You want the best possible education for your child. The local school district is reasonably good but is facing some drastic budget cuts next year and, as far as you can tell, probably for many years after that. You don't want to sacrifice your child's educational opportunities, neither do you want to spend money needlessly on other educational options, such as private school or homeschooling.
Private school makes sense on so many levels because everything's there. Academics, activities, sports, facilities and staff are the key components of the package which every private school offers. In a private school the learning and the teaching are continuous. It doesn't matter whether your child is in the classroom or on the playing field, she will be learning.
Perhaps you are considering homeschooling. While homeschooling is doable, the onus is on you to track everything and make sure all the paperwork is completed and submitted and approved by local and state authorities. It's a lot of work. Indeed it is a full-time job. Now contrast that with the kind of life and activities which your child can have at private school as sown in this video.
So, what about some of those rumors you have heard about private school? Are they true? False? Are things changing? Are private schools different from what they were fifty years ago? Well, things have indeed changed over that span of time. Most of what the popular media says about private K-12 schools today can be charitably categorized as misconceptions. Frequently features and articles about private schools are not based on facts.
Here are the facts. You decide.
1. Private schools are not just for rich kids any more.
Decades ago you might have been able to make a case that some - but certainly not all - private schools were just for the children of privileged, wealthy families. Interestingly enough, most of the top American private schools started with very altruistic motives and aspirations. Many of them were founded in the 18th and 19th centuries by visionary benefactors who were committed to creating a better society populated with skilled citizens who could think and reason.
Privilege and wealth were rarely factors in establishing those early schools as you will see in this short history of The Milton Hershey School. Located in Hershey, Pennsylvania, The Milton Hershey School was founded in 1909 with a few students from poor families. It now serves over 1,800 students. The School is funded by a trust established by Milton S. Hershey and his wife Catherine.
In the 21st century the pendulum has swung back to those idealistic roots. There's hardly a private school out there which doesn't have diversity as one of its top priorities. That means schools now proactively seek out applicants from every quarter of society. Not just the kids whose folks have a country club membership. Kids from families of very modest means. Generous financial aid packages ensure that a private school education is affordable and within reach.
2. Private schools offer all kinds of educational philosophies.
Public schools are required to teach a state-mandated curriculum. Furthermore, they are required to test their students at various points using state-approved tests. As a result, a large part of the teaching is focused on preparing for those tests. And there are certain subjects which may not be taught, depending on the local jurisdiction's philosophy and politics. In most cases you will find that a private school's academic curriculum far surpasses the minimum standards set by the state board of education.
On the other hand, private schools can teach anything they want, any way they want. So, for example, if you want a religious component to your child's education, you will be able to have that in a private school. Each private school is unique with only a couple of exceptions. The Cristo Rey and the Carden schools, for example, will offer pretty much the same curriculum and teaching approach across all their schools. Otherwise, private schools are unique and individual in their approaches to curriculum and how they teach it. That uniqueness is just part of private schools' DNA.
You will be able to choose from several approaches to early childhood education including Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia and traditional PK-6. Montessori is a very popular approach for teaching preschool and primary age children. The movement was started in Rome by a visionary medical doctor by the name of Maria Montessori. She worked with the poorest children in the ghettos of Rome because she believed that they could be educated and shown how to build a successful life with that education. Dr. Montessori's philosophy was to "Follow the child". She believed that children should be allowed to figure things out with a minimum of guidance and interference from a teacher. Developing a child's imagination, creativity and self-reliance were important objectives for Dr. Montessori.
As you begin to explore and evaluate private schools, you will have to decide which approach and which academic curriculum works best for your child. There are a host of variables to sift through. Take time to explore schools which have educational philosophies and teaching methods which might be just what your child needs. The end result is that you should with any luck be able to find a school which satisfies most of your requirements and gives your child that educational foundation she so richly deserves.
3. Sports programs and extracurricular activities don't get cut.
The problem with public school budgets is that the so-called extras or non-essential programs are the first to be deleted from the budget. Unfortunately sports and extracurricular activities fall into the broad category of non-essential programs. Private schools consider sports to be an integral, indispensable part of their educational offerings. Sports are generally compulsory for all students. Everybody participates in some athletic activity. It may not be at the varsity level but it will be an athletic activity nonetheless.
Private schools take the view that sports, extracurriculars and academics are essential to developing a balanced approach to education. Playing on an intramural team or even a varsity team sharpens young people. Same thing with singing in a chorus or being in a play. Extracurricular activities allow your child to explore things which appeal to her. They develop poise, confidence, leadership and teamwork skills.
4. Private schools offer generous financial aid.
I have saved the best rumor for the last. Over the past decade in particular one school after another has stepped up to the plate and put substantial amounts of money on the line for financial aid. They want a diverse student body. They know that if they just leave the doors open to only those who can afford, then their applicant pool will be limited.
The financial aid programs vary widely, so you will have to ask for particulars. If a school has an income-blind financial aid program, as many do, they will advertise that fact where everybody can see it on their splash pages. You will have to submit tax returns and other financial data. But even that is done discreetly through a special organization which handles private school financial aid requests for hundreds of schools.
About Paying for Private School
Some people can write a check for a year's tuition and never miss it. But with private school tuitions in the $20,000 to $30,000 range for day school and more than $50,000 for boarding school, the rest of us have to be creative.
You have several options available to you.
- Ask about financial aid. Each school has its own financial aid program. Don't assume that the programs are similar.
- Find out whether your child is eligible for a scholarship because of a company or affinity group you belong to.
- Structure your payments to fit your budget by using a tuition payment plan.
- Borrow the funds.
- Consider sending your child to a free school.
Now that you see that most of the rumors are true, why not do a bit of exploring and see if private school isn't a great option for your child? Good luck in finding the right school for you and your child!
Questions? Contact me on Twitter. @privateschl