Independent School

An independent school is a school that is independent in its finances and governance; it is not dependent upon national or local government for financing its operations, nor reliant on taxpayer contributions, and is instead funded by a combination of tuition charges, gifts, and in some cases the investment yield of an endowment. It is governed by a board of directors that is elected by an independent means and a system of governance that ensures its independent operation. It may receive government funds. However, its board must be independent.

The terms independent school and private school are often synonyms in popular usage outside the United Kingdom. Independent schools may have a religious affiliation, but the more precise usage of the term excludes parochial and other schools if there is a financial dependence upon, or governance subordinate to, outside organizations. These definitions generally apply equally to primary education, secondary education, and tertiary education institutions.

Independent schools in the United States educate a tiny fraction of the school-age population (slightly over 1% of the entire school-age population, and only around 10% of the 10% of students who go to private schools). The essential distinction between independent schools and other private schools is self-governance and financial independence, i.e., independent schools own, govern, and finance themselves. In contrast, public schools are funded and governed by local and state governments, and most parochial schools are owned, governed, and financed by religious institutions such as a diocese or parish. Independent schools may be affiliated with a particular religion or denomination; however, unlike parochial schools, independent schools are self-owned and governed by independent boards of trustees. While independent schools are not subject to significant government oversight or regulation, they are accredited by the same six regional accreditation agencies that accredit public schools. The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) is a membership organization of American pre-college independent schools.

The NAIS provides this definition of an Independent School:

    Independent schools are 501(c)3 nonprofit corporate entities, independent in governance and finance, meaning:

        Independent schools "own themselves" (as opposed to public schools owned by the government or parochial schools owned by the church) and govern themselves, typically with a self-perpetuating board of trustees that performs fiduciary duties of oversight and strategic duties of funding and setting the direction and vision of the enterprise, and by delegating day to day operations entirely to the head of school.
        Independent schools finance themselves (as opposed to public schools funded through the government and parochial schools subsidized by the church), largely through charging tuition, fund raising, and income from endowment.

    Independence is the unique characteristic of this segment of the education industry, offering schools four freedoms that contribute to their success: the freedom to define their own unique missions; the freedom to admit and keep only those students well-matched to the mission; the freedom to define the qualifications for high quality teachers; and the freedom to determine on their own what to teach and how to assess student achievement and progress.

In the United States, there are more independent colleges and universities than public universities, although public universities enroll more total students. The membership organization for independent tertiary education institutions is the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

In the United States, the term "private school" can be correctly applied to any school for which the facilities and funding are not provided by the federal, state or local government; as opposed to a "public school", which is operated by the government or in the case of charter schools, independently with government funding and regulation. The majority of private schools in the United States are operated by religious institutions and organizations.

Private schools are generally exempt from most educational regulations, but tend to follow the spirit of regulations concerning the content of courses in an attempt to provide a level of education equal to or better than that available in public schools. Additionally, many students (particularly those at the transition between primary and secondary school) transfer to a public school and therefore, require similar preparation to that available in public schools.

In the nineteenth century, as a response to the perceived domination of the public school systems by Protestant political and religious ideas, many Roman Catholic parish churches, dioceses and religious orders established schools, which operate entirely without government funding. For many years, the vast majority of private schools in the United States were Catholic schools. A similar perception (possibly relating to the evolution vs. creationism debates) emerged in the late twentieth century among Protestants, which has resulted in the widespread establishment of new, private schools.

In many parts of the United States, after the 1954 decision in the landmark court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that demanded US schools desegregate "with all deliberate speed", local families organized a wave of private "Christian academies". In much of the US South, many white students migrated to the academies, while public schools became in turn more heavily concentrated with African American students (see List of private schools in Mississippi). The academic content of the academies was usually College Preparatory. Since the 1970s, many of these "segregation academies" have shut down, although some continue to operate.

Funding for private schools is generally provided through student tuition, endowments, scholarship/voucher funds, and donations and grants from religious organizations or private individuals. Government funding for religious schools is either subject to restrictions or possibly forbidden, according to the courts' interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Non-religious private schools theoretically could qualify for such funding, but prefer the advantages of independent control of their student admissions and course content.

A similar concept, recently emerging from within the public school system, is the concept of "charter schools", which are technically independent public schools, but in many respects operate similarly to non-religious private schools.

Private schooling in the United States has been debated by educators, lawmakers and parents, since the beginnings of compulsory education in Massachusetts in 1852. The Supreme Court precedent appears to favor educational choice, so long as states may set standards for educational accomplishment. Some of the most relevant Supreme Court case law on this is as follows: Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160 (1976); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972); Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925); Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923).

There is a potential conflict between the values espoused in the above cited cases and the limitations set forward in Article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is below described.

Site Map