Private vs. Public School
When the founding fathers of Texas gathered at Washington-on-the-Brazos nearly two centuries ago and set forth their reasons for separation from Mexico, among them was the failure of the Mexican government to provide any education system.
When you were old enough to begin kindergarten, chances are you went to the public school around the corner, or perhaps to the religious school a short bus ride away. For your parents, the choice of schools was probably pretty simple.
Not any more. Today education is a complex and compelling topic in our national dialogue. Questions about school quality, accountability, curriculum, and teacher training arise each day, and we explore them in the newspapers, during political debates, and over kitchen tables all across the country.
What this means for you, as you try to decide on the best school for your child, is that you have to do your homework. Choosing a school for your child is one of the most important decisions you will make. To do a good job, you have to educate yourself so you can be a savvy consumer. That means researching, networking, and making sure that you understand all the choices available to you and your child.
Even the distinction between public and private schools is no longer as straightforward as it once was. It may well be that your local public school is a better educational match for your child than an exclusive private school with a national reputation and a price tag to match. And although some research shows that private schools tend to have superior academic programs, this isn't always the case — and the gap may be narrowing. Despite their sometimes negative press, public schools are actually getting better. "If you want a good, general, all-around education, a really strong public school might be your best bet," says Ellen Booth Church, a New York-based consultant in early childhood education.
At the same time, however, private school may be more affordable than you ever realized, and shouldn't be ruled out on financial grounds alone.
To help you make your decision, here are some of the advantages of public and private schools.
The benefits of public schools
Teachers have more qualifications.
According to a major study from the National Center for Education Statistics, public school teachers tend to be more qualified than their independent school counterparts in terms of education and experience. For example, they're more likely to have a master's degree, and to have logged more hours pursuing in-service study — learning, for example, how to use computers in the classroom. The report also indicates that on average, public school teachers earn higher salaries than those in private schools do.
Students spend more time studying core subjects.
The same study reports that public school students study core subjects — including English, math, social studies, and science — three more hours per week than private school students.
Public schools can sponsor more activities.
When it comes to offering extra-curricular sports and clubs, academic support, and better supplies and learning tools, public schools have the edge. Why? Most public schools are simply bigger than private schools, and have enough students to pull off a science fair or power a chorus or computer club. What's more, federal and state laws require public schools to provide diagnostic and disability services. Public schools are more likely to offer gifted and talented and remedial programs, too.
The student population tends to be more diverse.
A private education is usually out of reach for poorer students, which means that it's less likely to introduce your child to children of various races and socioeconomic backgrounds. If you want your child to know children from all walks of life, then a public school is for you.
The advantages of private schools
Schools and classes tend to be much smaller.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics study, private schools tend to be half as large as public schools. Many experts feel that children are less likely to get lost in the shuffle if they attend a smaller school, which naturally nurtures a sense of community and belonging. In addition, the teacher-student ratios in private schools tend to be more favorable, says the National Association for Independent Schools. On average, private schools have a student-teacher ratio of 9:1 as opposed to about 17:1 in public schools.
There's often less bureaucracy.
Because private schools don't have to abide by certain state regulations, they spend less time on mandated paperwork and more on instruction. They also are not compelled to focus on test scores. As a result, teachers tend to enjoy more autonomy in the classroom and have more creative control over their teaching methods.
Parent involvement is strong.
Not only do private schools encourage parents' participation, but it's also true that the parents of private school students tend to be extremely committed to having a say in their child's education.
Note: Private schools are not required to comply with state laws concerning special needs students. Many private schools do accommodate students with special needs, but they aren't required to by law as public schools are. If you have a special needs child, make sure that your child's physical and behavioral needs will be met.