Private versus Public school....NOT again!
April 5, 2009 11:07 PM   Subscribe

How can you take the advantages of both private and public school in order to create ONE educational learning system for today's school programs?

I am researching the pros and cons for private and public schools and am at an impasse. It appears that the studies found either find a great gap in difference or little to none at all. So, I would like to know what the mefi world thinks, from private and public school experiences, would be a great compromise between the two.
posted by penguingrl to Education (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, you're begging the question: perhaps the public vs. private chasm is not due to their respective natures.

You might want to look into community demographics before you assess the relative respective merits of each kind of school.

Yes, private schools and public schools tend to hold different teaching philosophies, as well as certain standards of academic practice.

But a compromise will only be reached if you figure out why such a compromise has to be made the in the first place. I.e., is it important that private schools tend educate the wealthier members of society? And public schools the poorer? Didn't private schools emerge because public schools were, in general, shitty?

Anyway: a lot of public schools nowadays aren't that shitty anymore. See magnets, NYC schools, etc.

But the premise of your question is a dubious oneā€”that public and private high school experiences are universal. Even your data seems to explain that they aren't.
posted by trotter at 11:22 PM on April 5, 2009

I know this isn't exactly what you're asking, but to me it seems less of a public vs. private, and more about the philosophy (or size) of the school. It doesn't seem fair to compare a small performing arts magnet school (public) with a sprawling six thousand student religous school (private).

In my K-12 education, I went to standard public, charter public, private Montessori, private Catholic school and was homeschooled. Why, yes, I do get around.

To me, it mattered less who was funding the school, and more what the student teacher ratio was.
posted by aint broke at 11:31 PM on April 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's a very broad question at aint broke referred to. If you're talking about the ONE public school and the ONE private school in a little town, you might be able to compare that. To aggregate EVERY public school and EVERY private school would give you conflicting data, averages that make no sense in relation to the data, and a bevy of 'standards' that only make sense on each local, state, county, or district level. Imagine a 'compromise' between boiling hot water and icy cold water - all you end up with is lukewarm water, which probably isn't the kind of 'compromise' you're looking for

However, out of respect for the OP's question, I'll try to add my original perceptions:

Public school
Adv: ubiquitous, funded by government, in general works for the mass population / general majority
Disadv: not always funded enough, asinine rules (NCLB - again my personal perception), too politically correct, teachers not paid enough.

Private school
Adv: More able to focus on mission, a common / popular alternative, better education for those who could afford it.
Disadv: Some perceptions of private schools being stuck-up / for the elite only.

As a bonus, I'll throw in a few cents on homeschooling:
Adv: Individual attention, free / cheap / far less costly than private school, statistical proof of better SAT / ACT / standardized test scores. Parents have almost total control to use whatever material they like.
Disadv: Effectiveness determined by parents abilities / choices, possible side-effects of naivete / social awkwardness.

Bottom line: there isn't one single compromise that would work for all of the country - at least, one that would satisfy the entire nation... Whatever you come up with I'd love to hear about :)
posted by chrisinseoul at 12:48 AM on April 6, 2009

I taught for two years in an American private high school. Think of it this way: The bulk of what parents are paying for in private schooling is smaller class size, and hence a better faculty:student ratio. And they're paying a hell of a lot. My second/third tier secular school charged 18K/year. Your elite Sidwell Friends-type schools run about 30K/year now, maybe more.

So I agree with aint broke that the "hook" of private schooling is mainly class size -- 15 kids max as opposed to 35 or 40. Beyond that, and varying by institution, you've got things like prestige, the promise of a more individualized educational experience (not always fulfilled), and a desire for more immediate feedback from teachers (e.g., calling them at home, meeting with them as frequently as you wish, etc.).

It's no secret that smaller class size = more attention to the individual student. Many public school districts simply can't afford to do anything about this, however. Of course, decades of mismanagement haven't helped either.

And just so I don't sound too partisan towards private schools, they can be a heap of terrible as well. In fact, the school I taught at was a disaster, so I left.
posted by bardic at 12:51 AM on April 6, 2009

Not to derail, but I don't think it's fair to say home-schooling is "cheap," because it essentially requires one parent to not have a full-time job. In relative terms, this would be terribly expensive for many families.
posted by bardic at 12:53 AM on April 6, 2009

So, I would like to know what the mefi world thinks, from private and public school experiences, would be a great compromise between the two.

I went to a state-funded school; my school was in an area with high house prices. As such, most kids at my school had two parents both with university-level education and enough income to cover textbooks and an hour or two a week of private tutoring if required. Parents tended to be involved with the school and attentive to their children's progress, and there was an expectation that most children would go on to attend university. Class sizes varied; when only 6 people wanted to study economics, a class with 6 student would run; when 50 people wanted to study maths, two classes of 25 would run. The school had no trouble attracting and retaining good teachers; and they had sufficient studious students that in many places they could run a class composed entirely of studious students.

Down my road lived a teacher who worked at a different state-funded school, on the other side of the city, in an area of low-cost housing. He related an anecdote to me to the effect that: He gave out work to the class and one student wasn't working. When he asked why not, the student said he had no pen. The teacher gave the student a pen, and the student threw the pen on the floor and stamped on it. Now, for sure this school had some competent teachers, and those teachers must have had the patience of saints. However, I can imagine that it would be difficult to attract and retain the best teachers, and deliver a high-quality education to those students who were receptive to it, given the environment of the school.

My sister initially attended the same state-funded school as I did, but for the last two years before going on to university she attended a local privately-funded school. The school had at least some very competent teachers; it also had a student body drawn almost entirely from affluent families (due to the fees charged) and it generally offered smaller class sizes than the state-funded school I attended. Many of the students there achieved good results in examinations. However, I was a bit surprised at the number of times I heard, from my sister, about her friends from that school retaking a year at university, dropping out, or failing. This may indicate that the excellent support the school offered before the standardised exams increased students performance in those exams, but did not directly translate into high performance after the school and its excellent support were left behind. Alternately, that theory may be due to the company my sister chose to keep, and/or infected with confirmation bias. This is also a sample of just one privately-funded school; others may be very different.

At university I met people from both state-funded and privately-funded schools; both backgrounds produced some people who were very capable, and some people less so. Neither type of education produced clearly better results than the other. Needless to say, however, in order for them to be at the university they had to have met the university's entrance criteria in standardised tests.

In summary, it is my experience that good state-funded schools can produce results comparable to privately-funded schools, and given the choice I would probably send my children to a good state-funded school and use the money I saved for university fees or private tutoring (if required). On the other hand, if I had a choice between a privately-funded school and a poor quality state-funded school, I would definitely choose the privately-funded school (assuming I could afford it).
posted by Mike1024 at 2:34 AM on April 6, 2009

As a teacher in private schools (never taught public), I would have to say, one of the big draws to private education for me is the relative freedom from state requirements (certification, NCLB, etc) as well as the small class sizes.

I would agree with bardic, some private schools are great some are horrid. It all seems to come down to clarity of vision for private schools. If their philosophy and goals are clear then they can be great places. I worked in one school that had little money but desperately wanted to do all aspects of the curriculum well and at the same time wanted to have a great sports program, as a result everything was rather mediocre and they continually struggled with their identity.

In the area I grew up in, there were some top notch private schools, but the school board was well funded and provided a great deal of choice and diversity. Lots of magnet schools and specialty schools (charter schools, arts schools, an aquaculture school, tech). There was, outside of the urban schools, a great deal of quality in the public system there.

All that said I was a public school kid who went to one of the "schools of choice" and while I feel my education was lacking in certain areas, I wouldn't give it up for anything, we had smaller classes and a unique (in the entire country at the time) program.

One of those important areas I miss being in private education is the diversity of the student population. Most private schools I have taught in have lacked diversity (lily white).
posted by sundri at 3:16 AM on April 6, 2009

Concerning school size, since that is a big private school bonus, check out the Small Schools Movement.
posted by sundri at 3:30 AM on April 6, 2009

I attended/worked in both public and catholic schools. I also have a number of friends that worked in private schools. Something that came up frequently was that "bad" or "problem" students were expelled from the private schools. It is pretty rare for a student to be expelled from state school (my experience was that even violence against teachers and students would get only a suspension, not expulsion). In this area, state schools are considered very good (capped at 20 students per teacher up to grade three) and attending private schools is a choice based on the desire for status or religion.
posted by saucysault at 6:02 AM on April 6, 2009

You might want to have a look at the NAEP's report from a few years back.
posted by wheat at 7:19 AM on April 6, 2009

I would be concerned with not essentializing private or public education (that is, what IS private/public ed?). Is that the correct variable? Or are the variables that you're actually interested in (and elaborated upon up-thread) things like, class-size, diversity, special interests/skills, dogma, bureaucratic pinnings, teacher engagement etc. regardless of whether they're in a Private vs. Public setting. Public and Private mean different things in different areas/jurisdictions (is private just a proxy for religious ed? in some places yes, others no).

When you find a literature which shows what appears to be 'no difference', there may be an issue of an improperly framed question, such that the literature doesn't capture the issues well across that variable.

The questions then become: What is valued most by most people as good education? Can most people's most important educational values be addressed by a singular system? This is not straightforward: I can't imagine that anyone would argue for Large Class size as a good thing, so consensus may be achieved around class size, for example. On the other hand, those who think diversity is a top priority will necessarily conflict with those who value specific religious based ed. Also, would the 'consensus' school system be so vanilla that in fact in meets nobody's needs well? And how does this differ from the current public system, against which private/alternative ed systems developed?

FWIW, I send my kids half time to public school (one kid in French Immersion) and homeschool them half time (supported and supervised by the public school board).
posted by kch at 8:58 AM on April 6, 2009

This report I have in front of me says "Class size reduction does not have much impact on student outcomes. Of 112 studies which looked at the impact of the reduction in class sizes on student outcomes, only 9 found any positive relationship. 103 found either no relationship, or a significant negative relationship."

The reference is given as Hanushek, The Evidence on Class Size (2003), Shapson, An experimental study on the effects of class size, Akerhielm, Does class size matter?

(Bear in mind the report is about school systems as a whole rather than individual schools though.)
posted by so_necessary at 9:55 AM on April 6, 2009

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