Tag Archives: Education

Charles Dey once asked: “What Kind of World Do We Want for the 21st Century?”


Click here for original publication.

When I discovered the article “What Kind of World Do We Want?” was the fifth most popular item on the NAIS homepage yesterday, I was curious. And after reading the Independent School magazine article, I understand why it’s popular. Although it was written in 1985, it has enduring appeal, expounding on the far-reaching ideals of morality and purpose within and beyond our schools.

The eloquence of author Charles Dey, a former principal and head of Choate Rosemary School (Connecticut), draws us in at the outset:

“Curriculum begins with purpose, and purpose, in part, grows out of the fundamental premises on which a society is constructed. Necessarily, curricula are fashioned for utilitarian purposes such as imparting writing and mathematical skills, and now computer skills, and those other disciplines, such as language, history, religion, and the arts, that help us to know who we are. But how we teach them and what we include within each area should reflect larger visions of what kind of world we want.”

Later on, he writes: “If we have done our work, none of our students will ever again be free from knowing the unfinished business of their society, its unfulfilled promises. And beyond knowing, they will feel responsible for addressing those issues in their own lives. After all, what is the longer-range purpose of education? To amass wealth? To attain fame or power? To acquire title and prestige? Or is it to produce thinking persons able to express themselves clearly and effectively, persons having a lifelong appetite for learning and a determination to lead useful lives, so that whatever they do, whomever they touch, will be better for their having lived?”

Click here to read the full piece from the archives of Independent School magazine.  It resonates today as much as it did then.

The views expressed on this post are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of NAIS.

Are You a Giver, Taker, or Matcher? Find Out.


Click here for original publication.

As we’re wrapped up in the excitement of the giving season, it’s worthwhile to pause for a moment and reflect on just what giving looks like – and can look like – in our day-to-day lives year-round.

This fall, I published a Q & A with Adam Grant, a popular organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, who wrote a book on the topic. In his bestseller, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam divides us into three categories: givers, takers, and matchers. The gist: Givers look for ways to share their time, connections, and resources with others. Matchers are motivated by quid pro quo. Takers seek out what benefits them first.

It strikes me that educators are natural givers. Find out what percent giver, taker, and matcher you are by taking Adam’s quiz. (Note that you’ll need to sign up.) Share your results and the quiz with friends. In 2014, let’s look for ways to carry on the spirit of giving in our communities.

Adam offers some ideas in our interview. The piece “A School-Eye View of Give and Take” originally ran in the Fall 2013 issue of Independent School. Below is an excerpt.

Ari Pinkus: You talk about a support network being an antidote to burnout. How can teachers build a support network to help themselves? What role do leaders have here?

Adam Grant: How do you build a support network for yourself? One major step is through giving. The evidence is really clear that most people are matchers: they believe that what goes around should come around, and strive to follow the norm of reciprocity. That means that if you’ve been really generous with them, when you need them, they will be there for you.It’s no easy task for school leaders to build a support network. Research suggests that formal mentoring programs rarely do much good, in part because a relationship in which you rely on people for emotional support, advice, guidance, and resources tends to be something that needs to evolve genuinely based on a natural authentic connection. It’s tough to say, “Today I am your mentor and I will be helping you,” and immediately have trust.

That said, I would encourage school leaders to legitimize help seeking. Many teachers are reluctant to seek help — they don’t want to appear vulnerable or helpless, and they don’t want to burden others. But if you’re unwilling to seek help, that’s a great recipe for burnout. And you’re thwarting the potential givers in your life from knowing what you need and how they can be of support to you.

School leaders can play a huge role in this. I would love to see more school leaders asking for help themselves: admit when they don’t know the answers, and show it’s acceptable to seek out help, that it’s safe, and even encouraged.

I would also be thrilled to see more school leaders create marketplaces for people to seek help. For example, there’s a company called Appletree Answers in Delaware that runs a call center. They had turnover at a range of 98 percent annually. CEO John Ratliff was getting together with a group of people to brainstorm about how to reduce the turnover rate, and one of the people suggested creating an internal version of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. They called it the Dream On program: employees could pose any dream they wanted, and there was a committee of people at Appletree who would try to make it happen. They got all sorts of really interesting requests, from a woman who wanted to help her sick husband meet his favorite football players to a man who wanted to take his daughter to a birthday party and go behind the scenes at the circus. Not only did [the dream committee] make them happen, but turnover dropped to around 33 percent within the six months after they instituted this program because they made it acceptable for employees to ask for help. It created a lot more authenticity and empathy in their everyday relationships. I don’t know if every school should have something like that, but it’s a really interesting model.


Click here for original publication.

I’m Ari Pinkus, associate editor at NAIS, and I will be blogging at the 26th NAIS People of Color Conference this week in National Harbor, Md., outside Washington, D.C.

At PoCC Close, Michel Martin Exhorts: Keep the Conversation Going –  And Here’s How

In its final day, the conference crystallized by looking back and looking ahead. The Francis Parker School (California) choir sang songs about tomorrow, and then an exquisite photo montage of Nelson Mandela flashed on the screen overhead.

Michel Martin, host of NPR’s “Tell Me More,” ran with the full-circle theme: “Nelson Mandela  became a moral and political leader of his own people … that did not happen by accident or by himself,” she says. “It happened because he did the hard and difficult work that you are doing here.”

To continue the “cutting-edge” work on diversity in the midst of America’s fast-changing demographics, we must keep the conversation going. It’s work she knows well as a journalist. As such, Martin offers what she’s learned to have productive conversations on race and diversity. The six keys:

1. Begin the conversation, particularly when the opportunity presents itself. Talk of a national conversation on race incorrectly suggests it’s a one-time event that requires people to get tickets. “We’re having conversations about race every single day,” Martin says. To illustrate her point, she played a clip of an interview  in which she challenged Heidi Grossman, a lawyer in New York City, on why many residents negatively viewed the city’s “Stop and Frisk” policy.

2. Have conversations with people who don’t agree with you. On her show, Martin has hosted members of the Tea Party, David Duke, people from the Occupy Wall Street movement, and others. “If you want to understand people, you have to let them speak for themselves,” she says. Remember that people are entitled to different opinions but not different facts, she points out.

3. Listen. “Listening is a surprisingly hard thing to do,” she says. And just because you’re listening doesn’t mean you agree with what’s being said.  Referencing the saying “silence is assent,” she says that respect is different from assent.

4. Stay in the room. Martin describes being a “fundamentally shy person” and that the microphone allows her to talk to people who are outside of her sphere. “Your discomfort is your friend…. It teaches you…. Learn to embrace it.”

5. Go beyond your boundaries. Martin gives the example of not telling her colleagues to bring sunscreen on a trip abroad because it wasn’t her area of responsibility. She noticed that people “were getting redder and redder.” What it taught her: “Just because it’s not your issue doesn’t mean it’s not an issue,” she says.

6. Know that “this [work] is really hard, and it’s not for amateurs…. Being smart has nothing to do with it. We’re all going to mess up,” Martin says. No matter what, “you get to come back tomorrow and do it someplace else.”

My final thoughts…

Continuing the topic of conversation, I’d like to thank everyone I talked to during the conference for sharing their thoughts and takeaways. You added a rich touch to both the blog and my first experience at PoCC. A special shout-out thank you goes to the three teachers whose reunion I unknowingly crashed. Before this conference, they hadn’t seen each other in 20 years – when two of them were students! So gracious they were to welcome me into their group during their emotional moment, and engage in an insightful and warm-hearted conversation on diversity and inclusion in their schools. This conference is a truly special platform for magnifying people’s unique voices.

Let’s all continue the conversation we began here, virtually and face to face.

Day 2 of PoCC: With a Stirring Performance of Her Own Words, Stacyann Chin Brings Down the House

From the beginning, Stacyann Chin had all of us enraptured, and by the end everyone was buzzing. The spoken word poet, performing artist, and LGBT activist read from her memoir, The Other Side of Paradise, as if she were on a Broadway stage – with passion, animation, and inflection in her voice. Her transformative story and the authenticity with which she told it sent an emotional charge through the room. We laughed uproariously. Tears flowed, too.

The contrasts were continuous. Stacyann’s self-possession shined through before us, even as she described heart-breaking and wretched conditions she endured while growing up in Jamaica. When Stacyann was born, her mother left for Canada for a better life, and her father was absent. In her early years, Stacyann was raised by her hard-working grandmother, but then she was sent into a dysfunctional home, where she had to survive. She read passages that explored spirituality and sexuality in the most visceral ways, touching the heart of the human spirit.

Stacyann also described her deep suffering after coming out as a lesbian in Jamaica. Twelve boys sexually assaulted her. But she pointed out that the experiences in Jamaica led her to New York City, where she made new friends and began writing poetry in a café on the Lower East Side. “I wanted to be able to chase women without being violently chased myself,” she says.

Today, Stacyann is a mother, and brought her daughter with her.

After her performance, many in the audience raced to have her sign their books. In the line, they praised her courage, authenticity, and writing. Some said they planned to come to her upcoming show in New York; a few wanted her to visit their schools. Warmly and gratefully, Stacyann welcomed everyone.

Day 2 of PoCC: As Dr. Marisa Richmond Speaks, Nelson Mandela Looms Large

Nelson Mandela’s passing hung heavy in the room in the second morning. Caroline Blackwell remarked on the loss of a leader, who showed us courage and dignity. When Caroline passed the stage to speaker Dr. Marisa Richmond, a leader who is transgender, Marisa seized on the thought: “To continue his legacy, we must stand up for everyone,” she says. The fight against discrimination in schools is at the top of the list, she says.

Marisa describes how she didn’t feel comfortable coming out when she was a student at the University School of Nashville (Tennessee). Today, every school should adopt a gender identity and expression policy, Marisa says, noting that her alma mater has not done so yet.  She’s saddened, she says, when people ask questions such as: Why should I stand up for someone different than me? Why should I stand up for someone who’s not a citizen? “It’s a great departure from Nelson Mandela,” she says.

Marisa spent much time urging attendees – and the US Congress – to stand up for people’s rights in domestic policy: in immigration with comprehensive reform, in the workplace through the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, and in schools via the Strengthening America’s Schools Act that cracks down on bullying.

She traced her background in working on social justice issues to her two parents, both educators. Richmond, too, is an educator, teaching at Middle Tennessee State University. “There is no defense for that which is indefensible. That is the legacy of Nelson Mandela. We must live up to that,” she says.

In answering attendees’ questions, Marisa noted her lack of role models when she was in school in the 1970s. “Sex workers or entertainers were the only people I saw who were trans and I didn’t want to be one of those.”

When it comes to dress codes, she notes that she’s never been enamored of them, but advises schools: “Acknowledge the identity of the student and this is the dress code for a particular gender. And work from there.”

Marisa was clear that age doesn’t matter when opening up a bathroom or a sports team to a student who is transgender, and cited a case in Colorado in which a school was found to have discriminated against a six-year-old transgender child who had been barred from using the girls’ restroom.

Marisa sought to dispel a myth that people who are transgender are perpetrators of sexual violence. In all the incidents that occur in bathrooms, trans are the victims, she says.

Day 2 of PoCC: Heads of Color Take Center Stage

Then, Caroline Blackwell called all the heads of color of NAIS member schools in the audience to the stage. After 11 came to the front, Caroline acknowledged them and the some 60 heads of color leading member schools.

Musical performances led off the openings during days 1 and 2. Here’s one:

Day 1 of PoCC: What If This Workshop Were a Twitter Chat? Conversation in Tweets

The workshop Cultural Competence & 21st Century Skills: The Intersections of Learning and Community was presented by Gene Batiste, Independent Education (DC); Steven Jones, Jones & Associates Consulting; Rosetta Lee, Seattle Girls’ School (Washington); Alison Park, Blink Consulting; and Chris Thinnes, Curtis School (California).

@Thinnes: Seem to b 2 diff convos taking place: teaching and learning; diversity & inclusion

@Jones: Expect students to know math, why not cultural competence?

@Thinnes: Not about sensitivity; but about a skill set

Familiar ground 4 educators cultivated via: pedagogy, goals for learning, scaffolding

How do we bridge these tensions?

@Batiste: Origins of cross cultural competency: mental healthcare in 1970s

More prep to work with difference; early adopters: military, diplomacy, and businesses working abroad

In Nov. ’12, NAIS principles of good practice for equity and justice adopted

No one gets a pass: it’s skills building for all individuals

@Park: Diversity isn’t the other realm; it’s the bridge & key

Means to teaching math; making best hire; implementing 1:1 laptop

Schools ask her: What’s appropriate to do?

@Lee: Sees diversity via classroom teacher lens, key to being good teacher
Cultural fluency is not: to deal with an Asian, do this

Rather approach with curiosity and delight

Marginalized members: on financial aid, of color read context constantly to see what’s appropriate for work and life

Kids are doing it out of survival

Shouldn’t have to sacrifice central core being

Or be ignorant traveler who offends everyone they want to

Know how to negotiate in a healthy way if in a university abroad

@Dr. Jones: Problem is insidious: You’re not leading like the last head did

Calculus levels of complexity exist around cultural competency issues

Intent is not enough

Meet people with best of intentions as they insult people

When person’s already gotten slapped verbally, doesn’t know when the next one’s coming

Remorse is expected to reduce the sting; it doesn’t

The application of these skills produces multicultural curriculum, community service

But social justice is the calculus problem

All teachers must have the responsibility; no opting out

Used to be: Let’s get the teacher from India because it’s an Indian family

Heard a head say: we’re not diverse enough; when we get the diversity will do the training

How are white, upper-class, heterosexuals going to learn these issues?

Would you graduate your students and not teach them math?

Apply the same level of academic rigor to this area

@Batiste: Not solely about getting buy-in but speaking to the moral imperative

@Park:  Danger of cultural competency in the dominant culture being deemed “right”

Dilemma we face between being right and being effective

@Dr. Jones: One model that defines cultural competency

  1. Awareness of my own culture (talk about white privilege and white culture go together)
  2. Awareness and understanding of other cultures
  3. Cross cultural effectiveness skills (emotional intelligence, empathy)
  4. Fight for social justice; create equity at institutional level

@Park: Passionate about affinity groups, creating facilitated spaces w/ loving adults

@Attendee: Desire for rubric of cross cultural competency

Lee: Be careful about assigning computer based homework if maybe kids don’t have access at home


@Park: Fear in cultural competency that u need to know everything of all people

Bubble wrapping yourself against everyone else lacks key self-awareness piece

Develop rubric but don’t stop there

Challenge that tool so it doesn’t sit out in the rain and rust

@Dr. Jones: Working to create national set of rubric for students and educators

@Lee: Focus on the 85% of people who are or could get on board; always will be 15% who don’t care

@Park: Everyone has a growth edge; empower everyone to grow in cross cultural competence

Day 1 of PoCC: Alina Fernandez’s Personal Story Wrapped Up in Cuba’s Tumult

She grew up surrounded by revolution – a revolution that she described as endless, and has continually shaped her life at the same time. In 1993, she finally escaped to come to the US.

Her mother was “the toast of Havana,” and a flexible dancer with a voluptuous figure.  Dr. Orlando Fernandez proposed to her. Soon after, Fidel Castro came into her mother’s life. He was married at the time and starting an underground organization against Batista.

When Castro landed in jail, her mother wrote to him in a powerful correspondence. “Fidel loved my mother a lot but, of course, he also loved his wife,” Alina Fernandez Revuelta says.  At one point, the prison guard mixed up the letters Castro wrote to his wife and to her mother. Castro’s wife found out he was in love with another woman. “When Castro was free from prison, he was also free from marriage,” she says.

As a new leader, Castro was charismatic, even mesmerizing, giving speeches that lasted hours. “He made my mother joyful,” Alina says.

But there was another side. Alina recalled sitting in a room and seeing a screen of a blindfolded man with his hands tied wearing a white shirt covered in dark spots. “It took me 30 years to realize that I witnessed an execution.”

Executions were numerous. She describes other abrupt changes nationwide: the family institution was destroyed as middle class doctors and lawyers left the country en masse. In “the Peter Pan operation,” 14,000 Cubans found their way to America. For those left behind, religion became an ideological weakness against communism. People couldn’t change jobs or gather with others in their homes without clearing it with the secret police. Fear gripped the people and has forever remained, Alina says.

That farmers could no longer be farm owners has had a tangible effect. Since the 1960s the government has been rationing booklets of coffee, sugar, rice, and beans. It was never enough and people were obligated to live on the black market. The widespread desperation touched her as people would stand outside her house and plead to her for help. Alina tried to hide behind her name, Fernandez.

Alina was totally confused growing up in a matriarchal household (her stepfather and sister fled the country) where on one side her mother loved Castro deeply while her grandmother called him the devil. Castro made frequent visits to the house, but he didn’t fix the car or help with homework.

She and her mother had continuous misunderstandings, as her mother has remained a believer in Castro. These misunderstandings started early when her mother used the word voluntary when she really meant mandatory because Alina “had” to do something. Alina said it was like having a personal army at home, with her mother a soldier.

Throughout Alina’s childhood, she felt trapped in a circumstance that she couldn’t escape. “It’s bad when you have nothing to rebel against but yourself.”

She joined the dissent movement in 1989 and life got harder. She described how a revolution becomes a dictatorship at the point when you’re trying to improve something and you’re sent to jail.

An audience member asked if she was afraid for her life at any point and she said no. She cannot live that way. But she volunteered: “Publishing the book was a war.”

When asked about how her relationship with her biological parents influenced her relationship with her daughter, she said, “When I began to be engaged politically, I realized that I was doing the same thing with my daughter that had happened to me. That’s when I decided to leave.”

“You do for your children what’s best for them. I give her choices and love her unconditionally,” she says.

Afterward, I asked attendee Pejman Milani, a media teacher at Episcopal High School (Texas) for his thoughts on Alina’s talk. He described it as “eye-opening, like listening to someone’s story over dinner, very intimate, interesting and enlightening. It made me more aware of the struggles in Cuba.” But he kept waiting for her mother to see the truth about Castro. “That never happened.” He wondered if her grandmother, who was anti-Castro, helped shape Alina’s views. He was also left wondering whether she had to contend with the envy of people asking: “Why aren’t you starving?”

Day 1 of PoCC: Heard in the Halls & Seats: Attendees Speak

Some conversations and takeways from attendees:

Ramon Olivier, a math teacher at The Lawrenceville School (New Jersey), said Daniel Hernandez, Jr.’s speech resonated with him. “I was sad to leave at the end. I felt that he was talking to me.”

He noted how Daniel’s foot was in two worlds, which is similar to his own story. “Both my parents were immigrants from the Dominican Republic. When I walked out the house I was basically speaking English, and I walked back in speaking Spanish.”

Roman described to me how his father resisted American culture. He turned down an amazing job designing valves because it required him to become a citizen – and he wasn’t going to do that. After 40 years, he finally became a citizen.

Roman’s hoping that the conference will highlight a new direction that he hasn’t read about or seen before. He’s looking for PoCC to have an impact at the day-to-day level. He suggests making mailing lists available to participants after the conference and for these lists to be broken down with as much granularity as possible. “I would love to get in touch with other Hispanic math educators, and have targeted conversations after the conference.”

Jennifer Adams, a counselor at Harpeth Hall School (Tennessee), shared how it’s important for students to be able to navigate diversity issues when they leave the school environs, which can be idyllic. Educating teachers and parents about the issues is crucial, too, but it’s also important to give them permission to be wherever they are and not place judgment on them. It’s about the journey – and the work done along the way.

Jennifer works on asking questions rather than avoiding touchy issues as a way of reframing discussion. “Have you ever thought about things this way”? she might say to a child. “Or tell me more about that. Why do you think that way?” “It’s about planting seeds; they may not understand right away.”

Another shift she’s making: changing talk from diversity to talk of inclusion, which really resonates with people, she says. She showed me a great quote from Verna Myers on her phone: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” Her school eliminated picnics reserved exclusively for families of color in order to foster more inclusion.

In  keeping with an effort to be more inclusive, the school pays particular attention to the pronunciation of students’ names because “a name is a big deal.” A shared drive file with audio recordings from audacity is available for all teachers and administrators to access. At orientation students say their name twice. This year a girl has 30 letters in her name, and all the teachers have learned to say it correctly. “It makes them feel as if they’re part of the community,” she says.

Jennifer enjoys her visits to PoCC. “I get filled up; I get reminded, grounded. It puts things in the right perspective; you learn more about yourself and apply it.”

Assistant Head of School Honor Taft who’s involved in hiring and retaining faculty, is focused on creating a welcoming environment at The Caedmon School (New York).  She’s at the conference with seven people from her school, and works to find good talent to join the school. Candidates report being impressed with the hiring process, which involves a series of interviews, including with the diversity coordinators. Diversity, she notes, is one of the school’s core tenets, and incorporated into all aspects of Caedmon.

When it comes to inclusion, it’s important to have more conversations with parents and to be an ally and be supportive of them. The questions remain: How do you make yourself accessible to people who are working? Can you shift schedules around? Provide child care?

An attendee expressed frustration that diversity is just a marketing tool at the institutional level because independent schools are still serving a more privileged population.  If that’s true, a workshop speaker said, then we have a real problem.

Over and over it echoed: More diversity is needed at the top of organizations.

An attendee noted that when the diversity coordinator of her school left, the person wasn’t replaced because greater understanding now exists that inclusion is everyone’s work.

An interesting suggestion emerged from one attendee who saw the documentary film screening at the conference about two African-American families who sent their boys to The Dalton School (New York).  Instead of a compelling real-world story, tell a fictional tale amplifying the messages others should take away. Reality can sometimes be constricting.

An attendee said at a time when organizations are resistant to improve, we need a return to the core values of what made this country great: hard work, family and marriage, belief in God, and education.

One point of the keynote speaker is so students can see “here’s a person who looks like me and the person is a successful citizen.” As they describe their success, speakers are giving back to communities, too.

Daniel’s speech brought home that one moment can shape a child’s life and the power of perseverance even with threats of violence.

An attendee who was part of the conference’s leadership seminar says that she learned a new idea to take back to her multiracial affinity group: discuss traditions, particularly around the holidays, and find similarities among cultures.

In diversity work, it’s important to mentor, both to find one and to be one – regardless of skin color. People need to be encouraged to take leadership roles.  This conference is invaluable for providing people strategies to get into leadership positions and opportunities to network.

A long accreditation process (10 years) means that a school could find itself behind if it’s determined that it must work on diversity issues.

If a school is sending people to PoCC, it must be willing to hear what attendees learn so debriefs are key.

Attendees said they want to see more heads of school and division heads of all colors at PoCC, noting that there are administrators of color who don’t come.

An attendee said students are like toddlers when it comes to diversity issues and alums are like adolescents.

Day 1 of PoCC: Daniel Hernandez, Jr.: Putting Education to Work in a Time of Crisis

Kick-off speaker Daniel Hernandez, Jr. was worth the wait. A real storyteller he turned out to be. We learned about how diverse his hometown of Tuscon is, made up of Vietnamese, Cambodians, Latinos, and others. His Latino father, from Van Nuys, Calif., didn’t speak Spanish until his 40s when he met his mother, who hails from Nogales, Mexico. His father had his own construction company, and his parents emphasized hard work all through Daniel’s youth.

He showed a picture of himself at age five with his younger sisters Alma and Consuelo. “This picture happened before a pivotal moment in my life. Sounds strange to say you had a life altering experience at five,”  he said, reflectively. But it happened to him. It started innocently enough when he and his sisters were jumping up and down on bed. He says he fell backwards and hit the back of his head on a filing cabinet.

After the doctor stitched him up at the hospital (and gave him $5), he asked if Daniel would like to follow him around for an hour to learn about what he did. Daniel described his eye-opening experience of shadowing the doctor who went into patients’ rooms saying, “This is my assistant Daniel. Can he listen to your heart beat?”

From that point on, Daniel knew that he wanted to be in the medical field. He wanted to help people, he says.  He joked about liking to “put the stud in study.” At 12, he was rehearsing his medical interview. By 15, he was reading medical journals, he says. At 16, he was participating in cancer research at the University of Arizona.  He learned how to be a phlebotomist with a book, a few sets of needles, and some community assistants. “I practiced on my parents,” he says. His experience in nursing and healthcare was “well-rounded,” he says.

Politics was a different story. Daniel’s family was apolitical. His mother was not a citizen and his father hadn’t voted in 20 years. In school he learned how the US hadn’t had a female president. Hillary Rodham Clinton was running for president at the time, and he decided to sign up on the website to volunteer on her campaign.

That ultimately led him to the opportunity to work with Gabby Giffords.  At first, he was struck by the way she talked of being a voice for people who don’t have one.

As Gabby took Daniel under her wing, he spent less time in healthcare and more time in politics. “She always knew the right thing to say to me,” he says.

In 2008, Gabby, a Democrat, won a competitive race in a Republican district by almost double digits.

In 2010, the political climate grew nasty. It was more than just negative rhetoric. When the door of Gabby’s office was shot at, Daniel wasn’t sure he wanted to be there anymore, he says. Then at a debate, someone showed up with a gun and dropped it – to send a message.  Gabby would say, “We’re above this. That’s not what we’re about. We’re here to help people.”

On election night, Daniel remembers her saying, “It’s not about winning or losing.” She talked about the ability to impact people’s lives and help how we can.  Daniel was moved by her focus on public service. He said, “I can tell you’re going to win, and then I’m going to intern for you.” (She had been asking him for a while.) She won by less than 1,000 votes.

January 8 was a strange day, Daniel says. Gabby had asked him to work the event “Congress on your Corner.” He showed up 30 minutes late. The gatekeeper of the event that day, he was charged with signing in attendees, and told to keep his eye out for anything suspicious. Gabby showed up right at 10 am when the event started, when she usually showed up early to greet people and give hugs.

At 10:10, everything changed, he said, as he showed the slide: Running to the ambulance with Gabby.

He knew no doctors and nurses were there since he was the one signing folks in. So he sprinted to the front. Less than eight seconds later, Gabe Zimmerman passed away.

Daniel says, “I put [Gabby’s] head in my chest, and was holding her up with my right arm. For the next nine minutes, I start talking to her.” It was an idea he got from the show “ER.”

Today, he says, Gabby’s doing better and even though she doesn’t speak as fluently as she used to, her voice has been amplified.

What were the lessons learned for him?

Kindness is very important. “It’s something that takes a lot of work,” he says. Also, “try to be conscious of all of your actions.”

And finally, education is a lifelong process. He didn’t think he’d work in healthcare again and that what he learned at 17 and 18 would be so needed. “You never know that what you learn one year could be used down the line. So take advantage of every opportunity. There aren’t experiences you regret having,” he says.

(His self-analysis and reflection reminded me of Steve Jobs’ famous commencement address to Stanford graduates several years ago. He described how you can’t connect the dots of your life going forward; you can only connect them afterward. You can see ithere.)

I asked an attendee what stood out most from his address.

“That he’s 23 and he did all that,” the participant  says.

Day 1 of PoCC: In PoCC Opening, Many Memorable Numbers to Note

In the ultimate morning mood lift, the jazz band from St. Andrew’s Episcopal School began to play, its smooth tunes filling the packed room – PoCC was underway.

The rest of the opening was chock full. NAIS president John Chubb put the conference in context by noting the country’s changing demographics and what they mean for our institutions: Births to mothers of color have exceeded Caucasian births. So five years from now, he went on, children of color will be the majority in kindergarten. “The children will be there. Will our schools be ready?”

John was emphatic, saying: “Equity is not an extra  – it’s not something we add to our agenda. Schools of tomorrow will not be successful unless they serve all children equally well.”

Resounding applause followed.

As the opening rolled along, Caroline Blackwell, vice president of equity of justice at NAIS, took the stage. To help the audience understand themselves a little more, she noted some conference numbers: PoCC registrants numbered 2,375 and the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (happening concurrently) registered 1,389 students. Participants came from 39 states, Austria, Canada, and the United Kingdom. “The energy in this room is overwhelming and I am honestly humbled to be with you,” Caroline says.

As People of Color Conference Commences, A Closer Look at the Mosaic

This year, the NAIS People of Color Conference theme, “The Capital’s Mosaic: Independent School Leaders Building an Interconnected World,” celebrates the DC region’s multifaceted community, as it features a diverse group of individuals of color who have made inspiring contributions, and amplifies the voices of conference participants.

I’m anticipating the tremendous lineup of speakers poised to carry the theme forward. They include: Daniel Hernandez, Jr., the intern who helped save Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ life three years ago; Alina Fernandez, daughter of Fidel Castro, who spent years rebelling against her identity and wrote Castro’s Daughter: An Exile’s Memoir of Cuba; and Marisa Richmond, the first openly transgender person to win an election in Tennessee as part of the Davidson County Democratic Party Executive Committee, and now on the Trans 100 list of transgender activists and leaders in the U.S.

But it’s not all about big names. Affinity groups help attendees cultivate their own racial/ethnic identity tied to the conference theme. It’s a valuable time when participants speak from their unique perspective and bond with those who share their racial/ethnic identities in a safe environment – and prepare to continue building a more connected world at home.

An added impetus for all of us comes in exploring some demographic contours in independent school leadership. One of this year’s NAIS Teachers of the Future, Carter Latendresse, has done so in his intricately woven blog post, “Monoculture and Moral Injury in NAIS Schools,” here on NAIS Connect. In the piece, he has compiled a range of relevant data about our community from NAIS resources, including the PowerPoint presentation “Diversity and Leadership.”

The lack of diversity glares at us in the presentation stats: In 2010-2011, just 3.9 percent of NAIS heads of school were people of color. Another slide notes that on a typical Board of an NAIS school, 83 percent of members are white. Among teachers, just 13.8 percent are people of color, according to the NAIS Facts at a Glance from 2012-2013.

Such numbers at the educator, administrator, and trustee levels of leadership illustrate that, in many ways, the mosaic is still a work in progress, and much work remains for us to achieve true diversity and inclusion in our school leadership. We must take care to enrich the mosaic – together.

The views expressed here reflect those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of NAIS. Please contact the author at pinkus@nais.org with comments and suggestions for future blog posts.

The Food Table: An Intimate Space for Learning


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Engaging, educational conversations frequently happen around a food table. I learned crucial life skills with each bite and breath while in school, including how to get along with people and to stand up for myself. I remember sitting at the lunch table in high school when some classmates and I started discussing religion. We spoke from different faiths and nonfaiths – Christianity, Judaism, Jainism, Muslim, Hinduism, atheism – and debated the nature and essence of God. The atmosphere intensified as we made our cases and probed one another about our belief systems. I do not recall anyone persuaded by peers’ arguments, but remember us parting ways that afternoon with a deeper respect for world religions and for one another. I saw a unity in our diversity around the table.

My experience is just one example of how lunch, often a down time for students and teachers, can be turned into an intimate, stimulating forum for learning. Or as Oprah’s chef Art Smith puts it in his book, Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family: “Lunch is also a good opportunity to meet friends and associates who, while not part of our families, add richness and depth to our lives.”

For instance, in the new Independent Teacher article “The Power of Boys’ Lunches in Middle School: Breaking Bread, Breaking Misconceptions, Learning Together, and Building Community,” author William Piper explains how the Boys’ Lunch at the Middle School at University School of Milwaukee (Wisconsin) started as an anti-bullying program six years ago, but to his delighted surprise has evolved into a space where children and teachers learn from one another as they enjoy meals together. It’s been so successful that the school has developed a Girls’ Lunch.

Collective creativity, too, bubbles to the surface in these kinds of structured, yet intimate settings, as Jonah Leher explains in The New Yorker article “Brainstorming Doesn’t Really Work.” Steve Jobs had this in mind when he designed Pixar’s headquarters in the 1990s with a central atrium space where everyone in the company was forced to go – and run into each other, Leher writes.

In the piece, Leher offers expert commentary: “If you want people to work together effectively,… findings reinforce the need to create architectures that support frequent, physical, spontaneous interactions,” [Harvard Medical School researcher Isaac] Kohane says. “Even in the era of big science, when researchers spend so much time on the Internet, it’s still so important to create intimate spaces.”

Millennials, ages 13 to 32 years, agree that they prefer intimate, communal space when eating, according a recent Washington Post article, “For Millennials, Food Isn’t Just Food. It’s Community.” And when the San Francisco Unified School District hired the design firm IDEO to rethink the lunch space recently, it enlisted its high school students for help.

” ‘When adults dine, we don’t just think about the food,’ explained Orla O’Keeffe, the executive director of policy and operations. ‘The food is important, but so is what’s going on around it: the ambience, the service, the company. Why would we assume kids are any different?’ ” as Courtney Martin reported in her recent New York Times article, “Improving School Lunch By Design.” Additionally, Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant and founder of The Edible Schoolyard, addresses children and the dining experience in a recent interview with the Center for Ecoliteracy.

For such reasons, I continue to enjoy brunch and dinner parties. Each one is an opportunity to share and learn about people, events, culture, and ideas – from the mundane to the sublime. These gatherings mixing old and new faces are like fresh oxygen to me, with conversation swirling and stirring my imagination. As the smells waft through the air, the words linger there. Many an idea comes about when listening and talking over meals. I’m grateful for a food table piled high with learning opportunities.

The views expressed here reflect those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of NAIS. Please contact the author at pinkus@nais.org with comments and suggestions for future blog posts.

New Education Metaphor: We’re Stewards in a Garden Culture


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As I’ve immersed myself in studying the education field at NAIS, what stands out to me most is the collective effort to redefine education for the 21st century. As part of this mission, it seems time to represent the signature concepts in a new image. This image, or metaphor, must celebrate the lifelong learner, the creative problem solver, the compassionate global citizen.

But why do I think we need a new metaphor? As a writer, I am drawn to the way metaphors can penetrate deep into the human psyche to change behavior. In the article,“Movements of Mind: The Matrix, Metaphors, and Re-Imagining Education,” Alison Cook-Sather, a professor of education at Bryn Mawr College, writes that a metaphor “embodies and reflects certain underlying values, and which has the potential … to eclipse other ways of thinking and behaving.”Erstwhile education metaphors from shortly after America’s founding and from the industrial revolution took us to the doctor (education as cure) and to the factory (education as production), according to Cook-Sather. Lately, education has been seen in the context of marketing and consumerism. For instance, parents shop schools and programs looking to enhance their child’s future.

Today, I wonder if the dominant image in education has become a “screen.” Yet any metaphor that puts technology front and center would be like a modern, sleeker factory, and education should not be viewed as a delivery service in the manner of production. Additionally, all of these metaphors steer us away from the communal – crucial in teaching and learning.

But I see a model from the past having value today: the one-room schoolhouse, a center of learning that once dotted America’s landscape. Some schoolhouses remain in our rural swaths, and The Wall Street Journal has noted their benefits: “Students often build close relationships with teachers, pupils in mixed-age groups help each other learn, and parents and neighbors tend to get so deeply involved that the school becomes the center of community life.”

With this in mind, I imagine education as a garden culture where we are the stewards.

This metaphor fits Webster’s definition of garden as a “rich well-cultivated region,” and its definition of culture as “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.” For posterity, the love of learning must marry the intellectual to the moral.With this garden culture metaphor, technology becomes a tool, much like a trowel. It allows us to dig just beneath the surface to turn over new richness, such as our ability to consume and create content never dreamed of and connect with people the world over. Indeed, blended-learning should make clear technology’s place as one tool in curricula that can amplify understanding when used properly.

In this culture, teachers and students tend the garden to reap its fruits. Being in close contact with the environment and one another spurs an urgency to solve pressing problems like climate change and human ills. By digging to the root of these problems, we develop a work ethic – and grit. We draw on these life skills to distill material in STEM, social sciences, languages, and the arts. These subjects form the foundation of our problem solving – and the growing cycle goes on.

As the seasons pass, we assess. We take stock of what we’re learning, how we and the garden culture are growing. We consider whether to reconfigure curriculum, perhaps impose a whole new structure to meet our high standards for progress. We measure this progress through a myriad of methods that emphasize shared ownership of individual growth: 360 evaluations, class observations, teacher trainings, student projects, essays, exams, and parent-teacher-student relationships.

We have room to innovate by designing new ways to arrange and maintain our garden culture, and allowing new ideas to take root and flourish in it. Playtime is important here, too, as it spawns fresh ideas, leads us to follow a passion, and carves out the path to purpose. The book Creating Innovators by Tony Wagner discusses these concepts in detail. Educators agree, and NAIS has launched Inspiration Lab, a site showcasing creative programs at member schools.

In this garden culture, we see ourselves in the beauty of diversity and cherish each one’s individuality. We become dutiful citizens sharing responsibility for the well-being of one another and of our community, as in the one-room schoolhouse. The garden teaches that every person is a resource. In the 21st century, we are all stewards in a garden culture.

Readers, how do you envision education in the 21st century? What would your metaphor be? I look forward to seeing your vision on Inspiration Lab.

The views expressed here reflect those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of NAIS. Please contact the author at pinkus@nais.org with comments and suggestions for future blog posts.

U.S. News & World Report’s Annual College Rankings: A Caveat About Big Data


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Dear Readers,
U.S. News & World Report has published its annual rankings of universities and colleges, and as expected, the annual media fanfare has followed. I published this piece seven months ago after news surfaced about the persistent flaws of U.S. News’s ranking system. It serves to remind us to be prudent when relying on data to make decisions and to ground any data gathering and findings on a solid ethical foundation.

U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings have come under increased scrutiny in recent years as a handful of colleges have admitted to falsifying results or leaving out pertinent admissions test scores. The latest culprits: Bucknell University in Pennsylvania and Tulane University’s business school in New Orleans. They follow George Washington University, Claremont McKenna College in California, and Emory University in Atlanta.

This week’s article in the Washington Post entitled “Five colleges misreported data to U.S. News, raising concerns about rankings, reputation” that describes the problem was disturbing on several levels.

For starters, knowing that the schools’ data are not independently verified inevitably raises a key question: What other schools have misreported data over the years to score a higher ranking?

In addition, the link to Monday’s U.S. News blog shows that the magazine doesn’t grasp the crux of the problem. Robert Morse, its higher education analyst, wrote: “The difference between Bucknell’s misreported data and newly reported data wasn’t significant enough to affect the school’s numerical rank. Therefore, based on our calculations, Bucknell’s published numerical rank is correct and will not change.”

Let’s set statistical technicalities aside. Bucknell disclosed that it deliberately omitted some students’ SAT scores for the past seven years. That significant ethical lapse should be enough to strip its ranking.

In further evidence of the magazine’s blinders, its editor, Brian Kelly, is quoted in the article saying, “These are institutions that teach ethics. If they can’t keep their own house in order, they’ve got a problem. It’s their problem, not my problem.”

Not really. Universities do not merely teach ethics. They are rooted in ethics as truth-seeking institutions. But so is the magazine that employs Kelly. And such institutions designed to serve the public good are derelict in their primary responsibility every time ethical violations occur. That makes it Kelly’s problem as the leader of U.S. News. It is no wonder why Americans’ confidence in their institutions is in the cellar. The only three institutions that garner high ratings are the military (75 percent), small business (63 percent), and the police (56 percent), according to a Gallup Poll taken last year.

For better or worse, U.S. News’s college rankings have been informing people’s decision making for about 30 years now. I used the rankings when I was considering which college to attend and then when I was looking at graduate schools in public service. Of course, I looked at other measures, too, and visited the institutions to survey the scene and talk to students and faculty. But there were certain periods of time when my friends and I could just about recite the rankings without even looking.

For all of us, the disclosures are just more reminders that we need to tread carefully when relying on data to guide our thinking and our decisions, especially when human malfeasance and computer bugs are such common occurrences.

This is especially true given the move toward using big data to understand patterns in a variety of disciplines, and education is no exception. Indeed, people are accustomed to throwing around the slogan coined by statistician W. Edwards Deming, “In God we trust, all others must bring data.”

But the God reference hints at something greater: that data must fit within a solid principled framework to lead to any valid conclusion.

That’s why schools must continue to inculcate principles such as virtue, honor, and integrity in students and regularly reward such behaviors. Schools must reinforce ethics among administration, faculty, and staff as well.

For its part, U.S. News ought to make time to get its own house in order by suspending its college rankings. It would send a clear message that it values integrity as it says it does and affirm that data is no substitute for ethics. That would truly be a public service.

Please see NAIS’s Ranking Statement here: http://www.nais.org/Articles/Pages/NAIS-Statement-3a-On-Ranking-Schools-145361.aspx

The views expressed here reflect those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of NAIS. Please contact the author, Ari Pinkus, at pinkus@nais.org with comments and suggestions for future blog posts.

Sustainability educators convene at Hotchkiss for environmental summit


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What’s happening in sustainability education, and where is the field headed next? Some 60 educators, including sustainability directors, business officers, facilities and IT managers, and teachers, considered these questions and others at an environmental sustainability summit at The Hotchkiss School (Connecticut), a joint event held by NAIS and Hotchkiss this past summer.
Hosts were Jefferson Burnett, vice president of government and community relations at NAIS; Wynn Calder, director of Sustainable Schools, LLC and NAIS sustainability consultant; and Josh Hahn, assistant head of school and director of environmental initiatives at Hotchkiss.

Hotchkiss, which aims to be carbon neutral by 2020, was chosen as the summit site in part for its leadership on sustainability. Summit attendees participated in a variety of activities while they stayed in LEED Gold dormitories for four days. They toured the school’s biomass plant that burns locally sourced wood chips for fuel and supplies the campus with heat and hot water from October to April. The most prominent aspect of school’s green building program, the facility reduces the school’s carbon footprint by about 45 percent.

Later, during a visit to Hotchkiss’s Fairfield Farm, two recent graduates described what they learned from their farm experience and expressed a newfound energy and commitment to sustainability — personal and global.

Participants also took field trips to area schools. At Berkshire School (Massachusetts), the focus was on the school’s solar array: 8,000 panels on eight acres, generating 40 percent of the school’s electricity. While on campus, summit attendees learned how Berkshire measures progress on sustainability issues, including climate, water, and energy. At Millbrook School (New York), participants saw the school’s zoo and learned about creating a building designed to attain carbon neutrality.

Several speakers addressed a range of current topics. Sarah Kadden, EFS Partnership Coordinator at Shelburne Farms in Vermont, discussed placed-based education. Torrey McMillan, director of the Center for Sustainability at Hathaway Brown School (Ohio); Bill Wiecking, director of The Energy Lab at Hawai’i Preparatory Academy; and Mark Biedron, cofounder of the Willow School (New Jersey), gave examples of weaving sustainability into the curriculum in various grade levels. Key highlights included teaching sustainability early and expanding the concept beyond science classes.

Craig Westcott, director of the Samson Environmental Center at the Darrow School (New York), spoke about “growing.greener,” a highly successful fund-raising initiative that has helped to generate significant support for campus sustainability projects.

In a panel on sustainable design, architects Stacy Smedley, Daniela Holt Voith, and Jeff Riley discussed developing “green” buildings and using them as teaching tools by exposing heating and plumbing systems. Throughout the week, participants were treated to a variety of fresh and locally sourced food, including Hotchkiss’s own Fairfield Farm (organic vegetables as well as free-range beef and chicken). At the closing dinner in the farm’s barn, Andy Cox, general manager of Hotchkiss’s dining services and Sodexo campus services, noted the school’s and Sodexo’s significant progress in walking the sustainable food talk. Sodexo was a summit sponsor.

In the wrap-up session, attendees committed to working together to achieve sustainability change in and beyond their schools.

To read more details, visit the summit blog on NAIS Connect.

Ari Pinkus is associate editor at NAIS.

Teaching in the 2.0 Age


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The short-lived tenures of vibrant twenty-something teachers is a distressing trend at a time when their technical skills can help our youth navigate the 2.0 landscape. We already know that student achievement suffers with teacher turnover. Teachers’ early departure from the field brings new concerns now. Without steadfast, digitally savvy adults guiding students, we are abandoning them to the Wild West of the Web and other technology for their crucial learning experiences.

The consequences of digital deficiency are real. In this new era of the digital footprint, treading carefully is an early lesson. Teachers should impress upon students that every time they post content on social networking sites and other parts of the Web, they are leaving permanent footprints of their lives for others to see and judge.

Moreover, too much is swirling in cyberspace for young people to discern fact from fiction by themselves. For example, the Web analytics company ComScore estimates that more than 30 percent of Web traffic is not even coming from real people, but from artificially intelligent robots. Many are producing content.  Twitter is teeming with them. Foreign governments use bots (robots) to suppress and subvert their opposition. They’ve been affecting journalism, particularly in economics and sports coverage because of the heavy reliance on numerical data.  The Washington Post has been considering using robots to generate stories about high school sports. If news organizations take such a step to cut expenses, where does it stop?

In this context, teachers can be of great help in sorting the tares from the wheat. Given that it’s impossible to control the quality of information online, students can at least learn to spot and focus on quality content. When teachers assign work, they should emphasize using named and reputable sources and give examples. They ought to stress the fundamentals of writing and grammar. Knowing proper sentence structure is one way students can detect these poorly written and structured stories. Teaching critical reading is of the utmost importance in this digital minefield. And the younger teacher who is technically savvy could be a great mentor to older, more established teachers making their way through the digital landscape. There is nothing more important today than making young people aware of the significance and sources of the information they’re creating and consuming.

The views expressed here reflect those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of NAIS. Please contact the author at pinkus@nais.org with comments and suggestions for future blog posts.

What I Gained from an Independent School Education


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As a graduate of an independent school, I take issue with Chester E. Finn Jr.’s piece “Why Private Schools are Dying Out” because his approach is unconstructive toward a solution.  I feel compelled to respond to his piece based on my own experience and those with whom I’ve come in contact currently and in the past.

While I was a student at George School, a Quaker boarding and day high school in Newtown, Pa., my classmates were of different races, classes, and world regions. Over meals and in the locker room, I learned about cultures, traditions, and struggles that I hadn’t been exposed to before. Such diversity opened my thought and piqued my curiosity to go beyond the headlines. It has been shaping my views ever since.

I developed grit while part of a small group of students in the International Baccalaureate program. It has now become more widely accepted in public schools, and is a model for global learning. My IB diploma stands as a proud academic achievement.

My understanding of service grew with such learning embedded into my school’s curriculum. We were required to do co-ops to assist with tasks around campus; I was an assistant in the advancement office. To graduate, everyone had to undertake a service project in our community or abroad. I completed mine at a nursing home near my home in Pennsylvania. Through my experience, I came to understand and express compassion at a deeper level. The school instilled a spirit of community service, which I am still engaged in to this day.

Near graduation, one of my IB teachers wished me to have meaningful work – he made no mention of attaining a certain salary, position, or lifestyle.

And I do. Other alumni and former classmates at George School have found work that is meaningful to them. Many are change agents, innovators, social entrepreneurs, educators, public servants, all working for the public good.

Most important, graduates of independent schools become lifelong learners and compassionate, global citizens. We have learned how to think critically and communicate skillfully. We then carry these characteristics and abilities into endeavors throughout our lives. In a range of circles, such uplifted thinking and activity will continue to touch others around us, even leading to social change. This kind of education cannot be measured in dollars but is seen in changed lives, a measure that holds even greater value and lasts far longer.

The most crucial value I learned at George School and have cultivated in my career is the search for solutions. In fact, the problems that Finn points out in the education sector underscore its importance. However, today many sectors are searching for answers to the financial sustainability question, including many world governments. The bottom line is just part of the equation. Values are our guide to a sustainable future, and independent schools are fully equipped to lead here.

The views expressed on this post are mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of NAIS.

For Independent Schools, Government May Soon Play the Role of Scrooge


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’Tis the season for giving. But come the new year, giving to charity may become a bit more taxing for some people. As Congress considers new limits to the once-untouchable charitable tax deduction, NAIS’s Government Relations Team, member independent schools, and others in the exempt community are stepping up efforts to make sure that much-needed dollars keep flowing to schools.

NAIS notes how many schools have been ramping up their email campaigns, encouraging constituents to take advantage of end-of-the-year giving. I just received one from my alma mater, George School (Pennsylvania), the other day with the opening line: “Time is running out to receive 2012 tax benefits for your charitable contributions.”

For its part, NAIS participated in the Charitable Giving Coalition’s “Protect Giving – D.C. Days” this month on Capitol Hill to lobby legislators about the importance of preserving the contribution deduction in its entirety. NAIS joined with nonprofits ranging from the Red Cross to museum groups to religious organizations in this effort.

Any change in the deduction threatens to quite literally cap a long-standing American tradition to give – and give generously – a practice from which independent schools have benefited greatly. It’s estimated that Americans donate $300 billion to nonprofits every year, and more than $1 billion is contributed to NAIS independent schools through annual giving.

Those who itemize deductions on their tax returns, typically higher-income earners, would be affected by capping the charitable deduction. According to a National Economic Council report, households with incomes over $200,000 contributed $42 billion to educational institutions in 2005, the most recent data available. Another study predicts a 20 percent drop in giving from the largest donors, with nonprofits perhaps losing $34 billion.

Capping or eliminating the charitable contribution deduction would likely take a chunk out of the operating budgets of independent schools, and undermine the work that schools are doing for their students, notes the NAIS government relations staff.  Studies estimate that any limit to the charitable deduction would cost the exempt community between $2 billion and $10 billion in contributions.

No one knows how things will shake out by January 1, 2013, when the tax cuts enacted under George W. Bush’s administration are set to expire.  All this uncertainty may cause donors to pull back on donating because no change in the charitable deduction will happen in a vacuum. It may be accompanied by an increase in tax rates and the return of the full Social Security payroll tax withholding.  When people are worried that they will have less money in their pockets and at the end of the month, they may be less inclined to give, says the NAIS team.

The psychological effect is palpable in other ways, too, both for development offices and donors, they add. When schools can put a note at the bottom of a solicitation that a donation is tax-deductible, they find that it helps donors feel more generous.

While negotiations continue on Capitol Hill to reach a deal on a budget and avert the fiscal cliff, only one specific proposal on curbing the charitable deduction has surfaced so far: President Obama has proposed capping charitable-giving deductions at 28 percent, below the present cap of 35 percent for households earning more than $250,000 a year. (During the 2012 campaign, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney proposed capping the total dollar amount a household could deduct at $25,000 to $50,000 a year.)

Late last week, Independent Sector, a group representing many nonprofits and that organized the recent lobbying effort, came out in support of the president’s proposal.

With so much in flux, it is a good time for schools to assess the overall financial landscape and consider the implications of the charitable tax deduction on their own financial sustainability, including having a contingency plan if a portion of their operating budget was to be cut in half and developing a long-range plan to generate additional revenue.

NAIS member schools can keep up with the latest developments by signing up for the Independent School Advocate e-newsletter.