The American School/Public vs. Private Schools

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Today education is a complex and or compelling topic that is often debated. Questions about school quality, accountability, curriculum, and teacher training arise each day, and we explore them in the newspapers and during political debates. Even the distinction between public and private schools is no longer as straightforward as it once was. It may well be that a local public school is a better educational match for a child, than that of an exclusive private school with a national reputation and a price tag to match. Some research shows that private schools tend to have superior academic programs in comparison to public schools; however, this is not always the case. There is a wide variety of factors that may influence parents’ decisions to sending their child to either a private or public school. These factors may include; academic reputation, religious views, location, costs, and school size. Some differences between the two schools are obvious and clear, others tend to be overlooked or unseen at times. Should this debate try to figure out what establishment will produce a better student? Or should the argument contemplate which school creates a better person? The first American private schools opened during the colonial era. As the colonies began to develop, many began to adopt mandatory education policies. This widespread trend became popular in most colonies in the 1640s and 1650s. Virtually all of the schools opened as a result were private (Wikipedia, 2005). Private schools date back to the schools opened by Catholic missionaries in the sixteenth century. These Catholic schools were the start of a private education revolution. At this time there was no public school system which gave no basis of comparison to the quality or productivity of a school. In some places denominational schools were basically public schools, operated with goals of promoting faith, knowledge, making good citizens of the church and commonwealth. However, the priests of the Catholic Church disagreed with some of the ways religion was taught outside of their private establishments. For example, other schools gave readings from the King James Bible, which is not used by the Catholic Church. These differences put a spark to the fire of the religious private school movement. By the end of the colonial period the institution of school was firmly rooted on the American continent. However, nothing resembled the modern concept of free, universal schooling (Thattai, 1999).

Many aspects of the American private school differ from that of a public school. Private schools are run in a closed door manner, which most believe boosts their academic stature. It also provides flexibility to create specialized programs for students. For example, private schools may use art or science in all classes. They can develop a customized system for assessments, although many choose to use standardized tests. Most people are drawn to the alternative curricula that private schools have to offer. Another aspect of religious private school is which specific religion the establishment is based on. Obviously this is one of the biggest factors that differentiate one private school from another. Seventy-nine percent of all private schools were found to have a religious affiliation. Thirty percent were affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church and forty nine percent are based on other religious groups. The remaining twenty two percent were nonsectarian. Although Catholic schools accounted for thirty percent of the total number of private schools, they enrolled forty eight percent of all private school students. Keep in mind that the Catholic school is the oldest form of school to date. For the most part, trends in the locations of private schools are constant throughout America. Most private schools are located primarily in central cities and the urban fringe, or large towns. Only eighteen percent of private schools were found in rural areas, which is not the case with most public schools. When thinking about the downfalls of a private school, the first thing that most people will look at is the cost. Private schools are funded through tuition, donations and private grants. Therefore, it is obvious private schools cost more than the public schools. On average, the tuition fees for private day schools in the United States is close to $12,000 for grades 1 to 3, $13,000 for grades 6 to 8, and $15,000 for grades 9 to 12. More often than not, these costs will not cover books or school supplies. People choose to pay thousands of dollars a year in hopes that their child will strive at a higher level of academics, be in a safer environment, and hopefully adopt some religious beliefs along the way. A major difference between private and public schools is the size of the school and the number of students. The average American private school has a mere one hundred and ninety three students. Another way to look at this is to see that eighty percent of private schools have less than just three hundred students. A smaller school will no doubt have a more controlled academic setting in the classroom, which also provides an easier system of discipline. Small schools have some disadvantages as well, such as providing a fewer set of programs and services. Private schools are known to be more demanding and controlling; this isn’t quite the case when it comes to a public school in America (Great School Staff 1.2).

Until the 1840s, school systems were localized and available only to wealthy people. Reformers who wanted all children to benefit the education process opposed this. These reformers fought for the case that public schooling could create good citizens, unite society and prevent crime and poverty. As a result of their efforts, free public education at the elementary level was available for all American children by the end of the nineteenth century. By 1918 all states had passed laws requiring children to attend at least elementary school (Great School Staff, 2003). The first publicly supported secondary school in the United States was founded in 1635. The attendance in secondary schools was very little because the curriculum was specialized and difficult. A demand for more intelligence and skills within the labor force led Benjamin Franklin to start a new kind of secondary school. Franklin established, the American Academy which was established in Philadelphia in 1751. American high schools eventually became more prominent. The rise in American high school attendance was one of the most shocking developments in the U.S. education system during the twentieth century. As the twentieth century progressed, high school was becoming more and more important to society. The effects that the history of public education took on shaping America in the early years of the twentieth century are often overlooked. Likewise, things like The Great Depression, wars with other countries, civil rights movement, student protests and the numerous political events within the country all had their effects on the education system. All of these, plus more were key ingredients to the efforts in shaping the American public school (Thattai, 1999).

American public schools are built around the beliefs of everyone is welcome and no child will be left behind. Public schools are schools that are provided by state and federal funding. Ninety percent of the children in America attend a public school. Obviously, there are many more public schools to give education to American students than their private counterparts. Public school systems vary greatly in their academic reputation. For all those quality, above average public schools that exist, there are also those that perform under the bar (Clayton, 2005). A drawback for most families is that students must go to the public school that their home is zoned in. Considering that if the school a student is zoned in is one of the lower quality of schools, produces a big reason why a child would be sent to a private school in the area. When thinking about the religious stature of a school, a person will not be considering a public school. This is because the American public school is not religiously affiliated. Locations of public schools around the country are not that consistent. They are widespread, scattered, and more prominent in higher populated areas. As mentioned before, families are either within the zoning district of the public school they want or they aren’t. If you aren’t, you’ll need to consider relocating your family in order to get your children enrolled in your public school of choice. Perhaps the biggest reason an American student is attracted to a public school is the cost, this is because it’s free. A public school is able to do this from its financial support by the state from taxes and federal funding. School size is usually directly related to the density of the population in the surrounding area. An average size public school is around five hundred and thirty five students. Only twenty nine percent of public schools have less than three hundred students. A disadvantage of larger classes is that it will most likely cause teachers to give less attention towards each individual student. On the flip side, a larger student body could produce better programs and more diversity. No matter how good or bad the curriculum of a public school is, it will remain the most popular choice for students nationwide. This is simply because it is free, convenient, and open to the public; a normal standard of schooling (Clayton, 2005).

When comparing public schools and religious private schools in America, there are many differences between the two systems. Some factors favor one type of school and some favor the other. Perhaps the most controversial attribute between a public and a private school is the academic reputation of the school. Most people will place a private school ahead of the public school system when it comes to the academic standards. As time progresses however, more and more research raises the question that public schools may be making up ground on private schools. Comparing the two academically is not so easy, but is usually done through standardize tests. This is a big reason why this debate will not only continue, but may be adopting somewhat of a snowball effect. If any family or student is taking the religious views of a school into consideration, than a private school will be the only choice. Public schools in America have no religious views and will deny no student admittance based on his or her beliefs. In the battle of convenience of the location of a school, the public school system takes the cake. With locations widespread all over the country and the adaption to more schools in heavily populated areas, it is obvious why public schools are better located than private schools. Not to mention the convenience that the public school system provides a form of transportation for all students within the zoned area. Seeing that our nation is revolved around money, cost is a major factor in anything people do. Considering costs of private schools are upward from ten thousand dollars a year and that the public schools policy is free for all students indicates a financial benefit for a student enrolled in the public school system. Finally, the last major factor differentiating private and public schools is the size of the student body. Public schools are, on average, at least twice the size of private schools. This arises some benefits of more students and also some disadvantages. This makes the size of the school factor a tossup, depending on what the student wants to obtain from his or her schooling (Clayton, 2005).

Religious private and public schools in America are different in many ways, yet they share a fair amount of similarities. When comparing the two there are major factors that must be considered; academic reputation, religious views, location, costs, and school size. These attributes of a school make it difficult to be in favor of one school over the other. Perhaps the most significant factor in determining which school has the upper hand is looking not at the school’s system, but at what the student is looking to obtain throughout their schooling experience. Because of this there will never be a clear answer to which education system produces a better student. Some people’s perspectives will point at a free, less disciplined, larger public school. Others may favor a costly, religious based, smaller private school. No matter what happens to the views of the American people on education, the school system may always be a school divided.

Should faith based schools be eligible for government money? In what ways can privatization of education go too far? Does a private school or public school produce a better student? Which school would produce a better person? Do you think that the selective curriculum of private school helps or hurts students? Do public and private schools receive an equal amount of money per-head?

References[edit | edit source]

Cultural Differences in Schools
Public Schools vs. Private Schools
Charter vs. Public Schools