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Independents Assessing Their Cultural 'Climate'

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In an effort to promote ethnic diversity in private education, the National Association of Independent Schools has designed an evaluation instrument to study what schools as institutions say, and what they do, to foster a multicultural environment.

The n.a.i.s. assessment is designed to enable schools to study their own cultural "climate," including student recruitment, faculty hiring, and curriculum, officials of the group said. It also measures more subtle indicators of institutional attitude, they said, such as the contents of school bulletin boards, the type of music played at dances, and the books selected for summer reading lists.

Supported by Grant

Funded by a $70,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, the assessment has been designed and pilot-tested in seven independent schools over the past two years.

The association will try to recruit 200 of its 900 member schools to go through the evalua4tion in the next two years.

The purpose of the assessment is to measure a school against its own institutional "mission statement," said Randolph Carter, director of minority affairs for the association. The evaluation does not impose any n.a.i.s. standard.

"At the very least, our schools have an open-door policy, and some have [more elaborate] policies promoting diversity," Mr. Carter said. "Through this tool, we can see how the school's mission is reflected in the school's actions."

Lack Diverse Curriculum

The association, which represents about 1 percent of the nation's private schools, developed the assessment "to see if we could be more concrete" in efforts to promote more diversity among member schools, Mr. Carter said.

"Rather than just giving schools a lot of rah-rah-rah about diversity, we can give them a document they can use," Mr. Carter said.

Minority enrollment in independent schools has risen about 0.5 percent a year for the past four years, according to n.a.i.s. estimates. Last year, minorities constituted 11.6 percent of enrollment at member schools.

In contrast, 3.7 percent of independent-school faculty members last year were minorities. Their numbers have been growing by less than 0.2 percent annually, according to the association.

The schools involved in the pilot project found that they often fell short in reaching their institutional goals, Mr. Carter said. In some cases, the pilot project concluded, board policies should be more specific with respect to minority recruitment.

In addition, most of the pilot schools did not have "a really diverse curriculum," Mr. Carter said.

"Multicultural education is not just talking about Martin Luther King Jr. and celebrating Black History Month," he said.

'Important To Teach'

Mr. Carter defined multicultural education as teaching students to recognize and prize diversity, develop greater understanding of cultures besides their own, and understand the historical, political, and economic basis of inequality.

"We are in an era when it is important to teach about diversity," Mr. Carter said. "As schools, we're not interested in throwing all students into a blender and having them come out the same."

The association also has set a goal of increasing the number of minority faculty at the first schools to try the evaluation by 200--or one additional minority teacher or administrator per school.

The evaluation takes about six months to complete, and a team of independent-school educators trained by the n.a.i.s. comes to the school for an on-site assessment. The process can be worked into a school's regular evaluation program.

The assessment's initial costs are small, Mr. Carter said, but the evaluation forces schools to examine their resources to look for ways of funding curricular improvements. The n.a.i.s. is seeking foundation grants to continue funding the evaluation project, he said.

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