Tag Archives: Independent Schools

Gathering Research

When the appointment of Dr. John Chubb to the presidency of the National Association of Independent Schools was first announced, there was a certain level of concern expressed by a number of people over his views on education. To his very great credit, Dr. Chubb responded quickly and graciously, even talking extensively over the phone with Kim Sivick, now the Director of Professional and Organizational Development for the Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools, and with me as well. Kim and I both blogged about our respective conversations, she here and I here. Among other encouraging points Dr. Chubb then made was the desire to determine and facilitate policy directions desired by the membership.

On Jan. 6-7, 2014, NAIS held a “Prominent Research Gathering” to “identify market trends affecting independent schools, new business models that will drive growth, and methodologies to measure and articulate the benefits of an independent school education.” (NAIS website) Of the 19 people invited, three are with the Hoover Institution at Stanford and another two from Stanford itself, four are with or have published with the Brookings Institution, and one more has ties with Achieve; all of these individuals and/or these groups are associated with corporate reform policies. Of the remaining nine people who attended, only four currently work in schools – in each case, a coed day school. Two of them are Heads of School, one an Assistant Head of School for Business and Finance (who is at the same school as one of the Heads), and one a Director of Enrollment Management. At least 18 of the members of this group are white, and only five are women. Honestly, I would have hoped for much more diversity – in terms of core beliefs, school backgrounds, and demographic profile. I also tend to favour including active practitioners in the K-12 classroom in such groups.

My cousin Bruce Baker, a professor at Rutgers who is a nationally respected expert in school finance and statistical analysis, blogged on Monday about his own concerns based on views stated in the past and conclusions drawn by many members of this group. In keeping with his positive past record, Dr. Chubb responded with a courteous reply stating “I think you will find that the meeting has a very different aim than you suggest.” and “Our intent was to bring together people whose diverse opinions and expertise could challenge NAIS as we determine which research topics will help independent schools thrive long into the future.” Dr. Baker responded in kind, reaffirming politely “that the group you’ve convened is anything but diverse in terms of its views on effective and efficient resource allocation in education” – a view which, as I’ve suggested above, I happen to share.

With the meeting now over and the announcement of what ideas they discussed and what research directions they are proposing still (and soon) to emerge, I find it irresistible to imagine what the group might have discussed – or more precisely, what I hope they discussed.

Regarding market trends, I hope and trust they considered the effect of the dramatic increase in income inequality in this country: over the last 40 years, the top 1% of the country have nearly doubled their share of all wealth, from approximately 11.3% to nearly 22.5% while the bottom 90% have seen their share of wealth fall from approximately 67.5% to below 50% for the first time in history. (Pew Research) Meanwhile, “From June 2009 to June 2012, inflation-adjusted median income fell 4.8%.” (Sentier Research, reported in the Washington Post) If we are to, through our schools, truly promote diversity, social justice and equality in our society, we will need to find ways to deal positively with the negative effects of the shifting economy. Fortunately, we may do so from a position of strength, as national levels of enrollment in non-sectarian independent schools have remained relatively constant through the changing economy (note Figure 2 in Baker).

Regarding business and education models, I would imagine and hope that the group acknowledged that not all business models adapt well to education, and in particular that some of the competition-based models which schools are often urged (in the case of public schools, occasionally forced) to adopt did not work that well in the business world to begin with; see on this point yet another of Dr. Baker’s blogs. More positively, a research-based progressive model for middle schools, This We Believe by the Association for Middle Level Education, has been shown to work effectively, and is reflected at the high school level in the principles of Breaking Ranks II by the National Association for Secondary School Principals.

Regarding measures of student outcomes, the key questions here are not just how to assess students but also toward what end. My understanding is that research increasingly suggests that formative assessment is far more instrumental in learning than summative assessment, and that while standards-based assessment (such as the system used in our middle school) can be more effective than traditional grades, a system of purely narrative assessment might well be the strongest of all. As to research on the effectiveness of independent schools, one shining example would be the 2009 Sax study done at UCLA which objectively proved the effectiveness of independent girls schools in a number of important areas.

As to purpose of student assessment beyond student learning, one of the members of this group has written on the use of test scores to “deselect” teachers, firing our way to the top. Yet research shows the unreliability of Value-Added Modeling in identifying the effectiveness of a given teacher, as shown for example by John Ewing in this piece from the Washington Post. Hopefully, this group has discarded consideration of this and other empirically indefensible practices often proposed for public schools, and chosen other directions for the future.

Dr. Chubb notes that “NAIS will be posting more details of the research meeting later this week.” and, like my cousin – and no doubt a good many members of NAIS – I am looking forward to learning the ideas and directions for further research that emerge from this meeting. A year ago, in his phone call with Kim Sivick, Dr. Chubb stated, “The direction that NAIS takes in the years to come will be the direction that the schools wish to take, collectively and individually. That is as it should be. It is also the only way that I know to work effectively as a leader.” As was true a year ago, and as is likely to be true for the rest of my life, I hope and trust that NAIS schools will collectively choose a direction that promotes social justice and supports all students in the country, including those in public schools, and indeed will support students through the entire world. I am quite sure those ideals are individually true of my own school, and I am quite sure we are not alone.


Filed under Current Events, On Education, Uncategorized

Fight the Power

Recently, I had the chance to touch base with Sally, our Head of School, about some of the more political blogs I’ve posted here recently. I wanted to thank her, because I know that by no means would every school offer me the degree of freedom that I have here. She told me she views this school as being about finding one’s authentic voice, which was in one sense an eye-opening moment for me. Of course, that is a major part of our mission statement for what we do for our students, and of course, role modeling is always an important part of what we teach. But explicitly allowing and even encouraging adults to find their own authentic voices as part of a full-school holistic model? At that point, we are truly making our mission statement a way of life rather than just a lofty ideal we may or may not even be able to remember if asked.

Over the weekend, I was participating in a two-day webinar with the Center for Teaching Quality about an exciting project we’re going to be rolling out in a little while (I promise to keep you updated). At one point, they asked us to reflect on what our work with CTQ had meant to us. I thought immediately about two of the voices in the edublogging world who have influenced me profoundly, both people with whom I have worked in CTQ: Nancy Flanagan and Jose Vilson.

Nancy writes the blog “Teacher in a Strange Land” for EdWeek. Depending on the week, the “Strange Land” might be the world in which teachers struggle for voice in determining what’s best for their students, or it might be the edublogging world itself. In “Seattle Grace,” for example, Nancy begins with the question, “What would happen if teachers refused to do things that harm their students?” and develops a strong and supportive case for the actions being taken by Garfield High School teachers and others in actively resisting excessive and unhelpful mandatory district tests. In “Sports Authority,” Nancy writes about the curious parallels between sports and the edublogging world and how men, who make up 25% of the teaching profession, not only are way overrepresented in the edublogging world but also far too frequently act in a manner that marginalizes and diminishes women. In the ongoing struggle for social justice, Nancy notes, “Moving the needle is never a function of a single act of civil disobedience. The best we can hope for is a little grace–… a generous disposition toward those who care about doing what’s right.”

Jose has two outlets, his own website “The Jose Vilson” and the Future of Teaching blog in which he engages in dialogue with another strong voice whom I greatly respect, John Holland. Writing both as a male teacher of colour and as a teacher, period, Jose tells truths that may make some people stand up and cheer and may also make some people uncomfortable (with, of course, a possible overlap between the groups). His tone is always forward-looking – by speaking about and acknowledging these truths, by facing down any discomfort we may or may not be feeling, we realize, we can go about the fundamentally important work of building a better world. For example, in discussing the reactions of people to Leonard Cooper’s recent victory on Jeopardy in “The Curious Case of Leonard Cooper and the Perception of Intellect,” Jose poses the question, “Do we still perceive intelligent as natural to some and exceptional in others?” and goes on to note that “Leonard Cooper represents the potential of all children to transcend the perceptions already laid upon them. He represents adults, too, at least the ones who understand that what we see isn’t always what we get, and that’s a good thing for Leonard. For too many of our children, the buzzer sounds long far too early, and the judges aren’t as nice.”

These two people, enabling me to think deeply about my practice and the implications that go far beyond the so-called “standard curriculum,” have also inspired me to work harder and more actively for social justice in my school and in my life. In a sense, then, they stand by my side as I work with my 8th grade Life Skills students in following their lead and developing their voices. An activity on microaggressions led to deeper work with sexism; we then segued to look at girls’ brains and learning styles and research on girls schools. They are currently developing four proposals to strengthen the program of our school, and Sally has agreed to attend one of our class meetings to listen to the proposals and discuss them with the girls. The initial ideas are far-ranging, creative, and powerful in their potential, and the meeting with Sally has the potential to be the kind of signature experience in their lives they can carry forward into a world less inclined to hear their voices than it should be.

I was talking to one of my colleagues last week about my perception that the school is experiencing a cultural shift from being a girls school to being a feminist school, and she instantly came up with a variety of examples. Of course, there are many different flavours of feminism, including a way of being that rejects the label of feminist even as it embraces feminist ideals. In a school whose goal is to enable girls to find their authentic voice and be their own best self, one would hope and expect that you would find all these different flavours of feminism – and indeed, you would. In a school devoted to bringing about social justice, you would hope and expect that those feminist ideals would occasionally find voice through other struggles – anti-racism, gay rights, a broader gender activism that looks beyond female and male – and once again, I think you would find this to be true. Among our Seniors, you can find proof in Mary’s Women’s Film Series, Nafisatou’s speech on Martin Luther King Day and advocacy of the life work and legacy of Malcolm X, and Kate’s quiet but firm affirmations that sexuality and gender expression are a part of our true selves that each person alone gets to decide for themselves. Among our middle school students, you see it in the Life Skills 8 class’s questions about the full range of genders and sexualities, the Humanities 7 class’s affirmations that no one should judge anyone else by anything other than their actions, and Star’s ringing call one day to “Fight the Power!”

All teaching, Nancy and Jose helped me learn, is political. Every minute of every class is a lesson in civics, at least if I am doing my job right. Of course, as a given but also as an imperative if I am to help my students bring out their authentic voices, I must not promote a specific political ideology; as near as I can tell, I am successful in this. But, as I’ve stated before, I am uncompromising in my commitment to full equity for all people that they might be able to be their own true selves. So, too, it would seem, are my students.

I love my work.


Filed under Gender, On Education, Uncategorized, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School