Even in communities where there are good public school alternatives, families often find themselves confused when trying to decide whether to send their child to the local school or to consider the private sector. With such a plethora of information available on the internet as well as from friends and colleagues, it’s hard to know which statistics matter, how to interpret them, or who to trust.
We at School Choice International always believe that a school search should start with the unique characteristics of the child and family, and often it is appropriate to consider both public and private schools.
Factors to take into account are:
Location – Public schools most frequently are neighborhood schools, whereas private schools may require children to travel further for school, extracurricular activities, and to visit with friends who may come from the opposite end of the city.
Financial considerations – Cost of private schools may be prohibitive to some families, although financial aid is available to those who cannot afford tuition.
Available resources – declining resources with state and federal budget cuts and reductions in property tax values. Find out how these will affect your child’s class size, the number of teaching assistants, whether or not there is a nurse in residence – as well as availability of programs like arts, music and sports.
Religion – separation of church and state renders it impossible to teach religion in public schools. Private schools may specifically teach religion and may have more discretion about how to celebrate holidays that may have a religious association.
Selectivity – public schools must accept all students and so, while composition of the neighborhood will determine the heterogeneity of the student population, academic ability will be mixed. Except in the case of specialized schools, private schools tend to be more academically homogeneous and economic, racial and other diversity will depend on the school’s internal policies.
Special education – public schools are required by law to provide education to meet the needs of all students, including those with special needs, within the least restrictive educational environment. Private schools may or may not offer special education support and, whether or not they do, they may not be the right learning environment for a child with special needs.
Gifted education – while many public schools boast “gifted and talented” programs of one sort or another, they are often limited in nature, perhaps early morning additions to class or pull-out programs for a part of the day. Private schools, by virtue of their student/teacher ratio, may be able to offer more individualized programs for even profoundly gifted children, based on their specific needs.
Each of these considerations will be positive to some families and negative to others. The decision should be made after substantial research, talking to people throughout the school community as well as visits to both public and private schools.