The Advantages of Public versus Private
Education in the United States
Each year, millions of students receive education in various
schools across the United States. In
each state, various types of educational programs along with a myriad of
schools with a variety of offerings are presented to families. Many of these schools are conveniently
located with the increased openings of vocational and charter schools. Private schools are another option that
families may consider. Most families,
however, choose to send their children to public schools to receive their
education. Many debates have occurred to
defend or to refute the effectiveness of public education when compared to
private schools. Choosing to attend
public or private schools is accompanied by advantages and disadvantages;
however, public schools are the best option for receiving an all-around better
education as public schools are more convenient, they give students more
exposure to diversity, and they have better teacher quality and student
History of Public Education
Free, public education in the United States began in
Massachusetts in 1647 when the local government decided that every town that
had at least 50 families had to have an elementary school (“Historical
Timeline,” n.d.). This proclamation came
after many years of wealthy families providing education for their children
whereas families that were less affluent usually made their children work to
help the family survive or thrive. Massachusetts
also went a bit further. They mandated
that every town that had at least 100 families had to have a Latin school
(“Historical Timeline,” n.d.). At that
time, many pieces of literature was written in Latin. However, the primary reason for their
decision to mandate free public education was not so much so that children
would not grow up to be illiterate (Singer, 2016). The local governmental officials’ priorities
were geared to promoting religion; therefore, they wanted to be sure that each
child would be able to read the Bible and could learn more about their religion
(“Historical Timeline,” n.d.; Singer, 2016).
Some other, industrial northern states wanted to be sure that children
were prepared to work in factories (Goldfield et al, 2017).
From that time, free public education gradually spread
throughout the colonies. For example, in
1790, the constitution for the state of Pennsylvania required free education
(“Historical Timeline”, n.d.). This
provision, however, was only for those families that were poor. Rich families were expected to pay for the
education of their children, and these rich families did. New York also followed suit not long after
Pennsylvania. In 1805, rich businessmen
formed the New York Public School Society with the goal of educating poor
children. This goal was also accompanied
by an ulterior motive: the schools were geared to train students to be
disciplined and obedient, character traits that were deemed necessary for one
to work in a factory (“Historical Timeline,” n.d.).
By 1820, most states had laws requiring free and public
education (Goldfield et al, 2017).
However, two groups were exempt from this requirement, the Native
Americans and black Americans. At this
time, most black Americans were enslaved.
Many slave-owners felt threatened whenever a black person was able to
read and to write. These slave-owners
believed being literate would lead to enslaved people wanting to and being able
to escape more easily. As a result, most
states in the south passed laws which forbade these enslaved people to learn to
read and write. Those who taught slaves
to read or write did so with great risk to their personal safety, and in some
events, their lives (“Historical Timeline,” n.d.). It was not until 1865 that black Americans
came together to push for public education.
This was following the Civil War, with which came the legal end to
slavery. Indeed, it was during the
Reconstruction era that the Freedman’s Bureau opened 1,000 schools to serve
90,000 former enslaved people and their children (Singer, 2016).
In 1954, Brown versus Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas
brought the end of legalized, segregated education (Goldfield et al, 2017). In this Supreme Court case, the justices unanimously
ruled that separate but equal schools had no place in the United States, and
that these schools were “inherently unequal” (Historical Timeline, n.d., p.
6). Still this ruling from the Supreme
Court was not taken easily from the states.
In 1957, the governor of Arkansas sent the state’s National Guard to
physically restrict nine black students from enrolling in an all-white school,
Central High School. In reaction, the
president, Dwight Eisenhower, sent federal troops to enforce the court order. However, President Eisenhower’s primary motive
was not due to his support of desegregation, but rather due to not wanting the
states to disobey federal orders (“Historical Timeline,” n.d.). By 1870, every state had free, public
elementary schools, and children and adults in the United States boasted one of
the highest literacy rates in the world (National Center, 1997).
Early Teaching and Curriculum in Public Schools
Historically, public school teachers were primarily
women. Even then, teaching for these
women was usually a temporary position as they were expected to soon
marry. These teachers were not required
to have any formal credentials, and they often had limited education themselves
(Singer, 2016). The curriculum was
focused on teaching children to be more observant of religion or to become
prepared to work in factories and industries.
These teacher often taught many grades in a one room school building.
Funding for Public Schools
Public education in the United States in financed with money
collected from people who paying taxes.
In 2014, around 50 million students were in enrolled in elementary and
secondary public schools at a cost of approximately 619 billion dollars according
to the United States Department of Education (Changing demographics,
2017). The specific source of these
funds are from local, state, and federal taxes (Walker, 1999).
Defining Private Schools
Approximately six million students are enrolled in private
schools across the United States (Walker, 1999). Oftentimes, private schools are deemed
superior to public schools. This is due
to various reasons. One is that private
schools innately feature school choice.
Many believe that families are best equipped to decide which school
would most effectively suit and address their children’s’ needs. Another reason is that private schools are
usually smaller than public schools.
Some families find a smaller setting advantageous because their child
would not get lost in the crowd or fall in between the cracks. Finally, some families appreciate that the
decision-making of private schools is decentralized (Walker, 1999). They feel that they, as participants of the
school, share in the decision making. Walker
(1999) states that “parents of students in public schools can sometimes choose
or exert influence over which schools their children attend” (p. 3). This adds to the appeal of private schools. Private schools are funded by tuition costs,
which families must pay. Some political
and religious groups, however, are advocating for public funds be used in the
form of vouchers to pay private school tuition (“The Religious Right,” 1999).
Advantages of Public Schools
Many advantages exist for parents and their children who
attend public schools. These advantages
far outweigh the uncertainty that accompanies attending a private school. Usually, a family is unsure of all that goes
along with private school attendance until a child from their family enrolls in
a private school.
Families of students who attend
public schools can save upward of $20,000 for a four year high school
education. In addition to this, the
right public school can provide a quality education while saving the family
money (Walker, 1999). Although many
private school advocates propose using taxpayer money to fund private schools,
proponents of public schools argue that these vouchers will only serve to
undermine public schools. For instance,
vouchers will take funding away from public schools, and student left attending
those public schools will be faced with poor conditions (Public Funds, 1999).
average cost for private schools in the United States is $10,841 for the school
year. The cost for boarding schools are
even higher: $23,448 per year (Chen, 2017).
Moreover, public schools usually
have access to more funding since these schools are publically funded. Consequently, public schools are able to
offer more options and extra-curricular activities. These options may include more Advanced
Placement classes, gifted and talented programs, specialized subjects such as
technology, vocational courses, and so on.
Extra-curricular activities such as sports, theater, and clubs are often
offered more so than their private schools’ counterpart. In addition, these extra-curricular
activities at public schools are at no cost to families.
Public schools are available for
every child in the United States and each are located in a location near that
child’s neighborhood. Private schools,
on the other hand, have locations that vary.
Moreover, where families do not have to worry about payments for public
schools, often students in private schools participate in fundraising to help
offset the cost of the tuition (Chen, 2017).
Constant fundraising could become tedious and stressful.
addition, per state law, public schools cannot turn away any student in a
community (Chen, 2017). This helps
ensure that every child has equal access to a quality education. This access is not dependent on financial or
social status. Every student must be
provided services as required by law.
Basically, this mean that if a student has a learning disability or a
physical disability, that school must provide services so that each student
has equal opportunity and access to a quality education.
the average class size is larger in public schools, having smaller class sizes
in private schools come with a trade-off (National Center, 1997). Smaller class sizes are more expensive. As a result, if a school has smaller class
sizes, that school will have to use more resources just attending to class
sizes. For instance, the school would
have to hire more teachers. Hiring
teachers cost money, and this practice may take away from resources that could
be used for extra-curricular activities.
add, more support services for families are given in public schools. These support services include, but are not
limited to, academic support (tutoring, English as a Second Language help, and
gifted and talented programs) and health related services (medical services,
drug and alcohol prevention, and free or reduced lunch prices) to assist
students (National Center, 1997).
Attending a public school
increases a student’s opportunity to experience diversity. They are more likely to be in classes with
students from various cultures and backgrounds as opposed to private school
education. In addition, students in
public schools are more likely to be in classes with students with disabilities
and to have teachers with diverse backgrounds (Chen, 2017). This serves to further student awareness and to
increase the diversity experience. In public schools, a variety of students
from various demographics exist. The
background characteristics can vary based on race, ethnicity, language,
cultural, and families. Furthermore,
this myriad of racial and cultural backgrounds help enrich the experiences of
students in ways that should not be underestimated (Walker, 1999).
the other hand, private schools can be selective with their admissions
process. Some may only choose students
who are associated with a certain religion.
This severely narrows diversity.
Some have grade point average requirements; this serves to exclude
students who may have learning disabilities or students who may struggle
more. The tuition requirement serves to
exclude those who may not fit in certain financial categories (Walker, 1999). This is especially true if scholarships are
not offered. As a result, children from
the lowest income families are more likely to attend a public school. Consequently, this also narrows the diversity
of private schools.
By law, teachers of public
school students must receive certain certifications in order to teacher certain
subjects. In addition to such
certification, these teachers are also evaluated and must adhere to certain standards
to keep their licenses (Chen, 2017). Teachers
in public schools are also held accountable for students’ education and for
student results. This accountability is
usually measured by having students take standardized assessments. This is opposite of private schools where
teachers typically do not have to meet or have certain credentials created or mandated
by state governments. As a result,
teacher qualification and quality seem to be more for public school teachers
than for private school teachers (Walker, 1999). For instance, in high schools, students in English
Language Arts, math, science, social studies, and foreign language classes are
more likely to be taught by teachers who majored in the subject as compared to
students taking those classes in private schools. In addition, public school teachers are more
likely to have an advanced degree such as a Master’s when compared to their
private school counterparts (Walker, 1999).
school teachers are also more likely to participate in professional development. Professional development is vital to maintain
and to update teacher skills. This
professional development includes training on the use of technology for
instruction, instructional techniques, in-depth studies, student testing and
assessments, and cooperative learning in classroom environments (Walker, 1999).
Teachers in public schools are also paid higher salaries
than those teaching in private schools.
On average, the salaries on public school teachers are about twelve to
fifteen thousand more per year. Teachers
working in public schools also usually have access to better health care, life
insurance, and pension contributions (Walker, 1999). Higher salaries and benefits, in turn,
usually attract teachers of a higher quality.
These teachers also usually stay in the profession longer when compared
to private school teachers.
another consideration with teacher value ties in with diversity. Private schools generally have fewer minority
teachers and administrators. Studies
show that having access to minority teachers and school leaders adds to the
value of education. This is especially
true for minority students (Walker, 1999).
at public schools have access to curriculum that is research-based and that
have specific, measurable standards and objectives (Common Core, 2017). The current objectives are based on the
Common Core curriculum. Common Core are educational standards that state what
students in public schools should know and should be able to do in English
Language Arts (ELA) and math. Science
and social studies standards build on the ELA and math standards and apply
those standards to the science and math academic areas. However, state standards for public schools
began in the United States in the 1990s with previous president, George W. Bush
(Common Core, 2017), so they are not new.
On the other hand, private schools are not subjected to state standards
or goals. Private schools are free and
open to create, or not create, their own standards. This could lead to some students not having
to reach certain criteria or some students being at risk of being left behind
without any consequence to the school. It
can also lead to a lack of motivation for that private school to create and to
adhere to academic standards for students.
also indicate that teachers in public schools spend more time teacher academic
subjects such as ELA, math, science, and social studies. The National Center for Education (1997)
states that “public elementary school teachers spent an average of about 22
hours per week teaching the four core subjects, and private school teachers
spent about 3 hours less” (p. 23). This
also takes into consideration that public and private school students spend
about the same amount of time in school.
of public schools and private schools use teaching strategies and methods that
are very similar (National Center, 1997).
This leads one to pose the question, “Why pay to go to a private school
when the teaching methods are going to be the same or superior in a public
school?” It makes sense for a family to
save that tuition money and to enroll one’s child in a public school. Libraries in public schools are often more
technologically advanced than those in private schools (National Center, 1997). This is most likely because public schools
have access to more funding.
Moreover, when completing standardized tests, students at
public schools perform similarly to those students who attend private
schools. Sometimes, they even score better
than students in private schools.
However, this is only true with true comparisons, meaning similar
demographics (Chen, 2017).
Researcher Robin Walker compared public and private schools
in California, and found that students could achieve a quality education at
each. For instance, at Mater Dei High
School, a private Catholic school costing $5000 a year, 97% of the graduating
class attended college. Seventy percent
of that percentages attended a four year university (Singer, 1999). Mater Dei High School was compared to Los
Alamitos High School, a public schools whose education is very similar to the
private school’s. The graduation rate is
98.7% and 86% of these students go on to attend college. Of this 86%, about 52% attend four year
colleges or universities and 34% attend two year colleges. The remaining 14% enroll in vocational
training, the military, or immediately join the job force (Singer, 1999). Consequently, one can infer that public
education is not inferior to private schools as some tend to believe. Graduation requirements are a major indicator
of success and preparation for post-secondary colleges and universities. If the school’s graduation requirements
mirror the entrance requirements for state colleges and universities, the
transition between high school and college is facilitated. In short, parents and students should choose
a public school when possible that would best meet the child’s needs.