Finding the right school for your child can make an extraordinary difference in your his or her moral and social development, in addition to their academic success. After all, the only adults that spend more time with your child than you are their teachers. It makes sense that parents would look for an academic environment with values consistent to those at home.
Religious schools, as private schools, may offer daily prayer, a course of study in the affiliated religion and character education based on the principles of that religion. One study found that between 3% and 13% of the school day was spent on spiritual activities. Students may work from religious textbooks or traditional textbooks, depending on the school. Students who have attended a faith-based program tend to form stronger religious identities as adults.
There are other benefits to attending a private school as well; on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, students in private schools routinely test better than public school students. In 2013, 45% of students in private schools scored within the Proficient or Advanced ranges in 8th grade math compared with 32% of 8th graders in a public school. On the reading portion, 59% of private school students scored at Proficient or Advanced, compared with 35% of public school students. While you can’t argue the numbers, there is some controversy about whether attending the private school resulted in higher scores, or if those students would perform just as well in a public school setting.
Test scores aside, the academic program is generally more demanding in a private setting; for example, the average public school requires 2.7 years of math in high school, whereas the average private school requires 3.1. Because private schools are subject to less regulatory oversight from the government, schools can be much more flexible with their curriculum and how it is taught. As a result, students may expect different styles of instruction. In addition, the teachers will have much more time to help your student explore; 30% of private schools have a student-to-teacher ratio of less than 10:1. And of course, it’s much easier to feel a sense of community when the school is composed of students with similar beliefs.
On the other hand, because private schools are less regulated than public schools, there are some things you should consider carefully before making a decision. A small school may provide your student with lots of teacher attention, but may not be able to fund special programs, such as technology, AP classes, or extracurricular activities. Private schools are also not obligated to provide your student with special education services, should she or he need them. Whereas public school teachers need to maintain licensure in the area they teach, this is not true for private schools. Many do insist on hiring fully licensed teachers, but not all.
Each private school has its own set of standards, so there’s no single answer for what kind of education a religious school will provide. Each school will vary in its ideology, practice and pedagogy. It’s important to do your research on a specific school to understand whether that school will provide the level of academic support and the belief system appropriate to your family.
For more information, here is a great FAQ on the public vs. private debate from the National Center for the Study of Privatization of Education, as well as some great resources below.
2013 Mathematics and Reading Report Card. (2013). National Catholic Educational Association.
Chen, G. (2014). Public School vs. Private School. Public School Review.
Sander, W. (2001). The Effects of Catholic Schools on Religiosity, Education, and Competition. The Occasional Paper.
The Benefits of Private Education. (2014). Council for American Private Education.
Wagner, Melinda Bollar. 1990. God’s Schools: Choice and Compromise in American Society. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Walker, C. Reaping the Benefits of a Christian School. American Association of Christian Schools.