Private School and Your Child's Future

Senior Editor, Porter Sargent Handbooks

One of the many important decisions you will make as a parent relates to his or her education. Your child’s learning environment from early childhood through adolescence and young adulthood provides a crucial foundation for future learning and career success.

With the availability of free public education at the elementary and secondary levels, many parents automatically enroll their children in the local public school system. While this option may work out fine for your child—after all, public schools commonly provide a solid education—you may find yourself considering your alternatives before making this choice.

With well over 25,000 programs in operation nationwide, nonpublic schools are an option for parents across the country. The sheer variety of schools can enable families to find the best educational match for students’ talents and interests. Does your child have a flair for music or the arts? If so, you can find private schools that cater to such talents and provide a setting that surrounds your child with similarly talented and like-minded students. Perhaps your son or daughter has started to become bored at school due to an insufficiently challenging curriculum. Lack of challenge will not be an issue at the many rigorous pre-preparatory and college preparatory nonpublic schools.

Maybe your local public middle school was forced to eliminate its foreign language program due to budget cuts. You may be surprised to learn that private schools routinely commence language instruction in kindergarten—or even during the preschool years. Not only that, but the variety of languages offered is often extensive: more and more private schools offer Mandarin Chinese, for example—long gone are the days where Spanish, French, and Latin would constitute an impressive foreign language curriculum. Should you wish to place your son or daughter in a bilingual school, nonpublic schools provide you with some exciting options.

Increasingly, public school systems have instituted state competency examinations for middle school and high school students. While it is understandable that guidelines are in place in many states, the reality is that schools in these areas must put a premium on competency examination preparation. As a result, emphasis tends to shift toward rote memorization and “teaching to the test.” Unbound by these curricular restrictions, private schools have much more latitude to formulate a program that that combines knowledge acquisition, critical-thinking skills, and creativity.                                                                             

Since they operate privately, nonpublic schools may affiliate with a religious denomination. Parents interested in seeing a particular world-view reflected in their children’s learning environment can choose from religious institutions of all stripes.

If the local high school’s college placement record does not meet your approval, you may be much more satisfied with college matriculation histories in the private school universe. College preparation is almost always at the forefront at nonpublic high schools, and well-developed college counseling offices ensure that each student is matched with the most suitable college—not necessarily the most prestigious.

Single-gender education is an option at many private schools as well. Some parents believe their children will learn more effectively when they do not have to face the distractions presented by the opposite gender. In addition, research has shown that girls tend to display more achievement in math and science when studying in an all-girls environment. A twist on the single-gender institution is the coordinate (or co-institutional) school, where boys’ and girls' programs operate alongside one another. At these schools, certain classes and extracurricular activities may be coeducational.

Your son or daughter may be an elite athlete in search of a top-notch athletic program. The country’s roster of nonpublic schools is filled with terrific sports programs, and the variety of sports offered also tends to be greater at private schools, again due to budgetary restrictions faced by public schools systems in many locales.

Boarding is another potentially appealing option unique to private education. Students interested in moving away from home and living in a dormitory may do so while engaging in a well-rounded educational program. Residential living also provides students (and their parents, for that matter) with a preview of the college years.

Starting the private school selection process

Once you have decided to explore your nonpublic school options, consider some of the following issues:

  • Whether to opt for a boarding or day school
  • The proximity of the school to your home
  • The school’s religious affiliation (or lack thereof)
  • Tuition cost
  • Financial aid and scholarship opportunities
  • Enrollment size and average class size
  • Whether to choose a coeducational or single-gender school
  • Availability of special programming, such as in athletics or arts
  • Availability of challenging curricular elements, such as Advanced Placement courses and International Baccalaureate programming

Armed with the answers to these questions, you will be off to a good start. You may ultimately wish to meet with an educational consultant. If you do so, make sure to choose one who does not receive remuneration from the schools that he or she recommends. A good rule of thumb is to select a consultant who belongs to the Independent Educational Consultants Association.

You can also spend some time perusing the school listings at Private School Search, the online companion to The Handbook of Private Schools, which has been published annually by Porter Sargent Handbooks since 1915. Private School Search displays listings for the 1,700 elementary and secondary schools in the Handbook, as well as concise listings for hundreds of additional programs. You will be able to search the database by a variety of elements, including gender, grade range, enrollment size, religious affiliation, location, and more.

Good luck with your search!

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