Usually, when considering private versus public school, parents will have one or more factors that concern them.
When looking at public or private schools, the following factors come into play:
- Academic reputation and college preparation
- School size and class size
- Safety reputation
- Special programs
- Religious and Moral instruction
However, many states have instituted school choice programs that allow families who are not residents of a district to apply for admission for their child to attend that district. Oftentimes the receiving district is paid tuition to cover the expenses of educating the child by the sending district or even by the child’s family. Regardless, school choice programs provide some flexibility for parents who want their child to attend a public school.
For private schools, you’ll need to consider if the location is feasible for your family. Public schools provide transportation to and back from schools. Private schools may or may not.
Public schools offer a general program, designed for all. This usually includes math, English, reading, writing, science, history, and physical education. In addition, many public schools offer programs in music, art, languages, technology, and career education too. What students learn is decided by the state. In most states, learning is measured through standardized tests. The content and minimum achievement criteria in each course offered in public high schools are put forward by the state and each student must achieve this minimum criterion before receiving credit.
The charter school movement is also picking up momentum in many states. These schools are public but offer specialized programs and smaller classes and are governed by a board of directors (usually consisting of parents and community members). Charter schools have become more popular over the last decade. As of 2011, charter school legislation had passed in 41 states and the District of Columbia. There are not that many charter schools in the United States when compared to the number of traditional public schools. However, the number of charter schools is steadily growing. According to the Center for Education Reform, there were approximately 3,400 public charter schools in the US as of 2005. That figure increased to 5,300 schools in 2011 according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Department of Education. Overall enrollment in charter schools also increased, from 340,000 students in 2000 to nearly 1.8 million students in 2011.
Image Credit: NCES
Private schools have the flexibility to create specialized programs for students. For example, private schools may use art or science in all classes or take children on outdoor trips. They can create their own curriculum and assessment systems, although many choose to use standardized tests. Many parents are drawn to the alternative curriculums that private schools have to offer.
School Financial Support System
Public schools are, on average, at least twice the size of private schools, according to the US Department of Education Data. School size usually correlates to the population density of the local area. The average private school had 193 students in 1999–2000, whereas the average public school has 517 students, according to the NCES. The average public school had 535 students in the same area. Another way to look at this is to see that 80 percent of private schools have less than 300 students enrolled while only 29% of public schools have less than 300 students enrolled.
If you feel your child would learn better in a smaller setting, then you’ll need to look towards private school. If, however, your child works well in larger groups, a public school may be the way to go.
Quality of Teachers
On the other hand, private school teachers may not be required to have certification, and often have subject-area expertise and a degree in the subject they teach. Private schools have their own personnel requirements. Private schools can terminate the terms of their teachers abruptly. Schools are free to deal with personnel matters.
Another aspect that needs attention is regarding children with special needs. Special education laws make it mandatory for public schools to educate and meet the special needs of these children. Therefore, most public schools have special programs and teachers for these students. Public school systems often will have specialized schools to support children with multiple special needs.
Public schools are obligated by law to educate all children, so to enroll in a public school you simply register your child by filling out the necessary forms. Public schools must accept any resident student who applies for admission, regardless of sex, race, religious affiliation, economic status, or physical or mental handicap. Public schools must also meet state graduation requirements, which vary state by state. Public schools can kick children out if their behavior is too disruptive, but the public school system will usually have in place an alternative school that the child will attend until they are no longer under the care of the public (18 years of age).
Public schools are not religiously affiliated, but many private schools are religiously affiliated. In a 2009 NCES study of private schools, 68 percent of all private schools were found to have a religious affiliation, with 22 percent of those affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and another 13 percent identified with a non-denominational Christian church.
Most private schools were located primarily in central cities (42 percent) and the urban fringe or large towns (40 percent). Only 18 percent of private schools were found in rural areas. In contrast, 24 percent of all public schools were in central city locations, 45 percent in the urban fringe or large towns, and 31 percent in rural areas.Demographic Characteristics of Students
Student populations vary on race/ethnicity and limited-English proficiency status.
In addition to working out what is important to you, you’ll need to arm yourself with real numbers and information regarding the public and private schools that you are considering for your children. Go to the schools and get numbers. Finally, start early. Most private schools begin their open house and enrollment processes the year before the school year. Don’t wait until summer to consider where to place your child.
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