My experience starts as early as I can remember, studying my absolute hardest at a private Christian school. I made friends quickly and excelled academically. However, by middle school my ambitions of getting out became stronger and absolute. Public school became a fantasy for me, right after getting off my braces. I moved on to a public school during high school and now continue to work in the public school system. My parents remind me diligently that I wouldn’t have the wisdom and knowledge that I have now, without all those higher standards from a private school. Which one was “better?” This all depends on what is important to you and your family.
A Private Experience
Private school began to decay for me after elementary school. It was not that it was too difficult, but it was too different. I became a little estranged when I started seeing what I like to call “the Stepford” side of things. There is a blessing and a curse involved in private schools. The blessing is that it is small and “family oriented,” the curse is the same. There are no secrets in a small private school, and teenage pregnancies are almost rewarded by the amount of attention they get. This applies to most private schools since 86 percent have fewer than 300 students. Since the school was a “Christian” school, I was often bombarded by beliefs while I was still developing my spiritual stance. I was more independent and when I began to worship differently or express myself strangely, I was scolded. This was a turbulent experience for me. Communicating with many of my former peers now, I realize that many felt the same way. Much of this angst comes with dwelling in adolescence; however, the school did much to amplify it.
I was seemingly unaware to the extensive academic work I had put in at a private school. Though they had prided themselves on their academic excellence, I did not feel more or less challenged than my peers. When I met public school I found myself a little less academically motivated since simple assignments became too easy for me. I was no longer very challenged, and in contrast, the private school did allow me to develop my learning skills and reading skills, both which I continue to value highly. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), private school students performed higher than public school students on the NAEP: 2000 tests. Their average scores were above those of public school students on the 4th-grade reading test and on the 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade science and mathematics proficiency tests. Though these statistics are telling of the obvious academic motivation, it must be included the amount of parent impact on these numbers. Private schools, in my experience, demand much more from their parents, where as in public schools, it becomes an option. I am in no way discounting the amount of achievement oriented pressure in private school communities, but only stating that many socio-economic issues factor into this debate as well.
A little bit of Freedom
Public schools were “cool” to me as a teenager because they were free; everyone was weird just like me. I could wear jeans and funky shoelaces. People had different colored dyed hair and no one really looked at me strange. The public school experience was liberating. The teachers seemed more down to earth and involved, and even though there were fights and pregnant young girls walking around, it didn’t really sway me to be involved in anything I didn’t agree with. The imperative factor when a fearful family walks into a public school environment is to have that open and honest relationship with their child. If there is distrust, than you are releasing your child into an exposed anarchy to partake in. Public school is a micro society, and it’s sometimes a little rough around the edges just like the real world. Working in public schools now, I realize the deep passion most of the teachers carry, the humbleness in the eyes of the children, and then generosity in the community. It is less about money, and much more about education. If you are fortunate enough to have the time to participate at your child’s public school, socialize with parents, and watch the kids practice football. The teachers and coaches that are available are, in my experience, some of the salt of the earth and I am deeply honored to have worked with them.
Though the performance level at public schools doesn’t match up to the rivaled private institutions, it’s not to say that there are not children who perform better at public institutions than private ones. Public institutions have produced some of our greatest scholars. Your child’s academic success is only dependent upon one variable, you. If there is a disregard of encouragement from the parents, public school or private, your child will never succeed at his or her capacity. I find it interesting working in public schools where I have students 10 years of age who cannot perform simple math. The honest truth is that they have slipped through the cracks, and will suffer because no one worked with them. The downside to public schools is that budget cuts have created a hole that students that fall behind have been pushed into. Regardless of how challenging the work is for a child, the child will have to continue on to the next level without the acknowledgment of his or her errors. Within the public school system we have students that can’t read above a 6th grade level for this reason. Most private schools prevent this from happening with strict testing and more attention for each student from each teacher. This situation can be prevented and dealt with easily through parent involvement, counseling if needed, and open communication with the teacher.
The Winner Is…
Private schools may be considered “better” because they are wealthier, or better at sports; however, my experiences have led me to disprove this. Public schools can offer just as many activities and clubs to fit your child’s needs as a private school. It can’t possibly be the 20 foot bronze cross guarding the school’s sanctity that improves the ratings of any particular school, could it? I am convicted in my decision to continue to support public education for the betterment of all youth and families. I do however believe in alternate institutions if your child requires special attention in a different setting. I can testify to the absolute ability of the public school system to educate and provide a safe, comfortable environment for our children.