On January 6 and 7, 2014, NAIS convened a group of prominent researchers and thinkers to help the association hone its research agenda. “Our hope for the meeting,” noted NAIS President John Chubb, “is to come away with ideas about what we need to look into more deeply. We want to ensure that the research we have planned best serves our members’ needs, so we’re asking people in the field — both inside independent schools and at education think tanks and universities – to help us brainstorm topics. What questions are most important for NAIS to ask? What data do schools need to make strategic decisions? How can we go about collecting and disseminating information in a way that most helps our schools?”
Meeting participants discussed the challenges that independent schools are facing as well as opportunities for individual schools and the industry as a whole. Economists and academics focusing on education from universities and think tanks discussed their research relevant to independent schools and examined NAIS research. Representatives from independent schools reported on the uses of data in their own schools and the implications of different types of research for the independent school community.
The meeting was divided into three sections, focusing on The Market for Independent Schools, The Business and Education Model, and The Value Proposition and Outcome Measures. Among the many questions discussed were:
• How is the market for independent education changing? How have independent schools responded to changing demographics?
• Is the independent school experience driven by what families want? By the structure and nature of schools? By the business community’s needs?
• Could independent schools become more affordable or serve a larger portion of the school-age population by changing the current business model? What effects do changes to the business side have on the experience and culture of the school?
• What can we learn from the schools that have closed? What can we learn from higher education?
• What type of information do parents expect about schools? Has this (or does this) change as tuition costs increase?
• How can independent schools use data more effectively?
• What types of assessment instruments are most valuable to students, teachers, and school administrators? Can we measure “soft skills” as well as academic achievement?
• How can we best explain the value that independent schools offer?
While the current economic environment has been challenging for many schools, it has also encouraged schools to explore new ideas and approaches. As NAIS’s Vice President of Research Amada Torres notes, “We wanted to bring together experts from different areas to consider independent school issues and to challenge NAIS to think about independent school research problems from new angles.”
The ideas gathered at the meeting and in subsequent discussions will help NAIS retool its research agenda for the coming years. Over the next few months, NAIS staff will be reaching out to members to gather additional ideas and feedback on its growing slate of research and tools to help member schools thrive.