Pro Private School by Kathy

Kathy lives in my neighborhood and is a teacher at a private school here in Utah. She has three beautiful girls and (I have heard) throws quite the Halloween party! *hint hint* Ha, sorry can’t help myself. Kathy teaches music at a private school in Sandy, Utah and has directed countless children’s musical productions at locations such as Covey Center for the Arts and the world-renowned Tuacahn Theater in Southern Utah. She loves to volunteer in her community and church.  Her children have attended private school for the past four years. Today Kathy is helping me by writing about why she is PRO private schooling:

First of all, I would like to commend Vanessa on her decision to take on such an opinionated topic.  I feel that information is always the key to success.  What you do with that information is up to you.  Let me introduce myself.  I am a 30-something mother of 3 children.  They are in the 2nd, 3rd, and 7th grade. I’d like to think we are a fairly typical middle class family.  I stayed home with my children when they were young and once they were all in school, I went to work full-time.  I am a product of a public education. However, I have taught for several years at a private school. My 7th grade daughter went to public school until 4th grade, at which point I transferred her to private school. My 3rd grader went to public school through most of Kindergarten and then transferred to private school.  My 2nd grade daughter has been in private school since pre-school. I feel this gives me a pretty well-rounded opinion regarding private school, but I’m sure you can decide that for yourself.

So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. What are the advantages of a private school? Well, that question, in itself, is the answer. When you place your child in a private school, you decide what the advantages will be. It’s about being able to choose. You literally shop for the academic environment in which you want your child to be. You can decide if you want your child in a religiously affiliated school, a non-sectarian, structured or non.  Maybe they have a focus on self-expression, or writing or even performing.  I love that our school is deeply rooted in patriotism. There’s a pledge every day.  The children learn all the patriotic songs and there’s never any discussion of removing God from that equation.  At Christmas time, we learn Christmas songs. Some are Christian songs and many songs are from other cultures. Our students are given a multi-cultural experience. We don’t tell them what to believe, but we teach them to respect lots of cultures. We teach that the USA was founded on traditional Christian principles and we still recognize those principles. There’s no need to make everything generic and inoffensive. Our parents know what we teach and they have chosen that to be beneficial for their child. That’s the beauty of it. You get to say what is best for your child.

The private sector has always had more success than a government entity because of one thing. Competition. God bless America, there’s nothing more motivating than competition with other schools. These schools offer a product that you, as a parent, come in and assess that product to decide if it is perfect for your child.  Or you take your business elsewhere.  It’s as simple as that.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  It’s about teachers who love their students and create a fascinating learning environment where a child feels safe and respected.  But that is the product.  If a parent does not think that is happening, they take their student elsewhere. As a teacher, that is a motivating feeling. As a parent, that is a powerful feeling.

Another great benefit of private school is the small class sizes. Due to the specific admission requirements of each school, it limits how many students are accepted. Last year my 1st grader had 15 students in her class, my 2nd grader had 19 and my 6th grader had 16. On average, the sizes of the classes I taught were each about 18 students. This allows a teacher to develop great relationships with each child and assess their comprehension, rationalization, and their ability to state in their own words and test. It also gives the students the opportunity to develop close-working relationships with their classmates.

In many instances, private schools have been found to be a safer environment than others. Let me explain; most private schools have a standard of conduct that the parents and students are required to uphold.  If there is an instance of aggression, disrespect or other behavior that infringes on another’s right to learn and feel safe, it is handled quickly. If the behavior is not corrected, the student is expelled from the school. Because of the high level of parent involvement and the priority the parents place on their student’s success, it is usually taken care of right away. We all know how frustrating it is when your student is being robbed of valuable learning time because a teacher is focused on correcting disruptive behavior of another student. And because of the smaller numbers at the school, it is much easier for recess play to be carefully watched. Most schools have a very clear value system that is understood by the students at a very young age.

Maybe your student is the one that is struggling to manage his/her own behavior. Often times this comes from boredom or misunderstanding.  With the smaller class sizes, it is easier for a teacher to identify you child’s learning and behavior strengths and weakness.  Occasionally, this student just needs more structure. At our private school, each class has a very predictable schedule that is given to the students each morning. There is a certain amount of reassurance that comes from knowing what’s ahead, even to a child. At the beginning of each year, the teacher explains her expectations of the class. Clear expectations are the key to positive behavior. It removes any confusion the student may have regarding what will get them in trouble.

Another benefit of private school is that when you choose the school with the standards that most closely match your own, it naturally instills a sense of pride and loyalty in the students. The parents often develop close relationships and a very involved supportive community together. Some private schools have Alumni Mentoring programs that provide graduation opportunities and internships in their field of interest.

What about the Arts?  Government regulations often prevent public schools from spending more than a certain percentage of school funds on the arts. Activities that are typically thought of as extra-curricular are actually prerequisites in the private sector.  Most private schools put a high priority on the arts and music. Because of their funding, they are able to give the students more exposure to the arts and development of their natural talents. Some private schools even require mandatory community service. Programs like these produce a well-rounded education and a greater level of performance.

Because of the great structure, behavior and excellent instruction in private school, the curriculum can be advanced and the standards are significantly higher to achieve exceptional grades.  The government does not regulate their curriculum until High School.  However, most private schools regulate their own in a similar way in order to make sure their students are not only ready for college, but are exceptionally prepared.

And that is what this really is about, right?  Not just getting your student to college, but making sure they are the best prepared.  In our times, college is very competitive and it seems hard to help your student stand out from the rest. We’ve all heard it doesn’t just take a 4.0 to get in.  You have to stand out with extra-curricular activities and community service. However, those universities also look at your student’s academic history and recognize that a 4.0 from a private institution is much harder to achieve than at a public school.

The National Center for Education Statistics* found that private school students scored higher on standardized tests, had more demanding graduation requirements, and sent more graduates to college than public schools. The report said that students who had completed at least the eighth grade in a private school were twice as likely as other students to graduate from college as a young adult. NCES statistics also showed that students in private schools are much more likely than others to take advanced-level high school courses.

When my daughter switched from private school in the 4th grade, she was a straight A student. It was quite an adjustment for her when she switched to private. The students in her class were taking notes during discussions and had many habits of great learning that she was not familiar with. There was no longer any ‘busy-work’ or worksheets to fill out.  She was fascinated by this new process and embraced it right away, but she had to work hard to get back to her original level. I am proud to say she is now in 7th grade and is back to her exemplary grades in each subject. And she’s all the more proud because she worked for them. 

My youngest daughter has been in private school since she was in preschool and has had a much easier time of incorporating all the learning methods. Young minds are capable of astounding things if you introduce it to them in the right way, at the right time.

What about quality? I’ve heard many comments regarding the fact that public school teachers are the best. Forgive me for being blunt (I get in trouble for that a lot), but I’ll say it anyway.  Since when has things like tenure, unions, long contracts and government ‘certification’ produced the best?  If you ask me, (which is redundant, since you did) those things create an environment of complacency and entitlement. Typically, that just doesn’t work out the best for the student.  In a private school environment, those things don’t exist. I find it interesting that whenever I discuss the private school option with public school friends, their first instinct is to go for the point: “teachers in charter and private schools don’t have to have a degree or be certified.”  Actually, what is really happening there is that the US Government is not hovering over them telling them who to hire. They’re not stepping in to say, ‘This is the way you should teach this subject and you have to do it until WE say you’re good at it’ (i.e. certification). Funny fact: Moms that home-school are rarely criticized for not being ‘certified.’ We trust that Mother will use the best method to teach her child.

At a private school, we teach the method that we find most effective, and the test results prove it. Each teacher is selected by professionals with BA’s, MA’s, PhD’s and all kinds of other fancy letters hung on their walls. Not only do those private schools require degrees, they require them to actually be in the field that they teach in. It’s just that Uncle Sam isn’t the one requiring it. And when it comes to certification, of course they don’t require it. Most private schools have a very specific method of teaching your children so that they can learn at an accelerated pace and retain that knowledge. The government method is not typically the method they want their teachers to use. Private schools do their own intensive training, which I have found to be highly effective. They make sure that their teachers are teaching the correct method for their school and if they don’t, I’m not sorry to say, that teacher doesn’t get to stay at that school. Also, in a private school environment, they are better funded and able to pay their teachers better. This increases competition for those teaching positions. These schools thrive on parent-feedback and referrals. The doors are always open for you to walk down the hall anytime and watch your student in action. (Our school has one-way windows so you can watch without being noticed by your student) It’s that type of environment that leads to the best of the best teachers.

A lot of parents don’t even consider private school due to the high price tag. The school that I teach at starts at about 5,000 a year and goes up to about 8,000. There are private schools in Utah that go as high as 17,000. To a middle income family, that can seem overwhelming. You might be surprised to learn the Census Bureau, School Enrollment–Social and Economic Characteristics of Students finds that 28% of students enrolled in private school are from families with annual incomes less than 50,000. Let me ask you this.  How much to you spend on your vehicles? Do you have more than one? Many of the parents at our school are not high income, but have made the decision to make financial sacrifices for the child’s benefit.  As a parent, I understand that you sacrifice every minute of every day for your child.  I just mean to say that it’s up to you to decide if the value of a private education exceeds the financial sacrifices you may have to make for that education.  Additionally, tuition can be divided up into monthly payments and there are many schools that offer scholarship programs. Another option is that if you got a part time position in that school, the tuition can be significantly discounted, if not completely waived.

You know, my friends and I have had many a ‘heated’ discussion regarding this topic. (It’s always fun because we love each other, right ladies?) Anyway, I feel that passion comes about because, as mothers, we’re all passionate about our children and the decision regarding where our children receive their education is a personal one. Sometimes we feel the need to defend those decisions; however, we all know that defensiveness is rarely articulate or insightful. Please understand I know there are so many wonderful teachers out there, in all kinds of schools and I love them and support them! I would encourage you to get lots of information, visit the schools you think would be the best fit for your child, observe in the classrooms and talk to other parents. What you decide after that has no need for a defense. Be willing to speak up and don’t let ‘mainstream’ thinking make you feel inadequate or sway your decisions. In this case, I believe the rich diversity of private school is a staple of American Education. The nation is stronger for it and so are my children.

*U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Private Schools: A Brief Portrait

Would you send your children to private school?  What do you think about it? Pros?  Cons?  Do you think it is unnecessary or do you swear by it? I want to hear.  Let’s discuss!


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