each day.  We typically do planning on our own time and are often there long beyond what we are paid for.  To add accreditation on top of that is challenging, to say the least.  I chose my work because I’m available to volunteer at my own children’s school most afternoons, which means I’m not always available to spend all afternoon working on my classroom portfolio.  While we are getting paid a little extra because of the time burden, the fact of the matter is that I only have so much time to give.  You can pay me a million bucks, but I’m not going to stop seeing my family for this.

With the process being geared toward full-time programs, some of the criteria will be ones we can’t or won’t meet.  For example, we don’t use TVs or computers in our classrooms.  We don’t feel it’s developmentally appropriate, and we know that most of the kids get too much screen time at home anyway.  The criterion in question involves the appropriate use of “technology,” which could mean just about anything.  I’m going to write a paragraph on why we use physical objects rather than screens, but it seems like I shouldn’t have to prove something that should, in our minds, be standard practice.  We also don’t brush teeth.  The kids come to us after breakfast and the parents pick them up shortly after snack.  If I had to brush the teeth of each child even once a day, I’d have trouble doing all the other things I should be doing.  Heck, diaper changes sometimes eat up 20 minutes of my morning.  That’s a lot of time when the kids aren’t there that long.

Another small problem is that the classroom portfolio thing is new to the process.  We have an official IAEYC person who comes to advise us, but she doesn’t have all the answers and sometimes contradicts herself.  I went to a session at the national conference where I got to see an accepted portfolio and talk to teachers and an NAEYC person about the whole thing.  Some of the stuff we’re being told at the local level isn’t consistent with the national level perspective.  So which do we follow? 

The criteria themselves are a little strange.  Some of them are almost word-for-word copies of others, while some of them contain multiple requirements in one criterion.  So, I have to write up a separate thing for all of them, even if they’re almost the same.  I tried referencing similar ones to each other, but it got hard for my co-teachers and I to figure out which ones had been done already.  Organizationally confusing, you might say.

We are spending a ton of money on printing pictures (we’re printing wallet-size ones on regular paper, by the way, and using black-and-white rather than color when the picture is clear enough), copy paper, plastic sleeves, binders, and a host of other things.  I only use a picture when it seems to demonstrate the criterion in question.  It still seems wasteful.  I wanted to do mine all electronically, but I was told that I’d have to be able to provide a private place for the accreditors to view my portfolio.  We only have two computers for the whole school and they’re in the office, so that was a no-go.  Putting it on a CD wasn’t good enough since they assessors may or may not have a computer that could read it.

What’s also stressing is that all this time I’m spending is time that isn’t spent on the children.  I don’t have time to do extra things to make my planning or my classroom top-notch.  So, I’m documenting something that I’m not proud of.  It’s also changed how I view the children.  While I still plan for their interests, I’m also planning to get a good photo that demonstrates some criterion.  It’s pathetic.  Now I think, “Oh, if I do this activity so-and-so will totally get into it, which means I’ll have proof of such-and-such criteria.”  It’s aiming for the product rather than the process, which is against everything I believe in for early childhood education.  Of course, it’s me I’m talking about rather than the kids, so maybe I’m just feeling put out.  Sorry for the sniping.

Now, you may think that I think accreditation is a waste of time.  But the ideal is still good.  It’s good to know that an accredited program is at a certain level.  It’s important to know that the program to which you’re sending your child isn’t going to hurt them and that they are getting benefits from being there.  What I object to is the massive amount of wasted human resources.  Perhaps it’s just because of our status as a part-time program housed in a church where we don’t have control over the physical facilities (though they are great facilities, I must admit).  Maybe there needs to be a separate procedures for programs like ours.  I know that several programs similar to ours have decided not to get re-accredited this time.  When I see how great they are compared to some full-time programs that ARE accredited, I’m sad.  Some of those full-time programs aren’t that great, but they had the resources to get through the process.

NAEYC, are you listening?