Public schools in the United States offer parents access to educational opportunities for the children typically without forcing them to pay any additional fees for the curriculum. Although property taxes and other levies can help to pay for this option, it is usually budgeted in a mortgage payment already. It is not a free option for school, but it is much cheaper than what you’d pay by sending a child to a private school.
Private schools have their own set of advantages to consider as well. Many of these institutions offer a premium curriculum and smaller class sizes to encourage the learning process. The hours might work better for parents, there might be better access to technology and reference materials, and some might argue that this structure can offer more for children.
In the private school vs. public school debate, there are no easy answers to find. Choosing the best option is often one of the most significant decisions that parents will make for their children. Having an independent education is important, but it is also something that comes at a price for some households that exceeds what they can afford.
If you are wondering what option might be best for your needs, then here are the pros and cons of private school vs. public school to consider.
List of the Pros of Private School vs Public School
1. Private schools have smaller class sizes.
Most private schools have class sizes that are much smaller than what you would find at your typical public school. Most institutions will not have more than 18 students in that room, with most hovering around 10-12 kids that they are teaching at the same time. If you have younger children, then look for a private school which offers two teachers for the same room. With reading groups or gifted-and-talented programs, you might have groups as small as 3-5 kids working with a teacher to learn something new.
2. Private schools often have fantastic libraries.
When you work with an independent school for your child’s education, then there is an excellent chance that they have a comfortable library setting with an excellent collection of books. You will also have librarians working with the school to help your kids pick out the best titles for their situation, whether they want to read for fun or have a class project to complete. You should also receive periodic updates about new arrivals. Many private school libraries even allow parents or guardians to borrow books too.
3. Private schools have more access to specialists.
Private schools offer the same access to specialist classes as a public school does if they are structure correctly. You should have talented teachers for physical education, music, and art and all grade levels. When your children approach the higher grades, then dance and theater specialties should come into the mix as well. The schedule can vary by school on how often these classes meet, but it should be at least once per week. It can sometimes be every day, depending on the type of school you are considering.
4. Private schools get more active in the community.
The best private schools look for ways to integrate the educational opportunities your children need with community activities which reinforce the concepts being taught. Public schools offer field trips that accomplish this benefit at a smaller level, but only a few districts make a concerted effort to be out each week with the professionals and business owners that show off their talents and skills each day. Art classes will go on gallery tours. Theater classes go to community plays. When kids have a chance to be interactive with their curriculum, then they typically retain the data better.
5. Private schools often have access to better technologies.
The best private schools often receive late-model tablets, laptops, and computers to use as part of the learning process. Some institutions even include this technology as part of the curriculum cost of joining the school, which means your student gets to take the product home because it is their own. There is also reliable and fast Internet service available at these institutions, with a technology department that will make sure that any issues are resolved quickly so that the learning process is not interrupted.
6. Private schools offer better food options for students.
Although it is true that many public schools are picking up their lunch game by serving healthier food options (sometimes grown in a school garden), private schools are more expensive because the cost of lunch is built into the annual fees that you pay. There are fresh produce choices, vegetarian and vegan options, low-salt foods, and non-GMO products at many institutions. Some of them even work with local restaurants to ensure that the quality of the food exceeds every standard that is in place.
7. Private schools offer better facilities.
You will find the occasional private school that doesn’t offer this advantage because they are small, niche, or operating in a rural area. Most offer first-rate facilities that might include a swimming pool, dark room, science lab, student lounges, a large gymnasium, and even art studios. The goal with the education that you receive through the private system is to have your student explore their interests to their utmost capacity. Look for an institution that can push your student forward in the subject areas that are their strengths without disregarding weaker curriculum areas.
8. Private schools often offer niche sports for student competition.
All schools, public and private, typically have a sports program that will allow students to play baseball, basketball, soccer, and tennis competitively with other districts. Track and field events are another common sport, along with cross-country running. When you send your student to a private school, then you may find that there are some extra sports offered that your child may want to try. Rugby, fencing, rowing, and lacrosse are common additions to the curriculum. If you live in a coastal area or a large lake, then sailing might be an option as well.
9. Private schools offer better career counseling opportunities to students.
In the larger school districts across the country, public-school counselors are often responsible for hundreds of students at once. Trying to provide meaningful services as teens look toward vocational or college options can be challenging at best. When your family works with a private school, the ratios are much better. The best institutions offer a ratio that is closer to 40 to 1, which allows the staff to form closer relationships and provide personalized advice to help with applications, college selection, and more.
Part of this process includes an alumni network that attended the school as well. There may be thousands of professionals who went to your selected private institution working across the country who can provide apprenticeships, host networking events, or be a guest speaker to allow their knowledge to benefit your students too.
10. Private schools offer more flexibility than public institutions.
A private school has many more options available to it when your family has some specific needs that must be met. If your child contracts a sudden illness that keeps them out of classes for some time, then you might be able to make up the homework and tests during the summer under the guidance of a teacher. Some students compete in sporting events at a semi-pro level and travel frequently, so a private school could arrange for the curriculum to be learned while they are away.
Even if you want to spend an entire year traveling, working, or managing an extended illness, you can be granted a leave of absence or be given online learning opportunities that can keep your children from being held back a grade. Public schools are not always allowed to make these accommodations.
11. Private schools must treat you as a paying customer.
If your child attends a public school, then trying to get a meeting with their teacher, principal, or another administrator can be challenging. When you enroll in a private institution, then you become a paying customer. When you have concerns that need to be addressed, then you should be able to get a meeting right away. That doesn’t mean the results from that discussion will be what you want, but it is easier to have your concerns voiced in this setting compared to what you would experience otherwise.
12. Private schools offer students access to travel programs.
The best private schools that are out there today will send groups of students on various service and educational trips around the world. Every institution has a different policy and preference for where they go, so you might see options that range from the Philippines to Mexico to Spain. Some of these trips may even be performance-related, such as sending the theater group to perform in Portugal or the technology class to Seattle to tour Microsoft’s facilities.
13. Private schools offer more needs assessments during the year.
Most independent schools in the United States administer needs assessment tests that allow teachers, parents, and administrators to have insights into where a student may need some help with their learning processes. These tests are standardized, but they do not carry the “high stakes” approach that they would in the public school system. The goal with this advantage isn’t to rank students, schools, or teachers, but to find out what it is that everyone needs to maximize their overall success.
14. Private schools often have less bureaucracy.
Because a private school does not need to abide by the same state regulations as a public school, there are often fewer layers of bureaucracy to navigate as a parent. A private institution can spend less time on the paperwork requirements to stay in compliance with regulations, which means more resources can be devoted to the teaching process. There is more autonomy in the classroom because there is less of a focus on the scores that students achieve on a test. That means your child may have more access to creative learning opportunities if you can afford the cost of a private school.
List of the Cons of Private School vs Public School
1. Public schools offer a cost advantage that is challenging to beat.
Although there are some added costs to the public system with sports participation, extracurricular activities, or special books that some teachers want, this educational option is far cheaper for families compared to what a private institution charges for access. The average tuition cost for a private school in the United States is $10,671 – a figure which hasn’t changed for more than a decade. If you have kids in high school, then that rate jumps to $14,500 per year. Sending your child to a boarding school would double that expense, and if you choose an institution that is affiliated with the National Association of Independent Schools you might pay even more.
2. Public schools provide more availability to families.
The design of a public school is meant to be inclusive for every family in the community. No one can be turned away from an institution based on their academic performance if you choose a public option over a private institution. Income levels or the presence of a disability cannot be disqualifying factors either. This structure ensures that every student has the same educational opportunities as everyone else in their community, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Because education equalizes opportunities in the future, a public school can help to give everyone a fair chance at success.
3. Public schools often provide more diversity than private schools.
Because public schools are required to admit all children in their community for an education, there is a significant level of diversity that kids encounter in the classroom. Even when a child has disciplinary issues, the local district must work (under most circumstances) to find a way that helps them to find a path toward success. That means there is more exposure to different cultures, socioeconomic circumstances, and even physical or mental health struggles. By seeing the different ways that humanity is put on display, it can become an essential part of the learning experience still for each student.
4. Public schools still offer smaller class sizes in the younger years.
Many public schools work to keep the number of students in a single classroom to about 20 from kindergarten to Grade 4. Some districts can even be competitive with private schools on this point. Although middle, intermediate, and high school sizes are significantly larger compared to private institutions, many students are mature enough to handle the changes that occur. There are always kids who do better in less chaotic environments, so that is sometimes why parents opt for a private curriculum even though it stretches their budget.
5. Public schools can offer more academic opportunities to students.
Private schools might have more ways to send students into their community or around the world to learn, but it is the public system that can typically offer advancement placement classes, early college enrollment, or the International Baccalaureate® program to push kids to their full potential. If your child wants to excel, then they will find numerous ways to do so when they attend their local public school. If that is not something that seems appealing to a child, then there are still options provided to them at their ability level that will help them to grow too.
6. Public schools offer a wide variety of extracurricular opportunities.
There are several options available to students after the final bell rings each day. Most public schools offer a chance to enroll in sports programs. There are music, art, and theater specialists who will work with kids to help them keep learning and exceling in their chosen areas. Although there are usually added costs to join these programs, it is much cheaper to have kids participating in them through a public school compared to the cost requirements of a private institution.
7. Public schools must provide services to students.
It is required by law that a public school provide services such as transportation to students so that they can arrive in time for classes each day. Programs that offer reduced-cost lunches, breakfast opportunities, or academic assistance are in place in each community as well. You will also have access to a staff of specialists who understand learning challenges and special educational needs that may not always be available through a private system.
Because a private school can decide on who they want to admit, some specialty educational needs may not be provided because they can be exclusionary based on grades, performance, or event certain learning disabilities.
8. Public schools require teachers to be certified by the state.
You can rely on the quality of what a teacher can provide in the public schools because they must earn a certification from their state to be in a classroom. Private and charter schools do not have this requirement, which means parents might not always know the level of training of the educator that is instructing their student. Some schools don’t even require a degree in teaching as part of the hiring process if you look for institutions outside of your district.
This level of accountability extends to the academic performance of the students as well. Even though standardized testing does create outcomes that are not always reflective of how a student learns, the results do create meaningful data that can be useful when administrators are not performing as they should. It is a structure that prevents abuse of teachers and students, allowing for quicker fixes to happen than if all of the reviews were internalized.
9. Public schools offer comparable educational results.
The Huffington Post studied the scores of students in public schools compared to those in private institutions. They discovered that the results are comparable, even though some districts do turn up poor results at times – especially in regions where there are high rates of poverty. Instead of creating a circuit of blame that affixes on one type of school or the other, it is more effective to find out what is holding an institution back, and then provide resources that can help it succeed.
10. Public schools spend more time on the core educational subjects.
The National Center for Education Statistics compared the curriculum options from public schools with those of private institutions. Their study found that a public school spends about 3 hours more per week studying math, English, social studies, and science than what kids experience in a private school. Although that means less time is available for specialists, it also gives children extra time to review information that they will tangibly use in the future.
The pros and cons of private schools vs. public schools involve more than the cost of an education today. There are tangible social, structural, and curriculum differences that could help your child succeed with these comparison points. You will discover that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” answer here. You must find a course that works well for your child’s needs without creating a hardship for your family at the same time. Each institution has specific advantages to consider, so choose the one option where you think success is achievable.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.