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Five Major Differences Between Public and Private Schools

What are the major differences between public and private schools?


There is no doubt that the recession makes public schools seem attractive. Parents are tightening their belts, and, given the astronomical and ever-climbing cost of college, it’s very tempting to choose a public school over a private school. Fortunate people live in areas with well-resourced public schools that can do a good job of educating their children. However, most states are facing budget cuts that mean public school funding is getting slashed, leading to larger class sizes and fewer resources. Many parents wonder if they should choose a private school over a public school, if they can afford it or can find ways to secure financial aid.

Here are some major differences you want to keep in mind as you choose whether to send your child to private or public school:

How large are the class sizes?

Class size is one of the major differences between public and private schools. The class size in urban public schools can be as large as 25-30 students (or more), while most private schools keep their class sizes at 15-20 students. There are even electives at some private schools with fewer students, meaning that your child has a lot of personal attention and the ability to contribute to classroom discussions that foster learning. Some schools have a Harkness Table, an oval-shaped table that began at Philips Exeter Academy to allow all the people at the table to look at each other during discussions. Smaller class sizes also mean that teachers can give students longer and more complicated assignments, as the teachers don’t have as many papers to grade. For example, students at many academically challenging college-preparatory private schools write 10-15 page papers as juniors and seniors.

How are the teachers prepared?

While public school teachers need to be certified, private school teachers don’t necessarily need to be certified but are often experts in their fields, and many have master’s or even doctoral degrees. While it is very difficult to remove public school teachers, private school teachers generally have contracts that are renewable each year.

How well does the school prepare students for college or post-high school life?

While many public schools do a good job of preparing students for college, many do not. For example, a recent study found that even A-rated public schools in New York City have remediation rates of over 50% for their graduates who attend the City University of New York. In contrast, most college-preparatory private schools do a thorough job of preparing their graduates to succeed in college.

What attitude do the students take to their work?

In part because private schools often have selective admissions processes, they are able to choose students who are highly motivated. Many private school students want to learn, and your child will be surrounded by students who regard academic achievement as desirable.

Will the school offer other services and activities that are meaningful for my child?

Because private schools don’t have to follow state laws about what to teach, they can offer specific programs. For example, parochial schools can offer religion classes, while special-education schools can offer remedial and counseling programs to help their students. Many private school students simply attend school for more hours in the day than do public school students because private schools offer after-school programs and a longer schedule. Many private schools also specialized programs in areas of interest to the student, such as arts, music, or sports.
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