Why are so many parents sending their children to private schools? Many believe it is because they have a "better quality of education." My brother goes to a private school, but I didn't. So, with all the many different choices of schooling, why did my parents and why are so many other parents sending their children to private schools?
Two years ago my brother was in a public high school. Unfortunately, he was not adjusting well. His studies were slipping and nothing seemed to help him. My parents tried talking to him about the importance of an education, but he just did not seem to care. The teachers were not giving him the attention or extra motivation that he obviously needed and his friends were not much help either. So, the only solution my parents saw fit was to send him to a private school. When I asked my parents why they decided to send him to a private school, they answered similarly to why many other parents send their children to a private school. They believed, and still do, that my brother needed a place with more discipline, more one-on-one guidance, and an environment where education is the number one priority: overall they feel that private schools provide a "better quality of education."
What does a "better quality of education mean? There are so many ways that one can define this term, but the definition that will be most useful is to analyze this phrase by specific topics that can make a difference in whether a school is considered better or not. This phrase involves its academic curriculum, goals for the students, a smaller student-teacher ratio, and the overall social environment.
What is an academic curriculum? Well, it involves the organization of courses and also the variety of courses offered. Private schools provide their students with a wider variety of classes and classes that are more challenging. With a stricter or more organized curriculum, students "tend to pursue academic interests into more advanced levels within subjects" (Educational Evaluation and Policy Review, 3). With a more advanced level of classes, teachers at private schools have higher expectations and the students are challenged more. I am not saying that there are no classes at public schools that are challenging. I am simply saying that private schools can offer many more opportunities of classes that the student may be interested in and more opportunities of advanced classes.
It is important not to overlook one of the most important goals of high school; preparing a student for college. Private schools tend to be more goal oriented and from the beginning, students are told to strive to be college or university bound. Imprinting such an important message into the students can be very challenging and private schools take this challenge very seriously. It is not that I do not believe that public schools try to motivate their students to look into college, but private schools have a lot more resources and therefore do a better job of this. And because of the advantages that private schools have over public schools, their efforts are probably more successful.
One of the largest differences between a private and public high school is the students-teacher ratio. I believe that this plays a very big part in how well students will perform in their classes. A teacher can be the biggest influence on a students' performance. If a teacher has more time for their students then the teacher will be able to give their students "strong direction and incentive" (Dwyer, 42). This can be very important in motivating his or her students to do well. And with a smaller student-teacher ratio, the classes are smaller and there is more time for teachers to spend with their students. In a public school, one teacher may have a hundred or so students, but at a private school, the teacher may only have half that amount. This provides a better opportunity for any one-on-one assistance that may be needed. And since the classes are smaller, a private school teacher can pay more attention to the individual performances of his or her students. It is easier for students to be more involved in class discussions and this can result in a greater opportunity for students to learn from each other. Teachers play a very significant role in a students academic environment and the smaller the ratio then the greater effect and influence a teacher can have on his or her students.
Academic structure is important, but surprisingly the social environment can have an even greater effect. It has been found in many longitudal studies that peer effects can be one of the greatest differences between public and private schools (Coleman, 1982). Along with that finding, it is also said that students who feel like they fit in have a higher academic achievement level. For example, private schools like to say that they are like a small community. If a student feels a strong connection or feels like a true member of this community, then it is more likely that they will achieve more than a student in a public school with a larger amount of students. It is harder for a student at a public school to fit in because there are so many students and there is a lot more diversity. I do not mean just color or ethnic background, but I mean goals, too. At a private school, it is safe to say that almost all the students there have similar goals to do well in school, go to college, etc. But in a public high school, there are so many different students with many different outlooks and opinions. This is one thing that my mom found most appealing about private schools. When my brother was in public school, his friends were not the most determined students. In fact, they really did not care about how they did in school. But, his friends at his private school, along with practically every other student, care more about how they do in school and care about achieving to their best ability.
It is clear that a private school has a "better quality of education", but what about public schools? They cannot be all that bad since many students go to public schools and are very successful in their education and life. I went to a public school and I believe that public schools, in some way, do contain all the parts that make up a "better quality of education." However, having gone to a public school, I believe it all depends on the student. At a public school, it is up to the students if they want to take harder classes or how hard they want to work or how successful they want to be. There are just too many students to worry about and many students just don't get that one-on-one that they may need to motivate themselves.
If it is true that our social environment can directly affect our achievement level (Coleman, 1982), then the achievement levels of students can be greatly influenced by their academic environment and their friends. Since there are so many students, it is more likely for a student to feel as if they do not fit in. Fortunately, at private schools they really emphasize this "small community" and the fact that they have less students does not hurt. So students at private schools seem to have higher achievement levels because they tend to feel like they fit in more compared to a student at a public school. I would also like to just add that my brother and I have different needs. My brother needs someone to always be bothering him about his school work, while I motivated myself to do well.
Even though I believe that private schools are a better choice of schooling compared to a public school, I feel that it all really depends on the student. In my opinion, private school education can offer what I think is an advantage over public school education. What kind of an advantage? An advantage that includes a tougher academic curriculum, more goal oriented, smaller student-teacher ratio, and a comfortable social environment. In conclusion, I feel that whether you choose private school education or public school education, it all depends on what is best for the individual student.
Block, Leslie S. (1993, June 24). Choice is the Key to Better Schools." Chicago Tribune, pp. 1, 25:3.
Chang, Winnie (1995, June). "Private School Privileges." Free China Review, vol 45 #6, 19.
Couch, Jim F. (1992). "Private School Enrollment and Public School Performance: Reply." Economics of Education Review, vol 11 (4), 371-388.
Dwyer, Victor (1995, May 15). "The Choice Of Privilege." Maclean's, 41-46.
Hays, Constance L (1996, March 17). "Private School or Public? One Family's Search." The New York Times, pp.CY 1:1-2.
This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.