What Is An Independent School?

Independent schools are unique.

By generally agreed upon definition, an independent school is independent in two critical ways:

Independent in governance meaning that the school is organized as not-for-profit and is governed by a self-perpetuating board of directors, as opposed to being “owned” and run by the government (public schools), by a diocese (parochial schools), or by for-profit entities (proprietary schools).

Independent in finance meaning that the school charges tuition and raises money to operate, as opposed to being supported primarily by public monies or religious subsidies.

It is the independence of independent schools that offers them the four essential freedoms that make independent schools strong:

  • The freedom to define their own mission (why they exist, whom they serve).
  • The freedom to regulate admissions (admitting only those students appropriate to the mission).
  • The freedom to define teacher credentials.
  • The freedom to teach what the teachers decide is important (free from state curricular and textbook and testing mandates).

It is important to note that independent schools, contrary to popular belief and their portrayal in the media, are not “elitist” in any way except in terms of academic expectations. The socio-economic diversity of independent schools, for example, is supported by a significant commitment to financial aid: Independent school students come from all family income levels, and approximately 20 percent of them typically are supported by financial aid.

Why choose an independent school?

The answer lies in the word “choose.”

Independent schools allow parents and children to decide what they want from a school, and then find a school that has a mission – the school’s philosophy, values and approach to teaching – that meets those needs.

Independent schools experience remarkable success.

A report from the U.S. Department of Education found, among other things, that:

On average, independent schools have smaller enrollments, smaller average class sizes, and lower student/teacher ratios than public schools.

Independent school students generally perform better than their public school counterparts on standardized achievement tests.

Independent high schools typically have more demanding graduation requirements than do public high schools.

Independent school students qualify for state scholarships at a higher rate than their public school counterparts.

Graduates of independent high schools have on average completed more advanced courses than public school graduates in science, mathematics, and foreign languages.

Independent school students are more likely than public school students to complete a bachelor’s or advanced degree.

Sources: Powell (Lesson from Privilege), Heath (Schools of Hope), National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES)