There are a lot of misconceptions about private schools. This is probably because private schools are indeed private. But unfortunately it has more to do with the reality that many journalists do not understand private schools. On the couple of occasions when I have been interviewed about private schools the interviewers asked very pointed questions designed to support their preconceived notions that private schools were only for rich kids or kids with issues. They were always surprised when I refuted those kinds of leading questions with facts. With that experience in mind here are some common myths together with the reasons why they are simply that: myths.
Myth #10: Private school teachers make less than public school teachers.
Not true. This might have been the case years ago. Private school teachers are not unionized. However, they do enjoy some perks public school teachers do not have such as housing, meals and reduced or free tuition for their children. But, as a rule, compensation is about the same in both sectors. The real disparity seems to occur within private schools themselves. For example, most parochial or religious schools tend to offer compensation which is on the low end of the scale.
Administrators are not unionized either. Deans, admissions directors, development directors, business officers and heads of school are generally paid competitively. You can research the facts by examining not for profit schools' Form 990 which has to be filed annually.
Myth #9: Private schools are for rich kids or kids with behavior problems.
Many private schools students do indeed come from wealthy families. But nowadays, most schools have very diverse student populations. That is by design. Schools want their students to grow up to be adults who are tolerant of others. If your child has a behavior problem, she will probably be better off attending an alternative school where she will receive the kind of expert remdiation which she probably needs.
Myth #8: Gay teachers and same sex partners are not welcome in private schools.
Homosexuality is not tolerated at many religious schools as it does not square with their religious teachings. On the other hand, most of the top tier independent schools have very compassionate, progressive policies regarding sexuality. Once again this ties in with schools wanting their communities to be inclusive.
Myth #7: Certification is not required for private school teachers.
Legally you don't have to have a teaching certificate to teach in a private school. But it is just common sense to make sure that you have teaching certification. Most private schools will hire you without teacher certification with the understanding that you will become certified within a specified period of time.
Several private schools offer intern programs for recent graduates. These programs are deigned to provide teaching experience under the expert guidance of experience teachers.
Myth #6: Private schools require their faculty to live on campus.
Boarding schools typically want their junior faculty to live on campus as dorm masters. That means you live in an apartment in the students' dorms and are responsible for supervising the students who board. More senior faculty and staff generally live in school-provided housing located on campus. Most day schools don't require their faculty to live on campus.
Faculty tend to be much more integrated into the life of a private school community than public school teachers are. Indeed that community involvement is part of the private school teacher's job description. Coaching a sport or supervising an extracurricular activity is almost as important as being able to teach well. Private schools seek to educate the whole child. That is the reason why teachers are required to do more than simply teach in a private school.
Myth #5: Private school teachers must wear academic gowns.
Many English public schools, called private schools in the U.S., such as Eton, still require teachers to wear an academic gown. Considering how cold and draughty English classrooms can be, that's probably not a bad idea. American schools got rid of that requirement decades ago. Yes, the image promoted in the Harry Potter series is just that - fiction.
Myth #4: If your cousin went to a private school, you are guaranteed admission to that school.
Being a legacy helps get your application reviewed. But the only sure fire way to get admitted is to offer what the school is looking for. On the other hand, if your older brother went to the school or currently attends it, chances are pretty good that you will get in since your family is a known quantity. This fits in with private schools' viewing a child's education as a partnership of three: the school, the parents and the child. If the school already is familiar with you and how the partnership is working, that's a check in that box.
Myth #3: Private schools cost a fortune.
Some do. Many don't. In fact a few private schools are actually tuition and expense free, thanks to the munificence of their benefactors. The trick is to find a school you like, then apply for financial aid. Many private schools offer generous aid packages to qualified students. Always ask about financial aid. You will discover that a private school education is much more afforable than perhaps you thought.
Myth #2: Going to private school guarantees that you will get into the college of your choice.
Would that that were true. Unfortunately, like anything else in the United States, entrance to college is a matter of having good grades, a well-rounded dossier and the luck to apply to a college which is not too competitive and selective. Far more students apply to Harvard, Princeton and Yale than there are places. The reality is that there are hundreds of lesser-known colleges and universities out there which offer the programs which you want.
It is true that private schools generally offer excellent college preparation. Indeed it is one reason so many schools have prep in their names. Examine the academics at the private schools in which you have an interest. You will find plenty of solid college preparatory curricula available.
Myth #1: Private schools are just for geniuses.
The truth is that students go to private school because they want to learn. Not because they are geniuses. Most students are accepted at a private school because they have the potential to be good students. In an atmosphere where learning is cool and teachers will take the time to help, encourage and nurture you, your child's intrinsic genius will shine forth.
The academic work in most private schools is challenging. And there is a lot of it. That is one of the reasons we parents decide to send our children to private school in the first place. We want them to be stretched and developed to their fullest potential.
Private schools educate about 10% of the nation's school-age children. They do a good job in spite of the many misconceptions about them.