First article in series on school comparisons - private schools vs. charter schools. Find the characteristics of each and pros/cons. Is a charter school or private school right for your child? Also view statistics on charter and private schools.

Because charter schools are freed from some of the limitations of public schools, can have a different governance system, are schools that are attended by choice, rather than be districting, and because they can have the same kinds of specialized focuses as private schools, people may often wonder about how they stack up against private schools. This article explores that question.

Private Schools vs. Charter Schools Focuses

The Search for Public Schools on the National Center for Educational Statistics Site turns up charter public schools in Los Angeles, New York City, and Phoenix, the names of which indicate focus on:

• accelerated study
• arts
• technology
• science
• leadership
• autism
• athletics
• humanities
• college preparatory course
• Montessori
• business and finance
• teacher preparation
• girls only
• geographic area

The schools range from a single grade (for example, kindergarten) to complete K-12 programs.

Do the same searches for private schools, and one finds the following focuses indicated by school name:

• Religious schools: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim
• Montessori
• girls only
• accelerated study
• college preparatory course
• computer science
• bilingual English/Italian
• Rudolf Steiner
• youg performers
• choir
• autism
• special education

You can see from this rather arbitrary list (arbitrary because based on only a few cities and because the school programs are gathered only from the school names, not a mission statement) reveals that there is a fair amount of overlap in the specialized programs offered by charter schools and private schools. If your primary focus is to find a program that fits your child, you may well find yourself looking at both private schools and charter schools to determine what the offerings in your area happen to be.

And although there are more private schools in the country-there were 34,681 private schools and 4,132 charter schools in 2006), it may well come down to a matter of location to determine what the best choice is. And despite the fact that there are far more private schools, in some particular locations, there are actually more charter schools:

Los Angeles  52 charter  279 private
New York  17 charter  161 private
Phoenix   134 charter  95 private

Comparing and Contrasting Other Factors of Private Schools and Charter Schools

Although finding the best match of a program for your child is likely close to the top of your list if you're choosing between a charter school and a private school, there are other factors worth considering as well. The NAEP Fast Facts report based on data from the 1999-2000 school year (the most recent data that speaks to these questions) on the differences is enlightening. It tell us that:

  • Elementary charter schools tended to have larger class sizes than private elementary schools and  secondary charter schools tended to have larger class sizes by an even greater degree than private secondary schools.
  • Nearly five times as many charter school teachers as private school teachers reported the students engaging in physical conflict was a significant problem in their school.
  • Slightly more private schools than charter schools offered extended school, before school, or after school daycare programs.
  • Charter schools using a salary schedule offered a significantly higher base salary to beginning teachers with no experience than private schools did.
  • Notably more full-time charter school teachers participated in in-depth professional development activities in their area of expertise than did full-time private school teachers.
  • Somewhat more full-time charter school teachers than full-time private school teachers engaged in professional development that focused on the use of computer-aided instruction.

Last, but not least, consider this. As a part of the public school system, education at a charter school is free. Education at a private school can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year. The highest tuition for non-boarding school students is said to be at The Forman School in Connecticut, a prep school for students with learning difficulties, which charges $43,500 per year.


National Center for Education Statistics: Search for Private Schools

National Center for Education Statistics: Search for Public Schools

National Center for Education Statistics: Numbers and Types of Public Elementary and Secondary Schools From the Common Core of Data: School Year 2006-07 - First Look

MSN Encarta “Private Elementary and Secondary Schools in the U.S. (Total Number of Schools)”

National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Facts: In what ways do public and private schools differ?

The Forman School Which is the Most Expensive Private School?

Written by Mary Elizabeth