Which Is Better: Public School or Private School?

Public School or Private School? Choose wisely! And that’s exactly what we’ll try to help you do here.

Making the right decision about the Elementary School your child attends is a family affair - from knowing your child, to what they need to thrive and how best to support that. As a parent you obviously want the very best for your child, however, an important factor to remember is that as the parent you will be supporting whatever decision you deem best for your child. With the information presented here we hope you can confidently make that choice. 

This must be stressed here - there is NO wrong answer to this question!! This is a very personal and situational decision making process. As mentioned before, as the parent you will know your child best, how to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses, and the environment that will best support them becoming their best and most well-rounded self. 

Below is a list of factors that we will break down further regarding whether to go with public or private school:  

  • Cost
  • Location
  • Curriculum standards and content
  • Quality of teachers
  • School and class size
  • Special needs programs

Cost

Public schools are essentially free, as in there is no tuition to be paid in order to attend. All you need to do is register your child for the upcoming school year. From there the school will send you information for next steps. State Constitutions prohibit public schools from charging residents any form of tuition or fees for supplies, textbooks and transportation. Public schools are funded through federal and state taxes. 

Private schools, on the other hand, are funded through endowments, private donations and private grants and thus the cost goes from free (public schools) to a yearly tuition range of $5,000 - $50,000, with the average cost right around $13,000. 

Location

Public schools are decided upon district zoning areas, so if you currently live in the area you want your child to attend school in you would want to research the local Elementary School options that fall within your zoned district. Or, another option, if you are open to moving, you could look into relocating to a different district zone that has a school that better fits the needs of your child and the family as a whole. 

However, many states have instituted school choice programs that allow families who are not residents of a district to apply for admission for their child to attend that district. Oftentimes the receiving district is paid tuition to cover the expenses of educating the child by the sending district or even by the child’s family. Regardless, school choice programs provide some flexibility for parents who want their child to attend a public school.

Private schools are located simply where they are located and have no zoning districts to speak of. Private schools also do not always provide transportation like public schools. This, again, is where proper research into your local and surrounding choices is an important step in this process. You may need to factor in if relocating is feasible and worth the time and money. 

Now, with that said, the remaining factors are important to consider along with location and cost. Making this decision on a holistic basis is going to be your best option. The right combination of location, cost, religious or non-religious affiliation, support programs, properly trained staff, environment, etc., will help your child get the most out of their schooling. 

Curriculum Standards and Content

Public schools offer a general program, designed for all. This usually includes Mathematics, English Language Arts and Literacy (which include reading, writing), Science, Social Studies, and Physical education. In addition, many public schools offer programs in Music, Art, and Technology, like STEM Programs (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). What students learn is decided by the state. In most states, learning is measured through standardized tests. 

Private schools have the flexibility to create specialized programs for students. For example, private schools may use Art or Science in all classes or take children on outdoor trips. These schools have the freedom to create their own curriculum and assessment systems, although many choose to use standardized tests. Many parents are drawn to the alternative curriculums that private schools have to offer.

Quality of Teachers

Public school teachers are state certified through training required by the state including student teaching and coursework. They are required to hold college degrees and to be licensed by the state. Additionally, as part of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, all public school teachers must demonstrate that they are “highly qualified.” This designation is achieved if teachers hold at least a bachelor’s degree in the subject area in which they teach and are state certified, or if they do not hold a degree in their subject area they must demonstrate competency in their area of teaching through some other means, such as testing. Public school teachers positions are contracted and cannot be terminated prior to the end of that contract, while disciplinary actions are investigated and carried out by a governing school body like an Education School Board. Public school teachers are also usually protected by their Teachers Union.  

Private school teachers may not be required to have certification, and often have subject area expertise and a degree in the subject they teach. Private schools have their own personnel requirements and can terminate the terms of their teachers abruptly. These schools are free to deal with personnel matters.

School and Class Size

Public schools are, on average, at least twice the size of private schools, according to the US Department of Education Data. School size usually correlates to the population density of the local area.  While smaller school size may be correlated to a more controlled academic setting, the flip side is that there is strength in numbers. Small schools have some disadvantages as well such as providing a narrower set of programs and services. Overall, research is debatable over whether a smaller school size is correlated with a better academic setting.  

Average class size in public schools is larger than private schools. Many states recognize the value of small classes and have provided funding to keep class sizes small in grades K-3. As students become older, class size tends to get bigger in public schools, especially in large school districts and urban schools. Another important aspect for consideration is the student-to-teacher ratio. This is different from the actual classroom headcount because many schools have programs that offer extra classroom help such as public and parent volunteers, Teacher Assistants, Student Teachers and even Second Teachers. According to the NCES, as of 2009, private schools averaged 12.5 students per teacher, compared with an average of 15.4 students per teacher in public schools. A good, general rule of thumb is if you feel your child would learn better in a smaller setting, then you’ll need to look towards private school, however, if your child works well in larger groups, public school may be the way to go.

Special Needs Programs

Public school systems often will have specialized schools to support children with multiple special needs. Special education laws make it mandatory for public schools to educate and meet the special needs of these children. Therefore, most of the public schools have special programs and teachers for these students.   

Private schools are not subject to special education law and most private schools do not have special education programs or teachers. However, there are private schools that cater specially to special needs.

Conclusion

There is a lot to consider when choosing the right elementary school and whether public or private is your best option. As mentioned at the beginning of this article: there is no wrong answer. You and your family know your child best, so lead with that.

Perhaps even bring the little one into the discussion, bring them along to school tours or orientations open to the public, and inform them about the programs and amenities of the school. After all, they are the ones who will be going to this school every day.

Just a final word of encouragement: Take the time to think about your family and your child's unique needs from a school and use this as the basis of your research. This will ensure you and your little one get all the support you need and everyone can be at peace with this important decision.

We hope you found some useful information in this article and we wish you the best of luck on your search.