Private education has deep roots in the fabric of American history as most of our earliest schools were private institutions. Today, public schools are far more numerous, but private schools remain an integral and important part of the nation’s education system. Currently, there are over 33,000 private schools in the U.S. annually educating more than 5 million young people, approximately 10 percent of the nation’s student population.
Despite this rich heritage and their continuing importance, many parents never consider a private school for their child for a variety of reasons. Concerns over affordability, the lack of diversity and a perceived culture of exclusivity are often factors causing many parents to never consider enrolling their child in a private school.
Advocates point out, however, that over time, much has changed in the area of private education. Here are some things you may not know about private schools, but are certainly worth considering as you make plans for your child’s education.
Private schools are more affordable than you think.
The cost of private education is often a reason for parents to shy away from this option, but in reality, a majority of private schools offer need-based financial aid. They are able to do this because many have endowments and active alumni fundraising groups that allow them to offer this assistance.
Locally, the Greenhill School in Addison is an example of a private institution providing generous financial assistance to a diverse array of students. Sarah Markhovsky, director of admissions at Greenhill, points out that her school recognizes the value of having a socio-economically diverse school community and is fortunate to have a large financial aid budget. “We use our resources to strive to meet the need of every student admitted to the school,” Markhovsky says, “and we awarded $6 million in financial aid this year.”
So, more often than not, financial assistance is available, and if needed, parents should contact the school’s financial aid officer early in the application process.
There are private schools for every age, need, faith, interest and ability.
If you believe that all private schools are the same, think again, as there are schools that cover nearly every facet of the educational spectrum in this country.
As Joe McTighe, executive director of the Council for American Private Education points out, “Private schools are freer to experiment with different pedagogies and approaches to education than public schools. As a parent, you can figure out what kind of environment is best for your child, whether that’s a creative community or one that provides more structure, and then you can find a school that provides exactly that.”
Private schools also vary in location – urban, suburban and rural – by size and by the age range they serve. Some Montessori Schools, for example, have programs for children as young as 18 months, providing an alternative to traditional day care.
You can use websites like PrivateSchoolReview.com and GreatSchools.org to narrow schools down by location, size, educational focus and age range.
Most private schools strive to be diverse.
Set aside the stereotypical view that all private school students come from one particular socio-economic group, as that simply is no longer the case. Today, private schools take pride in creating student bodies that reflect a range of diversity, including students of different races and ethnicities, faiths and varying socio-economic backgrounds.
Locally, the example of the Greenhill School can again be cited. As admissions director Markhovsky explains, “Our students come from over 100 zip codes around the Metroplex. We have been a co-ed, non-sectarian school from our founding in 1950, and students of color make up 50 percent of our current student body. All these forms of diversity help our students broaden their perspectives, learn relational skills, and instill a respect for others. Most importantly, our mission of equity and inclusion prepares students for life in the real world.”
You can find school diversity information at the National Center for Education Statistics (nces.ed.gov/) and GreatSchools.org.
Private schools offer a great learning environment.
In private schools, it’s really cool to be smart. In their upper-level divisions, many private schools concentrate on college preparation, offering both Advance Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. Successful completion of these with high final exam scores often allows students to skip freshman college courses in many subjects.
Extracurricular activities and sports are often an integral part of their program.
While there is a heavy emphasis on academic excellence in private schools, most offer dozens of extracurricular activities. The visual and performing arts, clubs of all kinds, interest groups and community service activities are some of the extracurricular opportunities you’ll find at private schools. These are not thought of as something extra, but are considered ways of complementing classroom work, which is why so much emphasis is placed on them.
Sports programs combine with extracurricular activities to develop the whole child, and many require students to participate in some sport. Because sports and extracurricular activities play such an important role in the programs of private schools, you rarely see cuts in these programs as you often do in public schools when budgets get tight.
It should be mentioned, however, that due to the pandemic, some of these programs may currently be curtailed or possibly suspended temporarily.
Private schools provide constant supervision and have zero-tolerance policies.
One of the appealing things about private schools is that your child cannot fall through the cracks and become little more than a number. Many private schools employ the Harkness style discussion format for teaching in which students sit around a table – or perhaps today, socially-distanced desks – with everyone required to be involved in the lesson’s discussion.
Private schools also have zero-tolerance for serious infractions of their rules or codes of conduct. Substance abuse, cheating, hazing and bullying are all unacceptable, thus assuring you as a parent that your child will be learning in a safe environment.
Your main takeaway should be not to dismiss private schools as an out-of-reach option for your child before learning more about them. With a little research, you may find that they are more affordable, diverse and better suited for your child’s learning style and needs than you originally thought.