(this is a revision of an article published in June of 2004)
In the United States (at least in some circles) "my kid goes to private school" has become a chant of status. However, not all private schools mean "highly selective institution of highly rigorous and demanding curriculum".
The "private school" universe should be properly segmented:
- Parochial schools of the Roman Catholic Church (PBS Ethics & Religon special) --typically under the authority of the local diocese.
- What NCES calls "religious conservative schools" -- typically Christian, teaching "back to basics" and a biblically-based science curriculum (i.e., creationism rather than evolution).
- Religious-affiliation schools requiring (or putting a strong
emphasis on) attendance at a given church or membership in a given sect
(think of the academies of the Seventh Day Adventists).
- What might be called "conscripted" religious schools--the Sacred Hearts, the Notre Dames of suburbia. These schools are commonly run by independent orders of religious. At least here in the San Francisco Bay area, the schools ' curriculum includes theology, but accept students of all (or no) religion, and do not require a profession of faith. There has been a huge growth in Jewish day schools,
- Private schools that are not-for-profit, but follow a particular branded philosophy (such as Montessori schools, or Waldorf Schools)*.
- Proprietary schools, stand-alone or chain, whose tuition
includes a profit for the proprietors. (NECS lumps these into "nonsectarian private schools"--not distinguishing between not-for-profit and for-profit. ) Examples include:
- Truly independent schools, usually with membership in the National Association of Independent Schools. Independent schools are non-public, not-for-profit, pre-collegiate institutions governed by boards of trustees.
What makes an independent school different from a private school? All independent schools, to deserve the name, must be not-for-profit. All independent schools are governed by a self-perpetuating board of trustees. The role of the board is to:
- Establish the school's mission
- Safeguard the mission
- Manage the school and its assets for future generations.
That's not to say that a for-profit enterprise can't be good. It is just different.
At least in the San Francisco Bay area, the distinction between for-profit schools and independent schools isn't particularly clear to the consumers (parents applying to schools).
Our nation is blessed by a rich diversity of private schools -- some rooted in religious traditions, some that provide intensive academic experiences, some that reflect a particular pedagogy, and some that are specialized for specific populations. These diverse schools and strong, often faith-based, communities help fulfill the American ideal of educational pluralism and collectively contribute to the common good.
The National Independent Private Schools Association
is an association of for-profit (proprietary) elementary through high school
Another type of private school is the proprietary academic school organized as a for-profit corporation. There are about 1,000 in the country, according to Jim Williams of the National Independent Private Schools Association. "We are the tax-paying schools," Williams says. "Most schools start with an idea, the vision of someone. Many of the people who start proprietary schools are disenchanted public-school or disappointed independent-school teachers who don't want to deal with a board of directors or a school board." He points out that most of the elite prep schools of the 19th century began as proprietary schools with fees paid to headmasters. "People who get involved with proprietary schools are pleased with what they see," Williams says.
One thing about the Challenger program -- I don't think they sought accreditation with WASC. The Stratford Los Gatos campus is accredited, and the Sunnyvale campus is a candidate for accreditation, but the others don't seem to be. Accreditation, or progress toward accreditation, is something I'd be concerned about, as a parent.
*Some people make the case that a Waldorf school is actually a religious school
system hiding behind a facade of progressive, arts-based education