It's a question at the top of any parents' list: "How does your school compare with St. So-and-So's?" The truth is that there is no objective ranking of private schools in the U.S. With over 29,000 private schools, it is extremely difficult to determine how one school compares to another.
Ranking = Comparison = Controversy
Ranking is an issue which raises the hackles of most private school administrators. The NAIS, which is the trade association for independent schools and a powerful voice for the movement in Washington, weighs in vehemently whenever journalists threaten to write a feature purporting to rank private k-12 schools. It invariably advises its 1500 member schools not to respond to requests for such information. U.S. News and World Report regularly attempts to rate educational institutions. While it is worth a try, the criteria for comparison are often unreliable, subject to error or biased.
The argument against ranking schools runs along the lines of 'Private school educations cannot be compared in the same manner as we are accustomed to comparing cars or houses." While that's true to a point, I question why any rational person wouldn't want to evaluate very carefully what is, after all, a major expense. Private school fees run from $3,000 per year for a parochial school on up to over $40,000 for the top schools. Notice I used the adjective 'top'! How can I say that? Simply because I know the standard of teaching, the quality of the curriculum, and the depth and breadth of the equipment and facilities at those schools. How do I know that? Because I have made it my business to ask pointed questions and to read the public reports which are on file. What parent has the time to do this? Not many! That's why you need to hire a consultant! (See The Solution below)
State Required Evaluations
The Fraser Institute has been ranking Canadian schools since 1989. The data now covers 5,500 schools, both public and private, in four provinces. One thing which strikes me immediately is the fact that my socialist homeland can demand this information because the provincial governments provide significant funding to private as well as public schools.
Let this be a warning to independent schools in the United States: if you take state or federal monies, you are beholden to those funding bodies. If the politicians in the state capitol or in Washington decide that a report ranking or evaluating schools is necessary for continued funding, your school will have to produce the required data or run the risk of being in non-compliance. State funding is a two-edged sword! It's another less obvious reason why a vote against school vouchers might not be a bad idea. After all, once you take government money, the government has the right to demand accountability in whatever form it decides.
So how do you compare schools? The only effective way of which I am aware is to hire an educational consultant. Consultants know schools and know their clients. They are experts. They will be able to match your needs with appropriate schools efficiently and knowledgeably. Perhaps some shrewd individual or organization will do the proper research and produce a plausible system for ranking American private K-12 schools in the future. In the meantime consultants are your best bet.
The other point to make is that comparing schools is just one small part of the process of choosing a school. Finding the right private school for your child has more to do with 'fit' than ranks.