Private school versus public: what's best?

Posted at 8:59 AM, Apr 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-15 09:00:31-04

When it comes to weighing whether the cost of sending a child to private school instead of public is worth it, parents and guardians have several factors to consider.

A public education

Public schools offer many benefits: Free school bus transportation, going to school with neighborhood friends, and an education typically paid for through taxes instead of out of pocket. They also offer after-school programs and extracurricular activities such as athletics, band, choir and theater.

Additionally, teachers in public schools must be certified by the state and their curriculums must follow state guidelines. Certification requires ongoing education and periodic renewal of credentials.

Public schools provide access to an education for all children in a community, notes Public School Review, adding that they cannot turn students away based on academic performance, income level or disability. For this reason a public school education offers wide student diversity in terms of culture, socioeconomic level, and physical and mental abilities, allowing students to work with others vastly different from themselves. In fact, federal law requires public schools to provide special education and learning disabled classes under Public Law 94-142, passed by Congress in 1974.

Public School Review also points out public schools can often offer academic opportunities like advanced classes and courses in specialized subjects like technology and the arts, gifted and talented programs,International Baccalaureate andAdvanced Placement classes.

Private school benefits

On the flip side, private schools are known for fostering academic excellence and high achievement, according to the Council for American Private Education. CAPE’s philosophy is that the more options parents have, the more likely they will find a school that fits best for them and their children.

“When parents look at schools they generally look at quality academics,” said Joe McTighe, CAPE’s executive director.

“In a private school they can find a school that focuses on the whole person, not just on math and reading and state tests, but rather one that provides an environment that supports the education of the entire child. That includes the aesthetic dimension and the spiritual and ethical dimension, as well as social, physical, academic and intellectual.”

McTighe added private schools provide a very safe environment and one that provides caring teachers. 

“Parents look for different attributes when they look for a school for their child,” he said. “Maybe a child learns in a particular way or has a particular interest, whether it’s music, the arts or sciences. Maybe there’s an interest in a school that reinforces their religious values.”

Private schools tend to be specialized schools, McTighe said.

In addition, teachers are not limited in their methods based on teaching to a mandatory state test that may or may not be the best way for students to learn.

“They tend to be focused schools and offer parents a better opportunity to find a school that works for their child, rather than having to just go to a school that’s assigned by a zip code.”

“When parents are choosing schools I don’t think they look at whether, in general, private schools outperform public schools or vice versa,” said McTighe. “I think they look at specific schools, in particular. It's not a wholesale decision. It's a retail decision based on specific components of each school.”


Admiral Farragut Academy

According to Tom McGlinn, head of upper school at Admiral Farragut Academy, a college preparatory day school for students in PreK3-12 with a boarding option for students in grades 8-12 located on Boca Ciega Bay in St. Petersburg, Florida, “One big advantage a private school has is the ability to work with all students, regardless of level or ability.”

The academy’s upper school — its high school — has a student population of 300 representing 26 different countries and 17 U.S. states.

“We have many students from different backgrounds and we’re able to get them prepared for college and ultimately life,” McGlinn said.  “Individual learning plans that are custom-fit to each student, and small class sizes that only a private school could provide, are key.”

“We have a lot of educators here,” he added. “The ratio is about 10 to 1 or smaller. The reason we think people want to send their kids to a private school — or our private school — is to help them with being an advanced learner in higher education and preparing them for college. We’re preparing them not only for the education part of it, but a lot of the kids who are boarders here are already acclimated to living away from home and being learners on their own without us having to push them. Here we know we’re preparing our kids for a successful life.”

McGlinn emphasized the fact that Farragut builds the whole person.

“It’s not just academics,” he said. “We’re here to work with the students, to teach them to grow and mature, and how to deal with life issues. As a smaller school, we can do that for your child. That’s our best selling point.”

Admiral Farragut Academy also offers Mandarin Chinese, Engineering, Aviation, Marine Science, Sailing, Scuba, and Naval Science which includes multiple leadership roles and opportunities.