What is an Independent School?
Independent schools are unique. By generally agreed upon definition, an independent school is independent in two critical ways:
- Independent in governance (meaning that the schools are organized as not-for-profit and non-discriminatory corporations governed by a self-perpetuating board of directors, as opposed to being “owned” and run by the government (public schools), by a diocese (parochial schools) or by for-profit entities (proprietary schools).
- Independent in finance (meaning that the schools charge tuition and raise money to operate themselves, as opposed to being supported primarily by public monies or religious subsidies).
It is the independence of independent schools that offers to them the four essential freedoms that make independent schools strong:
- The freedom to define their own mission (why they exist, whom they serve).
- The freedom to regulate admissions (admitting only those students appropriate to the mission).
- The freedom to define teacher credentials (hiring, particularly in the middle school and upper school grades, liberal arts graduates who have majored in a discipline and who have a passion about teaching the subject).
- The freedom to teach what the teachers decide is important (free from state curricular and textbook and testing mandates).
It is important to note that independent schools, contrary to popular belief and their portrayal in the media, are not “elitist” in any way except in terms of academic expectations. The typical independent school often has more diversity (racially, ethnically and socio-economically) than the neighboring public schools (many of which are quite homogeneous). The socio-economic diversity of independent schools, for example, is supported by a significant commitment to financial aid. Independent school students come from all family income levels, and approximately 20 percent of them typically are supported by financial aid.
Sources: Powell (Lesson from Privilege), Heath (Schools of Hope), National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)
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