Important Factors to Consider When Choosing Between a Public and Private School

By — Member Contribution
Updated on Mar 15, 2011

At first, a voucher system for adjusting the perceived disparity between public and private school education might seem like the logical solution. After all, educational statistics constantly and dismally blurt out the nation’s reading, math and science scores. Parents who have never been able to afford a private school for their child often think that “if they just had the money”, their child’s grades and learning and/or behavior would improve. As a parent whose children attended both private and public schools in elementary, high school and college, I can tell you that this just isn’t so. I also can say this because I have worked in both public and private educational settings. But, what do the statistics say? What are the real differences between public and private schools? Are private schools worth the price tag? And, perhaps most importantly in this age of frugality, how can we all give our children the best education possible? 

In 2006, the Institute of Education Sciences published a report titled The National Assessment of Educational Progress. This comprehensive statistical report used a mathematical formula to compare private and public schools. Although the method may be a bit confusing to the average parent, and some of the factors a few years old, many of the variables hold true today, particularly with respect to student and school-level descriptors. Below is a graph of the selected variables.

        Student Level Variables
        School Level Variables
Students with disabilities
English language learners
Computer in the home
Eligibility for free/reduced-price school       lunch
Participation in Title I
Number of books in the home
Number of absences
Teacher experience
Teacher certification
Student absenteeism
Percentage of students excluded
Percentage of students by race/ethnicity
Student mobility
School location
Region of the country
Percentage of students eligible for    free/reduced school lunch
Percentage of students with a disability
Percentage of English language learners
Percentage of students in Title I
School size

In looking at the above graph, it is easy to observe that some of the variables are things for which parents have little or no control in any school – region of the country, student mobility are two. There are also things which might be irrelevant to the quality of a school- eligibility for free or reduced-price school lunches, race/ethnicity, or gender.  Researcher Catherine Tamis-LeMonda noted, "Within all ethnic and immigrant groups there are children who are strong academic performers and others who are not.”  So, what are the factors that all parents can consider when helping their children succeed in school that come directly from the above table, things that all parents can control?

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