Do you geek out over the NAIS Trendbook the way I do? The Trendbook is a fantastic overview of the conversations and research most relevant to independent schools in any given year. To amplify the good work NAIS does on a regular basis, I thought I’d pull some of the most salient takeaways from this year’s publication. You can read the Executive Summary on pages 1-5 yourself to get the official overview, or read it cover to cover yourself. NAIS members can get the book for a discounted rate of 25.00.
Topic #1: The Market
GenZers, those born after 1996, are driving a shift in schools toward “anytime, anywhere” education. That is to say, students and their families increasingly expect to be able to access learning materials as well as instructors in asynchronous, virtual, and non-traditional ways. Also, GenZers are more diverse and socially conscious than previous generations. This translates to pressure on schools to take active measures in support of diversity — in all of its diversity.
My favorite graphic in this chapter is the one that lays bare the things that engage and interest middle school and high school age students today. Most engaging for both constituencies: discussions and debates. Least engaging? Teacher lectures. What does this mean? It means that students like talking to each other more than they like listening to adults. What doesn’t this mean? This doesn’t mean that teachers should stand on the sidelines and watch the traffic go by. Teachers are more important than ever to student learning as their instructional design, preparation of material, and feedback constitute the framework for student growth and development.
In many cities across the country, housing costs have risen to the point that two important groups – teachers and young families – are struggling to make ends meet. The average teacher salary hovers around 60K. Young families are often not in a position to pay for a private education for their children, which averages over 10K, for kindergarten. There are serious concerns about teacher shortages, as the top jobs in the nation are projected to be in health care, technology, and food preparation and service. Education and library occupations are projected to grow at just 9.4% by 2026, which will not cover the 104,000 elementary school teachers and 77,000 secondary school teachers needed to educate the country’s children. Teachers looking to make ends meet should consider cities like Dayton, Akron, Detroit, El Paso, Bakersfield, Cleveland, and Buffalo. San Francisco and San Jose are virtually undoable, with affordable housing options at .39% and 2.04%, respectively.
Although enrollment is generally steady in the independent school world, hovering around 10-11% annually, schools are seeing dips or inclines in enrollment dependent on where they are located and whether they have greater than or less than 300 students. Demographic trends also impact enrollment, as the number of children will vary from region to region. Seattle, for example, has seen an increase of 6.83% in school-age children since 2010, whereas Chicago has seen a decrease of 4.5% in that same time period.
Interestingly, independent schools that have seen the highest growth in enrollment have done the most effective job of diversifying their student bodies. The number of students of color in some independent schools accounts in large part for the more robust enrollment those schools are enjoying. Los Angeles is the leading city in terms of students of color attending independent schools, followed by Miami and San Francisco.
Also of note, the acceptance rate at independent schools has gone up by a few percentage points while the yield has gone down by about the same percentage, and upper schools are faring better than elementary schools in terms of filling their seats.
Topic #2: Financial Sustainability
Private school tuition is high – in some cases, it costs as much to attend an elite boarding school as it does a private college or university. Tuition increases have outpaced the inflation rate and growth in income since 2008/2009, making private education a difficulty if not an impossibility for many families. Independent schools have been more mindful in recent years to allocate and make financial aid funds available to families with demonstrated need, but in many schools, financial aid budgets are insufficient to meet need. That being said, income growth is anticipated to rise by 2022, and many schools are, and have been, holding significant yearly tuition increases at bay.
“There’s an old saying that independent schools experience many of the same things colleges and universities do, only 10 years later,” writes Tim Fish of NAIS. Fish reports that the number of full time tenured and tenure-track faculty in colleges and universities declined from 57% to 30% between 1975 and 2011. Meanwhile, full-time, non-tenure-track faculty increased from 13% to 19%, and part-time faculty from 30% to 51%. Borrowing from the college and university playbook, many independent schools are already looking to bolster their budgets through amplifying their auxiliary programs, and may also need to adopt new business models to include the use of online courses and part-time teachers in place of salaried, full-time instructors.
Independent schools, like other non-profit entities, depend on philanthropic giving due to the fact that tuition alone does not cover the full expense of operations. Although there are private schools in need of greater financial support, from 2012 to the present day, independent schools saw their endowments increase more than 55%.
Some worry that two factors – the passage of the Tax Cuts for Jobs Act in December of 2017, and the nature of the stock market – will result in diminished giving. However, thanks to an uptick in the strategic use of social media and online platforms to ask for and receive philanthropic funds, the philanthropic outlook for a majority of independent schools is likely to remain sunny.
One thing to note is that more traditional methods of soliciting funds, such as phonathons and special events, have been far less impactful in recent years than newer approaches, including Giving Days and peer to peer fundraising.
Topic #3: Talent
NAIS reports that the number one skill believed necessary for school leaders is shifting away from an ability to manage change toward an ability to inspire commitment, lead employees, and plan strategically for the future. “Increasingly,” President of NAIS Donna Orem writes, “it is how leaders use their skills to leverage the talents of others that can make or break an organization.”
Orem cites a report from Deloitte indicating that leaders need to 1) protect their core but disrupt at the edges; 2) create networked teams by realigning existing structures into self-managed teams focused on specific outcomes; 3) adopt collaborative systems mindsets and 4) create the conditions for flexible design.
Orem recommends that schools more actively “enhance the chances that white women and people of color can rise to the top” by encouraging them to seek divisional leadership on a path to headship. It is a known fact that the majority of private school Heads are white men, and that diversification of leadership to include women and minorities has been slow to gain momentum, with small gains for people of color.
Along similar lines, Board Chairs and Heads of School are increasingly attuned to the fact that that their Boards generally lack diversity. Also significant to the domain of school governance, according to the Trendbook, is the continuing need for Board members to be active fundraisers modeling and participating in a culture of philanthropy.
Equity and Justice
Gaps in representation by race and gender also continue in independent schools. “A large majority of both administrators and teachers in K-12 schools are white – and the independent school workforce has fewer people of color than does that of public schools. Faculty and heads of independent schools are less diverse than the students they serve.”
Why this matters, beyond the obvious, is that it’s important for students to see themselves in the adults who teach and lead them, as well as to see diversity in their teachers and leaders. Beyond the preponderance of white adults in independent schools is a continuing imbalance in terms of gender – 75% of all private school teachers were female in 2018.
Topic #4: The School Experience
That students are experiencing an uptick in anxiety is uncontested – but what is new is that some are using the Americans with Disabilities Act to request accommodations previously available only to students with documented learning disabilities. Today, the umbrella of ADA is broadening to include students in social, emotional, or psychological distress.
Vaping, too, is on the rise, and to get a good understanding of how and why, I recommend this amazing New Yorker article. Schools that don’t yet have clear and mission-aligned protocols around student vaping are wise to get them written and publicized.
“Although the overall rate of violent crime in America is lower now than it was in past decades,” writes Myra McGovern of NAIS, fear of school violence is on the rise and indeed, incidents involving active shooters on school campuses have increased in the last few years. 2010 alone saw 26 incidents, and distressingly, the perpetrator is often a child between the ages of 15 and 19.
Many of us have now been trained in active shooter protocols, but it is critical for schools to actively reevaluate their protocols in real-time. For example, it was commonly thought that in the event of an active shooter on campus, the best thing would be to lock down a classroom and sit quietly hiding. After the Sandy Hook tragedy, safety experts now recommend a combination of options including getting out of the building or, as a last resort, confrontation.
Teaching and Learning
While I hold true to what I said at the outset of this post about loving the Trendbook, I will admit that I felt a little sad to see just the last few pages of the book dedicated to the topic of teaching and learning, which is of course why schools exist in the first place.
Pages 161-166 focus on the shift underway towards skills based curricula in support of a changing workforce, which is perhaps best embodied at present in the efforts of the Mastery Transcript Consortium led by Scott Looney of Hawken School.
If you made it to the end of this post, congratulations!
And if you want to learn more about these well-researched and articulated chapters, order a copy of the Trendbook for yourself.