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Futurist Predicts Larger Role for Private Schools

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Boston--Opinions differed on the future of America's private schools, but most people attending the joint conference of the National Association of Independent Schools (nais) and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education here last week agreed on one thing: there will be more of them.

The historian and futurist Helen Brudner went so far as to suggest that they will be "the only game in town" as federal and state support for public education continues a downward spiral.

Professor Brudner, who chairs the social-sciences division at Fairleigh-Dickenson University, scolded her audience for having done so little to prepare for the challenges and responsibilities facing private education.

She said she could not pinpoint whether "benign neglect, misplaced snobbery, or lack of resources" were to blame, but asserted that if independent schools do not "immediately take up the challenge, you'll be living in armed camps."

'Terrible Divisiveness'

Ms. Brudner warned of a "terrible divisiveness in the private sector as independent non-sectarian [institutions] face harsh competition" from an increasing number of church-related, mainly fundamentalist schools. "That is the competition, not the public schools," she said, adding that "in the public eye you will be lumped in with these fundamentalist schools which will not share your ideals and goals."

John Esty Jr., nais president, also suggested that the competition between private and public schools is not as great as many seem to think. Mr. Esty said during an interview that urban public schools, facing increasingly austere budgets, have probably lost more students to suburban public schools than to independent academies.

Parents can opt to pay for better schooling through higher property taxes rather than independent-school tuitions, he explained. Mr. Esty said he himself lives in suburban Concord, Mass., where his four children attend public school.

In attempting to "dispel some of the myths about independent schools," Mr. Esty noted that about one-third of the families with children enrolled in private schools have an annual income of $18,000 or less.

"Private-school teachers are poorer," than their public-school counterparts, he added. An average salary is about one-third less than that of a public-school teacher, he said.

Ms. Brudner predicted difficult times in the future for both the public and private sectors. "Because there are fewer children in the schools, there are fewer parents concerned about them," she said, predicting continued budget cuts for public education over the next 10 to 15 years at both the state and national levels.

Because private schooling will become "the only viable alternative,'' tuition tax credits, increased tax incentives, and more support are "sure bets," she said.

The "totally encapsulated and self-reliant boarding schools" and the private schools located at the center of large population groups will be the institutions most likely to emerge from the next decade in good health, according to Ms. Brud-ner. "It is imperative that you pool resources," she told the conference participants. "You don't have to merge but you should start thinking about consortia."

She emphatically urged private schools to "get into the adult-education business." A major crisis of the future, she suggested, will be how to handle the work hours that sophisticated technologies will release for other pursuits. The Protestant work ethic has to go, she said.

"People who write poetry and make sandals and people who take pictures of other people or birds or things and the people who make us happy in our leisure hours are doing work," she said.

"We need to redefine the concept of work in the United States and make these kinds of jobs worthy of society's approval."

She also predicted changes in professional lifestyle, suggesting that educational conferences in the year 2000 are more likely to take place via satellite than in person.

Alex J. Plinio, vice president for Prudential Insurance of America and the Prudential Fund, was more optimistic about the future, predicting an increase on the order of $20 billion in annual individual philanthropy.

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