There is no better source of information in the aggregate about independent schools across the United States than the NAIS Trendbook. Like I did last year, I read this year’s edition cover to cover, and like last year, I found a ton of excellent research and data presented in clear language and helpful visual representations.
In the first chapter of this year’s Trendbook‘s, “The Demographic Outlook,” Amada Torres reports that the U.S. birthrate is continuing to fall while the number of newcomers to the country is continuing to rise. These facts are important not only because they allow schools to plan effectively for the future but because It’s important for educators to know as much as we can about who our students are and where they are “coming from” – literally and more figuratively.
We need to know that in some areas of the country where we may be working, like Los Angeles and Miami, the percentage of minority children under the age of 10 is hovering around 80%, whereas in cities like Boston, Providence, and St. Louis, it is not quite 40%. Torres speaks to the urgency of now when it comes to independent schools attracting and admitting students of color, and in chapter 8, “The Equity and Justice Outlook,” Caroline Blackwell and Myra McGovern add to the conversation meaningfully by highlighting the current experience of minority students in independent schools.
As independent schools are tuition and mission driven, much of the Trendbook addresses issues of school management including philanthropy, leadership, and staffing. Noteworthy findings this year pertain to attrition — for example during the 2017-2018 school year, Joseph Corbett and Amada Torres report that “a median of 28 students per school chose not to return, while a median of five students were either dismissed or not invited back.” They recommend thinking about the issue of attrition and retention through their “Jobs To Be Done” lens, which helps administrators to determine what specific job or jobs they have been hired by parents to do and theoretically to do a better job at those jobs. If you have not yet looked at the Jobs To Be Done framework, you should. It’s helpful to think about the reasons why a family may be in your school and not another school, and how to try to meet that family’s needs if you are able.
International students continue, for now, to seek places in independent schools, primarily from China, South Korea, Mexico, Canada, and Vietnam. This fact supports the directive from authors Carole Bernate, Jefferson Burnett, and Ioana Wheeler to “engage in generative and strategic conversations about the role of international students and global education in your school.” Recent articles by Clare Sisisky, Executive Director of the Global Education Benchmark Group, and Melinda Bihn, Head of School at the French American International School in San Francisco, draw attention to the connection between international students and important inclusivity work in schools.
Due to the high (and higher) price of private education, more applicants are seeking financial aid, including, Mark Mitchell reports, wealthier families who in the past would not have asked for aid. If wealthier families are finding it more difficult to pay independent school tuition, they may also be less likely to be able to give dollars outside of tuition to the school, which directly impacts annual funds and capital campaigns that independent schools depend on to sustain themselves or grow.
For me the most critical aspects of the Trendbook concern teaching and learning, the “why” at the center of all schools. Information about teaching and learning is interwoven into the chapters about teacher work practices and student wellness and safety. NAIS President Donna Orem writes powerfully about the impact of the “gig economy” on the teaching workforce, and in the final chapter by Tim Fish and Jacqueline Wolking, “The EdTech Outlook,” attention is paid to the need for more professional development for teachers who are not yet as agile with technology as they need to be given their students’ immersion in digital spaces; however, how teachers should engage in and share that professional learning remains an area for further research.
But don’t just take my word for it – the Trendbook can be ordered here.