K-12 education in this country is an institution. Massachusetts was the first state to enact compulsory school attendance laws in 1852, followed by New York in 1853. (1) By 1918, all states passed laws requiring children to attend at minimum elementary school, and a Supreme Court ruling in 1925 held that private schools, as well as public schools could satisfy the compulsory education laws.
I’ve attended both public and private schools, as have my children. My husband and I debate regularly what the difference is between the two, and the differences come down to:
1. Private schools tend to have smaller teacher to child ratios, allowing your child to receive, on average, more attention;
2. Private schools tend to be more responsive when parents call- someone answers the phone and generally gets back to you promptly. This means you are paying for better customer service.
3. Private schools tend to have different requirements for teachers than public schools, meaning that a retired lawyer, scientist or other person, looking for a change of career, need not necessarily get a master’s degree in education before teaching. This means people with a passion for teaching can teach with less pre-requisite red tape;
4. Public schools depend on the tax base for funding, often based on real estate taxes, leading to radically different funding for schools depending on where you live. Private schools are largely funded by tuition, meaning there is usually an ever-escalating yearly costs to fund not only teacher salaries and benefits, but any and all extracurricular activities;
5. Public schools cannot select their students, so they are a catch all for every student and their family. This means if a student has a troubled home life, these problems may spill over into the school day, and there are few options and resources to help in these situations;
6. Public schools, because of their larger numbers, can have substantially more choices in classes, offering industrial arts, consumer science, more athletics, and other options that can help a child shine beyond the classroom;
7. Private schools depend on their students’ successes to help market and sustain the school while public schools do not depend on student success as a source of economic funding. Public Schools do value the performance and success of their students, but they don’t depend on it the same way private schools do.
8. Private schools have a less onerous administrative structure, allowing for nimble change and adaptation, where making changes in public education can involve administrative hurdles that would challenge an olympic sprinter.
Private schools are often “preferred” by many parents, because they assume that if you pay for it, it must be better- affirming the old chestnut that we value what we pay for more than what we get for free. Yet there have been times where, as a parent, I’ve received more compassionate and personal attention from administrators in public school than I ever have in private school settings. I am proud to have my kids attend the local public schools, but I will admit always keeping an eye out for anything that would indicate that private school would be a better fit for my kids.
In the end, the fit of a child in a school, a sense of belonging to the school community, is the most important thing. This could happen in public or private school. If one isn’t working, you owe it to your child to find a situation that does work. Kids spend 3/4 of their childhood in school- don’t you owe it to them to find them a place where they can belong?
As adults, we can leave a job we hate. Kids can’t leave school or transfer without a parent’s mediation and consent. How your child feels about themselves as learners will stay with them throughout their lives. Public or private, don;t we owe it to them to make the experience as positive as possible?