It is the independence of independent schools that offers to them the four essential freedoms that make independent schools strong:
- The freedom to define their own mission (why they exist, whom they serve).
- The freedom to regulate admissions (admitting only those students appropriate to the mission).
- The freedom to define teacher credentials (hiring, particularly in the middle school and upper school grades, liberal arts graduates who have majored in a discipline and who have a passion about teaching the subject)
- The freedom to teach what the teachers decide is important (free from state curricular and textbook mandates).
It is important to note that independent schools are not “elitist” in any way except in terms of academic expectations: The typical independent school often has more diversity (racially, ethnically and socio-economically) than the neighboring public schools (many of which are quite homogeneous). The socio-economic diversity of independent schools, for example, is supported by a significant commitment to financial aid: Independent school students come from all family income levels, and 25% of them typically are supported by financial aid.
Although independent schools continue to attract “legacies” (i.e., relatives and siblings of graduates and current students), the largest contingent of independent school students now comes from erstwhile public school families, sometimes refugees from public schools that are failing in one way or another but increasingly converts from “good public schools”: i.e., those public schools privileged with an economic base and socio-economic demographics that make them otherwise comparable to independent schools.