When it comes to researching educational options for children, there are several options to consider, including: public, charter, faith-based and independent (private) schools.
Knowing what separates independent schools from other schools can be enormously helpful when selecting the best match between a child's unique strengths and a school's mission, philosophy and culture.
Below, you'll find information about independent schools, including a rigorous accreditation process, important reasons that an independent school should be on your consideration list, and tips for identifying the ideal school for your family.
Discover what makes independent schools…independent.
The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) offers the following information in their Parents' Guide to Independent Schools.
- Independent schools each have their own unique mission, philosophy and culture.
- Each is governed by an independent board of trustees.
- Teachers have more freedom to create curricula that meet each child’s needs, without state mandates on curriculum, textbooks and testing.
- Independent schools are non-profit organizations supported through tuition payments, philanthropic gifts and endowments.
- Independent schools range from small elementary schools to big boarding schools; many are co-ed, have a religious affiliation or follow a particular educational philosophy. They have more variety than public schools because public schools follow the same standards and prepare for the same standardized tests.
- Independent schools are accountable to parents, communities and the agencies that accredit them.
NAIS Parents' Guide to Independent Schools
Learn about accreditation for independent Schools.
The Association of Independent Schools of New England (AISNE) conducts accreditation for member schools through a rigorous review of all areas of the school, including: curriculum, staffing, admissions, finance, governance, health and safety. The AISNE accreditation process takes place throughout a 10-year cycle.
AISNE Accreditation Criteria
Schools must have:
- A clear statement of mission and philosophy
- Three or more consecutive grades in kindergarten through grade 9 or equivalent
- Incorporation as a not-for-profit organization as attested by federal and state records
- A non-discrimination statement
- An appropriately constituted and substantially independent governing board, in accordance with the by-laws of the corporation.
- Policies and procedures to ensure that any perceived or actual conflicts of interest for board members are disclosed and managed appropriately.
- Annual financial audit, performed by an independent certified public accountant, that demonstrates adequate financial resources to carry out its mission.
This information is excerpted from the Association of Independent Schools of New England. Other accrediting bodies may have different criteria.
Learn about Tower School's Mission.
Consider the top 5 advantages of an independent school education.
While they share much in common, each independent school is unique and each has the potential to be the best fit school for your child. The following is an excerpt from the National Association of Independent Schools' (NAIS) website.
Independent schools are known for their emphasis on academic achievement in core subject areas and the development of important skills such as: research, collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking and writing.
In addition, independent schools emphasize the importance of a broad and well-rounded education. They offer a robust range of visual and performing arts, language options, extracurricular clubs, physical education, interscholastic athletic programs, community service and leadership opportunities that enable your child to explore their interests and pursue their passions.
Independent schools attract teachers whose commitment to academic excellence is paired with an interest in providing a more individualized approach to challenging and nurturing each student. Independent schools support their teachers with ongoing professional development to encourage new perspectives, creativity and growth.
Small Class Sizes
Independent schools typically have a lower student-to-teacher ratio than public schools. The benefits include: increased opportunities for student participation—known to increase student engagement and achievement; the abilities of teachers to quickly identify their students' strengths and opportunities for growth; and the development of close connections between students and between students and teachers within the classroom community.
Home and School Partnerships
Independent schools encourage open lines of communication to ensure that students are challenged academically, homework is being completed and community values are supported at school and home. Parents can expect to be included as a partner in the education of their child. That means regular communication by email, phone and in-person meetings with teachers and administrators as needed.
An Inclusive School Community
Independent schools foster diverse and vibrant student communities that welcome and respect every family. Parents are encouraged to actively engage in the life of the school through a variety of volunteer opportunities and social events for parents and families.
source: NAIS parents.nais.org
Identify the attributes of your ideal school
Every independent school provides a unique educational experience. The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) offers a list of initial questions to consider when searching for the ideal independent school for your child and your family; the following is a brief summary.
Consider average class size and total enrollment. A smaller population may mean fewer social opportunities, but more chances for your student to shine. Inquire about diversity within the community.
The educational philosophies of most independent schools exist along the continuum between traditional and progressive. Inquire about how this impacts teaching methods, how expectations are conveyed and how student achievement is assessed. Ask to sit in on a few classes to see how the philosophy plays out.
What courses are offered? Which are required and which are elective? Is there an interdisciplinary emphasis? Does the curriculum fit your student’s learning needs?
Review the faculty bios online. How long have they been teaching? Do their degrees align with what they teach? Is there much turnover? Visit a class to see how teachers interact with students and engage them in the learning process.
In addition to the overall condition of the school, consider the facilities your child may use. Is the art department well-stocked? Are sports facilities well-equipped? Are computers up to date? How extensive is the library? Are science labs well-designed for the ages of the students who use them?
Special Programs and Extra-Curricular Opportunities
Does the school provide programs that fit your student’s needs and interests? Consider language programs, coding classes, arts, athletics, leadership opportunities, service programs and academic support. Is the school a place where you believe your child will thrive?
Would a coeducational environment be your preference for your child? Do you want a day school or boarding school?
Do you want a school that focuses on your child’s age range, or one that can also serve your child through elementary, middle, and high school?
Location and Convenience
Ask about bus transportation and whether or not a school offers an extended day program for before and after school.
Independent schools create an environment in which students develop intellectually, creatively and socially. Families who prioritize small class sizes, excellent teachers, a curriculum that prepares students for academic success, and an inclusive community may find that independent schools are a good fit for their family.
Independent schools welcome inquiries from families at all stages of their decision-making. Contact schools in your area to begin a commitment-free conversation or establish a relationship.