Public v. Private

Public v. Private

Ask hard questions when deciding on children attending public or private schools

By Sheila Mendes-Coleman 02/27/2014

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The battle over private and public schools continues, with supporters of public education saying their private counterparts offer an elitist form of instruction that leaves students ill-prepared for the cultural and social diversity of the real world, while others insist private schools are the superior choice with their smaller classes, increased parental involvement and better-behaved students. 

Recent research that allows for background factors not previously considered in past studies dispels the notion that a private education is always the preferred route, with data showing many public schools surpassing private schools in terms of academic achievement. However, research aside, the obvious socio-economic differences between private and public school students cannot be ignored. 

Private school students tend to associate with other, likely college-bound students, and they tend to have wealthier, more educated parents who associate with other educated parents who not only possess the finances but also the resources and knowledge of the system to work effectively within in it as an advocate for their child. In short, those parents have more money, tend to know how to facilitate their child’s educational needs and have higher expectations of their child and their school. 

But all is not perfect with private schools. Critics point to lower standards in some instances with regard to accreditation and teacher certification. They claim private school teachers aren’t as accountable to state-mandated standards as in public learning institutions. There is also a lack of transparency at times, since private school administrators aren’t necessarily bound by state law when it comes to certain regulations. 

Despite this independence, these schools must still answer to paying parents and their demands for a greater level of “customer service,” forcing some administrators to walk a fine line between what’s best for the student and what’s best for the school. 
Additionally, while it can be very difficult to expel a disruptive student from public school, since education is considered a “right,” private schools treat expulsion as a useful and often necessary tool with which to combat poor behavior. 

There are nearly 100 religious and non-secular private schools in the Greater Pasadena area, and they are certainly not for everyone, with some tuitions topping out at $30,000 a year.

According to Shadette Lockett-Loper, a public school teacher, the biggest challenges facing public education are the battles with school administration and overworked, absentee or inexperienced parents unable to meet their child’s scholastic needs. A mother of two small boys who’s been with the Los Angeles Unified School District for almost 17 years, Lockett-Loper says she often feels stifled and thwarted by the politics and tension between the teachers and her school’s administrators. But she says the more years and emotional energy she invests in her teaching career, the more difficult it becomes to gain distance from it. 

“I used to having summers off, getting home around 3:30 each afternoon and having regular school vacations off so I could be with my family. After almost 17 years, it’s hard to give that up,” she said.

According to Lockett-Loper, “Teaching became a frustrating experience when the focus turned away from parental involvement, parental and student accountability and the district placed an overemphasis on test scores.”  

When deciding which school your child should attend, make a checklist of questions and keep them handy to expedite interviews with the teaching staff and administrators.

Many public schools have tutoring or teachers available for consultation after school, so be sure your private school has programs in place that offer assistance. 

To find out information about a school’s accreditation, visit the National Council for Private School Accreditation Web site (www.ncpsa.org.) 

For the public school student, be sure to ask about the student-teacher ratio, administrative turnover and statistics on school violence. Find out about the local PTA. Is it active in your prospective school? Is there a healthy relationship between parents, teachers and the school administration? Is there racial tension between groups of students in the school or general tension between the teaching staff and administrators? If so, how are these issues being addressed? What is the school’s ranking academically, and do they offer specialized classes if your child is in need of them? 

The GreatSchools (greatschools.org/california/pasadena) Web site is another invaluable resource for checking the ranking of private and public schools. 

For parents and students alike, the road to college is fraught with challenges, hassles and hindrances, but whether choosing a public school education or a private institution, a good working general knowledge of your school district, a few resources and an assertive attitude will aid every parent in finding the best educational fit for their child. 

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