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National Association of Independent Schools

Program, Organizational Structure, Membership and Financial Support, History

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) is an organization of independent elementary, middle, and secondary schools, as well as regional and local associations representing such schools. Sometimes called private schools, independent schools are nonprofit; supported by nonpublic funds such as tuition, charitable contributions, and endowments rather than tax or church funds; and governed by boards of trustees. Although independent schools must conform to state compulsory attendance laws, they have considerable freedom in setting standards, in developing curriculum, in admitting students, and in hiring teachers.


The main responsibility of the NAIS is to represent member schools to the media, the general public, the U.S. Department of Education, and state and federal agencies and congressional committees that monitor and regulate education in the United States. The attitude of the state and federal governments toward independent schools and laws affecting them are of major concern to the association, which follows federal legislation closely and interprets relevant legislative action to its members.

The NAIS is also concerned with improving the quality of instruction in member schools. To this end, the association sponsors two annual conferences and periodic workshops and seminars, which provide a forum for teachers and administrators to share experiences and exchange ideas. The annual NAIS general conference draws some 4,000 administrators and teachers every year. The association's annual People of Color conference addresses issues of equity in schools and helps members learn how to build school communities that serve all students regardless of ethnicity, economic background, religious affiliation, physical disability, or sexual orientation. Many NAIS programs emphasize the importance of in-service training, refresher courses, and summer travel as part of the necessary, continuing development of teachers. The association also holds seminars on financial planning and advises member schools on fund-raising and business management.

NAIS committees, composed of faculty from member schools, have developed resources for mathematics, science, languages, social studies, art, and music curricula, as well as for the use of new media and computer technologies. The association's publications include the Independent School Bulletin, published three times per year, and various books, reports, and newsletters addressing topics of interest to the faculty and administration of independent schools. NAIS also releases publications aimed at independent school students and parents whose children attend independent schools.

One of the association's main concerns is the affordability of independent schools. To this end, the NAIS publishes numerous guides that describe financial aid opportunities and other ways by which parents can finance their child's education in an independent school. The NAIS also owns and operates the School and Student Service for Financial Aid, which processes financial aid applications for member schools.

Organizational Structure

The association's governing body is its twenty-six-member board of directors. Half of the board members are selected by national vote at the annual meeting, and half are appointed to represent geographic regions in the United States. Board members serve four-year terms. The board appoints the NAIS president, who oversees association business with the aid of a small staff. The president and board are also responsible for preparing and promulgating official public policy statements regarding legislation, regulations, and other issues.

Membership and Financial Support

More than 1,100 day schools and boarding schools held membership in NAIS in 2001, representing a total of 472,967 students and 48,385 teachers and school staff. Approximately 9 percent of member institutions were girls' schools; 8 percent were boys' schools. The remaining member schools were coeducational. Member schools ranged in size from several dozen students to several thousand and were located across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia in cities, small communities, and rural areas. All schools accepted for membership to NAIS must be nondiscriminatory in admission and employment, and they must demonstrate responsible management and sound fiscal practices.

There are three types of NAIS membership: active, affiliate, and new school. To qualify for active membership, a school must be located in the United States, be at least five years old, and have been recently accredited by a regional association of colleges and secondary schools or by a state department of education. Independent schools located outside the United States may qualify for affiliate membership if they have been in operation at least five years. Newly established schools may apply for new school membership with their status changing to affiliate or active after five years of operation and accreditation. Local, state, or regional associations of independent schools may also join the NAIS as nonvoting members.

Most of the association's income is from membership dues, sale of publications, and advertisements in the Independent School Bulletin. Some income is received from private donors and from foundation grants for special projects.


The NAIS was organized in 1962, the result of the merger of the Independent Schools Education Board and the National Council of Independent Schools. The Independent Schools Education Board was started in 1924 to establish uniform entrance requirements for boys' boarding schools; it gradually added service functions, including publication of the bulletin. The National Council of Independent Schools was formed in 1940 to provide liaison between the government and independent schools. Since the merger, the number of NAIS members has grown, and the association is recognized as the national spokesperson for independent schools.


GRACE, CATHERINE O'NEILL. 2001. Marketing Independent Schools in the Twenty-First Century. Washington, DC: National Association of Independent Schools.




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