Among many troubling findings is one that should alarm parents and legisla- tors: 69 percent of public school teachers reported that they are not “engaged in their work.”
A likely reason for that disengagement may be revealed in Gallup’s 2012 daily tracking research that found K-12 pub- lic school teachers are the least likely among 12 occupational groups studied to agree with the statement, “At work, my opinions seem to count." A 2009 Gallup study found that teachers’ engagement levels are directly related to those of their students—and thereby to student achievement outcomes. Of the 600,000 public school students polled in The State of America’s Schools, almost half reported that they are not engaged in their schoolwork. That statistic spells trouble for all. A high percentage of disengaged students in a school poisons the climate and is a root cause of bullying. And school climate seems to have an impact on teachers. One study found that teachers in 40 of America’s largest school districts missed, on average, 11 school days. A recent CT State Report Card lists the average number of missed days by teachers to be nine. Those numbers are three to four times the average of missed school days by independent school teachers.
THE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL MODEL
Independent schools have historically been similar to public schools but have often enjoyed advantages in resources, student-teacher ratios and in the ability to select students. The last twenty years, however, have widened the differences between public and independent schools, with public schools becoming more traditional and compliance-driven and independent schools becoming more 21st century focused and innovative. Parents choosing a school for their children are wise to look for indications of the following best practices. These are common features in Connecticut’s independent schools:
■ A school that respects (or reveres) its teachers. Attracting and retaining great teachers means ensuring they have a voice in school-level decisions that affect them and their programs.
■ A school design that fosters relationships and attachments and requires pro-social behavior (manners, respect for others, honesty, personal responsibility).
■ Teachers who can and will mediate the social environment in the school.
■ Opportunities for students to work independently and opportunities for students to work in collaboration with others.
■ Frequent practice in both oral and written communication; class presentations, debates, dramatic productions, poetry readings, public speaking exercises or competitions. Writing, lots of it—assignments that are varied in form, purpose, audience, length; each effort receiving a critical review by the teacher.
■ Arts programs that enjoy the same stature as science programs.
■ An extra-curriculum that is not viewed as “extra” but as an opportunity for students to experience real world challenges and triumphs.
■ Homework that is appropriate to the age and grade level of the child and is not exclusively a reinforcement of low-level cognitive skills.
■School assessment instruments that measure what the school values most, including and especially high level, creative competencies that elude simple paper and pencil scoring.
Independent schools have a variety of missions but there is a universal commitment to ensuring that students will care about learning and learn about caring. The ultimate hope for graduates is not merely a resume well- developed but a life well-lived—and a firm understanding of the difference between a standard of living and a purpose in life. ■