School of ThoughtINSIGHTS ON EDUCATION
THE ADVANTAGES OF AN INDEPENDENT SCHOOL
ntaplin 10:34 am on April 20th, 2011
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As parents, we want the very best education for our children. We are in an era of school choice where families can select from traditional and non-traditional public schools, a wide variety of private—including independent—and parochial schools and home schooling options. As we look carefully at the choices available to us, we look at how each might meet our children’s specific needs and at the advantages that each offers. When taking a close look at independent schools, it is clear to see that the advantages are many.
Independent schools all have their own missions, nuances and points of differentiation, as well as many common traits, such high academic standards, small class sizes and individualized attention, excellent educators and an emphasis on education of the whole child.
High Academic Standards
While it would be difficult to find a school that doesn’t state high academic standards, “Independent schools nurture intellectual curiosity, stimulate personal growth and encourage critical thinking. A larger percentage of students at independent schools are enrolled in advanced courses than in public, parochial and other private schools.” (NAIS 2009) At Tesseract School, a private independent school, we emphasize a rigorous curriculum that encourages students to master core knowledge and acquire advanced skills, such as how to be creative and critical thinkers, collaborators and synthesizers of knowledge, paving the way for success in college and in life. Independent schools’ small class sizes also enable educators to evaluate the individual strengths and weaknesses of every student, pushing each student—as an advocate—to higher achievement.
Small Classes and Personalized Attention
“Independent schools have low student-teacher ratios that encourage close connections with students. The median ratio in NAIS schools in 2008-2009 was 8.6 students to 1 teacher.” (NAIS 2009) Independent schools such as Tesseract have small class sizes, which allow for personalized attention and strong relationship building. Allowing for personalized attention enables our educators to recognize students’ different learning styles and to work with each student accordingly. I also must note that having spent 34 years of my professional life in independent schools, as well as having attended independent schools throughout my childhood, I have found the relationships between students and educators and students and their peers to be a distinct advantage common among independent schools. This is key, as the strong relationships that are developed between and among the students and educators establish trust and respect for one another, creating a “home away from home” and a culture in which students want to come to school and engage in their own growth, and in which they can thrive.
At independent schools educators “…usually teach in their areas of expertise and are passionate about what they do. With more autonomy within the classroom, teachers are able to develop a full understanding of how each student learns and what interests and motivates each individually.” (NAIS 2009) Outstanding educators who are passionate about what they do and who have autonomy within the classroom benefit students greatly, which is why at Tesseract our educators are given the freedom and support to expand and share their expertise, and we provide the best possible environment to spark their passion for teaching and for developing the love of learning in every student.
Education for the Whole Child
“Independent schools nurture not just students’ intellectual ability and curiosity but also their personal and social growth and civic conscience. Opportunities extend well beyond the classroom to athletic competitions, artistic pursuits, and school leadership experiences.” (NAIS 2009) For example at Tesseract, our commitment to academic excellence includes our “whole student” approach to teaching, which promotes social, emotional and intellectual development and challenges our students to be fully and actively involved in their education. We provide our students with a well-rounded education that emphasizes the importance of visual and performing arts, athletics, cultural literacy and social commitment.
So what does this all mean—or better yet, what does this all amount to? Where is the evidence that an independent school education is truly advantageous for our children? One reliable source is the federally sponsored National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS). This study started in 1988 and traced the life experiences of students from a wide variety of school types and backgrounds into the 21st century. In this study it was found that independent school graduates:
-Lead the nation in post-secondary achievement
-Express strong satisfaction with their careers and confidence in opportunities for further training
-Are skilled in technology for the 21st century workplace
-Pursue healthy, active adult lives
-Place higher value on community service and civic participation.
The above are but a few highlights from the report, which is why I encourage you to review the NELS, http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/nels88/, for more information and results found by the study to learn more about the advantages and the value of an independent school education.
National Association of Independent Schools (July 27, 2009). The Independent School Advantage. Retrieved from http://www.nais.org/parents/index.cfm?ItemNumber=149195
IES National Center for Education Statistics. National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88) Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/nels88/