In the dynamic realm of education, non-public schools hold a distinct place, offering tailored learning experiences to students. In addition to offering diverse curricula, non-public institutions play a pivotal role in shaping the future of learning. That future calls for a commitment to continuous school improvement.

The Unique Path to Continuous School Improvement in Non-Public Education

With over 30,000 private schools in the United States (National Center for Education Statistics), this sector adds diversity and complexity to schools’ educational landscape. According to Groves and George (2022), the continuous improvement journey emphasizes the role of leadership and coherence in driving continuous improvement in educational institutions, underscoring the significance of strong leadership and a unified approach to achieving excellence.

Equitable Access, Affordability Challenges, and Unique Environment

One of the foremost challenges for non-public education is the pursuit of equitable access and affordability. Balancing financial sustainability with inclusive admissions policies remains an ongoing concern. Schools must innovate to attract diverse student populations while upholding their commitment to quality education (Squire, King, and Trinidad, 2019). These factors set them apart from their public-school counterparts, creating a distinctive educational landscape in which continuous improvement is a complex endeavor.

Non-public schools often operate within a different set of constraints than their public-school counterparts. While public schools may receive more extensive government funding and support, non-public schools typically rely heavily on tuition fees as their primary source of revenue. This financial structure necessitates careful financial planning to ensure sustainability while keeping education affordable for a diverse range of students. Additionally, non-public schools often have unique governance structures that can vary widely from school to school, adding another layer of complexity to their operations.

Data Transformation and Improvement Strategies

Non-public institutions have a greater level of autonomy than public schools, which allows for innovation in the continuous improvement planning process (Lee, Price and Swaner, 2022). When some schools gather data on their performance, they often find themselves asking, “now what?” They face the challenge of transforming data into actionable plans for improvement.

When some schools gather data on their performance, they often find themselves asking, “now what?” They face the challenge of transforming data into actionable plans for improvement.

As Louis Gomez (2015) emphasizes, “New data systems really have to allow [teachers and principals] to say what they want to accomplish and determine whether they’ve accomplished it.” He further highlights that “Just monitoring how we’re doing is not going to help us get better” (Gomez, Bryk, Grunow, & LeMahieu, 2015).

Non-public schools tend to have more flexibility in curriculum, staffing, and other practices and they are not tied to the same level of conformity as public schools (Kahan, 2021). This flexibility allows educators to tailor data analysis to their specific needs, fostering innovative approaches to addressing performance gaps and enhancing instructional practices.

To bridge performance gaps and maximize the potential of data-driven improvement, schools can draw valuable insights from recent research. Goldring and Berends (2008) highlight the pivotal role of data in shaping instructional practices and driving continuous improvement in educational settings (Goldring & Berends, 2008). They further emphasize that “data can serve as a catalyst to promote organizational learning” (Goldring & Berends 33). Their study reveals that while non-public schools may face resource constraints, they possess a unique advantage in fostering personalized learning experiences (Goldring & Berends, 2008).

Research by Schildkamp (2019) underscores that data collection should serve a purpose, stating that “considerable amounts of data are collected in schools because people have been collecting them for many years, rather than for purposeful reasons” (Schildkamp (2019).

Data, Schildcamp emphasizes, should be viewed as the foundation for telling a school’s story accurately. When schools collect and analyze data comprehensively, data can reveal strengths, identify areas for growth, and help leaders make informed decisions. Data-driven improvement aligns with Cognia Performance Standards and empowers educators and administrators to create a roadmap for improvement tailored to their institution’s specific needs (Research Brief: Cognia Accreditation, 2023).

Cognia Accreditation Process: A Comprehensive Roadmap

Gone are the days when schools would neatly arrange binders on a conference table only to shelve them once the accreditation team departed. Accreditation is no longer a one-time event.  Instead, Cognia champions a dynamic approach to accreditation that focuses on the exhilarating journey of continuous improvement, a top priority for sustaining the unique identities of non-public schools.

Gone are the days when schools would neatly arrange binders on a conference table only to shelve them once the accreditation team departed.

Cognia understands that a school’s culture, mission, and beliefs are at the core of its community. In Cognia’s approach, the self-assessment process encourages schools to harness the Cognia Performance Standards as versatile tools that can be seamlessly woven into a school’s values and aspirations. The goal is to ensure that accreditation isn’t just a periodic checklist; it becomes an organic, integral part of a school’s culture, bringing improvement to life.

Elgart (2023) emphasizes the impact of accreditation, stating, “Accreditation provides actionable data that helps schools improve.” He further asserts that “the peer-review process asks crucial questions that reveal the basis of student and school performance” (Elgart, 2023). Cognia provides unwavering support throughout this transformative expedition. Cognia empowers non-public schools to continually adapt, innovate, and excel, allowing them to provide nothing less than an exceptional education to their students while staying true to their unique identities.

Support for Low-Performing Non-Public Schools

Cognia recognizes that some non-public schools may face the challenge of low performance. For these institutions, the Cognia Accreditation Process serves as a lifeline. It offers targeted support and expert guidance to help low-performing schools identify their weaknesses and develop effective strategies for improvement. Cognia’s focus goes beyond assessing performance to providing the necessary resources and expertise to catalyze positive change. Cognia’s school turnaround services focus on root causes, helping schools create their visions and generate measurable results.

Continuous school improvement takes on a unique character in non-public education. The Cognia Accreditation Process recognizes the specific challenges faced by non-public schools and provides solutions that go beyond basic attempts at improvement. With a legacy of expertise, Cognia equips non-public schools, including those facing low performance, with the tools and support needed to thrive and excel in their missions, ensuring that each institution shapes a brighter future for its students.


David Kahan & Thomas L. McKenzie (2021) Website Representations of Physical Education and Physical Activity: Comparison of Public Charter and Private Schools, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 92:4, 865-872, DOI: 10.1080/02701367.2020.1761934

Elgart, Mark. “The Role of Accountability Systems and Regional Accreditation in Improving K–12 Education.” 2023, Cognia.

Gomez, L., Bryk, A. S., Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. (2015). Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better. Harvard Education Publishing.

Groves, B.R. & George, M.S. (2022). Connecting the dots of accreditation: Leadership, coherence, and continuous improvement. Rowman & Littlefield.

Matthew Lee, Eric Price & Lynn Swaner. (2022). The Effect of Private School Choice Regulations on School Participation: Experimental Evidence from the Christian School Sector. Journal of School Choice. DOI: 10.1080/15582159.2022.2113011

National Center for Education Statistics. “Table 105.50. Number and enrollment of private elementary and secondary schools, by school type, affiliation, and program emphasis: Selected years, 1995-96 through 2018-19.”

Research Brief: Cognia Accreditation, 2023, Cognia.

Schildkamp, Kim. “Data-based decision-making for school improvement: Research insights and gaps.” Educational Research, vol. 61, no. 3, 2019, pp. 257-273. DOI: 10.1080/00131881.2019.1625716

Squire, Juliet, Melissa Steel King, and Justin Trinidad. “Working Toward Equitable Access and Affordability: How Private Schools and Microschools Seek to Serve Middle- and Low-Income Students.” July 2019, Bellwether Education.

Adina Victor, Ed.D.
 Adina Victor, Ed.D., is Vice President of Non-Public Services for Cognia. She works with our non-public partner associations and supports school and system leaders with accreditation services. Adina is a passionate leader who plays an active role to make innovation thrive in PK-12 Education. She began her career as a Catholic elementary school teacher then grew into leadership roles as building level administrator, eLearning executive and later served as assistant superintendent of curriculum and assessments in one of the largest diocesan school districts in the southeast. She is a strong effective professional with a Doctor of Education degree  (Ed.D.) focused in Educational Leadership and Administration.