Monday, December 6, 2010

Notes about Independent School Effectiveness

The following post about independent school effectiveness is taken from

Roddy, T. (2010). Frame analysis of the self-perceived leadership orientations of headmasters of the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest, Southern Association of Independent Schools, and the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington member schools (Doctoral dissertation, University of New Orleans, 2010).

Making an impact is an important end in education (Fullan, 2001). As institutions of education, schools are charged with making impacts. These impacts are felt by the entire school community including: students, families, teachers, staff, and administration. Ultimately, the school leader is responsible for whether or not the school is indeed making an impact. This is not an easy task. The challenges presented in today’s schools are more frequent, more challenging, and more intense; thus they demand “a new level of excellence” from their leaders (Green, 2005).

Independent schools have a record of delivering excellence to both students and teachers. According to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) (2006), independent school students study core knowledge at advanced levels. The NAIS (2006) reported that 85% of students attending NAIS member schools study a foreign language before the eighth grade, compared to 24% of students overall. The NAIS (2006) also states that students at NAIS schools were more than twice as likely to complete algebra in eighth grade (70% of NAIS students, compared to 32% of all students polled who completed algebra after eighth grade). Similar findings were reported by the United States Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (2002):

Achievement tests in reading, mathematics, and science show higher average scores for private school students. In addition, private schools tend to require more years of core academic subjects for high school graduation than do public schools, with some variation across school types. Graduates of private high schools have on average completed more advanced courses than public school graduates in science, mathematics, and foreign language (p. 26).

Completing these courses early allows independent school students to take the most advanced courses during their final years of high school (NAIS, 2006). These more demanding academic requirements for independent school students appear to pay off after high school graduation.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2007) published by the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that “the college enrollment rate of recent high school graduates has been trending upward” (p. 1). This government report revealed that 65.8% of 2006 high school graduates were enrolled in college in October 2006 (United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2007). The statistics used for the report by the Department of Labor included graduates from all types of high schools (public, private, and independent) as well as enrollment figures from two and four year colleges and universities.

At first glance, an enrollment of 65.8% appears to indicate that school leaders from all types of schools are fairly successful, but further investigation reveals a much higher percentage of independent school graduates enrolled, especially in four year colleges. When public and independent schools are compared, not only do a much higher percentage of independent school students graduate from high school (99.3% compared to 88% in public school), but enrollment in four year colleges indicates independent schools appear to be more effective in helping students gain access to college (NAIS, 2006). Referencing the National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey 1999-2000, the National Association of Independent Schools (2006) reports “93 percent of NAIS students went on to a four-year college, compared to 35 percent of all public high school students in 1999-2000” (p. 1). These findings support previous reports indicating that private school students are more likely than public school students to engage in post-secondary studies and/or graduate with a bachelor’s degree or higher (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2002).

Once independent school graduates begin college, they continue to excel among their peers. A number of indicators concerning grade expectation, attitudes towards continuing education, and relationships with college faculty suggest additional indicators of future success may be present. Using survey data from the Higher Education Research Institute’s Freshmen Survey, the NAIS (2005) notes that 67% of NAIS graduates expect to make a B average in college compared to 58% of all others, 86% of NAIS graduates plan to pursue a postgraduate degree compared to 74% of all others, 46% of NAIS graduates asked teachers’ advice after class compared to 25% of all others, and 52% of NAIS graduates were likely to have been a guest in a teacher’s home compared to 28% of all others (p. 3). These findings indicate that an independent school graduate is entering college with a skill set and outlook on their education that allows for the best possible chance at success while attending college.

In addition to enrollment statistics, college expectations, and attitudes towards teachers, graduation rates from four year colleges are overwhelmingly higher among independent school graduates. NAIS (2006) reports:

The “National Educational Longitudinal Study” showed that graduates of NAIS independent schools were nearly twice as likely as public school students to have completed a four-year degree or higher (76.3 percent of NAIS graduates and 38.1 percent of public school graduates). For students from the lowest socioeconomic bracket, the results were even more dramatic than for the group as a whole: Students in low socioeconomic brackets who attended private school in eighth grade were more than three times more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree or higher by their mid-20s as public school students from the same economic bracket (24 percent private school students and 7 percent public) (p. 1).

In conclusion

I have been an independent school administrator for a number of years now.  I have also studied with, worked with, and made strong friendships with plenty of educators who do not work in private or independent schools. 

In writing this article, I am not attempting to stir up a private vs. public school debate.  I am simply pointing out and recognizing the good work of those who have chosen to educate the students who attend these schools.


Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Green, R. L. (2005). Practicing the art of leadership: A problem-based approach to implementing the ISLLC standards. (2nd ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

National Association of Independent Schools. (2005). Independent schools: Preparing students for achievement in college and beyond. Key findings from the Freshman Survey Trends Report. Washington, D.C.: National Association of Independent Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 493599)

National Association of Independent Schools. (2006). A statistical snapshot of NAIS member schools. Retrieved June 30, 2007, from

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2002). Private Schools: A Brief Portrait. Washington, D.C.

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