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Public Schools vs. Private Schools

Third in our school comparison series on Public Schools versus Private Schools. If you are having difficulty deciding between sending your child to a public school or a private school, this article has information to assist with your decision.

What factors make people favor public schools or private schools in general terms? When not rating particular schools for a particular child with particular needs, people may still have general feelings about public schools vs. private schools. Here’s some information that may help you see both sides of the picture.

Pro Public Schools

  • People who favor public schools usually point to the favorable tuition costs: none! Many public school districts even provide transportation in the form of busing to get students to and from school.
  • Having a common public education is one of the things that unites many Americans regardless of race, color, ethnic background, or religious beliefs. Ninety percent of children in the US attend a public school. Some people who view schools as the cauldron of democracy think that this common experience is an important factor and that private schools tend to create an elite class.
  • With the possibilities now for magnet and charter schools as part of the public school system, people may feel that some of the chief benefits of the private school system are now available without leaving the public school system.
  • Public schools receiving Federal funds must hire teachers who meet certification requirements, whereas private schools are not held to that standard.
  • When family factors and socioeconomic background, using a standardized math exam, fourth and eighth-grade students in public school did slightly better than students from private schools in a study conducted by researchers at University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
  • Teacher pay in public schools is overall better than in private schools (individual schools may differ), and this may give teachers a greater investment in their careers.

Pro Private Schools

  • Even though there are tuition costs at private schools, there are scholarships available in many cases, and parents who select them feel that the money spent is worth it.
  • Private schools may have the luxury of having architecture that is less driven solely by functional and cost considerations, leading to a more inviting campus.
  • Private schools may have selective admissions, whereas public schools are required to educate all students in their geographic area. Possibly for this reason, your child’s class may spend less time waiting while the teacher deals with other children’s behavioral issues.
  • And if there is a student with a behavioral issue that is disruptive, a private school is able to seek the greatest good of the greatest number, whereas public schools are as responsible to that child as to all the other children being taught.
  • There’s usually a good deal of investment - on the part of parents, and often students as well - of the student being at a private school. This can mean that your child will face fewer committees mutually responsible for an assignment with only one or two children doing the work, and the others along for the ride.
  • Private schools may be more welcoming to parental involvement: the fact of paying directly may be a factor,
  • Private schools may have more control over class and school size because there is no mandate requiring them to serve the children of a given geographic area. This can mean a more comfortable setting for a child who does better in a smaller, less frenetic setting.
  • Parents who wish for overt teaching of morals and religion will naturally gravitate toward sectarian private schools. For those who think incorporating these elements with instruction is important, the public schools really don’t offer a viable alternative.
  • Although there are magnet and charter schools, many private schools with special missions have a much longer history and greater experience in their specialties.
  • Likewise, certain pedagogical approaches such as Montessori and Waldorf, are only offered in specialized private schools.
  • Because private schools don’t have to follow the teacher certification rules of public schools, they can sometimes have diverse faculty with alternative qualifications, such as language skills and a teaching license from another country.
  • Even though the pay is lower, private schools may give teachers more freedom to develop creative curriculum than public schools, and this may give them greater school loyalty.


Written by Mary Elizabeth