Wondering how to choose a private school for your child? Today, parents have an overwhelming amount of choices. Per a report from the National Center for Education Statistics, there are upwards of 34,000 private schools across the country.
In some major metropolitan cities like Houston, TX, parents have hundreds to choose from. Moreover, these schools belong to an array of religious and non-religious associations. As such, each school has its own values, community, and resources.
As you wonder how to choose a private school, we wanted to provide a good guide to help parents navigate the world of private schools. For many parents exploring this topic, it’s their first step into this world.
They want to make the right decision for themselves and their children. Below, we cover two major topics.
- The differences between public and private schools.
- How to narrow down your list of choices.
What Sets Private Schools Apart?
When you want to know how to choose a private school for your child, it’s important to know what sets them apart. This is tricky to cover in a universal sense, though.
Generally, private schools vary quite drastically from school to school. This is because the quality, cost, culture, and offerings change with each campus. However, there are some general areas that set private schools apart.
Let’s take a look at a few key factors that lead many parents to opt for private education.
Generally speaking, the law requires public schools to serve all students in their area. On the other hand, charter schools and public schools have the option to be more selective. In order to enroll children in a private school, you have to complete an application.
Not every applicant makes it into the school. In some cases, they fail to meet the specific criteria of a given school. When a private school looks at an application, they consider a broad spectrum of requirements and have their own preferences.
Oftentimes, they evaluate the achievements and track records of students. Alternatively, some religious schools reserve space and prioritize applicants from their own church or affiliation. Additionally, some religious schools request a beliefs statement from the family.
Some elite private schools also look at the family’s involvement in the community as well as the student’s extracurricular activities.
The bottom line is that private schools have the right to select the students they feel fit their values and community. The more prestigious or elite the school, the more selective they tend to be. Generally, parents consider this selective nature a benefit.
When a school is selective, it means that their children study alongside other achievement-focused, motivated students.
Independence to Customize Curriculum
In public schools, administrators and teachers have little say when it comes to the curriculum. The state and distract make those decisions to meet the education standards in place.
However, private schools have the independence to build their own curriculum. Without ties to specific standards or curricula, they develop or determine their own resources. Additionally, this offers teachers a bit more flexibility in how they teach.
Generally, private school teachers don’t have a legal requirement for state certification. Still, many schools require certification. This flexibility allows private schools to hire teachers with broader experience as well as subject-matter experts.
As you consider how to choose a private school, it’s important to review the educators employed at each school. Inquire about their backgrounds and experience.
Accountability to Parents, Not States
This may shock some parents, but private schools are not accountable to the state for any educational outcomes. Instead, the school is accountable to the parents of their students. In some cases, the school also has a governing board.
In a general sense, this gives parents more power to speak up about the curriculum or standards of the school. When they are unhappy with something, their words carry more power.
Often, the tuition-paying parents, as well as the schools, view this as a net positive. This is because there are no bureaucratic shackles on the school. Moreover, teachers are free to use a methodology they believe in and adjust how they educate their students.
However, this lack of accountability makes some parents uneasy. As such, many schools seek out accreditation to validate the standards of their curriculum.
Funding the School
As you consider how to choose a public school, it’s important to understand how they fund their educational models. Public schools never charge tuition to students or parents. Alternatively, their funding comes from state and local taxes.
Additionally, they may receive funds from Title grants. Per NPR, schools generally receive about 45% of funding from the state, another 45% from local taxes, and about 10% from the federal level.
On the other hand, private schools receive little to no money from the government at any level. Instead, their funds typically come from tuition and donors. The three main sources of income for privates schools are grants, fundraisers, and tuition.
Additionally, some religious schools receive funds from a parent organization or their denomination.
How to Choose a Private School: Factors to Consider
Knowing what sets private schools apart is just the beginning of how to choose a private school. It’s one thing for parents to choose private over public education for their child. However, when you want to find the right school, it’s another story.
A large part of this is due to the overwhelming number of private schools available in major cities. According to GreatSchools, there are nearly 1200 private schools in Houston alone! For many parents, that is a mind-boggling number.
While not every city hits those numbers, any city is sure to have a few choices.
When it comes to how to choose a private school, it becomes a highly personal decision for many families. Even the most comprehensive guide cannot lead you to the perfect school for your situation.
However, with the right criteria, you can narrow down your list to a top 5. From there, you have a much clearer idea of your options.
As you examine how to choose a private school, religion is a great way to narrow down your options. Do you want your child to receive an education rooted in the values of your religion? For many parents, it’s not a difficult decision.
From there, the affiliation or denomination of the school helps them narrow down their options. However, not every family puts their focus on religion. Per the Council for American Private Education, about 10% of the country’s students attend private schools. Among those students, 78% attend a religious school.
This is because some nominally or non-religious parents still choose a religious education for their children. Typically, this boils down to shared values and character that the model instills in students.
Additionally, it’s important to recognize how broad the spectrum of religious education is. Some schools deeply embed faith into their curriculum. Others offer a generally secular education within a Christian model.
While some may require chapel, others might not. Moreover, a Catholic or Jewish school will feel quite different from one another.
The student-to-teacher ratio (class size) is a measure of quality that helps many parents figure out how to choose a private school. While indirect, it is a measure of how much attention each student receives.
With this logic, smaller classes are better. They allow teachers to provide more attention to each student. In turn, students benefit from more direct, personalized education.
Often, elite schools boast a low ratio. Alternatively, public schools tend to have class size inverse to funding. Less funding tends to mean larger classes.
Generally, parents prioritize schools with smaller classes. Still, it’s good to note that many Catholic schools tend to have larger classes. As you look at a Catholic school, compare it to other Catholic schools.
Accreditation and Recognition
Part of how to choose a private school is knowing what to look for. Generally, private schools have no requirement to meet state standards, follow a specific curriculum, or hire certified educators. With this in mind, they seek accreditation.
Oftentimes, public schools receive accreditation from a regional agency or state board. Typically, this comes down to whether they follow the guidelines established by the district.
For private schools, accreditation comes from an external organization that recognizes how well it meets its own objectives. Often, the process is more thorough because the scope of the review is much wider.
Dozens of accrediting agencies serve private schools. Some work on a national level while others are regional or focus on a specific state. The criteria vary by agency, so it’s a good idea to do some light research into the agencies that offer accreditation to the schools you visit.
Culture & Community
For many parents, the idea of a private school brings to mind an image of snobby rich kids in uniform. Here, tropes from TV shows are to blame. However, it is true that private schools have their own culture and community.
While some fit this stereotype, many others foster a positive and nourishing community. Alternatively, others focus on rigorous education and academic excellence. Still others gain a reputation for a focus on STEM or an immersive arts education.
A large part of how to choose a private school boils down to the culture of the school. Often, parents know the type of community they want for their families. Moreover, they know what they want and don’t want in terms of the environment.
With a campus tour, parents have an opportunity to evaluate a school’s culture. Additionally, these tours often allow them to communicate with teachers, administrators, and other parents. This gives them a sense of whether the school’s culture is the right fit.
Another major aspect of how to choose a private school is your budget. It’s no surprise that private schools cost money. However, the cost varies from school to school.
Before you delve too deeply into “how to choose a private school,” it’s important to examine your budget and determine a price point that works for you.
- How much do you have available for each child?
- Are there any expenses available to drop in order to pursue the right school?
- What level of quality is available for your budget?
Oftentimes, the cost is a major factor in determining what school they choose. However, there’s more to consider.
In many cases, parents and students have scholarships available to cover some if not all of the costs of private school. Today, there are merit-based and achievement-based scholarships available at almost any level.
Some schools even organize and offer their own scholarships. This allows more families to pursue the education they want for their children. When money is a concern in how to choose a private school, it’s a good idea to ask about scholarship opportunities.
Location of the School
For the most part, private schools don’t have a bus service. This makes the location an essential factor in how to choose a private school. When a school is not within a reasonable distance of a parent’s home or work, consider whether to keep it on the list.
While Houston has over a thousand private schools, most families focus on the ones near them. This alone can cut your list from 1200 to a few dozen.
Stability and Enrollment
Private schools come in an array of sizes. As parents seek a particular environment, it’s a good idea to look at class size and enrollment numbers. Schools with large student bodies often offer more extracurriculars and electives.
Alternatively, smaller schools tend to offer more parent engagement. This also fosters a stronger sense of community. As you ask about enrollment, it’s also good to look at historical data.
For instance, a steady or drastic drop in enrollment indicates that the school might not be healthy or stable.
One of the most important aspects of how to choose a private school is student outcomes. This is a huge sign of the quality of a school. Look to the continued education trajectory of students.
- Do they have a high graduation rate?
- Which schools do they move on to?
- Are there signs of a good college acceptance rate?
Some private school parents have Ivy League dreams for their families. In these cases, they should look to schools with a good track record. Often, the level of the private school determines what data they have available.
For example, a private high school is more likely to track graduate and college acceptance data than a private elementary school. However, every school has its own metrics to track.
How to Choose a Private School: Conclusion
As you consider how to choose a private school, recognize that it’s never an easy decision. It’s tough to find the perfect school for your child. Prepare yourself with the realization now that it takes time.
However, it’s often an easier process when you have a clear idea of what you want. There’s no resource to narrow your choices down to a single school. Still, as you consider the points in this guide, you have a better foundation for how to choose a private school.
As you move forward, you can make your final choice with confidence.