For parents of preschoolers right on up to those with high schoolers eyeing the all-important college admissions game, the decision to attend private versus public school can be a weighty one.
And you can't even rely on long-held assumptions about the merits of each. A recent Time piece asserted that sending a kid to private school could actually save you $53,000 if you opted for a less expensive neighborhood as a result. Representing the other point of view, the Brookings Institution's non-resident senior fellow Mark Dynarski also concluded that parents will always have to pay double for private schools.
But whether your concerns are financial, disciplinary or even faith-based, it pays to have a firm grasp on the differences between public schools (including charter) and private schools.
Here are six critical distinctions between private and public school:
1. Funding sources
A private school acts autonomously, generating its own funding from such sources as tuition, private grants and endowments. The government funds public schools and all students attend free of cost (except for fees for certain teams and activities). Charter schools are also taxpayer-funded education, free of charge and open to students without regard to family income.
A private school's board has final say-so over the curriculum, while public school curriculum is mandated by the state curriculum. These days 41 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Each state may choose to change or add to the standards to best meet the needs of their students.
3. Accreditation and compliance
Private accreditation agencies, like the National Association of Independent Schools, provide oversight for private schools while the State Board of Education is responsible for accrediting public schools. In addition, according to ThoughtCo., public schools must comply with a host of federal, state and local laws and regulations including No Child Left Behind, Title I and so forth. Both public and private schools must observe state and local building, fire and safety codes and federal, state and local laws such as annual reports to the IRS and maintenance of state-required attendance.
Admission for public schools is determined by each student's home address and school zoning. This is not the case for private schools, which reserve the right to deny admission based on eligibility criteria as decided by the school. A public school cannot deny admission to any student within the designated geographical area of the school.
5. Class size
Class size separates public schools and private schools distinctly. Urban public school classes may average 25-30 students per class or more, while most private schools keep their class sizes closer to an average of 10-15 students.
"It's important to note that some schools will publicize a student to teacher ratio, in addition to, or sometimes in place of, an average classroom size," ThoughtCo. noted. "The student to teacher ratio is not the same as the average classroom size, as the ratio often includes part-time teachers who may serve as tutors or substitutes, and sometimes the ratio even includes non-teaching faculty (administrators, coaches, dorm parents) who are part of students' daily lives outside the classroom."
6. Teacher prep
While public school teachers must always be certified, many private schools don't require teachers to have formal certification. Nevertheless, many are experts in their fields or have master's or even doctoral degrees.