Public Schools or Private Schools: How Do You Know if You’re Making the Right Choice?

by Jessica Brita-Segyde

 Making a choice on behalf of someone else is a huge responsibility. If you have children or other dependents in your charge, selecting a school (or choosing to home school) is part of the deal. A topic of discussion that arises for many families is the choice between public and private schools.

More Similar than Different

First, we’ll cover some similarities between the two.

Education – Nearly all schools teach to state standards and even private schools answer to some governing board or oversight organization. Test scores still matter at private schools and the tried-and-true system of letter grades still reigns. Some private schools also maintain a Tile I status with the federal government and/or participate in the free and reduced federal lunch program. This means that even though the school maintains a private status, it still conforms to many governmental requirements. Conversely, some public schools are granted exceptions from traditional teaching methods in favor of a Montessori or other alternative approach.

Teachers – Those who answer the call to teach deserve some props here. What a tremendous responsibility! Committed educators are the shining stars of both the public and private school systems. Of course, you’ll find kids who complain that these amazing teachers give too much homework, are tough graders, expect too much, etc. And in every school, some parents step up to volunteer while others sit back and complain. But none of this changes the fact that the American education system is filled with capable, dedicated educators who will give the best of themselves to you and your children.

Sports – Both public and private schools offer competitive sports. These programs are a great way to involve your child/dependent in something bigger than themselves. Sports are also a great opportunity for parents and grandparents to stay connected. Many competitive athletic programs intermingle public and private schools, giving students the opportunity to challenge and appreciate their counterparts who come from different ideologies.

Differences

According to merriam-webster.com, a public school is “a free, tax-supported school controlled by a local governmental authority.” The same dictionary defines private school as “a school that is established, conducted, and primarily supported by a nongovernmental organization.” Thus, the basic difference is that public schools answer directly to the government whereas private schools answer to some other organization. Following are some other differences that may apply when families compare and contrast public and private schools in their area:

Cost: Most private schools require tuition for each student. This may lead private schools to drive down the cost of per capita education in several ways: First, private schools are not likely to provide bussing. Also, private school teachers earn less on average than public school teachers (26% less in 2019 according to www.glassdoor.com). Private schools may also utilize fundraising programs like Market Day or SCRIP for tuition to help families reduce their tuition bill.

Sizes and Ratios: Despite cost constraints, private schools have managed to keep class sizes in check, with private schools typically boasting smaller class sizes and lower student-to-teacher ratios. This is a generalization, so if ratios matter to you, inquire before you enroll.

Subjects and Curriculum: Many private schools are affiliated with religious organizations and include faith-based studies in their curriculum. Also, because private schools have less government-enforced requirements (i.e. red tape) they may be able to include more elective subjects than public schools. For this reason, and because of smaller class sizes, offsite and hands-on learning opportunities may be more feasible within private school systems.

Decision Time

Choosing your child’s school is a big decision. It helps to tour schools in your area and meet the teachers, administrators, and staff who will be working with your child each day. Also, remember that you can change course mid-flight. The goal is the best education possible, and some kids do switch from private to public schools or visa-versa. These moves usually take place at the start of a school year but they don’t have to. We all remember the excitement and mystery surrounding the “new kid” who joined our class after Spring Break.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that some families with multiple children enroll them into public and private schools simultaneously depending on the needs of each individual learner. Just make the best decision you can based on the information and options you have available. A child who is supported by a loving family at home will likely do well in the realm of education.

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