As you prepare for exams and the conclusion of the first semester, I have just returned from a visit to the US and the TABS conference in Boston. That visit and a book I have started pushed me to think about boarding school demographics, the economics of private schools and ultimately how governments are getting out of the education business. (It’s not that dramatic, but I needed a hook.)
Some demographic numbers that I heard at the conference made an impression in my mind. There are approximately 40,000 boarding students in the United States. About 20% of those students are from foreign countries, predominately from Korea and China. Of the 32,000 US boarding students, 25% or so receive financial aid. That leaves 24,000 US students who pay the full price of a boarding school education. My first impression was: “That’s a small group of customers.”
Geographically, almost all of those 24,000 students come from the Boston to Washington DC corridor. Very few students from population center such as southern California, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta, Denver, Houston, etc attend boarding schools. It is easier to convince a person from Seoul to attend Holderness than it is to convince a person from Chicago to attend Holderness. In addition, population and economic growth in the US is occurring more along the sun belt than along the east coast.
On the flip side, private day-school enrollments are thriving in the United States and growing rapidly internationally. To cite Richard Bates in Schooling Internationally, there were over 5,000 international schools in 2007 and that number is growing. For example, on my accreditation visit to Yokohama, I worked with three Heads of School that were running schools in Asia that are less than ten years old with over 500 students enrolled. To add some dollar figures to these numbers, I have heard that Korean citizens spend $5 billion/year on US tuitions, and “2007-2008 USA overseas revenue from international education was $15.54 billion. (Bates, 2011) Private education is a significant global business.
To continue on the economic vein, Bates also recognized the growth of trans-national corporations (TNCs=companies with operations in more than one country). It is estimated that there are 64,000 TNCs world-wide. And here’s a staggering realization to me: of the 100 largest economic institutions in the world, 51 are TNCs and 49 are national or state governments. (Bates, 2011)
In the twentieth century, governments were the primary drivers of the growth and evolution of education. The emergence of TNCs, however, is changing that dynamic. These large companies have a vested interest in good schools, both to attract employees to their locations and to train future workers. Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann and John Dewey (among others) wrote about the importance of education and democracy. The current TNCs care about the importance of education and democracy and a market economy. I saw this influence in person in Geneva, Zurich and Frankfurt where corporate groups have actively worked to increase the number private, international schools in the area. One school estimated that 60% of its tuitions were paid by TNCs as part of employee compensation.
How does that affect the evolution of education practice? Some of the most influential curriculum shapers in the world these days are private businesses and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). We hear a lot of talk about NCLB, etc, but what shapes our schools? Independent organizations such as the College Board, the IBO and PISA play an influential role.
At Holderness, I argue that the most influential outside force on our curriculum is the College Board. All of our students take the SATs and most take the APs. We want our kids to succeed on those exams, and the exams do influence how we teach. The College Board is a private, for-profit company that has gained the trust of US colleges and universities. US colleges and universities, in return, have some influence with the College Board, but state and federal government groups have much less influence with the College Board.
On an international scale, the IB and the PISA wield similar influence on teaching, curriculum and assessment.
The IBO is an international NGO whose initial purpose was to serve students of the internationally mobile workforce. It does not serve any government. The IB has evolved and now half the IB World Schools are public schools receiving government funding and direction. In the US, many public school systems have taken on the IB as a means for school improvement. In response, I heard one European international school Head complain about the direction of the IB curriculum; he said it was bending too much to the state government demands in the USA. Local, national and international governance is an issue in schools as well.
PISA is an international assessment program created by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development. [The OECD was created in 1961 (the USA was a founding member) as an offspring of the Marshall Plan to promote the benefits of western democracy, a market economy and international cooperation. There are about 40 member countries.] PISA aims to “survey a student’s skills and knowledge as they approach the end of compulsory education.” (www.oecd.org. 6 January 2011) The largest international assessment tool works independently of any governments and derives from an organization driven by a framework of western democracy, market economy, and international cooperation. Lucky for me! I prefer western democracy, market economies and international cooperation.
Looking at these large numbers and trends, the question for Holderness is “so what?” How does a small school of 275 students in Plymouth, NH (population 8,000) effectively fit into this USA and international picture?
Holderness has always operated outside of significant government influence; but more of our students are from outside the USA, and more of our graduates will work for international institutions .
I will write more on these questions later, but I would love to hear your thoughts. Use email or go to jorymacomber.com