Tag Archives: NAIS

#NAISAC14, Day One

The National Association of Independent Schools is holding its annual conference right now, and as I have in some past years, I’ve resolved to try and read up on at least a portion of the many wonderful things happening there and reflect on them here. This installment follows the first full day.

Bo Adams caught my attention early by tweeting, “Now that would make a great course! ‘Our relationship with water.'” I wrote back to say that’s exactly a topic we in the middle school have been brainstorming about for a possible month-long interdisciplinary project one day. He sent an encouraging note asking me to keep him informed, and I linked him to our blog.

Bo also asked one of the most provocative questions I ran across today, “If school is supposed to prepare students for real life, then why doesn’t it look more like real life?” (I highly recommend you read his entire article!) As I think on this question, my mind jumps to my Humanities 7 classroom, where students right now are finishing up the scripts they will produce and stage in the Theatre 7 class this spring. They set “breaking stereotypes” as a common theme to tie the three different plays together, and agreed as a class that they wanted each play to be a modern take on a well-known story or fairy tale. Working in groups of five, they have set characters, developed plotlines, and worked daily to create each script line by painstaking line. Essentially, they are doing what teams of writers do for TV shows, except on a different scale and for the stage.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the students said, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” and this is certainly not the first year I’ve heard someone say that. Each student is brimful of wonderful, creative ideas, and is passionate about her vision. Yet, unlike during class discussions of literature and various issues, there is no agreeing to disagree here. In the end, choices must be made all along the way, and at any given point in time, only one specific word may be written. The challenge becomes how to genuinely value each member of the group and her contributions yet maintain a unified and logical vision for the play. They all desperately want to be included, and desperately want to be inclusive. Each group has hit the wall at least once. Each group has eventually found a way to work through their differences, sometimes on their own, sometimes with my assistance. If that’s not real life, I don’t know what is!

And I’m happy to add that, along whatever the students may be learning about collaboration, they are creating solid and enjoyable scripts and I know the community will love the spring production when it goes up on May 30.

Later on in the morning, as a teacher in a girls school, I was delighted to hear from Online School for Girls Executive Director Brad Rathgeber that John Chubb, the President of NAIS, had said some kind things about great innovations in girls schools. The NAISAC14 Community Daily expanded on that general theme by including a link to the President’s blog originally shared by the National Coalition for Girls Schools. In the blog, Dr. Chubb describes a visit to Roland Park Country School, a school in Maryland that has a coed pre-school and is all girls for grades K-12. When he writes “I was also struck by the strength of leadership among the students, the high level of engagement in the arts and athletics, and the sheer joy in the school culture,” I saw our own school, as I’m sure many girls school teachers did as well.

Roland Park is currently working on starting up a charter middle school for girls. Dr. Chubb notes, “In the end, Roland Park believes it understands how to do something very well — educate girls and young women — and wants to see if it can extend its service, and learn new lessons in the process.” I wish them all the best; in my mind, anything good girls schools can do to promote girl-positive environments for all students everywhere can only benefit all of us. Similarly, Dr. Chubb writes, “What I have found… is that the schools that see themselves as part of the larger community of schools and are willing to learn from ‘the competition’ tend to gain strength from the experience.” Those goals echo those of the recently formed #PubPriBridge group to which I belong.

In the end, I believe deeply, we need for all students at all schools, public and private, to benefit from the best possible education, and toward that end, we need for us all to pull together and learn from each other.

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Filed under Gender, In the Classroom, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School

Adding Value

John Chubb, the President of the National Association of Independent Schools, has written a follow-up to the Prominent Research Gathering held at NAIS on Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 6-7 (and about which I wrote on Jan. 8) on the President’s blog. Entitled “Research and Ravenscroft,” it takes a look at what other independent schools can learn from Ravenscroft’s work and illuminates some of the themes set at the gathering.

Dr. Chubb writes that “The independent school folks we asked to join this meeting are at the forefront of the movement to use data to inform school decision-making.” As a long-standing day school (it was founded in 1862), Dr. Chubb notes, Ravenscroft has repeatedly adapted to the changing population of the region, thriving through these continually evolving challenges. So far, so good, although we are (for the moment) a little short on details.

Dr. Chubb continues on to reference Caroline Hoxby, an economics professor at Stanford whose fields of expertise include the economics of education, and Marguerite Roza, director of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University and whose specialties include finance and productivity. Dr. Hoxby noted that as the population of people interested in and able to send their children to independent schools diversifies, “We need to appreciate that by virtue of their diverse educational, racial, and ethnic backgrounds, our ability to reach them may need to be much different and more nuanced than has been our custom.” (Chubb) Dr. Roza suggested that “If schools directed more of their effort and resources toward having the best teachers in town, they might find that other expenditures made to meet parent and student demand are less necessary.” (Chubb)

As someone who works in a school that seeks to promote diversity from a number of perspectives, I find I have mixed feelings about these sentiments. Dr. Hoxby’s notion of working hard to ensure we are thoroughly aware of the diverse population of our school and their highly individual needs appeals to me, of course. How better to serve our students? On the other hand, Dr. Roza’s suggestion raises serious questions. I have no quarrel, of course, with independent schools seeking skilled and gifted teachers – all schools, all students, in public and private schools alike, deserve this. What worries me is the “other expenditures… are less necessary.” part. I’m not sure what this could refer to other than the “extras” such as athletics, a comprehensive arts program, advisory, community service, a wealth of clubs such as Debate and the Literary Society, and more. In point of fact, these kinds of signature programs are fundamentally necessary to our school, and not just because they bring us wonderful students seeking these very opportunities which are far too frequently denied to public schools due to funding cuts and monies diverted to over-testing. Research is quite clear that a holistic program that nurtures the whole child produces better results in all areas as each one reinforces the others. So, were we to shift our resources away from these areas, not only would we conceivably be attracting a less diverse population, but also we would conceivably be doing a poorer job helping each student grow as much as possible in her personal and unique diversity of talents.

Dr. Chubb also refers to another article listing some of the questions raised during the gathering, and they are intriguing. For one example, the group asked “Is the independent school experience driven by what families want? By the structure and nature of schools? By the business community’s needs?” There are a wealth of discussions that could be held around any one of these questions. As in the past, Dr. Chubb notes that “Here in this blog and through our social media outlets, we’ll be asking you to comment and to share your experiences.” It is my fervent hope that a wide range of schools, educators, and families engage in the discussion.

In this light, the conclusion to my cousin Dr. Bruce Baker’s reaction to Dr. Chubb’s blog may be informative. He writes, “Policymakers and advocates seeking to craft academic value-added metrics for private schools might be wise instead to consider how the individualization and talent development approach of private schools (with access to rich curricular, co-curricular and extra-curricular opportunities so often classified as inefficiencies and undermining narrowly measured value-added) might inform policies and practices in public schooling.” Given what I know of research, given my personal experience in an independent school unfettered by NCLB and high-stakes testing run amok, and given my staunch support of the need to advocate for our public schools, I would completely agree.

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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

An Open Letter to Dr. John Chubb

Dear Dr. Chubb,

I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: congratulations on your appointment to be President of the National Association of Independent Schools! Over the past decade, I have come increasingly to trust NAIS to gently but firmly shake up my thinking, causing me to examine at a deep level what I am doing, why I am doing it, and how it is working. In the process, and supported also with my work in other organizations such as AMLE, NELMS, MiddleWeb and the Center for Teaching Quality, I’ve learned to walk the talk in terms of being genuinely and deeply student-centered, I’ve learned about new research and how it can inform our practice, and I’ve seen my school’s middle level program, created in 2004, thrive as we have put these principles to work. As a member of NAIS, I am happy to welcome you to the organization, and look forward to working with you and the thousands of other members of NAIS to strengthen not only my school, not only independent schools in general, but also all schools in this country, public and private.

I know you’re aware there has been some concern over your appointment to this position, and while I suppose it goes with the territory, I’m sure it can’t be easy. I myself have shared some of those concerns, for example those expressed in this comment at ISENET while reacting to your article “The Best Teachers In the World,” but have also had the impression that you sincerely want the best for schools. That may be one reason why I chose to reach out to you via the NAIS website. And you proved the sincerity of the offer by reaching out to me, wanting as you said not only to answer my question but also to engage in a conversation in a way that email just wouldn’t have facilitated. I respect you for that, and through the conversation you gained my respect in other ways.

My question to you was, “How will you go about selecting policies you promote to help strengthen independent school education, and how do you foresee these actions strengthening public schools alongside us?” I appreciated your initial answer that you saw your job as more about determining policy directions desired by NAIS membership and helping facilitate those and less about trying to promote your own personal opinions. There are indeed some amazing thought leaders in the NAIS community, and they can be tremendous resources, supporting you in your work as you continue to help all of us learn about our profession and craft. Of course, NAIS is a large and diverse organization whose schools fulfill a range of missions, but I would hope and think there are indeed principles around which we could, would, should all coalesce.

Through your writings, I had come to think of you as a person who focuses on teacher quality and student achievement, and I know these are far too often code words for the overuse of testing and the provably unreliable Value-Added Measurement. Of course, research does confirm that teacher quality affects student learning more than any other factor within schools; we didn’t discuss this point but I’m sure you know that extra-school factors weigh even more heavily in student success. I was delighted and relieved to learn that you view success much more broadly than just measurable academic achievement. This reinforces a passage from the statement you wrote to members on your appointment: “We have become accustomed to thinking of our schools almost exclusively as places that impart knowledge and skills, boost student achievement, raise test scores, and help us compete in the international economy. I am reminded every day of the other things that good schools do for their children—love them, instill in them life affirming values, protect them, give them hope and confidence, and prepare them to make a better world.” (Chubb) I shared with you some of the priorities the parents in our school have set for their daughters – “Happiness,” the number one goal of parents in the 2006-2007 school year, or the top four goals of this year’s parents: emerging passion for something, self-confidence, leadership, and – again – happiness. You understood and agreed on their importance. And I agree that schools need to be about so much more than just academics.

Indeed, that is the design and focus of the middle school program I helped start here at Stoneleigh-Burnham nine years ago. Without the ossified structures and remnants of years of well-intentioned but misguided practice, we were free to look at what research told us to do, focusing particularly on the guiding principles of This We Believe, published by AMLE (then the National Middle School Association). Our intention was, as we put it at the time, to do it right, right from the start. Academic, artistic, athletic, and social development all have their place in our program, and mutually reinforce each other. I know in your podcast you mentioned your intention to do a listening tour, observing different schools and talking to members of their communities, and I am honored that you have asked to come visit our school and see our mission and philosophy in action. We look forward to welcoming you.

In our conversation, we also talked about great schools, and you and I agreed that examples can be found among traditional public, charter, independent, and other private schools. I offered the idea that this was an opportunity for NAIS, for if we were to promote great models of learning from across the educational spectrum, it would help us build bridges.

In your statement to NAIS members upon your appointment, you also wrote: “I am hopeful for all of our country’s schools. But I am especially optimistic about schools with the intelligence, focus, leadership, and freedom to meet the future head-on.” (Chubb) Once again, I completely agree with you. And as we all look to the future, I hope and trust we will all work together to strengthen not only the independent schools in our direct charge but also public schools, equally important to our nation’s future.

Bill Ivey
Middle School Dean
Stoneleigh-Burnham School

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Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School

Real World Issues

The 2012 National Association of Independent Schools Annual Conference has begun, with Sally in attendance representing our school. On Thursday on Twitter, someone named Bo Adams commented on remarks by Pat Bassett, the President of NAIS: “Pat Bassett shows exemplars of innovative school practice. What is common denom? Stus working on REAL WORLD ISSUES! #naisac12”

My mind immediately flew to an email I received this afternoon from Humanities 8 teacher Karen Suchenski. One of her students, in researching a project on slavery, had come across an abhorrent, racist website that was essentially built around “creative” and constant use of the n-word. The class was properly outraged and wanted to do something about it. She was wondering what I thought.

What I thought was that there were probably a ton of websites out there that were just as objectionable. I did a search on “white supremacist” (ignoring for the moment that the above-mentioned website claims they are not white supremacists, noting that they accept all races, creeds, and colors – with the obvious exception also noted) and got several million hits. I learned of another website no less objectionable but far more trafficked. And I pondered what the kids might do in the face of such virulent racism.

I suggested to Karen that one of the strongest possible approaches might be to develop and implement an anti-racist campaign. One presumes that unreconstructed racists will be hard to reach, and equally committed anti-racists will of course need no convincing. It’s the middle ground we would need to reach – well-meaning people who might not understand all the forms racism might take or be aware of the pervasiveness of its continuing influence on our society, people who are ready for growth but just might not know yet that they need to grow, or how.

Karen will be taking our ideas back to the kids to see what they think. It absolutely is, as she notes, a teachable moment, and what has to come next is figuring out what they want to learn, how deeply committed they continue to want to do something about it, and what (if any) next steps make the most sense.

Meanwhile, the Humanities 7 class has been dealing with a different kind of real world issue. In collaborating on their plays, all three groups have had moments when they have hit a wall and become convinced that they won’t be able to finish their work effectively. They are deeply committed to maintaining relationships, and indeed what seems to scare them even more than the spectre of not finishing their plays is the thought of damaging their relationships with their peers. They understand compromise can solve many problems, but are insightful enough to recognize that sometimes, compromise doesn’t lead to a good solution, and sometimes it isn’t even possible. As one might expect of students at strong risk for the Curse of the Good Girl, many of them want to walk away from the problems and not deal with them. I told them that, unless they live as hermits, they will have to deal with such conflicts throughout their lives, noting that even people in strong marriages (or other long-term committed relationships) may be incredibly annoyed by each other from time to time but that doesn’t mean the relationship is being weakened – indeed, how they handle such conflict can even strengthen their relationship in the long term. Ellen and I have given the students strategies for identifying and discussing conflict, and for laying down guidelines for group work that will help them get along and achieve their goals. As much progress as they have made, it seems as though the February blahs may have been clouding their vision. Hopefully, when they return bright-eyed and rested after spring break, they will see what they have accomplished.


Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective