Pros and Cons of Private vs. Public Schools

During times of economic uncertainty, the option of sending children to non-public schools represents a significant issue for parents. Public schools are free and, in most cases, offer a wide range of student opportunities geared toward either college preparation or the workforce. With the advent of state-sponsored college-credit programs such as internet-based courses facilitated by state universities or “early colleges,” public schools can provide upper-level academics that frequently compete with non-public alternatives. Private schools, however, still offer many advantages that the public schools simply cannot touch, and these benefits are attractive to parents willing to sacrifice.

Children in a public school classroomThe Benefits of Non-Public School Education

Many private schools flourish because of their reputations. Often decades in the making, the very “name” of these institutions evokes a distinct sense of pride. Some private schools, notably Catholic high schools, develop superb reputations based on athletic success. Although they are often seen as elitist, such schools command clout in the academic community. Reputation is an important consideration.

Private schools have lower student-teacher class ratios than public schools and teachers foster strong relationships with both students and parents. Teacher feedback is expected and is far more frequent than in most public schools. Private school facilities are frequently more modern and technologically advanced. Non-public institutions usually command greater resources, often tied to very active PTA organizations.

Above all, private schools tend to have a vested interest in seeing their students advance to a successful college experience. In many cases, these include top-tier universities. To accomplish this, private school faculties often represent teachers with advanced degrees in their subject areas, although they may not be state licensed or certified.

Public School Advantages over Private School Alternatives

Because many public schools are large, they frequently offer more choices to students regarding courses and have more excellent resources and staff in addressing the needs of special education students (this may not be true in rural school systems or systems in one-industry towns that have suffered major job losses). All public school teachers must be state-certified and most systems pay the necessary fees to have teachers nationally board certified.

Private school students in their uniformsSome argue that the public school experience provides a higher degree of student diversity and socialization. Additionally, public schools offer many upper-level courses from honors to Advanced Placement and some classes feature the International Baccalaureate program. Whether the No Child Left Behind law ultimately prevails or has any merit in mandating realistic outcomes, it has forced schools and communities to take stock of local education. Hence, superintendents and school boards are looking at the public school process far more critically. This can only benefit students in the long term.

Public schools provide transportation, something many non-public alternatives cannot match or if they can, on a limited basis only. This includes “activity” buses used for athletic transportation as well as field trips.

The Pros and Cons of Public versus Private Schools

Parents and students need to view all of the pros and cons carefully (recognizing that such choices are often student-driven). Is a more disciplined environment worth paying tuition? Are smaller class sizes worth the added expense? For parents that want to see their children have an “edge” over public school students in college, these reasons often justify the financial sacrifice. One option parents should consider is Early College.

On the other hand, parents recognize, depending on their particular public system, that public schools can do just as good a job of educating students if the right choices are made regarding course selections and extracurricular participation. Students with a strong work ethic can thrive in any educational environment, mainly if they have strong family support.