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The Private School Difference Perhaps the Best Investment You Will Ever Make!
My friend’s first words surprised me. “Now you can see why I  chose to spend money on private schools” were her first  remarks at her son’s recent high school graduation. I  expected her to recount her son’s many academic and  athletic accomplishments as any proud parent might do or  talk about which colleges were interested in him attending  their schools. Instead, she offered an unexpected reflection  on the reason for all his success: In her words, his success  was the direct result of quality years spent in a private  elementary and a private high school.  While I am a  proponent of private school education for lots of good  reasons, I know that all private schools are not created  equal. Some are phenomenal; some are less so! When you  trace the distinguishing qualities that mark private schools,  keep in mind that great schools have all these qualities in  some way. You should expect your child’s school not just to  have one or several of these attributes, but all of them in  some meaningful way. All of these make a difference to the  “bottom line” in your child’s education. ­The Private School Difference 1 Family buy-in (the consequences of choice and tuition): When parents choose a private school, they are committing  some portion of their income and their child to a particular  school culture and educational mission. For families who  dismiss private school education as an expensive luxury and a  waste of a family’s income may be short-sighted at best and  selfish at worst. Simply put, if you value education and your  child’s future, then a private school education may be a  necessity now, even more so in these tough and uncertain  economic times than ever before. In making a significant  investment in their child’s education and her future, parents  necessarily take an active role in everything related to her  education and are watchful of all that the school does. As a  result, strong parent-school partnerships characterize private  schools; a village comprised of concerned and committed  parents is definitely raising a child.  2 Quality of classmates: Disappointing graduation rates and  low standardized test results are certainly two measures of a  school’s quality; but, they tell only part of the story. When you  read the headlines almost daily about bullied students, growing  class sizes, eliminated programs, large and cumbersome  bureaucracies, and declining quality in public schools, this  should give any parent pause to question the educational  foundation that her child is receiving. Since private schools  usually have selective admissions criteria they are choosing  students who can be successful in their programs allowing  children to learn from their peers and develop positive  relationship that contribute greatly toward a child’s growth,  maturation and achievement. 3 Learning is valued: A natural off-shoot of having families  who value education is having children who value learning. The  excitement of learning pervades the classroom and culture of a  private school. In a private school the unique talents and gifts of each student are cultivated and nourished, celebrated and  recognized; all these are part of the private school DNA. 4 Accountability and ideal teaching conditions: Parents in  private schools have easy access to teachers and direct contact  with school administrators who have the power to make all  curricular and personnel decisions. By contrast, local school  administrators in public schools have limited curricular and  restricted personnel powers. Private schools provide parents  with easy access to teachers and administrators who can  respond almost immediately to any circumstance. More  importantly, teachers have greater control over texts, materials, and teaching pedagogy, as well as more opportunity to deal with  issues and implement needed changes than their public school  counterparts.
5 Small class sizes and low teacher-student ratios: With  small class sizes and low teacher-student ratios it is easier for  each student to be known and cared for in a private school;  with the individual attention that students receive they are  likely to be more successful and to find mentors and advocates  in their teachers. 6 Educating the whole child: Whether a private school is  religiously affiliated or is non-denominational, virtue and  manners matter. Not only are clear boundaries present and  enforced, but good-to-great private schools hold clear  expectations for what is good, right, just, and noble and hold  students accountable. These schools eschew moral relativism  in favor of connecting individual choice with personal  responsibility, social order with the responsibility of  citizenship, liberty with morality, and self-esteem with the  responsibility of work and earned achievement  7 Small school culture: Most private schools typically have  100-600 students. The largest independent schools top out at  1200 students. Compare these numbers with public schools  where 2000-4000 students are the norm and you can  understand why a student in private school is more than just a  number. Building and fostering community is highly valued  and prized in private schools because it reinforces all the skills  and values being taught.   8 21st century curriculum and skills: If a school is  teaching students the same material and skills, in the same way  that their parents were taught, then the school cannot produce  world-ready citizens who can succeed and flourish no matter  the challenges and opportunities that the 21st century might  throw their way. Since private schools have greater control  over all aspects of their curriculum and programs, they can  determine their futures with greater clarity, shift focus and  implement necessary changes with greater speed than their  counterparts in the cumbersome public system.  9 Bottom line considerations: The most obvious  discrepancy between public and private schools comes down to  cash; public schools are financed through local, state and  federal taxes, while private schools require tuition and  donations for their funding. In this independent role, private  schools can be specialized, offer differentiated learning, unique  programs, and advanced curriculum.   10 Affording tuition: Unfortunately, in many cases, a  decision against private school is less about the quality of the  educational experience and more about the impact on a  family’s standard of living. Most private schools offer aid  need-based, and, in some cases, merit-based financial aid to  students and families.   Decisions At the end of the day, the right school for your child is one that is a best match between resources, personnel, programs and  philosophy of the school and your child’s unique gifts, needs,  and interests. Your decision about where your child will spend  most of his days is about so much more than sandbox banter.  The decision you make now launches a successful career, trains  a leader who will make a difference in the world, gives 21st  century tools and skills that will allow for the navigation of any path, and nourishes the virtues and values that will help your  daughter lead a meaningful and productive life and be a world-  ready citizen. Can you think of any better way to spend your  time or your money? --Steve Balack is the Head of School at St. Gabriel’s School in  Austin and is a proud product of private schools (20 years +),  both of his children attended private schools (16 years +), and  he has taught, coached, and served as an administrator in  private schools for over 30 years.