A question I get asked quite often is, “Is tuition at a private school worth it for my child?” I have attended both public and private schools as a child, and I have also worked with numerous students from both public and private. Additionally, as a counselor at a private school in Austin I know firsthand the benefits a private school can provide, particularly for students with diagnosed learning differences or ADHD.
For the purpose of this post, I’m going to define “private school” as any non-charter or non-public school and assume that they charge some type of tuition. Below are some of the top benefits to attending a private school.
1. Flexibility in Curriculum and Accommodations
Unlike public schools, private schools are not mandated by the State. That means private schools have the flexibility in their curriculum to make decisions based on what is best for the school and its students, regardless of what lawmakers think. This is a huge bonus for students with learning differences as private schools can offer whatever services they see fit.
For instance, Rawson-Saunders here in Austin specializes in working with students with dyslexia. That means they can tailor their curriculum to focus on skills for dyslexia and prepare their students accordingly. Furthermore they can offer their students whatever accommodations they decide are necessary and are not limited to a particular menu of choices. It’s not uncommon for a private school to create their own set of accommodations to cater to their student population. For many students with learning differences, this benefit alone makes private school worth attending.
2. Admission Standards
Just about every private school has an admissions process that involves a director of admissions and an admissions committee. While it can be intimidating for children to go through the admissions process, it does ensure a certain standard of student body. Depending on the mission of the school this could mean high academics, a focus on student-athletes, devotion to fine arts, a Christian environment, etc. Private schools have the ability to admit students based on their strengths, personalities, and backgrounds and thus cultivate a specific culture within the school.
The Bolles School in Florida is a popular choice for athletes as they consistently churn out students who either go on to play sports in college or, in some cases, graduate straight into a professional career. They made a decision long ago to cater to athletics, and their school’s culture reflects this. Not all private schools choose to focus on one or two key areas, but most private schools do have an area of strength.
3. Class Size
The term “class size” refers to both the size of each grade and the number of students in each classroom. Most private schools have small grade sizes with about 50-100 students in middle school and 100-150 students in high school. Due to these smaller grade sizes, students pretty much know every other student in their grade. Additionally faculty and staff, particularly the counselors, get to know each student by name. With smaller grade levels it’s hard for a student to “slip through the cracks” as each individual is almost always accounted for by someone.
At the high school I work we try to limit actual class sizes to 18 students. Often times we have core classes with 10 students, sometimes even fewer. This allows teachers to get to know their students very well and spend more time on content than on classroom management. For students who require accommodations, it’s much easier to administer these with smaller class sizes as resources can be spread among fewer students. Students who receive accommodations also typically receive more attention from teachers and thus better individualized instruction.
4. Faculty Accessibility
As someone who has worked with students from both private and public schools, this is the area I notice the biggest difference. Most private schools make their teachers accessible not just to students but also to parents on a regular basis. It’s not uncommon for teachers to meet with students before school, after school, or during lunch for extra tutoring or just to go over a quick question. I do not get the same sense from public school students that their teachers are as willing to give up their own time to help a student.
Also, from a parent’s perspective, it is refreshing to know that emails will be returned and parent/teacher conferences are the norm, as they are in private school. Most private school parents I work with report that their schools are very accommodating in setting up meetings and working with families to resolve issues. Having a relationship with teachers and administrators goes a long way to avoiding unnecessary problems and really helps out when problems do arise.
5. More Extracurricular Participation
Because private schools tend to have fewer students (see above), there are fewer students competing for all the available extracurricular activities. Students who attend private schools are usually involved in several activities in many different domains. I vividly remember several of students this fall who would have play rehearsal at 6:00 a.m., school all day, and then volleyball or football practice after school. Other students are involved in school clubs, yearbook, choir, mission trips, community service, and numerous other activities, many at the same time. There simply are more opportunities for students, and they tend to take advantage of them.
6. College Advising
While it doesn’t pertain to elementary- and middle-school students nearly as much as high-school students, college advising is a big reason why many families choose to attend private school. The really good private schools all have college counselors on staff who specialize in college admissions. These counselors have great relationships with the college reps in the area and often attend counselor updates for all the major universities. In the private sector these college advisers charge thousands of dollars for the same service that private schools include as part of tuition.
Additionally, really good college counselors help families secure scholarship money for college. In fact I know personally of several students who received college scholarships that exceeded the cost of their private high-school education, essentially making that tuition “free”. The ultimate goal for many high-school students is admittance to the college of their choice, and private schools tend to have better results on the whole in achieving this goal.
Even though this post is about the benefits of a private school education, I wholeheartedly feel that public schools can serve students well. The biggest factor in determining student success at any level is parent involvement. However, private schools can often times assist parents in helping their child reach their potential, particularly those with diagnosed learning differences and/or ADHD.