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News & Press: General Articles

From SAIS President Debra Wilson - January 2020

Friday, January 10, 2020  
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Hello Friends!

Happy New Year! I hope this holiday season brought you a good break and finds you feeling refreshed, having crossed the “half time” of the academic year. I personally love the austerity of January after the abundance of December. It clears away the over-stimulation and leaves us with the remnants of what is truly important.

Every decade marker seems larger than other years, and 2020 feels like it has been looming in front of us for some time. While I enjoy reading and projecting about what we can look forward to in education, the articles from ten or more years ago are the ones to which I look back to see how far we have come.

My favorite is probably this one, by Getting Smart written in 2010, largely because of its specifics. While I will leave a thorough read to you, this article underscores how slow education can be to change. It also highlights a few places where we could probably see more change, although maybe not in ways the authors anticipated. The following are the top three areas in which we need to make more progress, hopefully by 2030.

  • Language Labs. The authors appear to be asking schools to do away with language labs and “do something more fun with that room” because language acquisition is so easy through a cell phone. While the language lab was the bane of my college existence, language acquisition and global cultural competency remain at the forefront of what our students will need both for their future jobs and our peaceful existence as the world gets smaller. We have been quite fortunate to have a culture based primarily in the English language, a language that is taught consistently and well across the world. However, given where population growth is projected, the number of native English speakers will be declining and other languages will be on the rise. (As someone who has tortured many a French teacher, I was pleased to see that it might pay off in 2050 when Africa is projected to become an economic powerhouse). If all of this is true, then we need to do a better job of teaching language and giving students the skills to think and communicate complex thoughts in a foreign language, something that we do not do well as a country.  Wondering how long it might take to acquire a second language? Check out these stats.
  • HomeworkThe authors allude to the notion of learning being done “24/7.” This is absolutely true. Adults and students are constantly taking in more information. However, at some point the length of time spent on homework and academic rigor became linked. These expectations combined with the hamster wheel of student activities have created unmanageable life-loads for students. In these situations, students get the worst of both worlds: old school concepts of homework through more problem sets and writing prompts combined with 21st century expectations of achievement and social media avatars. We must work with students to ensure we are using technology to learn more effectively and efficiently, not just producing more output.
  • Differentiated Instruction. Several elements of this article point to shifts in education, including differentiated instruction for students, experiential education that frees up campus use, organization of the school by grade, and specifics around curriculum. As an industry, we see this most readily in the Mastery Transcript Consortium. However, even if your school is not ready for such a jump, this conversation is happening in other places as well. The traditional canon we have used and the way we teach it answer different questions than the ones our students will be facing. Math, in particular, has come under fire in recent years. Statistics, data analysis, and the tools needed to engage in these topics have all quickly become embedded in many jobs. Indeed, OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) is looking at this particular question now. Looking for more information on shifting methods in curriculum and program? The Center for Curriculum Redesign is a good place to start.

As for my personal crystal ball, by 2030 I am hoping our industry has benefited students by:

  • Returning to our fundamentals of developing the whole child. The skills our students need are beyond academic; we have always known this. The skills that our students will be specifically asked to have are so deep within the foundations of our schools and so tied to our value proposition that we must take advantage of this opportunity. Character, creativity, collaboration, experiential education, social emotional learning – all of these are on the table, but this generation is also struggling in ways we have never seen before. Our schools must dig into our foundations, but also reach out to provide support and learning opportunities that we have never considered.
  • Exploring different menus of service. Our students and parents are not always looking for the standard school day, or school year, with the same bells and whistles. Options for enrolling for a full year, for specific classes, for half days, for distance learning should all be on the table.
  • Exploring different ages of audiences and different kinds of education. Those close to me are tired of hearing me talk about Simon Sinek and the Infinite Game. I am profoundly struck by the idea that Kodak had the patent (the patent!) to digital photography but didn’t move ahead because Kodak leaders were worried about what would happen to their film business. They didn’t understand what business they were in. For independent schools, what is our business? How do we limit ourselves by what has come before? What already exists out there that is filling our business niche that we are missing? If we are in the education business, we should be thinking about how we are failing to fully embrace what that means. There is a particular opportunity here given the driving need for the re-tooling of the American workforce.
  • Learning how to leverage our interdependencies, similarities, and overlapping needs. We spend a lot of time recreating certain wheels on every single one of our campuses. Schools down the road from each other embrace the same inefficiencies. Charter schools, magnet schools, and school networks all share back-end business and other systems that make them more efficient, resulting in both financial and time gains. We need to work on leveraging these gains as an industry. Some of this work is being captured by groups like Global Online Academy and One Schoolhouse, but more needs to be done.
  • Reckoning with the reality of our budgets and financial model. In the 1999-2000 school year, SAIS schools had a median tuition and fees of $7,255 for first grade. In 2019-2000 that median tuition and fees was $17,805. NAIS member schools reported in at $9,525 in 1999-2000 and $23,400 in 2019-2000. For high school, SAIS schools had tuition and fees of $9,260 in 1999-2000 which grew to $22,785 in 2019-2020. This is a price increase of almost 150% during that 20-year period. Interestingly, net tuition revenue increased by roughly 110% over the same period. The cumulative rate of inflation for that same window is 54.4%. In other words, the real dollar equivalent for the $7,255 a family paid for first grade in 1999-2000 would be roughly $11,200 if we kept pace with inflation (to perform similar calculations, this is a helpful site). This data was found in DASL.

    These kinds of increases price out the families that have been the bread and butter of independent schools for quite some time, including young professional families now managing student debt previous generations never had. John Gulla of the EE Ford Foundation famously talks about three buckets of schools: those that have strong demand and place in the market and do not need to change, those that recognize the need to shift their model as they are seeing real challenges, and those that maintain business as usual in the hopes that tightening their belts as they have over the years will solve the financial problem. Schools that come to grips with their budgets will understand how increased tuitions have priced out former customer bases. They will work to control costs or tap into additional revenue streams and they will know into which bucket they fall and act accordingly (e.g., if you are in bucket one, you should be innovating because you have the air to do so. If you are in bucket three, business as usual is likely not going to save your model).

Time and our efforts will only tell how we fare. Either way, we can look forward to exciting times and opportunities ahead.

If you are looking for more on projections, here are some additional resources looking at education by 2030:

Two pieces of practical legal news you should know:

The former is welcome news to business offices trying to implement regulations and guidance that made little pragmatic sense. The latter is a scaled back version of the initial regulations from several years ago that would have been much more expensive.

And, if you need a bright spot in your first days back from break, this piece caught my eye and reminded me that the kids really are all right.

As always, if the SAIS team can do anything at all to support you in the new year, please just let us know.

Debra Wilson
SAIS President

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