Posted on August 4, 2021

Why Private Schools Have Gone Woke

Aaron Sibarium, Washington Free Beacon, July 28, 2021

The Dalton School hosts an annual conference for New York City private schools on diversity, equity, and inclusion. This May, it was Rodney Glasgow’s turn to deliver the keynote address. Glasgow, a longtime school administrator who has founded multiple DEI consultancies, used his speech to address the elephant in the room: the parental pushback to “antiracism” at Dalton and other elite private schools, which made national headlines after Dalton headmaster Jim Best resigned amid the uproar.

The disgruntled parents, Glasgow said, were like the “white supremacists” who stormed the Capitol. And the schools that had admitted their children were like the Capitol police officers who had “opened the gate.”


Glasgow himself is no stranger to gatekeeping: He has held multiple positions with the National Association of Independent Schools, which sets accreditation standards for a group of more than 1,600 American private schools, including the country’s most elite and rarefied secondary schools. The association keeps a list of “approved accreditors” and outlines “principles of good practice” it expects them to enforce, including the promotion of “diversity, inclusion, equity, and justice” through “cross-cultural competency.” If schools do not comply with these standards, they risk losing their accreditation and the perks that come with it, including access to the association’s marketing tools.


But families seeking less ideological schools have been struggling to find them, several parents told the Washington Free Beacon, because all the accreditors mandate the same ideology. The rapid restructuring of curricula is less the result of a free market responding to customers and more the result of demands by the National Association of Independent Schools, a centralized, self-dealing bureaucracy that has largely eliminated parent choice.

“The association is a cartel,” one parent said. “You think you have a choice but you don’t.”

Two forces hold that cartel together: diversity consultants who benefit from the accreditation establishment, and parents who are unwilling to challenge it because it serves as a pipeline to elite colleges. At the behest of the association, accreditors create demand for the consultancies, which in turn create demand for the association’s services, including its own DEI resources. Parents dissatisfied with this feedback loop nonetheless face pressures to tolerate it: Opting out could jeopardize their kids’ ticket to the Ivy League.


The association’s priorities tend to dominate the market because it has a near monopoly on training tools, market research, and other services that help private schools remain competitive. In order to join the association and fully access its services, schools must be accredited by an association-approved organization.

The National Association of Independent Schools’s online magazine offers a clue as to its agenda. One article endorses “race-based affinity groups” for children as young as three {snip} Other articles attack the “myth of white innocence” and emphasize “the importance of pronouns in lower school,” especially “they,” “ze,” and “hir” for nonbinary students.

The organization’s recognized accreditors have adopted its ideology almost verbatim. The Association of Independent Maryland and D.C. Schools, for example, expects that “diversity practice” be “an organic part of every area of School life.” Accrediting bodies in New YorkNew EnglandNew JerseyCalifornia, and Colorado all make similar demands.

Those demands are enforced through periodic evaluations by the accreditors, which invariably tell schools that they need more diversity, equity, and inclusion, according to parents and former trustees familiar with the process. It doesn’t matter how much has been invested in social justice, one former trustee said; the school is always deemed insufficiently inclusive.

An accreditation report obtained by the Free Beacon shows how the ratchet works. The report commends the school for hiring a diversity director and “supporting attendance at … the NAIS People of Color Conference,” but nonetheless identifies diversity as an “area for growth.” It thus recommends the school “implement a comprehensive plan for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion,” so that it can “make even more progress toward becoming a regional leader in diversity programming.”


Parents who speak out risk violating the terms of their enrollment contract. A 2020 presentation from the association notes that member schools are adopting a “shape up or ship out” approach to “parent comportment.” Ohio’s Columbus Academy, for example, recently expelled three students after their parents criticized the school’s critical race theory-inspired curriculum.