Navigating School Choices: What Sets Public and Private Schools Apart?

Going to school has a whole different meaning since the coronavirus pandemic. While children — and their parents! — are thrilled to have the classroom back after so many months of virtual learning, many parents are also questioning whether the school their child attends is the best choice. If their child is in public school, should they stay there? Would private school be better? 

One key area that attracts both parents and children to private schools is the fundamental differences in how and where learning takes place. Private schools typically enjoy far greater flexibility in curriculum and extracurricular offerings. 

For example, at Delphian School, students don’t sit passively in rows listening to a teacher at the front of the room explain a subject. They get their hands dirty, literally, by exploring the natural world as they discover new ways of seeing and interpreting ideas and experiences. To get a sense of some of the Delphian programs, check out the school’s YouTube channel.

Here are a handful of distinctions between public and private schools to consider when making your decision:

  • Class size. In urban areas, classrooms can house 25-30 students or more, which means each child receives less time and attention from the teacher than they would in a private school, where class size is usually kept closer to 10-15 students. However, educators emphasize that this is only one indicator. And some data suggest that larger classrooms are better managed and children learn more factual information, which enables them to excel on tests. So class size, while important, is just one determinant to consider.
  • Teacher training and certification. Here again, you’ll be weighing degrees and certificates versus hands-on expertise in a subject area in which a private school teacher may be an acknowledged legend in their field, even if they don’t hold a formal degree (which private schools don’t always require). Is someone with a master’s or doctoral degree more qualified than a teacher who’s spent 30 years perfecting their craft, and knows how to joyfully impart this abundant knowledge to students? It will need to be a case-by-case school evaluation.
  • Cost. The cost differential between public and private school is clearly a critical factor in whether private school even makes sense for your child. Public schools are funded by taxpayer dollars. Private school tuition needs to come from the parents’ pockets, a scholarship, loans, or some other type of financial aid, and the cost can vary widely depending on location and type of private school. While the national average private school tuition is approximately $12,500 in 2023, in Connecticut, one of the country’s most expensive places to live, private school tuition is an average of $28,800. In South Dakota, by contrast, it’s just under $4,000. Additionally, schools operated by religious organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church tend to cost somewhat less than secular schools.
  • Student motivation. One of the strongest arguments in favor of private school may be a student’s commitment to their own education. Instead of phone scrolling or surreptitiously texting friends when bored, a student’s behavior and attitude may be remarkably different in a private school that’s aligned with that child’s interests and needs. In an environment where students view academic achievement as highly desirable rather than simply required, they may perform better because they are internally motivated to do so.
  • Extracurricular offerings. Public or private, school is much more than class time. Children of all ages usually want to participate in activities that spark their interest, whether that might be band, basketball, science club, or theater. Unfortunately, in lean economic times, public school boards often see the “extra” in extracurricular as something they can cut, to the detriment of students. In private schools, by contrast, extracurriculars are integral to the school’s offerings. In fact, the school’s athletic program may be a strong selling point. There is also likely to be a wider range of activities available (like horseback riding, astronomy, or fishing), depending on the school’s location and surrounding environment. So be sure to take your child’s interests into account when selecting the appropriate school for their well-rounded growth.

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