Choosing the Right Educational Path for Your Child: Options and Forces

Choosing the Right Educational Path for Your Child: Options and Forces


This session, led by prominent independent school leaders and contributors to the new book Choosing the Right Educational Path for Your Child, gave us an overview of an emerging landscape of educational choices.   Paula Carreiro Beauvoir, The National Cathedral Elementary School (DC). Peter Branch, Georgetown Day School, Rich Fitzgerald, Head of School at the Bentley School in Oakland, and Dick Jung, Education Access Strategies were the presenters.

The Book:

New understandings of learning and the brain, a greater appreciation of the impact of culture on learners, and the differing values and expectations of families have created an educational environment ripe for expanded school choice.  The result has been a rapid and little understood expansion of precollegiate educational opportunities.  For parents anxious to find the best fit for their children, the growth in choice has been both a boon and a challenge.

Choosing the Right Educational Path for Your Child reveals various school designs, from public to private, from secular to religious, and from progressive to conservative.  The mission assumptions, the economic models, and the pedagogical practices of each design are examined.  With chapters by leading experts from a variety of educational paths, the books offers readers a thorough understanding of the ever-changing landscape of American education in the twenty-first century.

The book emerged from Oxford Rounds Table conversations.  The book is an excellent exposition of the current issues facing parents and society in the provision of education for the youth of America. Paula Carreiro and Eileen Shields-West (not at the conference for she was in Africa at the time) credit the discourse at the Oxford Round Table that was devoted to the exploration of the many aspects of the concept of choice in schools with providing the foundational thinking for the book. This Oxford Round Table was held at St. Antony’s College in the University of Oxford in July, 2003. The book has received excellent reviews, notably, Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education, wrote, “If the proverbial visitor from Mars or Venus wanted the scoop on the gamut of American Schools, I’d recommend this book.” Amy Dickinson, nationally syndicated columnist, Chicago Tribune, observed that “we parents owe the authors a gold star for doing our homework for us,” and David Ignatius, columnist, The Washington Post, added a rich accolade that concluded “I can’t think of a book that would be more helpful for parents who are trying to figure out what’s best for their kids.” Carreiro’s pervasive knowledge as an educational leader, Head of School at the National Cathedral Elementary School, Beauvoir, Washington DC and Shields-West’s work as a freelance writer, her in-depth experience as well as her tenure as a former San Francisco bureau chief for Time, combine to form a highly insightful view of the issues that will help define the schools of the future.

Paula Carreiro, Head of School at Beauvoir, The National Cathedral Elementary School, her comments:


  • The idea for the book grew out of a partnership between a school head and a board chair, Paul Carreiro and Eileen Shields-West, the board chair for her school and a journalist.  A quotation from Michael Thompson who wrote the introduction:  “When I grew up in NY in the 1950’s there was no school choice for me; I went to where my parents sent me.  If I have been unhappy there, they would have concluded that I wasn’t much of a student, not that it was the right school. After all, I went to one of the best schools in the city.”  Families cannot wait today: they will choose the best schools for their children and we need to be prepared by focusing on our mission. 


  • The book talks about all kinds of schools, from home schools, and virtual schools and traditional schools to charter schools and magnet schools.  In short, every kind of school that might help students learn and grow.


Peter Branch: Head of School at Georgetown Day School


  • The book was written in a better financial time.  Peter, “I am a sailor; calm water is no fun.  During a storm, that is the time to sail.”  His chapter in the book is Financing education; the worm in the apple.  Money has always been a keen element in distinguishing who gets a good education and who doesn’t.  Understanding the relationship between giving, endowment, government contributions is essential as parents look at schools and determine if it is right school for their children.  There have been similar financial challenges, but they have been located specific schools, regions, or particular places; now with the impact on all sectors, we all have decreasing endowments, loss of retirement values, etc, and it all affects the economics of schools.  As much as it affects independent schools, it also affects public schools as well.  As challenging as it all seems, we are rushing toward the bottom when we don’t have to do so. Schools, even ones that are strong, feel pressure to hold the line on tuition increases.    Even the NAIS initiatives on global education and environmental sustainability need to be kept alive as we focus on our goals and our missions–children and faculty centered–while we live in fear.  We have to focus on our missions not this current financial piece.  Some schools are gutting pensions and not giving cost of living increases, and this is wrong.  It is better to cut out programs and to let people go than to hurt our missions.  Parents with limited funds will spend it on what they believe is important.  Applications at Georgetown have increased 17%; that stems from value. Parents will spend toward value, but if we gut our values, we will have a short term gain, but a long term disaster.  If schools gut what they do, we will put ourselves at risk.


Richard Fitzgerald, Head of School at Bentley School in Oakland, California


  • Give this book to your Parents Association so that they can read it and share it with other parents.  The history of education intrigues Mr. Fitzgerald.  Was asked to write a piece about traditional education, since Bentley is a traditional school, but wanted to write about progressivism and traditional school and consider the connection.  When you look at the progressive moment, we see the second or third or fourth movement of the 60’s.  When people weren’t thinking in the philosophical terms of John Dewey, who had a long educational life.  After Dewey’s death, progressivism takes a different turn in the 60’s with tearing down walls and combing classrooms, but that is superficial and leads away from the progressive movement of the 1890’s: how do we improve the lives of individuals.  Progressive education started the idea of community service which started in the 1920’s in a progressive school.  We have carpets in schools because of the progressive education, and we have reading circles in schools because of progressive schools, we have standardized testing in our schools, because of progressive education.  The progressives were the first to say we need to know how students are doing in a standardized way.
  • Traditional schools: educational in them was all over the map, so a committee of ten, chaired by Harvard President Eliot in 1893, determined to give a standardized curriculum.  Comprised of university representatives and national education leaders, this group was chaired by Harvard’s Charles Eliot, and included William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education. Its purpose was to establish order and uniformity in a secondary education system that included public high schools, academies, private and religious schools, and various other institutions. That committee had come out in favor of traditional academic study in the public schools, which they fancied should be devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and the training of the intellect. But what can you expect from a bunch of intellectuals? The Eliot Report of 1893 was given to things like this: ‘As studies in language and in the natural sciences are best adapted to cultivate the habits of observation; as mathematics are the traditional training of the reasoning faculties; so history and its allied branches are better adapted than any other studies to promote the invaluable mental power which we call judgment’ [p.168]. They asked of the high schools to help in the pursuit of knowledge and the exercise of the mind in the cause of judgment.


Dick Jung

  • Is there community in these schools?  What separates out successful school is the governance structure at these schools.  We need to make sure that we are not only educating the students before us but providing education for our communities.   Schools too often make cautious moves, not courageous ones, and that will hurt us in the long run.

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