Middle States Commission On Secondary Schools - History


The genesis of the Association can be traced to a meeting of activist college presidents in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in February 1887. The meeting was held to protest a proposed tax on college properties and concluded with the consensus that education from early age through the university was in chaos. The presidents chartered themselves as the College Association of Pennsylvania, soon thereafter renamed the Association of the Colleges and Secondary Schools of the Middle States and Maryland.

During the early years, many of the education luminaries of the day contributed to the formation of the Association. A few of the early leaders included President E.H. Magill of Swarthmore College, President Nicholas M. Butler of Columbia University, President Charles Adams of Cornell, Headmaster Thomas Sidwell of the Sidwell Friends School, Headmaster James McKenzie of Lawrenceville School, Provost William Pepper of the University of Pennsylvania, and President Woodrow Wilson of Princeton University.

The initial objectives of the Association were to standardize the qualifications required for admission to college, to determine the desired characteristics for college preparatory schools, to recommend courses of study for both colleges and schools, to foster school and college relationships to each other and to the government, and to study and recommend best practices of organization and governance.

During the early years, the Association’s discussions on the standardization of academic credentials led to the creation of the College Board and the Carnegie Unit as ways to assure quality of academic offerings and the trustworthiness of the participating institutions. Educational accreditation, the current mission of the Association, was introduced in 1919 and 1921 with the formation of the Commission on Higher Education (CHE) and Commission on Secondary Schools (CSS). The Commissions established the concept of peer evaluation in the Region and contributed to the evolving collegiality between the two levels of education.

In the years that followed, accreditation in the Middle States region and around the country defined the characteristics of quality in American secondary and higher education. The Middle States Association concentrated its efforts on accreditation activities. The original objectives of the Association that concentrated on the critique of American education shifted to national organizations of educational specialists. The Commission on Higher Education was located at Columbia University and the Commission on Secondary Schools at the University of Pennsylvania. The two Commissions created standards and protocols to accredit their institutions.

Initially, only four-year colleges and universities and traditional high schools were offered accreditation. Visits were short, conducted often by only one person and were often very prescriptive in nature. Information sought from the institutions was quantitative, and denial of accreditation was often based on a single issue. During these early decades, institutions accredited by CHE had little or no contact with the Commission. It was not until the mid-fifties that the ten-year cycle of accreditation was introduced, and the process became more qualitative. Institutions were expected to submit comprehensive self-studies, and the process became mission centered.

At this time, institutions were required to submit periodic review reports and host special Commission visitors. CHE offered a number of qualitative approaches for self-study, and CSS was an important partner in the creation of the Evaluative Criteria, published by NSSE. This document defined the American public high school. The two Commissions expanded the scope of their work to include community colleges, teacher education institutions, vocational technical schools, and special education schools.

In 1957, the Association obtained a Charter of its own from the Board of Regents of the State of New York. In 1975, the Association changed its name once more to accommodate the emerging interest in the accreditation of elementary schools: The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. In 1976, the two Commissions relocated together to the University City Science Center in Philadelphia. In 1978, the Trustees of the Association unanimously voted to form a third accreditation unit, the Assembly of Elementary Schools, ten years later to become the Commission on Elementary Schools. (CES). The two school Commissions formed the bridge Committee on Institution Wide Accreditation (CIWA) to recommend accreditation action on institutions that serve schools that span the PK-12 continuum.

In 1992, the Trustees granted wide range autonomy to each of the three Commissions in areas of finance, policy, and personnel. At the same time, the Association was reincorporated in the State of Delaware and finally in 2002 in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In 1994, the Commission on Elementary Schools moved its operation from the condominium office to the Philadelphia suburb of Bala Cynwyd to provide space to accommodate growth in the two remaining Commissions. During the 1990s and into the new Century, all three Commissions experienced growth in the region and around the world in both traditional and nontraditional delivery systems, including early age, distance education, and a wide variety of emerging educational entities.

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