Questions about newly named head of National Independent Schools Association

John Chubb
John Chubb

The choice of John Chubb, a vocal advocate of school choice who was part of Mitt Romney’s campaign education advisory team, as president-elect of the National Association of Independent Schools has sparked some controversy in that part of the education world.

Some educators in independent schools — which are private schools governed by independent boards and are funded mostly through tuition, charitable contributions and endowment income — have expressed concern about Chubb’s views of education, and one private school leader published an open letter (see below) on his blog with a sharp criticism of the choice.

There are scores of independent schools in the greater Washington D.C. region, including Sidwell Friends School, where President Obama’s daughters attend.

Chubb has been serving as interim chief executive officer of the Education Sector, a Washington D.C.-based think tank. Earlier he founded the for-profit EdisonLearning education management company and later, Leeds Global Partners LLC, an education services and advisory firm. He is the author of a number of books and taught at Stanford University.

Here’s part of the letter written by Chris Thinnes, head of the upper elementary school and academic dean and director of the Center for the Future of Elementary Education at the independent Curtis School in Los Angeles.

….The essential question for those of us struggling to understand this decision, then — regardless of our personal or political biases, and faced by a dearth of available information but for the fait accompli of your decision — is this: what significance does this bear for the direction of our organization and our schools? …

 

… Perhaps the safest route to develop an understanding of Chubb’s value to NAIS, given that his bona fides suggest his prominence as a policy expert, would be to explore the merits of the policies he has created or defended. We should, moreover, look to ‘the data’ rather than ‘our feelings’ about it: that would be the fairest measure of an ‘accountability’ advocate’s success or failure. Dr. Chubb is known — not only because he has defined himself throughout his oeuvre, but because others have taken him at his word — as a fierce defender of No Child Left Behind. Against all evidence and reasoning, Dr. Chubb has claimed that “NCLB… has provided a very fair and flexible definition of what constitutes 100% proficiency.” Regarding the impact of NCLB, Diane Ravitch and so many others have demonstrated that, in a dazzling array of subject areas and grade levels, “the gains preceding the adoption of NCLB were larger than those posted after NCLB.” As for Chubb’s not-so-data driven defense of NCLB after the first seven years of its failure, Chubb insisted that “NCLB is based on sound principles and should with time improve the achievement of all American children.” I don’t mention any of this to pick a fight about NCLB. I mention this to beg a reasonable question about a policy expert’s reliability as a independent, unbiased reasoner. This seems an important hallmark of an organizational leader….

 

…Dr. Chubb has also made it clear that the United States will never produce a generation of students who earns higher test results than everyone else in the world — which, naturally, is our collective goal as educators — unless we improve teacher preparation programs that “regularly produce mediocre teachers.” In order to improve those programs, he suggests that we “measure the effectiveness of teacher training programs,” presumably through the use of the kinds of standardized tests on which we hope those teachers will help students to be fruitful and prosper. Should we yearn for shining examples of effective teacher preparation programs, we know that Dr. Chubb finds Teach for America and KIPP to represent dynamic and admirable alternatives. Those of us who find these approaches, their intent, or their transparency to be matters fraught with controversy might find it especially difficult not to jump to conclusions….

 

The agenda of NAIS, and the ethos of its member schools, for these last twelve years has been inextricably intertwined with the extraordinary leadership of [retiring president] Pat Bassett. In my experience, his devotion to school improvement hinged on improving the relevance of the student’s experience; Chubb’s depends on improving the ‘excellence’ of teachers. Bassett extolled the virtues of the professional learning community and a flatter hierarchical structure; Chubb wants to “give principals more authority and responsibility.” Bassett explored assessment in the 21st century as an opportunity for more individualized and deeper learning; Chubb advocates for one-size-fits-all standards and trumpets the virtues of ‘achievement.’ Bassett understood the value of great public school models, and promoted respectful collaboration with their constituents; Chubb explicitly articulates his contempt and disdain. Bassett recognized that private schools serve an unjustly narrow segment of our national population; Chubb demonstrates no such awareness or concern. Bassett actively promoted diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice in our policies and programs; Chubb shows no interest in the matter. Bassett heralded the opportunities of global education to collaborate and connect; Chubb eggs us on to demonstrate our dominance of our international competitors…

Read the whole letter here.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | January 23, 2013