The National Council for Private School Accreditation, the umbrella organization of internationally recognized private accrediting agencies, admitted Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the Central Organization for Jewish Education (COJE) to full membership on Thursday January 15th in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Merkos, or COJE is the educational division of the Chabad-Lubavitch organization. “This is the culmination of ten years of work and it is a major milestone for Jewish day school education”, said Rabbi Nochem Kaplan, who spearheaded the national effort.
Accreditation is the process of professional peer review which assures the credibility of educational institutions, from early childhood through graduate and professional schools. Accreditation is a prerequisite for all federal funding including education vouchers in the states now sponsoring them. Most major corporations which offer employees a matching-fund grant program to educational institutions, also require accreditation.
According to Rabbi Kaplan this development has far reaching ramifications for Jewish education nationwide. Until now, there was no real way to measure the quality of a school’s Jewish curriculum. “Under the auspices of Merkos, we now have a vehicle that can set standards for a quality Jewish education.”
That the Lubavitch educational division should be empowered as the first and only Jewish accreditation agency is noteworthy given the organization’s role in Jewish education in the United States. “Chabad-Lubavitch was the pioneer of the Jewish day school system,” says Rabbi Kaplan, referring to the early 1940s, when under the sixth Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn, Lubavitch opened a network of Jewish day schools–the first such network in the United States. And in the past 10 years, he notes, it has been in the lead, having opened some 25 new day schools and 50 new preschools in the United States. “Lubavitch is heavily invested in promoting a high standard of Jewish education for American Jewish children, and this development will help facilitate our efforts toward this objective.”
As the Twentieth Century unfolded, private accrediting agencies mushroomed across America. As private schools proliferated the accreditation process was extended first to high schools and then to elementary schools as well. During the Reagan years it became apparent that tighter control over accrediting agencies was needed and once again the agencies themselves formed a peer group to which only the “credible” associations were admitted. The National Council for Private School Accreditation (NCPSA) started with a tight knit group of the finest accrediting agencies. The council invited the Jewish Day School movement to form an accrediting association of their own and Rabbi Kaplan was asked to head the effort.
In order to develop national standards which could be met by Jewish schools nationwide and be rigorous enough to meet N.C.P.S.A. standards, he created a commission of some of the finest Jewish educators from across the country which spent more than a year in creating its first draft. The work of the commission was overseen by a national group of Roshei Yeshiva-Yeshiva Deans, who carefully reviewed the more than one hundred page document. The director of N.C.P.S.A., Dr. Don Petry and Dr. John Stoops, the head of the Middle States association, considered the dean of accreditation in America, worked with Rabbi Kaplan to help him meet both the standards of N.C.P.S.A. and the needs of Jewish Day Schools.
When he was appointed to head the education office of the Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch-Central Organization for Jewish Education in 2000, Rabbi Kaplan brought the proposed accreditation agency under the auspices of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch. In the ensuing three years the National Accreditation Board of Merkos – C.O.J.E. has established itself as a credible association and worked toward full recognition by N.C.P.S.A. and was granted candidacy status two years ago. At the bi-annual meeting of NCPSA in Scottsdale, Arizona on January 15th the NAB of COJE was unanimously elected to full membership.
The Accreditation world has been moving to consolidate and become more uniform in the last decade. The regional associations and the NCPSA formed a super-agency called CITA, the Commission for International and Inter-Territorial Accreditation, which now represents the highest body in accreditation. By its membership in NCPSA the NAB COJE will be listed as an agency under CITA as well. Thus through its accreditation protocols the NAB of COJE will also be awarding CITA recognition, the highest level of international accreditation, to the schools it accredits.