Preschool Accreditation and Licensing
Accreditation is a process by which schools are evaluated and shown to meet high standards of quality. In other words, if a school is accredited by a reputable accrediting agency, it has proven itself to be a high quality institution. Accreditation is more common in colleges, universities, and junior and senior high schools, but it is becoming more popular in the world of early childhood education.
The typical accreditation process involves three steps. First, the school undergoes a self-assessment and reports its findings to the accrediting agency. Second, the accrediting agency (an external, third-party entity) performs an assessment. Third, the school is approved for accredited status, or must go back to an earlier stage of the process. The accrediting agency, throughout the course of the assessment, sends representatives to visit the school, conducts interviews with the teachers, students, and administration.
Accreditation can be a lengthy and involved process, often taking several years. This is why only 10% of the nation's early childhood education organizations are accredited.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children is the nation's largest accrediting agency for preschools.
"Accredited" is not a synonym for "licensed." Licensure is a prerequisite for accreditation. All accredited programs are licensed, therefore, but not all licensed programs are accredited.
Preschools are licensed by the state, county, or city government. Licenses are given to schools which meet minimum health, safety, and teacher training requirements set by the appropriate governing body. These requirements vary by locality; in some areas, a license merely proves that a preschool is a registered business.
As you research potential schools, ask the school's administration to see the school's license to ensure it's valid and current. Licenses can also be verified by contacting your state social services department.
Licenses do not automatically guarantee a top-notch education, but they do guarantee adherence to basic standards of quality and safety. Accredited institutions are held to even higher standards. If a school is not licensed, don't enroll your child there.