The Measure of Success in nontraditional schools

The measure of success is determined by what?

As I proselytize the gospel of learner-centered education, I have come across the same concern over and over. I shouldn’t be too surprised, it would be a concern of mine, if I were still thinking from a traditional paradigm. The question is, “After democratic school, what do kids do? How many of them go to college? What kinds of jobs do they get?”  This isn’t necessarily the same concern as, “How would an unschooler get into college?” or “How would an unschooler be able to take college courses after never being in a classroom?” It’s a pure question of outcomes. What they are asking for is success rates.

There are a couple of problems with trying to answer this question.

The Numbers

First, the numbers, as far as I can find, aren’t really out there. Yes, I have read some statistics here and there. For example, Daniel Greenberg of Sudbury Valley School, has said on more than one occasion that 100% of SVS students who want to go to college get in, and usually to their first choice – read a post about it here. There was also an offhand statement about the fact that 80% of SVS students do go to college. So, perhaps we can find spotty stats for individual schools. And, they have published a book of stats on SVS alumni entitled Legacy of Trust.

Currently, I can find nothing for unschoolers or free schoolers as a whole. (If you know about something like this, please share!)


The second problem is, to me, more important. Those of us in the unschooling/free schooling community do not see college attendance or career choice and subsequent salary as a measure of success. A.S. Neill was known to say that he would rather Summerhill produce a happy street sweeper than a neurotic prime minister.  So, the measure of success, from my view would be how happy and fulfilled the graduate is in his or her life. As such, many free schools resist collating or providing statistics. They do not want to perpetuate the belief that college attendance or salary is the be-all and end-all.


There has to be a middle ground here. We need to be able to convince people of the efficacy of child-led learning, and many parents are concerned about college attendance. I wonder, and I’m just musing here, if there is a way to measure happiness. My husband, a dabbler in metrics, assures me that there is.  Yes, we could provide basic information on what students do after they graduate, but could we delve deeper?

How about if we see how many life-learners become innovators in their field? And then compare that number to the general public? Wouldn’t that indicate that they are following their passions? Of course, we could always just interview as many as possible and ask them if they are interested in their work, but it would be hard to know who was giving us the answers we want.

There are also existing polls that measure anxiety or fulfillment. I would theorize that unschooling and free schooling grads would measure better on these types of polls than the rest of the country. After all the World is our Classroom. But, at this point, we don’t know. To be honest, I want to do this work.  Having some hard and fast proof, there in black and white, could go a long way toward legitimizing this philosophy, and perhaps even creating stronger footholds in our culture and educational system.

What are your thoughts? Can you measure happiness? Would these types of statistics be helpful or harmful to the learner-centered movement? Is anything like this out there already?

My name is Cassi Clausen and I am the Co-Founder of The Open School Oc. If you’d like to learn more about us and see if you and family are fit please, click here, to check out our admissions process.

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