Building the Public-Private School Bridge: A Construction Update

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On rare occasions it is vouchsafed to us that something important in our lives should be truly important to others. This week a former student wrote a little disquisition for the Atlantic online on the matter of how educators in different sectors ought to be connecting with one another in order to expand and more fully inform the conversation on teaching, learning, and education policy.

Some days I find myself trying to straddle parallel tracks in my own life, and perhaps I work too hard sometimes to keep things separated. Not Your Father’s School has occasionally touched but I believe seldom dwelt on my own interest in bringing the independent school world into contact with our brothers and sisters in public education, and yet a fair portion of my working thought is focused on this topic, as poor a hand as I have been at actually bringing this kind of connection into being. A year ago I joined my friends Chris Thinnes from California and Laura Robertson from Virginia to put together a bi-weekly Twitter chat under the hashtag #PubPriBridge, and we keep a website that supports and complements the chat.

 

The Atlantic piece, by David Cutler (himself an independent school teacher), makes reference to #PubPriBridge, and perhaps the piece will breathe a bit more life into what has been a lively but rather limited conversation. I note that the majority of our participants are fromcropped-scap-2014-02-02-at-11-17-42-am independent schools, which suggests to me a yearning from this side of the industry but which also highlights the challenges of building the eponymous bridge. Cutler’s article covers other bases, too, from the possibilities for inter-sector conversation inherent in the EdCamp model and the voice of the NAIS president, John Chubb, who has rather courageously suggested that independent schools are not always the ne plus ultra of educational practice that we are sometimes believed (often, alas, in the less reflective corners of our own communities) to be.

Stereotypes and assumptions pose huge barriers to erecting the #PubPriBridge and sending a steady flow of conceptual traffic across it, and it will take time to break these down on both sides. Leadership will also be important; John Chubb is a strong presence in the conversation, but there will need to be others from both the public and independent school worlds for whom this is an important project, worthy of time and energy and the assembling of resources.

In my mind there would be an event, a special gathering of people specifically interested in this work, with some strong voices as keynotes but much, much opportunity for dialogue, shallow and deep. May as well get to the stereotypes as well as the deeper policy issues or questions about pedagogy; it’s all part of the discussion.

In the meantime, we of the #PubPriBridge founding corps are pleased to remind readers here that we’re taking the show on the road over the next few months. On February 27th at the NAIS Annual Conference we will be part of a panel on the dialogue question, along with Pam Moran, superintendent of the Albemarle County Public School system in Virginia, educational advocate Karen Aka of Hawai’i’s Academy 21, and Diana Smith, principal of the Washington (DC) Latin Public Charter School—and moderated by none other than John Chubb. On March 14th we’ll be in San Francisco presenting at the Private Schools with Public Purpose Conference. You can find the details on our presentations on our blog.)

To tie another couple of threads in my life together, I will be representing myself and my own perspectives at these events, although it is my fond hope that the Independent Curriculum Group, of which I am executive director and which has counted a few public high schools among its former members, might be a conduit through which cross-sector conversations might flow in the future as they have, in a small way, in the past.

The ICG, incidentally, has just launched its own updated website and is gathering steam for a few more scheduled events; I recommend the new website and a look at our upcoming Design Thinking Institute—it’s going to be amazing.

In the meantime, we’d love to have more participants on the #PubPriBridge Twitter chat. We’ll be up next on February 2nd at 8:30pm Eastern/5:30pm Pacific. Do check the #PubPriBridge website if you’d like to learn more about the initiative.

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