Private Schools versus Public Schools: A Pros and Cons Analysis
Public school and private school are the two school types with the best name recognition, but they are not the only two school options for your child.
Unless you have already done the research and determined that these are your only two options, you will want to consider all the available options for alternative education. For instance, did you know there are free online public schools?
To find the best school for your child, you're going to need to do some homework yourself. And this isn't busywork homework, choosing a school for your child is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Unless the public school is your only option, this decision should never be easy to make.
Schooling has direct effects on children's educational achievement, their acquisition of literacy, numeracy and scientific knowledge.
— Dr. Kathy Sylva [source]
Even so, there are many direct and indirect effects of school on a child's development. School choice can influence a child's academic attainment, social behavior, and cognitions. For more information, click here.
Many Pros and Cons Are Local and Subjective
Why is it important to do your own research? The variation in public and private schools is so large that a sweeping generalization of pros and cons will most likely leave you misinformed. As nice as it would be for one article to give you all the information you need to make the best decision, it is impossible.
Every school district, public school, and private school are different. Some of the most important pros and cons will surface when you inspect and research your specific options for yourself.
How to Compare Local Private & Public Schools
1. Start by networking
Talk to as many friends as you can with children that have already enrolled and local schools. Learn what they like and dislike about their child's school.
Do some research on each school, taking everything you read with a grain of salt. Always keep in mind that information published on the school's website will naturally present information and a more positive light.
At the same time, the advice you hear from your friends and acquaintances might have a bias as well. Education that is not individualized can be something like a cookie-cutter, where one school or method may be excellent for one child but unbearable for another.
3. Disambiguate negative versus positive feedback
When taking negative advice into account, look for complaints that are universal and not rooted in personality, situation, or style. When you read glowing reviews, make sure to cross reference the positives. Furthermore, check if the “positives” of one school also exist in other options. For instance, school A might advertise their amazing student to teacher/faculty ratio, while school B might emphasize their number of electives. Both A and B may have the exact student teacher ratio, but A is choosing to market their ratio while B has chosen to market their variety.
B may be the more well-rounded choice even though they didn’t emphasize an aspect that is important to you.
4. Tour the schools
Once you have narrowed down your options to specific schools, always, always go on physical tours. Try to see and explore every aspect of the school, the cafeteria, the classrooms, the facilities, meet the teachers, and so on.
5. Compare cost
Ultimately, it comes down to the money. For most families, the number #1 deciding factor is cold, hard cash. Understandably, this “con” normally given the highest priority.
Tuition fees vs. free education
Public schools don't charge tuition, and private schools can often charge extremely high fees. Private schools are required to generate their funding, unlike charter schools that can accept government money.
Private schools usually take advantage of fundraising techniques in addition to tuition fees. Therefore, private schools often celebrate holidays that encourage alumni donations. They may also receive grants, funding from churches or religious groups, and other community organizations.
6. The issue of geography
Picking out the best school (after considering the cost of attending a private school) can be largely about geography. Location can dictate if a school is in a good or bad area of town which usually correlates to the school rating/quality.
7. All schools are different
Generalizations are never universally true. In fact, in today's world common generalizations are becoming less and less true. For example, there are small Catholic schools that have a diverse student body, many afterschool activities, and employee teachers holding master’s degrees. There are also Catholic schools that are just the opposite.
Private School vs. Public School
|Public Schools||Private Schools|
|Free to attend||Requires tuition fees to enroll|
|Must admin and educate all children||Can select their students|
|Larger classes with a 1:17 student–teacher ratio||Smaller classes with a 1:9 student–teacher ratio|
|Funded and controlled by the government||Independently funded and not government administered|
|Must follow state curriculum and assessment models||Can use whatever curriculum and assessment model they want|
|Required to provide necessary programs to meet student special needs||Are not required to have special education programs|
|By law, public schools may not teach religion (unless it is in a secular context)||Can be religiously affiliated and funded|
The Benefits of Public Schools
Before starting, please be aware that pros for some readers may be cons for another. For instance, some people may believe that exposure to a larger number of students is a pro, while others may believe smaller class sizes lead to more student-teacher interaction and individualized or personalized education.
Without a doubt, most public schools offer a more substantially diverse student body. Why? For one, the tuition costs of a private education are frequently out of range for lower income students. Therefore, private schools are often comprised of similar demographics.
Because private schools are independently funded, they can hire anyone they deem fit as a teacher. It is impossible to speak to the quality of teachers; however, it is possible to look at data on teacher qualifications.
Reports of teacher qualification show that public-school teachers are more likely to have a master’s degree and have pursued additional teacher education. Additionally, many public-school teachers earn a higher salary than their private school counterparts.
Activities and sports
Public schools can sponsor more extracurricular, sports, clubs, academic support, and other activities. This is because public schools, in comparison to private schools, are usually larger. More students mean more student participation in smaller interest-based clubs.
Sports are unique beasts to tackle.
Larger schools have more student talent to draw from and may be able to fund a larger variety of programs. However, many midsize schools and private schools have superior sports teams because students often gravitate towards whichever school has a better reputation and track record. Some private schools actively recruit athletes even though this is a very great area. Boarding schools may even offer scholarships.
There are federal and often state laws that force public schools to provide certain services for students who are gifted and talented or disabled. Ironically this requirement does not necessarily mean the public schools will sufficiently accommodate disabled students. Quite often parents of disabled children turn to alternative forms of education because they see all the public schools have failed their children.
At the same time, if you do the research you will see numerous stories of parents that use public schools because their children require speech therapy, and the only way to receive otherwise is by paying high fees and spending extra time and transportation.
Nevertheless, from a legal standpoint, private schools are not required to offer diagnostic and disability services. (This does not mean private schools won't make accommodations for your child, simply that it is not a legal obligation.)
You don't have to meet admissions requirements, procedures, or win any lotteries to attend a public school. Public schools are required by the government to admit all students. Private schools, on the other hand, are often very selective and are not obligated to accept every student that applies.
The most obvious advantage of attending a public school is that your tax dollars pay the tuition. Some private schools do offer financial aid for families with low income.
The Advantages of Private Schools
Higher student success
Research data has found that private schools come out ahead in almost every comparison of students. This analysis even considered the fact that private schools often have students coming from "more advantaged" and "well-off" socio-economic backgrounds.
A Harvard University study found that private schools come out ahead in 11 of 12 comparisons of students.
Less government involvement and bureaucracy
Because there aren't as many state regulations that apply to private schools, private schools allocate more time to teaching by skipping formalities, requirements, and paperwork.
Private schools are also able to enjoy teacher autonomy with more creative control over lessons, teaching methods, styles, testing, and standards.
More parental involvement, influence, and voice
Private schools usually encourage parents to participate in the educational process more than public schools. Because the parents are usually directly funding the schools, the administration also has a real incentive to listen to the parent body.
Smaller class sizes
Private schools are usually about half the size of public schools. One huge disadvantage of the public-school systems is that children get lost in the crowd. At a smaller private school, there is naturally a greater sense of community, student familiarity and recognition, and one-on-one engagement.
The ratio of teachers to students in private schools is 1:9, in contrast to public schools that are 1:17.
Research has found that, "A class size of no more than 18 students per teacher is required to produce the greatest benefits."
Religiously affiliated and denominational schools comprise a substantial subset of private schools. Because the schools are not required to follow state regulations, they can incorporate ethics, religion, and moral instruction as they see fit.
Some schools choose to teach religious education, while other denominational schools enforce clear distinctions between academics and religion.
Private schools often provide safer learning environments. In 2015, the National Center for Education Statistics released a report showing that private schools were more than twice as safe as public schools.
Public vs. Private in Modern Society
It used to be that private schools were considered far better educational institutions than public schools. Although this may often be the case, we don't think the distinction is as straightforward as it used to be.
It is possible that your local public school may be a better option than the neighboring private school. Exclusivity does not necessarily mean better education.
Don't forget that averages and generalizations may, or may not, apply to your unique case. Finally, don't forget about the many important factors besides academic prestige. For instance, think about all-around experience and school culture.