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Independent Schools in the World: John Chubb Responds to Further Questions

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In this, the second of a two-part post, National Association of Independent Schools president John Chubb responds to questions based on his on-the-ground experience as the leading voice in the diverse world of independent schools. NAIS, readers might be reminded, is a membership organization of over a thousand schools whose shared characteristics include self-governance, financial independence, non-profit status, and freedom from most taxation and much educational regulation. Most recent NAIS statistics (2012-13) show average member school size as 502 students and average median tuitions as $20,612 (day) and $46,800 (boarding).

The first half of this interview can be found here. Interested readers can also view a Q&A with Dr. Chubb from the summer of 2013 here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

QUESTION: Previously you addressed the question of independent schools' educational value to individual students and families, but there also is the question of their value to society. With pressures mounting on certain aspects of independent schools' operating milieu--tax policy and regulatory policy, sometimes at the national level and sometimes at the very local--what can independent schools do, individually and as a sector, to better make the case for themselves as a social good? Have you seen especially effective models of this?

JOHN CHUBB: Our schools have long and often promoted community service, and we could probably do more to communicate the good work that our students do while at school and more important, after graduation, later in life. Better tracking and sharing of alumni good works could be compelling.

More important, I think, is the work that graduates are likely to do in their professions and occupations. To contribute successfully in today's and the future's economy requires different skills than in generations past. Our schools have traditionally offered liberal arts curricula. This remains important, but so too are new skills such as those measured by the Mission Skills Assessment [see reference and link here] and applied fields such as engineering. Our schools could and should become leaders in the curricular and instructional innovations required of great schools in the twenty-first century.

QUESTION: We've seen increasing activity in the development of independent school-public school partnerships lately, and I'm wondering if you have thoughts on how these relationships can develop in ways that are symmetrically beneficial and not just a kind of one-way "community service."

JOHN CHUBB: I am a big believer in public-private partnerships, of the genuine variety where the learning goes in both directions. I applaud our schools that have forged partnerships and model them for others through the National Network of Schools in Partnership. However, I have been disappointed in my first year with NAIS in the progress schools of all types have made with this idea. I have discussed the idea with national leaders of charter schools and urban public schools. Everyone likes the idea. But frankly, we are all so busy with challenges unique to our respective sectors that collaboration falls down the priority list. And then there is also the matter of competitive threat.

That said, I was impressed by the professional development partnership forged by the Washington International School and local public and charter schools. I think we have lots to learn from each other in the areas of talent recruitment and development (think Teach for America), leadership development, and education technology, to name a few areas. I have blogged about these opportunities recently and hope folks interested will have a look.

QUESTION: I know that we're both pretty huge believers in the independent school idea and in its potential as an active asset to the American and global education system as a whole. Now that you have been on the front lines for a year and talked to many school leaders and advocates, what do you think individual independent schools and educators should be doing to develop a stronger, more worthy voice in this conversation?

JOHN CHUBB: Independent schools have an obligation to their families and students, and to the larger community that makes them possible and which their students will ultimately serve. Our schools do a lot to fulfill those obligations by developing smart, well-adjusted, community-minded students. We should take great pride in this work. At the same, the good work that we do might well benefit other schools, educators, and students if emulated and even improved upon in other settings like public and charter schools. The question is how.

In my first year on the job I have been struck by how separate our world is from the public and charter school world--just as I long observed the great divide between public and charter. All of us as educators would do well--learn and improve--from opening lines of communication and participation. We don't read the same publications--how many independent school folk read Education Week? We do not hire across sectors. We do not attend the same professional meetings. We don't use the same consultants or search firms. There are exceptions, of course; Hawaii has many cross-sector initiatives. But the list of separate institutions and services could go on.

I think that serving and learning beyond our own sector requires us to take a look at a wide range of isolated practices. I see progress in this regard with instructional technology, where innovators from higher education, business, technology and schools of all types tend to attend common meetings and read and contribute to common media. I expect the future will see more of this, as all schools grapple with the question of what schools of tomorrow must do. In the meantime, we could do more to look beyond our own world as we recruit, hire, participate and grow as professionals.

I would like to offer my great thanks to John Chubb for his willingness to engage with challenging questions that go to the heart of the future of independent schools. Educators interested in hearing more on many of the topics of addressed here are urged to attend NAIS's 2015 Annual Conference in Boston this February, where Dr. Chubb will be facilitating a panel discussion among independent school educators (including me) and several of our counterparts from the public and charter sectors on "Shared Visions of the Future of Schools."

Engage with Peter Gow on Twitter: @pgow

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