Private Vs. Public Schools What Are the Differences?

Updated on September 11, 2012
A.R. asks from Tinley Park, IL
12 answers

Hi there,

We've been having a discussion in our house regarding public and private schools. Our son will attend a new school in first grade and we like the idea of private school but honestly, don't know much about them. My husband is from a very small town and went to the same catholic school for 12 years. I went to a couple of catholic schools early on but moved out of state and went to public. This is 25 years ago respectively, so neither one of us have a clear view of what they are like now.

Are all private schools Catholic or Christian? Are there any private schools that aren't faith based at all? I haven't seen any in our area but would love to know if any exist at all.

Do any of you have your kids in a Catholic or Christian school even though you aren't Catholic or Christian? Are you able to facilitate an understanding between what they are taught and what you believe in your home? Do your kids have to go through the rites of their church?

I am asking because I do believe my son will benefit from solid structure, smaller classes, and heavy emphasis on respect for others and we aren't opposed to a stricter atmosphere. However I want to make sure I am responsible for my son's spiritual needs and that no one interferes with that too much or causes confusion until he is old enough to explore himself. It's not fair to the school and what they believe, or to my son.

Sorry for the endless babble. It's just something we want to pay close attention to and put a lot of thought in.

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So What Happened?

Parochial! That was the word that was escaping me. Ladies thank you for your input. It all makes sense. I will be visiting the schools eventually and getting a feel for what we have in the community. Sometimes I wish we didn't have SO MUCH access to information, it makes decision a lot harder than they need to be half the time. For me at least.


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answers from Davenport on

I went to a private Catholic school from K-8th grade and we had kids of various religions/belief systems in our schools Hindu, Buddist, Lutheran, Agnostic....they all had to come to the weekly school mass on Wednesday morning( it started at 8 just like class would on any other day), but they didn't have to genuflect, kneel, make the sign of the cross or take communion, or do any of the sacraments - just sit respectully through the service. They did have to attend weekly religion class in school hours, just like the rest of us, which was of course from the Catholic perspective, taught by our priests and nuns, they were graded on the knowledge, not "belief".

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answers from Kansas City on

Well, I guess I'll chime in since we've experienced both and I'll have to politely disagree with a couple of the opinions below.

Our youngest is now a senior at a college prep private or independent school. She has been there since 1st grade and really doesn't know much difference since she only attended kindergarten (and preschool) in a public district.

Our son, now 22, started at the private school when he was in 6th grade. He was actually the reason we decided to move the kids to a private environment. Lets just say that he needed smaller classes and more structure. ;-)
We were in an amazing district and moved to another area of the city which was a different district but still highly rated. Probably the best district in Kansas. But by then we had already decided to give the private environment a try and it's now been 12 years.

I'll have to disagree that the private school environment does not offer diversity or that we are not part of a community - school or neighborhood.
- We are VERY involved and ingrained in our neighborhood even though our kids do not go to the neighborhood school. Part of it is that we are in a very social 'hood. We have neighborhood parties and BBQ's. As well as just private get togethers with certain neighbors.
- We are also very involved in our school neighborhood. I have chaired our school auction, twice, been a room parent, team mom for our daughter's softball team, VP of the Booster Club, and over all just a volunteer.
- So we have dear friends from our neighborhood community and dear friends within our school community.

I would also argue the fact that there is no diversity in a private environment. Our school is not Christian based and very diverse culturally as well as religious and spiritually. When our son was in HS, he often had the buds over to watch sporting events, or just to play cards. There were only 42 in his class, and just among the boys he had friends who were Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, as well as Muslim. There were 2-3 African American kids and at least 2-3 that were mixed race. Because we do pay tuition (a lot as on person has already pointed out) there are people there who live in multi-million dollar homes, those whose parents are working their asses off for their kids to attend, and those on scholarship. This is just within 42 kids and I think that's pretty diverse.

I could also argue the fact that our kids don't have as much opportunity as in large public schools. I guess it depends on how you look at it. Since it is such a small school our kids can and do get involved in as much as they want or can handle. We have a top ranked debate and forensics team that includes kids who also play sports and may or may not be involved in school plays and musicals. Our sports teams do not cut nor are we a pay to play. If your kid has never played tennis and wants to give it a try, there is a place on the team. And again for a small team we offer girl and boy soccer, girl and boy tennis, girl and boy basketball, girl and boy golf, girl and boy swimming, baseball, softball, track and cross country. Different seasons of course.

Academics is where I personally know there is a huge difference between our school and the local public districts. When our son started in 6th grade he was a little behind in most of the subjects. I remember asking his English teacher at the time if we needed to get a tutor. She said no, because he was getting it. Plus it was tougher material because she was teaching these 6th graders what she used to teach in 8th grade at another local district.

When our daughter was in 6th grade, there was a little boy in her class whose mother taught 8th grade science at another local district. She was teaching her 8th graders the exact same curriculum her son was learning in 6th grade.
Even now in high school, our daughter is taking college level courses.

Like I said, our initial reasonings was our son. But it was the best move for our daughter as well. She is more on the shy side and would have been perfectly content to be a wall-flower. Being in a smaller environment, pulled her out of her shell.

I would make the same decision all over again. The only think I'd do different would be started our son there earlier so he could have had the same foundation our daughter did.

Now having said all that. . . . it is a private decision. It wasn't something we took lightly and did put a lot of thought into it. You are doing the right thing by starting the process early.

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answers from Dallas on

It is a personal decision you have to make for your family.

If we were not in such a good school district, we'd probably consider private.

We moved to our location for the schools and great location. That said, I am a public school supporter.

I'm also a regular sub in public school as well.

Pros to public.... the diversity of the people, learning how to get along and work with others well, being a part of the neighborhood, more opportunity for involvement with athletics, clubs, organizations, etc.,group study and research, everyday experiences that help the child be ready to graduate emotionally and academically.

Cons to Public... more competition for athletics, etc, larger classes (which can be a Pro), sometimes a more rushed semester to get all the curriculum taught within the time frame.

Pros to Private (just my view.. remember I am Pro public IF you have a good public system)..... small classes, probably more nurturing and sheltered, of course you can get a good education in private as well.

Cons to Private.... closed environment, no diversity therefore no way to learn to deal with adverse conditions at a young level. Everyone knows you have to learn to deal with adversity at some level... might as well learn early, abandoned from the neighborhood... less friends. We all know it... the private schooled children don't run play outside with others their own age. Their friends group is smaller.

So you get my gist.... Whatever you choose that is right for you is your decision. We can only give our opinion on why we chose the route we did. No one is right or wrong.

Educate yourself on the schools available to you and then after you have all the facts, make your decision.

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answers from Grand Forks on

I'm for public school. Here is my take on private school...I'm sure kids receive great educations at private schools as well as religious training, but they also miss out on being part of the community in which they live. While all the neighbourhood kids go to school together and develop friendships within their community, the kids who attend private schools get left out. They make friends of course, but usually their school friends come from all different neighbourhoods, and they have to be driven a long distance to play with them. Also, kids often have to travel some distance to attend private school, which means either a long car ride, or even longer school bus ride. To me it would be more beneficial to locate yourself near a good public school.

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answers from Philadelphia on

I don't really consider local parish catholic schools "private". (My husband and I both attended local parish schools growing up). Also, you are definitely not guarenteed smaller class sizes. Today our church's parish school has about 30 kids in a first grade class. The public school has about 18 kids so, for my daughter, we choose the public school. (Also, there were some non Catholics that attended school with me)
Private schools do not have to be religious based. The private schools that are non religious near my house are aprox. $15,000 per year 1st - 8th grade. A private catholic school is about $10,000. I believe our parish school is about $3,000.
I suggest you visit each school you are considering for your son. Some schools have open houses at various times of the year, otherwise the school will give you a private tour on request.

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answers from Chicago on

Read the book Kindergarten Wars. It's all about this topic and I was enthralled by it all. I finished feeling both inadequate and thrilled that I never had to deal with it all!
We moved to where we did because of the schools. We did this long before our oldest child turned 5. With the cost of property taxes I can not see us ever having enough extra to justify that expense. I would rather spend extra money on educations enrichments like music lessons, vacations, museum visits, etc. If you saved up every penny that you would have spent on tuition that is a LOT of money for college or retirement.
Plus I worked in a Catholic school... and it's not all that. If you are average it will meet your needs, if you are either above or below it will not.

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answers from Chicago on

Just some facts from the US Department of Education to aid you in your decision making:

Private Schools:
42.5% are Catholic
38.1% are other religious schools
19.4% are non sectarian

Private schools' graduation rates:
99.4% for Catholic schools
98.1% for other religious schools
95% for non sectarian

Attendance at 4 yr universities
84.9% Catholic schools
61.3% other religious schools
57.2% non sectarian

Other info, non religious private schools spend over twice as much per pupil as their Catholic & other Christian counterparts. Thus, their tuition tends to be higher than religiously affiliated schools.

I did my student teaching at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago (one of the top high schools in the nation), about 7 years ago. At the time, their tuition was about $13k/yr. Based on what the Washington Post article is saying, that's about 1/2 what a non sectarian private school might be--a real steal especially considering the reputation of that particular school.

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answers from Washington DC on

Oh my gosh yes. But it also of course, depends on the schools you are comparing and the role of the parents (you and the community at large). So you need to think about the things you want for your child, and find the school to match.

My experience -

I had 13 years of Catholic school education. K-8 was parochial (tied to a parish) and 9-12 was private run by Sisters. I was a big fan of this. Why? Because of the small classes and staying with my classmates for K-8 as opposed to changing classmates every year. Another big plus in my mind was that we were able to talk about spirituality and morality(Judism and other religions, abortion, birth control, gay relationships, etc.). It sounds counterintuitive, but public ed actually strips religion from schools. And I am not talking about mandating prayer in schools. I don't think that is right nor do I think Christianity should be the basis of public education. However, religion is actually a very big part of civics and history and literature... my Catholic education was very open. Now, the teachers let us know "what Catholics belive" but we were open and free to talk and give our opinions.

So, I went on to get a degree in Psychology and I fell in love with Montessori educaiton for young children, so I knew I wanted that for my children. Public Montessori is very rare, so for us that meant private school. Very small class size, all the kids stay with one teacher for 3 years, and it is a philosophy I really value for the citizenship and independence it fosters in children, not to mention developing a love of learning. It is not religion based, although sometimes you will see a religions school use it.

We could not afford to stay with private school past kindergarten (private schools near us range from 12-36K per year per child). So our choice was the parochial Catholic school (6K) or public school. As an adult, I view Catholicism very differently than I did as a child. and that could be a topic of discussion in itself. However, for the reasons I stated above, I was still open to it. However, in our community, the Catholic school has classes as big as our public school (around 28 kids) and is super conservative and dogmatic. We actually belong to a parish 20 minutes away because we don't like this parish near us. I will also add that our public system is one of the top 10 if not the very best in the US. So for these reasons combined, we chose public school for above grade 1.

Now, reputation aside, I have a ton of misgivings about the public school. The classes are too large, the teacher quality is hit or miss, the curriculum is targeting the lowest common denominator in terms of teaching standards of learning, lots of teach to the test, and very little focus on critical thinking, not to mention budget cutbacks that have removed some elementary programs like Spanish. So, I can't say I have been thrilled. But you get what you pay for,

So, there is no clear answer to your question, but I hope this helps you refine your thinking about what you would look for in a school. I hope you find a place that is a good fit for you and your son.



answers from San Diego on

My daughter attends private school and it is not religious in nature. I'm guessing there are more choices here in a larger city. I, like you, want to expose my daughter to religion/spiritual choices in a setting other than school.

We are sending her to private for differentiated curriculum, emphasis on character/social development, and the emphasis not just on the three R's, but music, art, local/global perspective, volunteering, gardening, etc. It has a nurturing environment while having high standards of conduct (respect). But you'll see half the school with their shoes off, paint on their clothes or working outside on the ground. AND you'll notice kids say hello to parents walking by and other children, make speeches at community meeting each Friday, and a generally polite, calm, friendly atmosphere.

Go to to look up private schools in your area. Go to each school. You may be able to find fantastic religious or non-religious schools in your area. If the school respects you as the parent and you respect the institution, that may be the best fit for your son.



answers from New York on

All parochial schools are private schools, but not all private schools are parochial. If you pay tuition, it is a private school. If the school is affiliated with a faith-based organization, then it is a private/parochial school.

You would really need to visit the Christian schools to see what level of religion they apply. My sisters and I attended a preparatory school that was not affiliated with a religion. We studied religion as a content area, but students were from around the world with a wide variety of religions.

EVERY school is different! Some will require you to attend mid-week services whether you are a member of the Church or not, while others will not. Private/parochial schools do not necessarily focus on structure and respect. Schedule visits and see what you think.

We are Catholic, but our children will attend a Baptist school because the quality of education is solid with more opportunities for enrichment at a younger age. This school will not require my children to attend the services, but our children will study religion from a Baptist perspective. We have chosen to balance that by enrolling them in CCD in addition to regular Mass.

Are there differences? Absolutely, but nothing is "universal" about private education (except the tuition)!


answers from Phoenix on

Our Christian Private school interviews and keeps families accountable to the faith being taught at home as well as at school. It is a Bible teaching school and It is geared towards a Christian World View.
We are very happy with the education and we are very happy with the community it brings the kids. We are very involved with friends and family and service there. We feel a Bible Based educatation is a very good one for our family. I am sure many students are attending our school because A family member is a Bible teaching Parent. That could be a grandparent or any family member. It is not so strict where they will decline any person to attend, but the school tries to set a profile to a Bible Teaching family. Many students that have graduated has had a great amount of gifts going into a college and I would say more then half of the families choose a christian college.
If there was not an option for us to attend and pay tuition, there is many charter schools that I would consider prior to public in our area. We attend a school that has a graduating class of less then 100 and you will find here that charter schools are also a smaller class size and more of a one on one. It is a preference, but it becomes a point that once you start the journey of a private school, for us, it is difficult to see us being removed from it. It would devestate our children if we do at this point Middle school. I am very blessed and honored to be able to send my kids to a private school. It is hard work for them but well worth it.



answers from St. Louis on

private is not the same as parochial. Our local Catholic, Lutheran, & Christian schools are considered parochial. Conversely, there are also academies which are considered private.

Our local Catholic schools have suffered greatly in the past few years. As parish church after parish church is shutdown due to finances, the neighboring schools are being crowded. Not overly so, but crowded.

To me, the one advantage of using a parochial school is to incorporate the religion into the curriculum. Our sons attended public schools..... which meant we had to attend PSR (Parish School of Religion). Classes were held during the school year, one night a week. It was doable, & a great time for both of our sons. It helped make them feel at ease in our church. & it is a requirement should you choose to participate in the Faith.....taking Communion & all.

Soooo, if you want to be in charge of your kids when it comes to religion & spirituality, then I would not recommend a parochial school. Go with either the private academy or the public system. :)

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