Educators have trained a generation of parents that small class size matters and that this is a distinguishing attribute of independent schools. But some research does not demonstrate that class size below 22 makes an appreciable difference in how children learn.[i] So reports Brad Rathgeber, executive director of One Schoolhouse, which has evolved from the Online School for Girls to expand opportunities as well for students, faculty and staff in boys and coed independent schools.
Looking at the economics, Brad says ‘“size thinking” limits how we view classes on our campuses.’ If schools continue to allocate 60–70% of their budgets to faculty salaries and tuition continues to rise at a higher rate than inflation, the cost of 11 or 12 students or fewer per teacher is going to break your prospective families’ piggybanks. Cost for program is becoming unattainable, and to be successful, your school has to be full.
You can’t keep raising tuition and you can’t offer everything on your own campus, so you will have to be more creative in thinking about partnerships and, yes, class size. But you need to continuously evolve your curriculum to meet the demands of the marketplace as well as your own mission. A recent report from the Enrollment Management Association (formerly SSATB) found that the “breadth and depth of course listing” was the number one factor families evaluated when considering an independent school.[ii]
One Schoolhouse is stretching the boundaries of teaching and learning through the innovative use of technology—connecting students to classes that their independent school does not offer or cannot afford to offer because of low course enrollment on campus. Established in 2009, the original program started with four schools and 50 students engaged in online courses. One Schoolhouse now reaches 237 schools, 1,476 semester enrollments, and 475 faculty with a dazzling array of online advanced supplemental and professional development classes.
I’m proud to say my alma mater, Laurel School in Cleveland, was one of the four founding schools of the Online School for Girls. Laurel students have benefited from the expanded course offerings and personalized learning that OSG has made possible. They have developed skills that are required at the college level in regard to electronic communication, discussion and connection. The school’s pedagogy has been shifted favorably by the work Laurel does with One Schoolhouse. It doesn’t stop there. Laurel head Ann Klotz and assistant head Kathryn Purcell co-mentor new teachers in a unique four-week asynchronous class offered jointly with National Coalition of Girls’ Schools. Teachers are offered an orientation to girls’ schools and connect virtually with other new hires around the country.
Independent school marketers should be talking about their programs with specifics on how their educational promise differentiates them in a competitive marketplace.
It’s not enough to say you have a makerspace, 3D printers and a robotics team. So does everyone else. What does your school offer that’s forward thinking? Get into the classroom, and take an online class. Dig down for your story and find gold.
[ii] Enrollment Management Association, “The Ride to Independent Schools,” 2015
Photo credit: Downie Photography for Laurel School.