I think it’s safe to say that most Americans see education as an investment in the future. Although it has been argued that public education has not always delivered results commensurate with spending, particularly in relation to other countries, reducing that investment without targeting overall systemic improvements seems like a short-term gain for a long-term loss.
Economists tell us that productivity growth over time is what helps people rise from poverty, and is also what creates general economic health within a country. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, the education plan released by the current administration doesn’t appear to be a strong investment in our future.
This is not to say the whole plan is bad. Simplifying the student loan repayment system, for example, seems logical and overdue. That the plan also wants to cut public service loan forgiveness will certainly reduce incentives for public-minded people to serve in that sector, and I’m not sure what good is served by that choice.
I’ll be interested to see what Congress does with the proposal.
The plan’s impact on independent schools seems unclear. It’s possible that with further erosion of public education, more people will stretch to make an independent education work financially. The “private school choice program” in the Trump plan has yet to provide details sufficient to predict its impact.
What is certain is that the qualities and strengths of independent schools will only become more important over the years. Truly student-centered teaching, real problem solving, and opportunities to expand creativity across multiple dimensions of one’s education are what many independent schools do best, and more and more of us are striving to make it affordable.
Darrow’s last four faculty meetings of the school year are focused on those students who have been nominated by their teachers for academic and leadership awards. The award criteria are shared in advance and teachers are encouraged to nominate students who they believe are most deserving. At the meetings, they are invited to speak in support of their nominees.
Each year, this springtime process leaves me feeling energized and amazed. My amazement comes from hearing dozens of anecdotes about students who are so much more in possession of their voices and bodies as athletes, scholars, and leaders than I ever was in high school; but overshadowing that amazement is realizing how far they have come in just a few short years.
This year’s crop of nominees included a number of students who, when they first arrived at Darrow, did not remotely seem like the people they would become:
- the intellectually gifted but deeply self-conscious student who found her voice and confidence on the stage and in the classroom;
- the reticent freshman who could barely make eye contact in her first weeks on the Mountainside, yet became an admired core leader, team captain, and familiar community presence;
- the student with a significant learning difference who, by force of will, set the standard at the top of her class (and is known to never grub a grade);
- the resentful boy who seemed lost in his first days and now models tolerance, openness, and a sense of self that shines through in every conversation.
Serving a school that truly transforms lives so deeply and consistently is, of course, thrilling [and frequently exhausting]. As the school year rolls on, it sometimes becomes easy to take those transformations for granted as they are happening. Then, as the lilacs and tulips are blossoming and we start thinking about Commencement, this gratifying tradition comes along.
There is a sense of joy in watching a specific combination of ingredients—academic challenge, genuine caring, leadership opportunities, and a healthy community culture—coalesce to build confident, engaged, young adults, no matter the challenges or odds they faced when they enrolled. Get the right adults, the right pedagogy, and the right culture and you take students beyond what they or their parents had imagined possible.