Private School

What to Look for in a Private School

By BASIS Independent Academies on October, 17 2018
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Public or private school? The decision is personal –  and complicated –  to say the least. Maybe your child is bored and asking for a change. Maybe he’s struggling and no one seems to notice. Maybe she’s gifted but caught up in the wrong crowd. 

Everything from large class sizes and inferior learning environments to budget cuts and bullies can contribute to parents feeling disillusioned with their child’s current school situation. If you’re considering making the switch from public to private, here’s what to look for during your search:

What Is the School’s Philosophy?

A school’s philosophy should be spelled out in its mission statement and carried out in its curriculum. If the school believes students should be both accountable and independent, that belief should be supported both in and out of the classroom by their teachers and their parents. When researching schools, be sure that your educational beliefs and values match the vision of the staff and school as a whole. 

What Curriculum Does the School Use?

A school’s curriculum determines the types of courses your child will take and when. It’s curricular approach –  whether student or teacher centered –  also determines your child’s learning environment. The traditional model is teacher centered, meaning that in the classroom, the teacher is the main focus and information flows out in one direction. In a student-centered classroom, students are given a voice and contribute substantially to the instruction. You’ll want your chosen school’s approach to fit your child’s personal needs and learning style.

Other key curriculum questions:

  • How much influence do students have on what they learn?
  • How do the arts fit into the curriculum? Is there a school choir, band or orchestra? A drama program? Art classes?
  • What library resources are available?
  • Has the school adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative?

How Would the School Describe a Model Student?

Many schools target a specific type of student and show preference to those with a specific academic focus, skill or social and/or emotional profile. This could include being athletic, ambitious, politically-minded or globally aware. When researching private schools, make sure the school is not only a good fit for your child, but that your child would be a good fit for the school.

What Are the School’s Average Class Sizes?

In 1970, the number of pupils per public school teacher was 22.3, reports the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics. In 2014 that number dropped to 16.1 –  yet was still higher than private schools, which averaged 12.2.

For years, studies have shown that students perform better in a smaller classroom setting. But what was once seen as a perk of private schooling is now an expected, integral piece of this niche educational structure.

Now in the private school sector, demands for individualized learning and differentiated instruction are moving into the forefront. When interviewing private schools, ask what teachers do to gauge students’ individual interests and abilities and then how they incorporate that information into instruction.

Other key classroom questions:

  • How does the school use its low teacher/student ratio to enhance learning?
  • What role does technology play in the classroom?
  • Are teaching assistants present in the classroom and, if so, what role do they play?

What Extracurriculars Are Available?

Beyond the classroom, students want (and need) opportunities to practice sportsmanship, develop skills, cultivate friendships and test their independence. That’s where extracurriculars –  such as sports teams, art and science programs, dance troupes, service communities and debate clubs –  come into play. When researching private schools, be sure extracurriculars aren’t an afterthought. Consider how the school views these activities in its philosophy, and how it works them into student life.

Other key student life questions:

  • What competitive or community opportunities are available for students?
  • How does the school cultivate a cohesive community among the students?
  • What is the school’s approach to student discipline and safety?
  • How does the school handle behavior issues such as bullying?

How Much Is Tuition and What Does It Include?

Tuition for private schools varies in price, and so does what’s included. Make sure to ask not only how much annual tuition is, but what’s included and what’s not. For example, some schools may include textbooks, classroom supplies, lunches, uniforms, extracurriculars, field trips and transportation, such as free bussing. Others may not.

Is the School Accredited? How Is It Operated and By Whom?

Because of funding and philosophy, private schools are operated in different ways. Find out who –  a headmaster or board of directors, for example –  makes decisions and governs the school, and what that hierarchy of leadership means for you. You may also want to discuss whether or not the school is accredited, and if so, by which organization. 

Choosing a private school is a personal and complicated process. In your search, consider not only how your child’s education will impact their future, but how their personal buy-in to a specific private school will impact how happy and engaged they are while learning.


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