Private School Associations, Accreditors and Oversight


Although private schools are independent, school associations, as well as accreditors, consultants and state and federal government education agencies, can influence private schools. 

The various levers of influence include:

1. U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education, established in 1979 to coordinate federal education programs, maintains an Office of Non-Public Education to act as a liaison between private schools and associations and the department. The office provides information about education programs, laws, publications, statistics and organizations such as associations and accreditors.

2. State regulation of private schools

State regulations can include requirements for registration, accreditation and length of school years and days, among other issues. The U.S. Department of Education provides information about each state’s regulation of private schools. The department’s map links to each state’s requirements and state department of education website.

3. School associations

School associations provide support and resources to their members, including guidance to school leaders, professional development to educators, research and statistics, policy analysis and lobbying, professional and student conferences and connections to accreditors and consultants. 

Parents should know about their school’s association memberships–and follow the money through tax filings, when possible, so they can understand how big they are and where they spend their money. Because most school associations are 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations, they are obligated to file annual tax filings using the IRS Form 990.

School associations include a wide range of organizations.

4. School accreditors

Most private schools are accredited by an accrediting agency as meeting a certain level of educational standards. There are about 100 accrediting agencies for private K-12 schools approved by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under its Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which certifies schools for international students. 

The accreditation process usually includes several steps:

  • School-prepared self-reflection of the school’s identity, organization, curriculum, instruction, assessment, support services and resources, leading to an assessment of strengths, areas for growth and an action plan for moving forward with an improvement process
  • Site visit from educators who are trained evaluators from other schools to review the action plan, visit classrooms, conduct interviews and issue a report with a recommendation re-accreditation

There are several accreditors in the United States.

The 163-page Membership and Accreditation Guide of the Independent Schools Association of the Central States provides a framework for the organization’s accreditation process. The document includes “Equity and Inclusion” standards such as whether schools: 

  • Provide students with an “educational experience reflective of the diversity of our local communities, country, and world.”
  • “Acknowledge their particular diversity” and “use data to understand the diversity of its community and to inform its goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion in its policies, programs, operations, and community composition.”
  • Provide “examples of curricular and extracurricular programming that takes [sic] into account student cultural, learning, and social-emotional needs.”

A few clicks on the website of the Independent Schools Association of the Central States shows that the organization is as ideologically captured as the National Association of Independent Schools. Its “diversity, equity and inclusion” webpage includes recommendations for “Children’s Books with Transgender, Non-Binary and Gender Expansive Children.” The website includes links to resources from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has a divisive curriculum commonly used in K-12 schools.