President Obama’s two daughters attend Sidwell Friends School, a private elite Quaker school in Washington. Vice President Biden’s grandchildren are also students there. And Chelsea Clinton and former vice president Al Gore’s son Albert Gore are alumni of the institution. Tuition is $37,750 for the lower, middle, and upper schools and a hot lunch is even included in the price. Class sizes are small and the student-teacher ratio is 10-12 students for each teacher. The educational philosophy of the school is progressive and child-centered: “We are committed to the joys of exploration and discovery.” Students neither sit for any standardized tests nor are teachers’ evaluations tied to test scores. In the upper school, the school’s site explains, “The curriculum provides a broad foundation in the humanities and sciences, develops critical and creative thinking, stresses competence in oral and written communication and quantitative operations, and stimulates intellectual curiosity.”
Former US secretary of education Arne Duncan’s two children are enrolled in the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools (Duncan is an alumnus himself), a prestigious private prep-school in the rich Hyde Park neighborhood founded in 1896 by the father of American progressive education John Dewey. So do Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s children, as did Obama’s children when they lived in Chicago. Tuition ranges from $27,384 to $30,618 from nursery to high school. “We ignite and nurture an enduring spirit of scholarship, curiosity, creativity, and confidence,” their mission statement goes. “We value learning experientially, exhibiting kindness, and honoring diversity.” There is a 10:1 student-teacher ratio, an average class size of 18 in middle and high school, and an average class size of 23 in the nursery through fifth grade. Students take one standardized test in third, fourth, sixth, and eighth grades, but the purpose is only that it “gives teachers a snapshot of each child’s strengths and challenges,” rather than the whims of the education department or some testing corporation. Teachers, who are unionized, are not evaluated by test scores. When he was the director of the Lab Schools, David Magill condemned the corporatization of public education in a 2010 address to the faculty, “I believe that the ‘business model’ of improving education will fall on its own sword.… Measuring outcomes through standardized testing and referring to those results as the evidence of learning and the bottom line is, in my opinion, misguided and, unfortunately, continues to be advocated under a new name and supported by the current administration.” He said that Dewey’s legacy lives on as the school is still defined by the principles of experiential learning, reasoning, self-determinism, and community.
Secretary of Education John King when he was New York State education commissioner sent his children to the Woodland Hill Montessori School. The school spans from toddlers to eighth graders with the top tuition rate at $13,250. On their site, the school captured their core goals for all students, such as “to encourage the self-motivation and self-discipline that will lead to a lifelong pursuit of knowledge,” “to instill in each child a sense of duty and personal responsibility for the world in which we live,” and “to spark in our children imagination, wonder, humor, and joy.” Students take some standardized tests, but the school “recognizes that standardized tests do not adequately measure the full range of a student’s academic abilities” and employs narrative evaluations too.