Department Travels, Independent Schools, and My Work

Above: HCHS History Department

Houston Christian’s head of school and the board have approved departmental travels for each department to visit other independent schools throughout the country. Purpose: To learn what they do well and what makes them elite at what they do. It is exciting to see that we are continuing to move in an academic direction of distinction. I honestly believe we are on the brink of being one of the more notable schools. Although I am clearly biased here, I do believe the most important quality of academic greatness is having a dynamic faculty. Elite faculty members make a school better. And yes I do consider myself to be in an elite category. My students deserve that.

Here is what I had to say in the past about my own research and travels to other independent schools:

I have traveled to visit a number of independent (private) day and boarding schools in the New England states as part of a research and writing project (read more about my research here). I like the social and intellectual freedom given to both students and faculty at the most elite schools. Moreover, the focus of my visit was to gain an understanding of elite academic culture, the development of diversity over time, and their purpose toward educating elite students. Of course, those factors are only secondary. My writing will focus on the day to day impact elite schools have on African American students and how it compares to lower tier independent schools. There is a bigger goal for this work that I am not at liberty to address now; it is too early. Three years ago I wrote a paper entitled Teachers of Color and Independent Schools. Although I wanted to present this at the National Association of Independent School’s People of Color Conference, my abstract was accepted at a College Board regional forum. This project is a very distant continuation of that….A far more complex task as I look at race, independent schools, and elite and mass culture in America.

I asked a few leaders of elite schools what makes their institution different from that of others, here are a few sample responses:

* Unlike many private schools in America, we do not try to be like every other public and private school. Too many private schools are not really independent schools because they work too hard to attract students from public schools. Now, according to this response, when independent schools work to attract public school students, they usually try to conform with many state mandated legislation. Thus, in doing so, students are able to transfer or matriculate to a private school easier without credit issues. This is not the job of an independent school. Independent schools should focus on an elite education with a unique academic goal. I like the idea that many NAIS schools do not require teacher certification. Although I have one, I think they are silly. Elite schools are interested in content knowledge and the ability to communicate that knowledge to bright students. So, if you majored in history and did not certify to teach, there are a number of really good jobs out there.

*Diversity: Intellectual, religious, racial, and economic diversity of faculty and students make a school elite. Allowing ideas to flow in exchange without fear of suppression is crucial to the advancement of an academic community.

* Resources: I got a ton of information here. I am not going to address the endowment issue, but institutional wealth is clearly important.

* Tradition: Faculty and students must believe in the school and its purpose. If the faculty does not see the purpose and goals of a school, tradition will never be established nor will it last. Examples: Having an academic and social honor code should be the core of any school, but this is always the case at many elite schools.

* Empowering the Faculty: Elite schools should empower its faculty. One administrator told me that the key to school leadership is providing its faculty with a voice. I am amazed at the number of schools that have a faculty senate in place. This allows the faculty to have a stronger voice on matters such as program direction, facility issues, directional planning, earnings, etc. I suspect that many private schools operate under the superintendent mentality. The board tells the headmaster who tells the dean of faculty who then tells the faculty. This is the classic model of Taylorism: Chain of command hierarchy – not the democratic model found with a faculty senate.

* Students: The assistant headmaster at Houston’s St. John’s School is a friend and a person I respect greatly. He is thought to be one of the best leaders amongst independent schools. As an African American, Mark Reed and others told me that the key to being an elite school is found within the student population. I call it the 1200 mark. All elite schools have an SAT average of at least 1200, many such as St. John’s are over 1400.

Here are the schools we are hoping to visit:

Brooklyn Friends-NY

Est: 1867

Grades:PreK – 12

Student/Faculty Ratio: 7:1

Size: 640

Tuition: $28,000




Accreditations: NAIS,NY Assoc of Independent Schools,

Misc: 1/3 on tuition assistance grants, similar core values, Leadership, Oversees Travel

History Specific: 9th World, 10th US, 11th/12th electives including Psychology, Art, Euro, China, Rome, Global, Equal Rights, Holocaust

Kingswood Oxford- Conn

Est: 1909

Grades: 6-12

Student/Faculty Ratio: 7:1

Size: 595 / 401 Upper

Tuition: $29,750 includes lunch



AP: 21 courses, Top 5 schools for AP scores in Conn, 55% Seniors named AP scholars


Misc:29% Financial Assistance, 15% Diversity, Senior Thesis, Community Service req, Fine Arts program, communicate value of being at school, parents choose for global awareness

History Specific: 3 History credits,

Philips Andover-Conn

Est: 231 years been around

Grades: 9-12

Student/Faculty Ratio: 5:1, avg class 13

Size: 300 for day, 800 boarding

Tuition: $30,500


SAT/ACT: 684 reading, 700 math, 692 writing, 1384

AP: 30 AP classes


Misc: 37% students of color, Trimesters, 42% financial assistance, study abroad

History Specific: 4 History credits, qualification for certain courses

Calhoun School-NY

Est: 1986


Student/Faculty Ratio: 10-15 in class

Size: 740

Tuition: $33,000




Accreditations: NYSAIS

Misc: Oversees Travel, Community Service

History Specific: 9th/10th World, 11th US, 12th electives including psychology, constitutional law, Atlantic history, globalization, US foreign policy from 1799, Modern middle east, Latin America,

StoneybrookSpring Break during proposed travel dates

Est: 1922

Grades: 7-12

Student/Faculty Ratio: 8:1

Size: 337

Tuition: $21,000 (Day student)

Programs: AP


AP: 30-40% AP Scholars (3 AP courses with 3 or better)

Accreditations:NAIS, NY Assoc of Independent Schools, NACAC, NASSP, TABS

Misc: Similar Christian leadership, Fine Arts Program

History Specific: 4 credits in History

20 thoughts on “Department Travels, Independent Schools, and My Work

  1. So I must say that I am impressed with this. Do you think you will head up to one of those boarding schools? I know a few were interested in you a year or so ago. I like your approach towards school. You are a bit of an elitist. That is okay.

  2. Carson,

    I am very impressed with your work.

    What are your thoughts on the government providing vouchers for extremely intelligent, yet poor, children to attend independent schools? I realize that this a very Conservative belief, but your praise of independent schools make it seem as though you might support such a program.

  3. I agree with you; I believe that bringing in these underprivileged students is the responsibility of the schools.

    I remember reading your blog a few months ago and coming across a post about Exeter. I visited their website, and was quite impressed, especially with the Harkness method. However, I was bothered that they do not seem to offer a program for students with learning disabilities. Having a learning disability myself, I have noticed that there seems to be a stereotype among the elite Academic community that students with learning disabilities are not intelligent or capable. Thoughts?

  4. Dillon, learning disability or learning difference? I have the please of your insightful discourse weekly. No disability that I can detect . . . Metty

  5. Metty – are they not one in the same?

    This is not about me though. My point is that none of these “elite” schools mention anything on their websites about having programs for students with learning disabilities. Philips Andover has a special program, The Academic Support Center (ASC), which is “a vital tool for incoming students who seek guidance on time management and balancing their academic responsibilities at Andover.” But, that does not seem like it is specifically designed for students with learning disabilities.

    Maybe they have not seen the comprehensive research that proves that learning disabilities are not indicative of low intelligence. Should students with learning disabilities not have the same choices of independent schools as those who do not? Of course, a student with a learning disability could attend any of the schools mentioned above, but other students would have an unfair advantage over them unless they were provided with special accommodations.

    Just a thought…

  6. Dillon — I will not pretend to know much about this topic, but I suspect there are LD students at these schools. I just do not know. They are at the best colleges in the country so why not the best private schools?

    mrs chili — I want us to. I am not sure at this point since it is isolated fom othere schools. That will not stop my trip back up, esp. since I might beg your family for a free room.

  7. Dillon,

    I DO think vouchers are a good idea because they would allow more students who come from the huge (often ill-defined) group of “middle class” families, as well as a greater number of students from poverty, afford the option of independent schools. Even if independent schools bear the responsibility of offering a certain number of scholarships to underprivileged young people, I still think the government owes citizens a certain amount of money toward each child’s k-12 education, whether that child is educated in a public or private setting. (I don’t think this has to or should equal all the money a person contributes to school taxes because we are all also responsible for paying a little for educating the publics’ children under our current system … I get that.) Anyway, I think vouchers would create a more student body with a more diverse socio-economic background with a more normal (in a statistical sense) income distribution … one that was more continuous and less likely to be bimodal (with a peak at an extremely high income and a smaller peak at an extremely low income for “scholarship kids.”)

    As things are, my son has expressed concern about coming to HCHS and being one of the “poor kids” because his father and I are both teachers. We are not rich, but we are very much middle class … but in an independent school … we are pretty poor. If vouchers were in place, we would probably be much more typical income-wise.

    Please don’t think I am letting schools “off the hook” … I am just trying to keep the government financially accountable to ALL students … even those who choose a private education … the government should still pay a portion of their education. After all, the society will benefit just as much (if not more) from the private school student’s education, too. It just seems fair to me.

    Dillon, you are right about how few people “get” the difference between low-intelligence and learning-disability/learning-difference. There does seem to be a huge need for more independent schools… and public schools .. with programs to help students with high IQs who happen to have LDs. Many people (even educators) seem to think that the high IQ and the LD will cancel each other out and the student ends up having NONE of his/her needs met … the whole thing really burns me … You would make an awesome advocate for getting more services in more institutions. I would love to help you if you ever wanted to pursue it. (My MS is in Ed Psych and my research emphasis was in gifted students with emotional/behavioral disorders: ADHD, AS, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, etc … not LDs … but kind of thing same idea … smart kids who don’t fit the “typical” smart kid mold.)

    ~Mrs. Brown

  8. Carson,

    I too suspect that their are a handful of LD students at these schools. Unfortunatley, if they are not provided with special accomodations, they probably have to work MUCH harder than than their peers. You know how intense the workload is at schools like Exeter, and having an LD would only make it more intense. I realize that I sort of derailed this entire post, but it was just a thought that I had. If you come across any more information about students with LDs attending these elite academic schools in your research, let me know.

    I did read your post about the endowments of independent schools, and I was quite suprised. A $1 billion endowment seems a bit excessive for a high school, but my knowledge of these institutions is quite limited, so I could be wrong. However, I am very impressed with Exeter’s commitment to cover the tuition for students that come from families with an icome under $75,000. Unfortunatley, private schools that are not necissarily “elite,” such as Houston Christian, can not afford to make such commitments. That is why I brought up the issue of school vouchers; I am somewhat torn on the issue myself. While institutions in New England may have the resources to bring in poor but capable students, I can not think of too many in say, Texas, that do. Of course, I do believe that our public education system needs a major overhaul, but there would still be a handful of students that would only be truly challenged in an independent school, yet could not afford the tuition. Thoughts?

    PS – I have been trying to remember the name of an elite independent school my Dad was telling me about when we visited Princeton, NJ. It is somewhat near the university…very famous apparently. Would you happen to known the name of such a school? Does such a school exist, or am I just tired and making things up?

  9. Yes there are some serious schools out there that have been around before the formulation of the US Constitution. Though we are not at the level of some these other schools, we are moving in that direction — to some extent. When you graduate and are doing well, I am sure you will help HCHS so that it can give scholarships to poor people. It is the type of diversity we still lack.

    I attended a private school on scholarship; it was good for me because I could not have gone without the help. It was a change for me and for those in my classes. I had a different view to offer my well off peers whose biggest choice at times was a truck or a car when they turned 16.

    Oh, are you thinking about the Princeton Day School?

  10. Chili — I will take you up on the offer as long as I can treat you and your husband to dinner during my next visit to Exeter. Although it has only been a year since my last trip, it seems like forever.

  11. Carson,

    I do not think it was the Princeton Day School. I just looked online and I think it was Lawrenceville Scbkk,

  12. Carson,

    Have you ever considered trying to convince the HCHS administration to adopt the Harkness method? As a student, I really like the idea.

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