Choosing where your child attends school is a major decision, especially in the age of what feels like a limitless choice. Public, private, parochial, home, magnet, charter — we all wish we had a crystal ball, and that money was never an object. But choices abound and they all factor in when trying to select the right path for your child. To help you decide, we’ll dissect the differences starting with a basic question — what is the difference between a public and private school?
1. Student-Teacher Ratio
Private schools have a lower student/teacher ratio and some provide two teachers in the classroom — a master Head Teacher and an associate teacher. This allows for a high level of attention and differentiation that can benefit a range of student learners. Coupled with smaller class sizes, independent school teachers can tailor their lesson plans to the high-flier who needs greater challenges or the slower-paced student who benefits from that extra time to think through a concept before sharing an answer. Beyond academics, smaller interactive classes allow teachers to spend more time with each student and form trusted bonds that serve as the foundation for learning and emotional growth.
2. Class Makeup
While a local public school draws its population based on geography, private schools recruit and market to a broader region based on the type of student they believe will thrive within their program. Although selective, private schools are not exclusive and welcome families from diverse backgrounds and geographic areas. This enables students and their families to engage in a broader community discourse that flows beyond district lines. Additionally, creating diversity, equity, and inclusion is intentional in most private school settings and they devote resources to teaching empathy and respect across the entire student body. When done well, it ensures that a school is focusing its resources on the areas where they have the most impact.
Public schools are funded by property and school taxes whereas private school represents an incremental cost. Tuition is determined by your income when applying for financial assistance which ensures you will only pay what you can afford. Some private schools, like Rippowam Cisqua School, include ancillary costs in their annual tuition such as early morning care, school lunches, sports, and field trips.
Nonetheless, with college costs on the rise, you may question the necessity of enrolling your child in a private school. Proponents say that no investment is more important than your child’s education. If a child learns to love learning at a young age through a dynamic curriculum, your investment will pay off in dividends with better performance, higher standardized scores, and skills-mastery that leads to success in college and as they enter the workforce.
4. Gifted and learning support programs
A strong public school can provide a wonderful program for a range of learners and support needs both physically and cognitively. It is important that families research the services their district provides, but don’t rule out private schools when it comes to supporting exceptionally bright students or those that have learning differences. Most strong private schools pride themselves on their ability to differentiate and tailor their curriculum throughout the day to challenge and support each child.
Local public school districts can also provide outside support for students enrolled in private schools. A strong private school learning center will work with the district to coordinate this effort. There are also specialized private schools for children with specific learning and social-emotional needs. Through the private school screening process, the Admissions team can communicate with families if a child will be well-served by their curriculum or if their needs would be better met in a different environment.
5. Extended day and enrichment
A factor that so many families wrestle with is the hours before and after-school; this is of particular concern for dual-working parents households who need a safe, trustworthy and affordable solution for extended daycare. Childcare costs are at an all-time high and so, families are searching for ways to minimize cost without sacrificing quality.
Many private schools’ financial aid packages extend to their after school and summer programs making it an affordable solution that is less than or comparable to babysitting and transportation costs. Moreover, private school extended day programs give students more time to explore their interests and make new friends. This exploratory time extends the learning and helps teachers get to know their students even better. And don’t forget to place value on your peace of mind and time. With fewer balls to juggle, busy families need one-stop solutions that remove the hassle and stress from childcare.
Public schools must adhere to their state and national curricula that dictate the amount of instruction allocated towards each discipline as well as certain core texts that are required reading. While private schools do not generally adhere to those pre-set curricula, there is often a designated curriculum leader who oversees programming and ensures consistency and rigor that caters directly to their population of students. While not governed by the state, private schools are required to go through a rigorous accreditation process on a regular basis as governed by the State and National Associations of Independent Schools. Make sure the one you choose is accredited.
7. Social-emotional learning
Happy children become enthusiastic life-long learners. Character programs can be crucial to students’ academic success and their existence and strength is an important factor to consider when analyzing the strength of a local public or private school. Mental-health and wellness are now at the forefront of parents’ minds, yet private school educators have long placed emphasis on social-emotional learning (SEL) as a key driver of their programs. Although SEL may seem like a new designation, private schools have a successful history in helping students navigate and regulate their emotions. Their unique ability to adapt their program to student needs along with smaller class sizes gives teachers the tools required to support students through important developmental milestones.
Towns are required to provide busing for students to both public and private schools within a designated geographic range. Some private schools provide private busing for students who live outside of that range and some parents drive or carpool. In New York State, public schools provide bussing for children attending private schools within a 15-mile radius. Riding the bus builds independence and social skills and carpooling provides additional opportunities for community-building. Once you start looking, you will find many private schools that are either close to home or en route to work.
Public schools receive their funding from the state and are required to adhere to the budget set for them annually. Private schools receive their funding from tuition dollars and annual giving from families. As a result, they can set their own budgets and allocate resources accordingly. Programs such as science and the arts are important ones to consider when thinking about public or private since these programs are particularly susceptible to cuts in public schools.
10. Teachers and peers
At the end of the day, nothing is as important as the connection between the students and their teachers. A teacher should be an advocate and coach while a classmate should be a friend and a teammate. This should exist in any school environment but the larger the school, the harder it is to build the ties that bind. Also, look for schools that have advocates like a school psychologist or an administrator who is focused on the social-emotional well-being of the students. That component is worth any price tag.
No two families’ priorities are the same and ultimately school choice comes down to just that. Consider what is most important to you and where you believe your child is most likely to thrive. While we don’t have a crystal ball, a well-intentioned parent who is focused on their child’s success is a gift for that child no matter where they attend school!
If are considering private school, read this article: How to Get Your Child into a Top Private School.
For help evaluating your options, download the school comparison checklist.