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Difference Between Private and Public Schools

Reviewed by Jon Konen, District Superintendent

Deciding where to send your child to school can be a stressful and intimidating choice for many parents for a variety of reasons. Most cities have options for parents that span public and private school options. And with charter schools on the rise, parents have another option to weigh – which can just add more confusion to the process. The bottom line for most parents is that they want to get the best education for their child, no matter where it comes from. But, there are reasons why private schools are better for some students, and reasons why public schools are better for others.

front of a school building

There are many private school vs. public school statistics that you can use to aid your research. But at the end of the day, you will need to explore all your school options for your child, if you really want to feel secure in your decision.

What’s the Difference Between Public and Private Schools?

  • Funding and tuition. It’s no secret that private schools can cost a significant sum of money. The cost of private high school can be tens of thousands of dollars – easily. This can be much higher in more competitive places, such as New York. The funds a school has can also impact what kinds of technology they have to offer students to learn on.
  • Religion and faith-based learning. Many private schools implement religious practices into their curriculum. This is commonly seen in Catholic schools across the United States, where students are expected to attend mass and observe the other practices and holidays. Many parents send their children to schools that don’t align with their personal beliefs, because the quality of education is so good.
  • Teaching methods. Along with the ideas of religion, or absence of faith in public schools, we can see differences in teaching methods as well. Some public and private schools implement different teaching styles, depending on who is in charge. This can affect whether students sit at individual desks or tables, and other differences as a result of a particular instructional method.
  • Private schools can have longer days. Because of the extra religion component, private schools can result in longer days for students. Private schools still need to cover the same curriculum standards as public schools, and want to offer a wide variety of courses, which can mean an extra hour or so on top of the school day.
  • Salaries and jobs for educators. A few years ago, The Atlantic ran a story about the difference in pay for private school teachers vs. public school teachers. According to the story, private school teachers were paid around $36,000 per year, compared to the average pay for public school teachers, which was ‘nearly $50,000.Salary and job growth is also related to where you live and other factors. So do your own research for this one.
  • Public schools more affected by local politics. Let’s face it, some districts are budget-strapped, and have to run more efficiently than others. Sometimes politics affects the public school districts more than private schools. By not relying on tax payer funds, they have more freedom in this regard. This is one often-used argument for why private schools are better sometimes – or more predictable.
  • What about charter schools? There is a growing movement for charter schools in the United States. Some of these schools have been a successful, even according to government reports. But there are others that are used as warnings. If you have charter school options in your city, you need to do your homework to make sure it’s a quality choice.
  • Class sizes. We have all heard time and time again about over-crowded public school classes. Private schools often tout the benefit of lower class sizes, since they have greater ability to control the number of students they accept. This is one of those private school vs. public school statistics you can probably find plenty examples of.
  • License requirements. Believe it or not, some states do not require private school teachers to have their license. However, this is not a reason why public schools are better. In fact, private schools typically self-regulate, because they want the most qualified teachers. Many private school teachers have their doctorate level degrees.
  • Admissions procedures. Here’s one obvious difference that we can’t fail to mention: Public schools have to accept everyone, but private schools technically do not have to. They can have test requirements, and other forms of assessment before granting admission.

Why private schools are better for some people but others can depend on any one of these factors. Some parents want to instill religion into their child’s curriculum. The test scores at a private school might be significantly higher than a local public school, making it a more attractive option.

Likewise, there are reasons why public schools are better for other people. This can include religion as well. Some parents do not think practicing religion has a place in education. Public schools can also offer student more diversity in their peers, which many parents believe will result in a more well rounded person.

If you aren’t sure which kind of school is best for your child, make a list of the things that you think are important in your child’s learning. What kind of experience to you want them to have? Sometimes, the difference between private and public schools might not affect the success of your child as much as you think. When you speak with different schools, ask for private school vs. public school statistics that you can use to weigh your decision. Academic institutions typically have fact books to share with concerned parents.