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The Value of an Independent School Education

Dr. Randy Watts
The world famous musician Louis Armstrong was once asked to define jazz. His response was, “Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.”

That simple response conveys the very real sentiment that sometimes your dedication and passions are a function of your feelings, rather than an empirical understanding.
The world famous musician Louis Armstrong was once asked to define jazz. His response was, “Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.”

That simple response conveys the very real sentiment that sometimes your dedication and passions are a function of your feelings, rather than an empirical understanding.

A common challenge of independent school educators is to convey the value of our schools and what we have to offer. The answer is sometimes a combination of themes of family, community, academic rigor…. frankly, the answer can be a bit of a struggle to provide concisely. Much like jazz, it is often experienced as a feeling.

That said, there is a lot of research to support the superior educational experience that a quality independent school can provide. If you will hang in there with me, I’d like to share some of the key tenets of independent school education, as well as research that supports the value of what we do.

Okay, let’s start with the basics. Brookwood is an independent school. This means that we are not dependent on our state or federal government for financing, which instead comes from charging tuition and from fundraising.

As an independent school, Brookwood is a non-profit organization and is governed by a self-perpetuating Board of Directors. Brookwood is not run or owned by the government (public schools), by a diocese (parochial schools), or by a for-profit entity (proprietary schools).

This independence gives us the latitude to develop our own curriculum and programs, unencumbered by legislative fluctuations. We have the freedom to define our own mission statement, the freedom to regulate admissions, and the freedom to define teacher credentials and hire accordingly. We do go through a rigorous accreditation process from an outside body to ensure the strength and quality of our program.

A common misconception about independent schools is that they are elitist. The only aspects that are elitist about Brookwood are our academic and co-curricular programs and expectations. We, like many independent schools, draw from a diverse socioeconomic pool, offering tuition assistance to approximately 20% of our families; it is important to note that this assistance does not come from tuition dollars, but rather from fundraising.

We know that every family that comes to and stays at an independent school like Brookwood has to make an active decision about whether the tuition spent is worth it. There is a free, public school version of what we do out there and we need, on a daily basis, to demonstrate the value of what we have to offer.

When our community (parents, faculty, alumni, and students) was surveyed recently about the qualities that stand out about a Brookwood education, the top four were: Safe, Family, Clean, and Academically Rigorous. My interpretation of this is that there is a whole lot more to selecting a school than simply looking at SAT scores, AP scores, and college matriculation lists (all of ours are excellent, by the way...) in making the choice to come and to stay at Brookwood.

To that end, I would like to share with you some research about independent schools when compared to their public school counterparts.

Below, please find comparison data between public and private schools from a national sample (source: National Center for Educational Statistics):
  • On average, independent schools have smaller enrollments, smaller average class sizes, and lower student/teacher ratios than public schools.
  • Independent school students generally perform better than their public school counterparts on standardized achievement tests.
  • Independent high schools typically have more demanding graduation requirements than do public high schools.
  • Independent school students qualify for state scholarships at a higher rate than their public school counterparts.
  • Graduates of independent high schools have on average completed more advanced courses than public school graduates in science, mathematics, and foreign languages.
  • Independent school students are more likely than public school students to complete a bachelor’s or advanced degree.
These points reinforce the structure and outcomes associated with an independent school education.
Another recent study compared student engagement in independent and public schools. In all, the research revealed that students in independent schools perceive that they receive superior academic skill development, are able to relate positively with others, and receive positive support from teachers when compared to their public school counterparts.

Academic Skill Development
Independent school students in the survey reported that their school contributed to their development of the following skills:


Ability to Relate Positively with Others
Independent school students in the survey reported that their school contributed to the behaviors regarding their relationships with others:


Support from Teachers
Finally, independent school students reported that they felt support from their teachers:

We recognize that the decision to send a child to Brookwood School takes thought, consideration, and sacrifice. We appreciate that you have made this decision; it was the right one.

Sources:

National Association of Independent schools (2013). 2013 NAIS Report on the High School Survey of Student Engagement. Retrieved from: http://demo.www.nais.org/Articles/Documents/2013-NAIS-HSSSE-Final.pdf

The National Center for Educational Statistics. (2002). Private Schools: A Brief Portrait. Retreived from: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/2002013.pdf.

Torres, A (2015).  Student engagement at independent schools. Independent School, 75, p.16-18.
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Located in Thomasville, GA, Brookwood School is a private school for grades JK-12. Students benefit from a challenging academic program, fine and performing arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.