Public or Private: 10 Differences Between Public and Private Schools

As you study the various schools in which your child can enroll, there are many choices to make. One of the first decisions involves comparing public and private schools. There are numerous factors to consider when making this choice because there are myriad differences between public and private schools.

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#1 Cost

For many parents, cost is the single most important factor when deciding upon a school. Public schools generally require no tuition. Instead, they're funded through taxpayer dollars. Tuition at private schools varies greatly depending on numerous criteria. For example, parochial schools are often less expensive than independent schools.

#2 Admissions

Generally speaking, public schools are required to admit all students interested in attending within certain geographic boundaries. Admission to private schools can be much more competitive. Private schools can establish their own admissions standards and refuse students for any reason, stated or unstated.

#3 Curriculum

The curriculum in a public school is based upon state standards. Controversial topics, including religion, are discussed in accordance with court rulings and applicable laws. Private schools are not bound by these rules. A private school can include lessons that fit its community's religious or philosophical belief system. It's common for parents to choose a private school that matches the beliefs of their family.

#4 Teachers

Teachers in public schools are required by law to be certified. Though certification regulations vary, this rule guarantees that public school teachers have some type of formal training. Private school teachers are not legally required to earn certification. They may be experts in the field in which they teach, but hiring decisions are not regulated by the state. While this can result in a mathematician with a doctoral degree teaching algebra, it can also result in a stellar football coach teaching English.

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#5 Class Size

Public school class sizes fluctuate by school, district and grade level. In crowded schools with lower funding, public school classes can grow very large, often well past 30 students in a room. In general, private schools offer smaller class sizes than their public counterparts. However, class sizes at private schools can vary significantly. For example, Catholic schools are known to occasionally have larger classes than public schools.

#6 Special Needs

Students with special needs may find more reliable resources at public schools. These schools are required by law to provide suitable educational programming, including appropriate facilities and trained teachers, for students with physical and mental disabilities. Private schools aren't bound by these laws and they can deny students based on special needs. However, some private schools specialize in such students.

#7 Accountability

There are certain regulations regarding accountability that apply to both public and private schools, such as attendance, safety and core curriculum components. However, public schools must adhere to a broader set of laws that affect their operations. For example, many states have standardized testing requirements intended to ensure consistency and efficacy among different public schools.

#8 Budgets

Though not a glamorous topic, how public and private schools formulate their budgets is an important factor in choosing a school. Because they rely so heavily on taxes for funding, public schools are highly susceptible to state and national economic fluctuations. If your child is in public school, you may see class sizes rise and fall, teachers come and go and other dramatic changes in times of economic recession or prosperity. Private schools, in addition to tuition, rely on income from donors, investments and fundraising. For example, private schools often raise money through bake sales and other student-led income generators.

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#9 Graduation Rate

Public schools historically have a lower graduation rate than private schools. Some of this can be attributed to the dropout rates at public schools. In private schools, in addition to higher overall graduation rates, minority students are more likely to attend college. The higher success rates at private schools can typically be traced to their selective admissions process; they're most likely to admit only students who can complete their studies.

#10 Discipline

Discipline at public schools is difficult to enforce relative to private schools. Public schools are bound by constitutional rights and other legal complications. Private schools typically abide by contracts they design and students agree to upon admission. This enables private schools to more liberally punish students, up to and including expulsion.

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