Mark Twain once said there are, “Lies, damn lies and statistics.” I’ve read many statistical reports and various academic papers on education over the years. There is never a clear conclusion on what type of school offers the best education. As Mark Twain’s quote implies data can be manipulated to fit whatever outcome the person collecting the data wants. The final decision on what type of school offers the best education always falls into the parents lap. They have to go with their gut. They have to make a decision based on what they “feel” is right for their child. The implied superiority of private over public school education is impacted by many different things. However, there is one fact that is virtually ignored and is the basis of my argument.
I attended one of the worst public high schools in the city of Chicago. We did not have the latest textbooks. Our classes were well over thirty students. The same holds true today. Inner city public schools lack textbooks and other materials that private or suburban schools have. Discipline and qualified staff is another issue public schools struggle with. Many will say poverty keeps a student from learning. However, there are plenty of students from disadvantaged homes that attend public schools that graduate and go on to lead successful lives. In my high school we had students that graduated and attended Vassar and West Point. How did these students rise above the sub-standard public education and graduate with honors and go on to attend such prestigious educational schools?
The answer is their families. In order for a student to be successful in any school they must have a strong involved support system. Involved parents help their children by teaching them to set goals and to have pride in themselves and their achievements. They support the school and its staff by allowing their child to make mistakes and to resolve their own conflicts with both teachers and fellow students. Parents who attend school conferences, sports and other school activities are more likely to have students who are successful both socially and academically. This is true of both public and private schools.
Families today are very different. Hillary Clinton said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” She has a valid point. Today families may not live close together. Many times there are no grandparents, aunts or uncles that can help support parents when conflicts develop. Often, parents feel uncomfortable sharing personal issues with strangers.
Single parents and families where both parents work can isolate them and make parenting difficult at best. Parents who have supportive extended family or trusted friends that can provide support and advice in a time of need is paramount. This is also true for children. They need someone other than parents who will lend an ear in their time of need.
You may ask “What does this have to do with education?” There is a great deal of learning that goes on in a child’s life before they ever reach a classroom. When a child is read to, they learn to recognize sounds and then words. Being read to sparks a child’s imagination, it builds a bond between parent and child. A child feels secure and learns to trust. Parents who expose their child to music, games and the concept of winning and losing, gives a child a very solid foundation in which they learn to handle the social and academic challenges they will face in school. Schools private or public build on what a child has learned at home.
When a child is ready to enroll in school, public or private, isn’t really a matter of which is best, but what the parents needs are. As I have stated, if a child has a strong supportive family then they will do well in whatever school their parents chose for them. However, there are a few situations that can impact which school a parent may chose.
There is always religion. Moral values are always strongly supported in religious schools. It can be argued that religious schools offer a more comprehensive education, but that usually isn’t true. Many religious schools do not offer music and various other arts programs. Gym may or may not be offered. Shared moral values between family, church and school create a strong support system that goes a long way in creating a strong learning environment for a student. However, if your child has learning disabilities or needs special education services, religious schools are not mandated by the state or federal government to provide them. Public school must offer special education services. Students with special needs usually are sent from the private to the closest public school for services.
Private schools do not accept tax dollars and therefore are not subjected to the same governmental guidelines as public schools. If the parents do not feel that the arts are important they do not have to offer them. While public schools are governed by local school boards that make educational decisions about what textbooks are used they still have strict government guidelines on content that have to be adhered too.
The biggest different between private and public school is the make-up of their student population. Public schools have to accept “everyone,” regardless of their background. Private schools can choose who they admit or keep when a problem arises. If a private school has an issue with a student they can “kick them out” and the public school has to education them until they are sixteen.
However, as we go through life we come across many different types of people. Do we do our children a disservice by controlling what type of people they come in contact with in school? Knowing how to control our own impulses and temptations when faced with adversity is a skill that can’t be learned by limiting who our children come in contact with.
Being involved, knowing your children’s friends and creating an environment of trust at home will go a long way in helping a child be successful in a private or public school.
Over thirty years of personal experience serving on educational committees. Five years as a special education aide and three years as a teacher aide.