Differences Between Public and Private School

Public school vs. Private

For many parents, there’s no question about public vs. private school — if they live in an area where there’s ample access to good public schools, then it’s public all the way from Kindergarten to high school graduation. But it’s not so clear cut for those of us living in urban areas where stellar public schools are by no means a given.

I know many, many New York parents who debate the issue and sweat the expense if they ultimately feel they have to spring for private school in order to get the best education for their kid.

We fall into the public school camp. We’re in Brooklyn’s District 15, which we’re thankful for — it’s a big district, so there are lots of options for schools. Turns out, we’ve been happy with the one we’re zoned for, P.S. 295, The Studio School of Arts and Culture. Jasper starts First Grade there in September and Magnolia will enter Pre-K.

But of course questions always percolate, even if you’re content where you are. What would be different if we had the kids in private school instead? What would our money be buying us?

I came across a post on CafeMom‘s The Stir the other day that answered some of those questions and gave me some info on public vs. private that I hadn’t considered before. Here’s a breakdown of the points I found most interesting.

  • Students of public school reflect who’s living in the neighborhood and will likely be a more diverse group; students in private schools (that hand-pick who they accept) will likely be a more homogeneous group.
  • Class size is generally smaller and the student-teacher ratio is typically better in private school.
  • Public schools are required to admit kids with learning issues and private schools are not, which often means private schools don’t offer special education services. (And, as we found out this year, special services don’t exclusively pertain to those officially designated special education students. Any single additional service — such as occupational or speech therapy — can classify as a special education service.)
  • Teachers in public school are required to have both a college degree and a certification to teach; teachers at a private school don’t always have to have the latter, so if you’re looking at a private school, be sure to ask what criteria they use to hire teachers.
  • When it comes to curriculum, studies in public schools are dictated by the state in which you live; private schools have more freedom in determining what subjects they teach and how.

Here’s the full public vs. private school post.

Paying for school may or may not be better for your kid — a lot of it comes down to your child’s individual needs, your preferences, and the vibe you get when you tour the school and talk to the administrators.

Is your child in public or private school? Why did you make the choice you did, and are you happy with it so far?

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More on school:

8 Questions for a Kindergarten Teacher

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9 Responses to “Differences Between Public and Private School”


  1. 1 Rob July 13, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    The first point you made about private schools struck me as odd. I would argue that neighborhoods and districts are often quite homogeneous, whereas private schools in many cases strive for diversity. There are many myths about private schools (http://privateschoolu.com/articles/school-life/private-school-myths/) but these myths are based on dated preconceptions.

  2. 2 insidecho July 13, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    As a formerly very unhappy private school student, my clear-cut choice was to send my kids to public school. We’re also in District 15 and have been mostly happy with the experience over the last 7 years. Biggest drawback: when there’s an issue with a teacher it takes LOTS of energy and effort to get the administration’s attention — even at PS 321. I’ve had multiple messages and emails go ignored, whereas friends with kids in private school are pretty much guaranteed a response within 24 hours.

  3. 3 Melisa July 13, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    insidecho — interesting! we’re taking it very year by year — so far, so good, but we haven’t encountered anything like the issue you mention yet. and i hear you on it. we’ll see.

    Rob — My brief points were distilled from a longer piece highlighting comparisons made by the author of the book Straight Talk About Schools Today.

    Of course, depending on the city and neighborhood, it’s possible that students at a public school might be more homogeneous than diverse — just depends on the community. But I think the bigger point is that public schools must accept whoever is zoned to attend, and the student body will reflect that. Private schools, on the other hand, are not under the same obligation.

  4. 4 Elizabeth Chapman July 15, 2010 at 9:45 am

    As a product of public schools, and as a former public school teacher, I feel strongly about the value of a free public education that is available to all regardless of socio-economic levels. As a current private school educator with children in private school, I also see the value of a private school education.

    The state of public education in the United States, I believe, is in a state of crisis. Recently, NEWSWEEK had a article that said that the creativity of U.S. students is on a sharp decline. Why? Because most of today’s educators are evaluated on how their students perform on standardized tests. In the public school I taught in last year, my students spent 32 days on testing. They knew their student id numbers by heart and were pros at bubbling things in on the test forms. They were the masters of multiple choice tests. Asking them to perform higher-level, outside- the- box thinking was often difficult as they would invariably ask, “Will this be on the test?” Or “Why do we need to know this?” In private school, there is no emphasis on teaching to the test. Children are encouraged to master the process of learning.

    Most public school educators don’t want have to constantly be worried about test scores, but the pressure is on. Schools are evaluated by the districts by the test scores, property values are tied up in it, and principals feel the pressure. Arne Duncan, the current Secretary of Education, does not seem to want to change the standardized testing conundrum any time soon. Something needs to done.

    Just my two cents.

    • 5 Chrissy July 16, 2010 at 8:20 pm

      So true, EC! Testing not the answer to my mind either (product of public & private schools as well). Not good for the students or the teachers.

  5. 6 NYC SingleMom July 16, 2010 at 5:14 am

    Just a few comments

    I disagree that public schools offer more diversity – I may be wrong but the higher the income level, the less diverse the school district.

    I went with public school because the school has very good test scores and the money for private school was just too much to justify paying when I was zoned for a good public school. In addition, even though the school is not so diverse it was more diverse than private school.

    That said, if I had the money, I would have seriously thought about private only because of the smaller class size.

    http://www.nycsinglemom.com

  6. 7 alicia July 16, 2010 at 11:09 am

    What a great post!

    As a former NYC public school teacher, I must admit that depending on what district you are zoned for, you child can either receive a very good education or a not-so-good one. I taught in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn and know first-hand what it is like to be a “miss” and not a “hit”. Most of the time we were expected to teach to the test, as Elizabeth Chapman stated. Now that I am in graduate school full and a mother of a 2 1/2 year old, I am either looking to move into a good school district once I graduate in May 2011 OR move to the suburbs. And it’s all because I want my son to receive the best (and most cost-effective) education possible.

    I’m including this in my weekend link round-up. Good stuff!


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