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A Podcast Conversation About Affording Private School in an Economic Downturn

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Addressing the admissions notification and financial aid season, we produced a podcast today discussing financial aid in tight times.

Peter spoke with Martin Peyer, CEO of Tuition Data Services and Jamie Miller, Director of Financial Aid at the Blue Ridge School. They explored financial aid and tuition payment strategies for families as they make their private school commitment for 2009-2010.

Suggestions to families include:

Opening a dialog with admission and financial aid officers at the start of the application process

Prepare to document your financial condition

Explore tuition payment plans and lending options

Ask the financial aid officers about resources. They know the foundations and sources interested in supporting their students.

Please share their commentary and suggestions as we work through then enrollment and financial aid process in this difficult environment. The episode is available below, through our Boarding School Podcast directory or AQ's iTunes channel.

Approaching Financial Aid in a Recession Download the .mp3 (Audio) (16.9 MB)

Get it on iTunes Get it on iTunes!

Fork Union Military Academy Receives $10.1 Million Cash Donation

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With it's largest enrollment in years (approximately 500 students), Fork Union Military Academy is beginning construction on a new dormitory for upper school students. To be named Jacobson Hall in honor of Jerry and Laura Jacobson of Sugarcreek, Ohio, the  three-story building- almost 100,000 square feet- will have 250 two-man rooms and be almost double the size of current facilities.

FUMA began fundraising appeals for the project back in September; by December, slow donations put the project into question. Then, the Jacobsons- parents of two FUMA students- made the largest ever cash contribution to the school, $10.1 million.

As Jerry Jacobson told the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

'It was just a heartfelt thing I wanted to do to help the future generations of young men in the country.  It was hopefully a building block to help keep Fork Union up and going for many years in the future."

Finding, Training, Committing-To and Retaining the Best Teachers

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There's never a shortage of holy grail pursuits in education. "How do we reach all students; is there any way to make sure that all students achieve; and, can we possibly provide equal opportunity/education for all" are just three of the larger issues. Connected to these three are the never ending questions of finding and retaining the best teachers. Can we identify and keep good teachers in the profession and how can we do this?

President Obama's campaign talked about education and the reality that America will need two million or so new teachers during the coming decade. This means that public education will get substantial stage time over the next few years.

"The country needs a massive education overhaul, and better teachers will be the most important element in that overhaul. Spending more and attracting able teachers is the best way to use resources to improve the human capital of our children and the future of our nation." (Glaeser, Boston Globe)
We must find, train and retain the best teachers because the strongest correlation to student success is- as best as we can tell- is quality of teacher:

"The clearest result from decades of education research is the importance of teacher quality. My colleague Tom Kane finds that students who are lucky enough to get a teacher in the top quarter of the teacher-quality distribution jump 10 percentile points in the student achievement distribution relative to children who end up with less able teachers. Improving teacher quality has about twice the impact on student outcomes as radically reducing class size." (Glaeser, Boston Globe)
Suddenly, in my reading the topic, pops up everywhere. Each article comes out the same research with each author adding a perspective or twist:

Most Likely to Succeed

Studying Schooling

Want better schools? Hire better teachers

Recruiting, retraining a new type of teacher

Summarized, there is no way to identify good teachers as they graduate from colleges and enter the classroom. Certification and an imprimatur from an ed school bears no relationship to a teachers quality and effectiveness.  

"The real variance was within the programs: each trained some stellar teachers, each trained some duds. A teacher's abilities, or lack thereof, become clear only over time. Thus, Kane argued, tenure review should begin only after the district has enough data to tell whether a novice teacher could ever become an old pro. Kane wouldn't remove the certification barrier entirely, he says, but he does advocate "moving the dam downstream, to where we actually have some information." (Harvard Magazine, Studying Schooling)
The best way to identify good teachers seems to be to apply the methods that the corporate sector uses. Hire larger classes of new hires- even those with degrees in subject matter as opposed to just education; train them; provide feedback and support; develop clear performance measures; promote, advance and pay the successful teachers letting the less successful go or remain in reduced roles- just like the private sector.

Teachers working with students is more valuable and important to professional advancement than a diploma or certification.

Gladwell's New Yorker article is the most readable and fun on the subject. I most enjoyed the analogy that likens finding a good teacher to finding a good NFL quarterback. Everybody looks good coming out college and entering the profession. But only the job itself can find and separate those who excel at it from those who will only be good, or, wash out of the profession all together. College is a training ground providing only minimal insight into real world success.  
Of course the NFL benefits from having plenty of money to finance developing and putting its talent pool through the learning period.

I love the idea of bringing the best and the brightest into teaching and having them work like hell to become great teachers. Then, I take a deep breath and say "damn, we've got long way to go; how can we pay for this?"

In my experience, the world has a very small supply of adults who find school age children interesting enough to spend the whole day with; there just doesn't seem to be a deep resevior of adults who want to work with children. Two, teaching is a low status profession and this cultural position is very difficult to overcome. Increased teacher pay could help by- at the minimum- demonstrating that teaching is a valued, important, fundamental piece of our society.  

And, third, the concept of tenure. In private schools, I never worked under a tenure system. And, bluntly, the whole concept of tenure for a school teacher strikes me as odd. As I understand it, tenure exists at the collegiate level to protect academic freedom keeping professors (with terminal degrees) from having to shape their research and publications to the desires of their department or school. Other than freedom from parental pressure, I don't understand the role of tenure in public school setting.

Finally and most importantly, if we want to demonstrate the value of great teachers by making them well-paid professionals, where will the money come from?

These are some heady hopes and dreams to pin on the Obama administration as they come to power short on cash.
I've always been a fan of promoting from within; it tells so much about an organization and its people. The Daily Progress published a story about Blue Ridge School's (St. George, VA) coming transition at the head's position. These transitions occur all the time. Blue Ridge's confidence, perspective and understanding make this one a worthy story.

Blue Ridge knows who they are, what they do, and, it seems, the faculty internalize the Blue Ridge way. The school announced that John O'Reilly, the school's assistant headmaster for academics will replace Dave Boulton at the end of the school year. His promotion is part of " a succession plan put together by the school's board and administrators to pick existing staff members for the right jobs."

As outgoing head, Mr. Bouton told the Daily Progress, "When you promote from within, you not only get people ready to hit the ground running, but you provide a sense of security. We're growing our own leaders."

"A Change of the Guard at Blue Ridge School"

Blue Ridge School is an independent, all-boys, all-boarding, college-preparatory school offering grades 9-12.
Today's Memphis Commercial Appeal includes an interesting story covering school single gender classrooms in the Memphis public school system. This article makes a good addition to the vigorous discussion surrounding single gender education.

Much like The Webb Schools, about which we've written, Memphis has seen learning and test score improvements since providing lower school (9th and 10th grades) boys and girls with their own spaces beginning in fall 2006.

Like Webb, Memphis bases their decision to offer single gender classrooms on the research of Dr. Leonard Sax who points out that single gender classrooms have historically been the province of private schools and those who can afford them. Dr. Sax argues single gender classrooms and their benefits should be a public school choice as well.

Moving to single gender classrooms is not without its risks.  As Dr. Sax told the Commercial Appeal:

"...simply putting girls in one room and boys in another accomplishes very little and can lead to disaster...One danger is reinforcing gender stereotypes by teaching algebra to girls based on shopping analogies or packing lessons for males with football.

  Not all boys like football. You end up disadvantaging children who don't fit the stereotype"
Effective single gender classrooms require thought, planning and understanding. The single gender classroom is a means, not an end.

Memphis is enjoying great success with the understanding and tool provided by the single gender means.

Our previous commentary on single gender education was prompted by a spirited exchange between Lenora M. Lapidus, Director & Emily J. Martin, Deputy Director of ACLU Women's Rights Project- New York and Meg Moulton, Executive Director of the National Coalition of Girls' Schools.

A Special Player Finds a Different Route to Stanford and NCAA BCS Football

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Don't miss the Sports Illustrated story about Trinity Pawling School student Shayne Skov and the international route he's taking to Stanford football.

Suffice to say, the story begins in California, moves to Mexico, back to California, to New York, and back to California. Include international living, personal growth, academic ability, athleticism and the serendipitous connections between boarding school faculty members and you have quite a story.

Read about Shayne Skove journey in Sports Illustrated.
I recently came across an exchange between the authors of blog posts published in USA Today, Lenora M. Lapidus, Director & Emily J. Martin, Deputy Director of ACLU Women's Rights Project - New York and Meg Moulton, Executive Director of the National Coalition of Girls' Schools.

Ms. Moulton wrote a spirited defense of single gender education that focused more on science. My defense of single gender education will be simpler. Single gender education benefits some kids and not others. In my opinion, the benefits of single gender education depends on the student.

Lapidus and Martin argue in their short piece that the voices and choices of single gender education are driven by shoddy science, "hype," and the notion that "Sex differences are sexy." To some extent, they're right. Incomplete science makes it's way into the world and sometimes shouldn't be used to shape decisions.

But, the underlying assumption of their article is just plain wrong. They present and posit the relationship between incomplete science (coupled with social and popular hype) as a causal relationship. The ideas of boys and girls brain/developmental differences are in the public arena therefore a push for single gender education exists.

This is not a causal relationship. The authors miss the point here and the answer is simpler, disconnected from popular culture, and more complex at the same time.

Some students, boys and girls are more comfortable and may perform better in a single gender environment. The school environment choice grows out of what's best for this particular child. A coed environment or a single gender environment? Families and students may arrive at their school choice through an infinite number of avenues (assuming the student has a choice).

In the end, single gender education- like all school choice- is just a different way of going to school and where & how to go to school depends on what's best for each individual student.

There is no causal relationship behind choosing or, inherent evil in, single gender education. It is, simply, a different way of going to school.

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