General Question

shilolo's avatar

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a private versus public school education?

Asked by shilolo (18038points) July 1st, 2009

Assuming you had unlimited resources, would you prefer private school or public school for your children? What are the reasons for choosing one versus the other? If you have education statistics or anecdotes, I would love to hear both.

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22 Answers

Les's avatar

Do you mean college, or are you referring to elementary or high school aged children? If you are talking about the younger folks, I have had both the public and private experience: public school for kindergarten through 8th grade and private for high school. For me, the differences were minimal with regards to the education I received. I think the general assumption is that the education at private schools is better somehow than that at a public school, but for me this wasn’t te case. My public school experience taught me to be accepting of all types of people (it was a very racially and economically diverse inner city school in Chicago), I learned Russian for 9 years, and the lessons I got in reading and writing were second to none. In private high school, I got a good education, but by no means was it superior to going to a good public high school in Chicago. As for diversity, mostly white, upper-lower-middle class girls is not what I’d call diversity, but we didn’t have cliques, as is the case in some all-girls schools. It is expensive (my parents paid more for me to go to high school than college), but I was very involved in theatre and the arts, so I think it was worth it. I loved wearing a uniform because it made life so much easier.

I think it really depends on the school. You don’t have to pay a lot to get a good education, but private school has its benefits.

marinelife's avatar

All private schools and all public schools are not equal so one cannot make a blanket generalization.

If you choose public school, you need to make sure it is a highly rated school that pays attention and offers enriched courses for high IQ and high achievers (which I know your children will be).

If you choose private school, you are saddling yourself with a huge financial burden. If you do not carefully select the school for its values, your child may be exposed to those you might not choose (a lot of wealthy kids with too much money, easy access to drugs, early sexual activity, etc.)

I will offer the following anecdotes:

1. I went to seven different schools (all public) before graduating from high school. They varied widely in resources, breadth of program, rigor, and many other aspects.

2. My husband went a vaunted private high school and spent his high school years in utter misery. The school was run by packs of bullies whose fathers had a lot of power. He hated it so much that he felt it scarred him for years.

I think parental involvement in the school, careful attention to your child, are almost more important than the school itself.

Grisaille's avatar

Because my mind is fried right now, (I ain’t havin’ a good day – I just brewed big ol’ pot of hot water. next time, add coffee) I can only agree with @Les.

And @Marina. I’ll answer this better later.

RareDenver's avatar

I went to both private and public school (although strangely enough in Britain the schools you have to pay for are called Public School)

I lasted less than one school year at “Public School” before I got expelled, I guess after years of actual public school (called State School) I never really fitted in.

I remember one teacher in my first lesson asking me what school I had come from, when I replied she said “I’m not familiar with that school, is it state run?” when I answered ‘yes it was’ her tone completely changed and she said “Well I’ll warn you now we do things very differently here”

She never let up on me either, always on my back about everything, especially my accent and pronunciation, she was basically a snob. As were most of the staff and quite a lot of the students. Being expelled from that school was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Although as the Army paid for my school the minute I got expelled my Dad had to pay the army back, HE WAS NOT HAPPY!

Although from my experience since it can often be a case of it’s not what you know but who you know, in this case sometimes being surrounded by the wealthy and having them except you as one of the club can open doors that would otherwise be forever closed to you.

shilolo's avatar

@Les Thanks for bringing up something I should have clarified. My question has more to do with early education through high school. For instance, paying for a pricey Montessori K-8 education followed by prestigious private high school versus going the public route (of course, I would compare apples and apples and assume the pubic school is a good one).

Les's avatar

@shilolo
No problem. As @Marina said, I really don’t think paying tons of money is necessarily better than doing your homework and finding a good public school. I am really only familiar with Chicago, as that is where I received my education. In Chicago, there are neighborhood schools and magnet schools (I’m referring to public schools). I know many people are really only familiar with neighborhood schools: you don’t have a choice where you go, you go to the school in your designated area. But magnet schools are schools which offer a specialized curriculum (I’m not sure if you are familiar with the term. If you are, excuse this discussion). So my public elementary school was a language academy: every student had to take a language for the full 9 years of attendance. To get into this school, you had to take a placement test (yes, at 5 years of age) and your parents had to apply. As another example, there are two high schools in Chicago: Walter Payton and Northside College Preps which offer advanced classes and a rigorous academic schedule. These are also “placement” test schools. As a parent, if you are seeking an exemplary education for your children, I’m sure there are comperable programs in your area. (Also, look into the International Baccalaureate program. This is a program offered at many high schools around the country.)

casheroo's avatar

I think it all depends on the school district and the private schools in the area.
In my area, I would not send my son to any of the Catholic private high schools, because their standards have dropped. My husband went to one of the better ones in the area, but since he has graduated, he says it’s slowly going downhill. Not sure why.
I am lucky to be living in a fantastic public school district right now, but the best in the state are not far, and are probably better than the private schools in my area. (In the state of PA, Tredyffrin , Radnor, and Lower Merion always rank extremely high, top ten usually.)
We want our children to go to public schools, not just because of the education they will receive but for the experience itself. I feel public schools can balance strictness better than private schools.
My parents have offered to send our son to private schools, we have considered it…but since we plan on more children, we don’t think it’d be fair since it’d be a huge financial burden. If we did send them to private school, it would only be Friends Central a Quaker school.

evolverevolve's avatar

You can go ahead and shield your children from the real world and place them in a fluffy little private school, but they’re not going to learn shit about life. If you’re a good enough parent it shouldn’t matter what type of school they go to, they will succeed, it’s up to the parents to instill good values.

Les's avatar

@evolverevolve
Uh, that’s really not true at all.

shilolo's avatar

@evolverevolve Thanks for turning a honest and eager question/discussion into a socio-political one. The fact is, some schools are better than others. Parents certainly need to be involved (as my wife and I will be), but that doesn’t change the fact that the school has your child in their clutches for 8 hours of the day and the education you provide should complement the education the school provides.

DominicX's avatar

It depends on the condition of the public schools in your city. For example, Oakland is known for its sub-par public schools. I have a friend in Oakland, who does happen to be African American, who was sent to private schools to avoid the gang activity and low-quality public schools in the area where he lived. However, there are towns near Palo Alto whose public schools have received all kinds of awards and rank higher than the private schools around them. There are some private schools around there that are not bad schools, but they cost as much as Stanford and is there really that much difference? I am a product of San Francisco public schools and I am going to Stanford University. And there were plenty of kids at my school going to great colleges (including several others going to Stanford) and being in the National Honors Society. My parents offered to send me to a fancy private school here. I shadowed there, I thought it seemed like a nice place, but I decided not to go with it. I do not regret my decision for a second. Private schools do often have smaller classes and more opportunity for individual attention.

I know someone who used to live in a not-so-great area of Redwood City and would have had to go to kind of shady public schools. His parents moved when he was 4 years old to a better part of the city where he ended up going to an interesting public magnet school for K-8. It just depends on the schools in the area. I went to a public magnet school for K-5 that focused on technology and communication arts. It was pretty effective the way they did things. It did have a bit smaller classes than some of the other public schools.

I would try to send my kids to the best schools I could afford. Meaning that, if the private schools were significantly better than the public schools, I would try to send them there, and if the public schools in another area of town were better, I would try to live in the best area. I don’t favor either private or public schools. I know tons of people from both and not a whole lot of difference between the individuals and their college destinations and such.

I’m not trying to be defensive, but sometimes I kind of have to be: don’t think that just because I’m a kid I can’t answer this question. My mom was president of the PTA at my high school (and involved in the PTA at my middle school) and knows all about this kind of thing. I thought I would just provide some hands-on experience here.

Ivan's avatar

I’m not a fan of private schools. If I wanted to force my children to learn something from a very specific angle, I would just lock them in a closet for 18 years, brainwash them myself, and save myself the thousands of dollars I would have otherwise spent.

nikipedia's avatar

I taught SATs at a number of high schools in and around San Francisco, public and private. Frankly, the private school kids were way, way better prepared for the class, better students, and seemed to care a lot more. But that could just be a sampling bias.

What surprised me the most was the difference between co-ed and single-sex education. I had one class from an all-girls private school and they were phenomenal. They were orders of magnitude more engaged than any other class I ever taught. Most kids are dragged to SAT class kicking and screaming; these girls were so excited to be there and asked the best questions and stayed after class and were charming and personable and so much fun to teach. They were like actual people instead of the bored, disaffected, too-cool-for-school girls I usually taught. I would never have considered single-sex education until I met them and now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

DominicX's avatar

I also forgot to add that yes, the public high school I went to in SF was a little on the fancy side…SF is not known for its great schools, but this school is a bit better than a lot of the other ones…also had a lot of Asians… :P (I live in kind of a fancy part of the city).

JLeslie's avatar

I just think it matters where you live and the particular child. If your child has varied interests public school might have much more opportunity to try new things/subjects. As a generalization public schools, especially if you are in a densely populated county might have options that the private schools don’t. My HS offered several languages, math through calculus, automotive, cosmetology, accounting, psychology, wood working, AP science classes, child development, extra curricular like footbal, basketball, etc. If there was a specific course like Japanese that was not offered at my school, but at the next school upcounty you could apply for a transfer. If your child has a personality that does better with a lot of structure you might opt for private.

Personally, if there is an option for all one gender in a classroom, I like that idea.

I had a 16 year old ballerina stay with my husband and me for 5 weeks one summer, and she had been raised with homeschooling most of her life. When she was 15 they moved their family to FL, because her brother had the potential to be a professional tennis player. In FL there was a public magnet school with an emphasis in the performing arts. So, even though they had home schooled her until that point, when the option of a public school with great opportunities for their daughter to pursue her interest came up, they went for it.

Some parts of the country this question is more easily answered than others.

augustlan's avatar

One thing to keep in mind… most private schools do not have the resources to provide appropriate educations for students that are either well above or well below average. Despite the persistent belief that private schools offer a more challenging curriculum, in most cases it just isn’t so. They are geared towards average to slightly above average students. As @JLeslie pointed out, private schools are also generally unable to offer the breadth of education that public schools do (more apparent in middle & high school).

Now, a personal anecdote to support the above:

An acquaintance and I both sent our first-born daughters to the same pre-school. At the time, we were both fretting about sending them on to (different) public elementary schools, and planned on going the private route after kindergarten. Flash forward a few years, and we find both of our girls are attending the same public elementary school.

As it turned out, my daughter was identified as gifted in kindergarten and no private school in the county had a program that could accommodate her. Happily, the public school system offered a magnet school for gifted children (housed within a ‘regular’ elementary school).

In my friend’s case, her daughter did attend a prestigious private school for 2 years. However, she had dyslexia and other learning issues. The school couldn’t accommodate her needs and asked that she be withdrawn. So she attended the ‘regular’ elementary school that housed the magnet program. The two girls were thrilled to be reunited, and their learning differences were never an issue between them.

Both are now in (different) public highschools, and are doing quite well. :)

skfinkel's avatar

The reason I like pubic education is that people who bring much to them, as parents, help not only their own children, but all the children in the school. It is the only way we are going to make these schools good for everyone.

That being said, you must look at the individual needs of each child. If you have a child who will not thrive in public education (scholastically, emotionally, etc.) you must pay attention to that.

I have always believed in public education, for myself from when I was young (I went to PS6 in NYC) to my childrens’ education as well. My kids did go to public schools, for the most part. (There was an interlude at a private school up to 2nd grade for the youngest two. And one went to a private school for one middle school year.) Mostly, it worked rather well. I don’t know if they got the absolute most that they could have from high school, but they did get a smattering of great teachers, lots of good experiences, and have all turned out to be fine people. They did all go to private liberal arts colleges after high school.

avalmez's avatar

i agree there is no general answer to the question. but, from the above, it sounds like a general issue is that performance/quality varies from school to school and in many cases, greatly. and the difference seems to be driven by money – some schools are richer than others is the bottom line. it would be great if the schools that are underperforming due to lack of funding could somehow be improved.

YARNLADY's avatar

Here in California, the whole atmosphere for public schools has gone down the tubes, along with the funding. I wouldn’t even consider sending my child to a neighborhood school.

Based on my own experience in the public school, where I was at the mercy of bullies my entire school career, I homeschooled my sons. I also homeschooled my grandsons up to the point where they were enrolled in a public school outreach program that allows the student to attend class twice a week for a half day, receive their assignments and take their tests, and complete their work at home.

I would recommend a private school first, but only after making sure it has a good reputation, and then a public school outreach program, (called Charter School here in CA), or a magnet school program (which have had their funding cut off here).

aprilsimnel's avatar

It all depends on the school. I went to 6 different public schools between kindergarten and 12th grade, and my favourite was the school I went to for 3rd and 4th grades. It was a creative arts school with a rather Montessori curriculum. I loved it there.

JLeslie's avatar

My girlfriend is a high school teacher. She was teaching in MS right outside of Memphis (she had grown up in that area her whole life). She moved to St. Louis, MO about a year ago, and I went to visit her a couple of months ago. I asked her if she was liking the midwest. Here is how she started, “we like it here…teaching is so different, the students are so different…like in MS we had corporal punishment.” I interupted, “in public school?” She said, “yes…and in MO they have detention, I think detention is much better.” I couldn’t help myself, “corporal punishment, in public school?” She continued, “yes, and the students in MO don’t say yes ma’am just yes, and they don’t tuck in their shirts. But, I am seeing that they are not bad kids…in fact, they are much more inquistive, more up on current events, more dialogue in the class room, I think it is a good thing.”

Both schools were in middle class neigborhoods.

All I can say is if anyone on this thread is moving to a new state and not familiar with the school system beware, especially of the south. I know that is not PC, but that conversation was scary to me.

bythebay's avatar

@shilolo: All public and private schools have to meet a mandated state curriculum, unless the private school is not accredited and they state this up front.

Curriculum for all core subjects is basic and standard. The differences are in the details. Are foreign languages offered and are the arts addressed? As mentioned above, the condition of public and private schools varies greatly from area to area.

I review applications for a local university and can tell you, without a doubt, applications/essays from private school students are often much better prepared than those from public school applicants. Additionally, it has been noted that kids entering college from private schools are typically more adept at utilizing study skills and techniques. Keep in mind that the typical class size is much smaller in a quality private schools vs. public. In our local public system, class size is an average of 23–26. Our highly regarded private schools (non parochial) average 6–10. A teacher can cover a lot more information with a smaller class. Also, more depth of material is expected.

In the interest of disclosure, I’m actively involved in our local public school system on multiple levels. Our children went to the local public schools for K-8 and then on to a private high school. Truth be told; I’m more involved than the average parent and my husband and I both feel like we kept them in public school too long. As we are both the product of public schools we felt our commitment was to support them and try to change the system for the better. Our children were cheated out of a better opportunity due to our pride and misplaced loyalty.

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