Important Factors to Consider When Choosing Between a Public and Private School (page 2)
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
Percentage of students excluded
Percentage of students by race/ethnicity
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
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?
Number of books in the home
In order for children to believe that reading is important, they have to see their parents being interested in things that are read. Even parents who are not well educated, who speak a different language than the majority of parents in their chosen school, or who can not afford to purchase books, can show an avid interest in the printed word. That can mean newspapers, books checked out of the library, magazines, maps, and anything else a child can handle and look through and play with that has words. It can mean looking at ads for food in the grocery store, pointing out the names of common places, restaurants, streets and family members. Talking about books, handling books, thumbing through books and having conversations about even the pictures can promote interest in things literate.
But even before books, the primary means of acquiring words is through talking, A parent who talks with their child every day about anything that happens, about any activity, and who brings that interest in communication to their child increases that child’s awareness and use of talking as a foundation for written language. Then after fourth grade the primary way to gain vocabulary is through reading. Foundationally, promoting literacy through talking, listening, reading and writing, even for the very young, even if it is just handing a little one paper and crayons or even talking about the sand going in a little bucket are good family practices for future school success.
Number of Absences
Adding to number of absences is also punctuality. It is obvious that if a child is not at school or late to school, that child cannot learn well. Absences and difficulty with punctuality can run wild, even in families that have huge incomes. In fact, in some private schools there have been many teacher complaints about children being tired, coming late, or not coming for several days for reasons unrelated to illness. Being where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there is a character trait that we can all teach our children. This promotes responsibility and respect for timelines and authority.
Teacher Experience and Certification
Many parents don’t know it but a private school can be accredited with only a percentage of the teachers credentialed. Happily, most private schools do try to hire fully certified teachers, however the facts remain. Further, a growing percentage of the nation’s teachers now come from other countries, especially in math, science and special education, without having to take an English language proficiency test. Add to this the fact that we are a multi-lingual nation, all of these issues get really sticky, troubling and hard to sort out.
The best way to know a school is to observe, talk to the principal and talk to other parents of children who attend. The best way to really know a child’s teacher is to talk with him or her, ask them what their experience is and watch them the year before your child enters the grade they teach. If necessary, ask the school for the teacher you want based on your observations, your child’s learning strengths and weaknesses and find out that teacher’s certification and experience.