School Choice & Charters

School Choice Advocate to Lead Private Schools’ Group

By Katie Ash — January 29, 2013 5 min read
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The education scholar and school choice advocate John E. Chubb has been appointed the next president of the National Association of Independent Schools after a yearlong search by members of its board, a hiring decision that has stirred controversy among some NAIS members.

Mr. Chubb, 59, who is now serving as the interim chief executive officer of Education Sector, a Washington think tank, will take over for outgoing NAIS President Patrick F. Bassett on July 1.

The NAIS is a Washington-based nonprofit membership association made up of 1,700 schools and groups of schools in the United States, including about 1,400 independent schools serving students in K-12. An independent school is defined as a nonprofit private school governed by an independent board and funded through tuition, charitable contributions, and endowments.

Mr. Chubb may be best known as the co-author, with Terry M. Moe, of the 1990 book Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools, one of the most influential works in the movement for school choice.

Arguing that public education is deeply politicized and burdened by bureaucracy, it called for an open-market system in which existing private schools and other groups that met certain criteria could be recognized as public schools and receive public money to educate students.

Mr. Chubb served as a member of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s education advisory team for part of the 2012 campaign before stepping away to “avoid any appearance of analytical bias,” according to an article written by Mr. Chubb for EducationNext.

Since 2010, Mr. Chubb has been the founder and chief executive officer of Leeds Global Partners, a New York City-based education services and advisory firm.

Earlier in his career, he served as the chief education officer for Edison Schools Inc., a company that provided charter school management and school district support services. The company is now known as EdisonLearning Inc.

Public vs. Private?

A political scientist by background, Mr. Chubb is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a member of the Koret Task Force on K-12 Education, which focuses on education policy related to school choice.

"Ultimately, I have no doubt that I share the same core values as all of the members of NAIS." John E. Chubb Incoming President, National Association of Independent Schools

“I am deeply honored that the board has selected me as the next president,” Mr. Chubb said in a telephone interview last week. “It was an extremely open, wide-ranging search process with quite a diversity of candidates.”

But his appointment to the top executive post at the NAIS has sparked dissent among some independent-school educators. Critics have particularly cited what they say is Mr. Chubb’s negative view of public schools, a perspective they see as counterproductive for improving both public and private K-12 schools.

In an open letter directed to the organization’s board of trustees, Chris Thinnes, the head of the upper elementary school and the academic dean at the private K-6 Curtis School, in Los Angeles, also expressed concerns about Mr. Chubb’s defense of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and his criticism of public school teachers and teacher-training programs.

Mr. Thinnes pointed to what he sees as stark differences in educational philosophy between Mr. Chubb and the current president, Mr. Bassett, who has led the organization for 12 years.

“Bassett explored assessment in the 21st century as an opportunity for more individualized and deeper learning; Chubb advocates for one-size-fits-all standards and trumpets the virtues of ‘achievement,’ ” Mr. Thinnes wrote in the letter. “Bassett understood the value of great public school models, and promoted respectful collaboration with their constituents; Chubb explicitly articulates his contempt and disdain [for public schools].”

Seeking Discussions

Bill Ivey, the middle school dean at the Stoneleigh-Burnham School, an all-girls school in Greenfield, Mass., that serves students in grades 7-12, also said he had some concerns about Mr. Chubb’s views about public education.

“I think the discussion ultimately needs to be about strengthening all aspects of education,” said Mr. Ivey. “I want my school to be stronger, and I want public education to be strong, too. And some of the policies [that Mr. Chubb has advocated] don’t always work as well in practice as one might think.”

Mr. Ivey added that he hoped to have “honest discussions” with Mr. Chubb about “the best way to benefit education for our country as a whole.”

In fact, the NAIS recently set up a website that could facilitate such an exchange, Mr. Ivey pointed out, directing members to submit questions to the NAIS to be answered by Mr. Chubb.

For his part, Mr. Chubb said that he did not feel his eductional philosophy conflicted with the ideals championed by the NAIS or its members.

“Ultimately, I have no doubt that I share the same core values as all the members of NAIS, and I think that will become clear,” he said. “I think that when anybody new is selected, there will naturally be questions about who this person is and what they’re going to do. In due course, I am anxious to meet as many people in the organization as I can and share with people who I am and what my ideas are.”

After he has made the transition into his new role, he will first focus on meeting NAIS members and listening to their most pressing needs and concerns, said Mr. Chubb.

After Mr. Bassett informed the NAIS board of trustees in January 2012 of his intent to leave the organization at the end of his contract, which expires June 30, the association assembled a nine-person search committee made up of members of the board. The committee then hired the executive-search firm Spencer Stuart, which has a U.S. office in Chicago as well as offices in Amsterdam and Dublin, to help with the process.

‘Creative Thinker’

“They started by surveying our members and asking what characteristics and experience the new president of NAIS should have, and what the person should focus on during his or her first year of tenure,” said Myra McGovern, the senior director of public information for the NAIS. After soliciting suggestions from members and the search committee, Spencer Stuart also tracked down potential candidates.

After several rounds of interviews, the board of trustees announced its appointment of Mr. Chubb on Jan. 15, almost exactly a year after the search began.

“What the board really found in John was this creative thinker and strong leader who believes in the mission of NAIS and who could advocate for independent schools and help support schools as they look to the future,” said Ms. McGovern.

She pointed to Mr. Chubb’s “innovative spirit” and “desire to develop innovative solutions to complex problems” as skills that he can bring to his leadership position at the NAIS.

And despite some members’ concerns about Mr. Chubb’s educational experience and views, Ms. McGovern said the board had thoroughly weighed its decision.

“The board has really vetted all of John’s past experiences and views and really strongly believes that he is the right fit for this job,” she said. “That being said, we are really open to listening and having a dialogue with members about their concerns.

“He doesn’t have an agenda of making NAIS anything that it’s not,” she said.

A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2013 edition of Education Week as School Choice Advocate to Lead Private Schools’ Group

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