Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.
Let’s look at the pros and cons between public or state school and private school. We’ll share the differences between them and advice on how to determine which educational option is best for your children.
The Pros of State School
The biggest advantage of state or public school is that it is essentially free. It isn’t actually free - you’ve already paid for it via your taxes. Unless you’re signing up for extracurricular activities or enrichments, there shouldn’t be any additional expenses beyond basic school supplies.
If you’re considered to be at the poverty level, the school district should cover additional costs such as the fees to sign up for sports or choir. Transportation like school buses are typically free for most kids.
Public schools offer far more academic tracks. Almost every school has different academic levels, whether your child is on-level or gifted and talented. If your child is struggling, they may shift tracks or get assistance through the school. A side benefit of public school is that your child could be in accelerated math but remedial reading.
State schools are often the best choice for children who don’t speak English well. These schools have the best bilingual programs.
The Cons of State School
Are the local schools terrible? The problems could range from poor quality education to violence to a group of bullies the local administration won’t deal with. You’re pretty much stuck with it if you can’t finagle a transfer to a better public school or pay for private school.
In the worst case scenarios, teachers and administrators weaponized the government against parents. There are already documented cases where teachers and administrators called in Child Protective Services on false or inflated allegations to make life hard for the parents. It was done as punishment for demanding transfers, discipline for the teacher who wasn’t doing their job or standing up for their child.
Popular programs like magnet schools for the gifted or the musically inclined may resort to lotteries to determine who gets in. Don’t make it? That’s your bad luck.
Observations about State Schools
If your child had disciplinary problems at public school, you’re going to have trouble staying at a private school until the issues with your child are resolved. And relatively few private schools have the resources to deal with kids with serious mental health issues barring specialized institutions. This can make public school the best choice for these kids if you don’t have a specialized private school in your area that meets your child’s needs.
The Pros of Private School
You can choose which private school your child attends. You can choose one that reflects your faith or the curriculum you prefer. Whether it is Montessori, classic liberal arts, or STEM focused, you can choose.
The private school can choose who they admit and who they reject. More importantly, they can enforce discipline the public schools increasingly cannot. If a troublemaker threatens a teacher or fellow students, they aren’t just sent to the alternative school for a week – they are gone.
Private schools may specialize in serving particular student needs. This is why there are excellent private schools for the deaf, the autistic and other special needs children. In some cases, the school district will pay tuition for children with various disabilities to private school that can serve them better than public schools. It is sometimes cheaper for the school district than providing the necessary accommodations.
Uniforms are commonly required for private school attendees. This can be frustrating for children and an additional expense for children. However, it erases many of the class and cultural differences between children.
One on one attention and smaller class sizes are the norm for private schools. You’re much more likely to be able to connect with the teacher and get personalized education for your child at all levels.
Teachers and administrators are accountable, because the students do have a choice. This means parents are more successful if they petition the principal to correct a problem. Small groups of parents have more say in the school’s culture and activities, as well.
The Cons of Private School
Private schools almost always come with a price tag. The price tag varies based on the program. Many religious groups subsidize their faith’s private schools. This means that you pay more if you aren’t a member of the faith. And you may be excluded from enrollment if your beliefs conflict with the school’s beliefs. In other cases, they prioritize the children of fellow believers, and you’re on the waiting list. Scholarships may exist, but these may be need based and/or prioritize fellow believers.
Transportation to and from school is usually your responsibility and at your expense. This is true whether the school is close to a public transit stop or a ten mile drive away. Many schools offer before and after school care, but that is often at your expense, as well.
The best private schools far exceed public school standards. The worst private schools are no better than average public schools. Unless you’re moving your child to another school for their safety, cultural reasons or a lack of adequate instruction, the private school isn’t necessarily better. Do your research.
Observations about Private Schools
In rural areas and some suburbs, there is a limited selection of private schools. In contrast, urban areas have far more private schools, giving parents a much wider selection. This is partially due to the on average poor quality of urban public school districts.
Most private schools are smaller than the neighboring public schools. This often limits the options. It isn’t just a matter of offering track, volleyball and six-man football instead of a dozen sports. It means your child gets to choose between chemistry or biology for ninth grade science instead of twenty different options. And there may not be enough students to offer slow, medium and fast paced courses. They may put all the kids in accelerated classes, and if your kid can’t keep up, that’s your problem.
The average private school’s smaller size creates a tight knit community, but if you or your child doesn’t fit in, you have a problem. And if you decide to go somewhere else, your child is going to face a much greater culture shock than moving to another public school.
© 2020 Tamara Wilhite