For most, it simply isn’t sensical to compare the elite academia of private schools to that of public schools. For parents with the necessary means, there’s no question where their children will go. After all, it’s common sense: the more you pay, the more you get — right?
Only, much like every other dilemma in existence, nothing is ever only black and white. So, are private schools really better than public schools? Or is it a false assumption accepted by so many for the sake of conventionality? Let’s go ahead and explore all the grey areas.
The Pros and Cons of Private Education
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 10 percent of American students attend private schools, and 6 percent of Canadian 15 year-olds receive a private education.
What exactly are the benefits private school students pay for?
More efficient learning systems better suited for the individual student. A smaller student population means a more manageable student-teacher ratio. More time is allocated to the education of each individual.
Students pay for their education (and while this does put a dent in the wallet), this means students have more control over their educational experience. The process of “buying in” also motivates students to contribute more effort and value upon their education.
Teachers tend to be more qualified, educated, and better paid, resulting in more dedication from their part.
Variety and quality in extracurricular activities and programs.
Access to advanced and experiential education programs: international exchange programs, the International Baccalaureate Programme (IB), Advanced Placement (AP), faith-based schools, and special needs programs.
And they definitely produce results. ⅓ of the top-scoring students in Ontario are private school students, despite them only making up 6% of all Ontario students.
Yet, along with all its benefits comes along with all the downfalls of private education:
Private schools have fewer regulations to follow, it’s not a universal system like government implemented school districts of the public sector:
In Ontario, they are not required to follow the Ontario curriculum
Principals not required to meet the qualifications of public school principals
Teachers have less strict requirements
Not required to use report cards
No regulations regarding grading and testing
There is no legal requirement for setting rules about bullying, discipline, expulsion, etc. So how do we even know adequate measures are being put into place to protect our children?
Private schools come off as elite and strict, but when faced with difficult situations involving students, like mental health and bullying, they tend to disregard the issue.
The nature of private education often prioritizes business and monetary gain to the point of allowing corruption to infiltrate student grades, and allow students to get away with things they wouldn’t otherwise.
Private schools holding students to a higher standard is generally a myth.
It is extremely expensive and not accessible to lower-income students. In many private schools, the ever-increasing cost to attend is not accessible to many families, especially those with multiple children attending the school.
The Pros and Cons of Public Education
With the advantages and disadvantages of private education covered, seeing the other side of the argument paints a clearer picture. Compared to the number of private school students in the U.S, there are around 45 million more students that attend public schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). What are the advantages and disadvantages given to these students?
Public schools are much more affordable when compared to private schools, as they do not need to receive their funding from the parents and guardians of students.
The curriculum is often more varied and consistent, as the curriculum followed by public schools tends to be built by a larger workforce.
A larger student and teacher community equates to a larger number of potential peers to interact and grow with. This allows students to experience diversity and understand a multitude of perspectives.
Unlike private schools, public schools are government-regulated, and their rulesets are put together by a larger group of educators for a larger group of students.
Public schools are usually secular, meaning the schools do not have any religious or spiritual bias that could possibly alienate minorities.
The curriculum followed by public schools is rigid, allowing students to comfortably maintain their education styles.
Public schools are often overcrowded, meaning classes are larger due to a lack of teachers.
There is an increased amount of lower-quality facilities in the public school system.
Teachers in public schools are often less qualified for the job and are paid less, negatively impacting students.
There’s an increased amount of issues at public schools that highlight an inherent lack of discipline.
In poorly funded communities, public schools often have little resources and are forced to make do with lower-quality education for lower-income families.
Although the differences in experience between private schools and public schools are both drastic and undeniable, the thousands of dollars paid in tuition — or the lack thereof — doesn’t mean a single thing unless those many years come to fruition. Do they provide the necessary foundation to support students through post-secondary life?
So, can private and public schools take on this role? Does one sector do it better? Let’s take a look at what the data tells us:
According to a study by NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools), 85% of NAIS graduates compared to 69% of public school graduates enroll in college immediately after high school. Nearly 100% of private institute graduates continue into a college education with more than half attending the most selective colleges and universities.
In addition, private school graduates greatly triumph when it comes to seeking experiential learning and extracurricular activities in their undergrad programs. This fact persists even when comparing personalities less likely to seek extracurricular participation. Strong participation in extracurricular & experiential learning activities creates long-term impacts automatically increasing future workplace engagement and success.
The act of ‘buying in’
When it comes to private schools, the initiative involved with ‘buying in’ enforces a particular mindset upon private school students. In contrast to public students, who are simply required to attend school without a choice of their own, private school students have sacrificed funds amongst other things to ‘buy’ into their education. Thus, the priority of education can greatly differ when comparing the two.
This phenomenon can also be seen in students who choose to take AP courses, Honors, or other enriched learning programs that involve students to take the initiative in ‘buying in’, even if the price is simply signing a form. It shows their willingness to take pride in their learning.
Ok, we got it. Private school graduates score when it comes to landing elite colleges and universities, but, does this mean public schools are inferior?
Although the statistics are clearly in favor of private education, these stats could have:
“unintended consequences, the most dangerous of which is confirming a tendency to believe that education in independent schools must be [universally] better than what happens in public schools”
Said Alden S. Blodget, the author of “Learning, Schooling and the Brain: New Research vs. Old Assumptions.”
We have to recognize that the data released by the NAIS is undoubtedly perfect for marketing flyers. While not labeling it as the intentional manipulation of statistics, data can be misleading when comparing public school students to private school students is like comparing apples to oranges. Private schools are allowed to be extremely selective with the caliber of their attendees, and their population differs greatly in diversity and numbers.
Getting into colleges early, finishing college on time, having higher SAT scores, and participating in more extracurriculars — are they really the only measures of deep & meaningful education? There will always be areas intangible by pure numbers and quantitative measures like understanding a student’s level of skill or what they can do and not only what they can memorize. Above all, however effective our evaluating system may be, it still isn’t a fair representation of the nuances tied to true meaningful learning.