Public or Private? What Really Matters When Choosing a Great School

Whether to enroll your student in public or private school is a tough decision and one that’s debated often in households all across the county. Some parents start saving and budgeting for the best private education money can buy while their child is in the womb. Others take advantage of free public education through elementary school then go private once their kids become teenagers and many will support public education all the way through graduation.

Public v Private

Public or Private?

The prevailing perception is that your child will receive a superior education in private school. The logic is if you pay for it, it must be better. Yet, evidence from multiple studies show that public school students have comparable or better mathematic scores than independent schools. Many argue private schools prepare students better for college, whereas advocates of public education assert their graduates are better prepared for the realities of everyday life.

Kids are different

As a parent who chose to send one child to public high school and the other to private, I’ve given much thought to “which was better”? First, my kids are opposites. What was best for one wasn’t necessarily what was best for the other. Our oldest is outgoing, a hard worker, and very goal-oriented. She thrived in public schools never having to be pushed to reach her potential. She got into a very good university, albeit she’s struggled to maintain her grades, but she continues to work hard.

On the contrary, our second child is naturally extremely bright, yet tends to be lazy. We felt he would get bored and feared he may disappear in public school where the classes are larger and the troublemakers often get most of the teacher’s attention. He’s a rising senior, and we’ve spent a fortune on his education and although he had a high ACT score, I honestly can’t say emphatically that he’s that much better off than our daughter. This bothers me. At this point I assumed it would be obvious, but I think I’ve finally realized that I’ve been dwelling on the wrong thing all along.

The key to success

What makes a school successful isn’t the designation “private”. What I believe makes a school great is how the school influences the student’s character, and similarly, how the school regards its students who show good character.

It’s starts at the very top. Principals set the tone for the school and that tone trickles down to everyone in the school. Sometimes principals do the job to feed their egos and are oblivious to what is really going on with their students. Teachers favor the kids in the popular crowd even if those kids are partiers or bullies. Coaches obsessed with “winning” spend all their time working with the superstars while deeming the less talented players completely irrelevant. These aren’t the ingredients for a great school no matter how much you pay for it.

Putting a girl on homecoming court just because she’s pretty, or electing the star quarterback to class president just because he wins games isn’t the right criteria. Good grades combined with good character should be the standard in awarding and recognizing students.


Pay attention and listen

When researching schools for your child, be open-minded. Don’t limit your search to just private or public based on preconceived notions. Spend time with the principal and try to get a feel for his or her values. Don’t just focus on scores or scholarships awarded. Seek to learn what the people in the school hold in high regard. When everyone from the principal to the teachers, staff, coaches and students embrace a balance of academic success and good character, then, and only then does the school become great.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

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