Advantages & Disadvantages of Public Schools

Teacher sitting on desk in classroom
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As a parent, it's not always easy to decide whether to send your children to public school or private school. Public schools are funded and regulated by government agencies, so most have a strong system of accountability. Teachers must meet credentialing requirements and follow state-mandated curriculum guidelines. However, class size tends to be larger at public schools, and the admissions process is much less selective; nearly all students are eligible to enroll in public schools.

1 Tax-Supported Funding

Tax dollars fund public schools, so parents don't have to pay tuition. Many public schools can afford to hire specialized teachers to assist students with special needs. Plus, they have the resources to purchase equipment, such as computers, textbooks and electronic visual aids. Public schools offer a wider range of classes to fit individual student interests, including remedial and advanced courses, and they have public transportation for students who live in the district. Teacher salary packages include health Insurance benefits, retirement pay and salary increases for longevity -- luxuries private schools can't always afford.

2 Academic Performance

Some studies show that public school students perform as well as or better than private school students in academics when you remove demographics from the equation. "The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools," a 2013 book by educators Christopher and Sarah Lubienski, compares academic data over 15 years, including test scores, and filters out demographic influences, such as household income and neighborhood socioeconomics. The study's results show that students at public schools often outperform those at private schools. Gary Miron, a nationally recognized school-testing expert and education professor at Western Michigan University, backs up those findings. "While private schools tend to have much better raw scores, when you control for sociodemographics, the advantage disappears," states Miron in a 2014 article on the Michigan online news network, In other words, private schools' raw scores are higher because so few of their students come from low-income or other at-risk backgrounds.

3 Student Population

Public schools have some disadvantages related to the large number of enrolled students. Sheer size alone makes it difficult for teachers, administrators and security officials to ensure school safety. There's no easy way to monitor and inspect every student's clothing, backpack and locker for weapons or drugs. It's also difficult for school officials to keep a close eye on truancy issues. With large class sizes, teachers often struggle to ensure that no student is left behind. Teachers can't always spend one-on-one time with students who need extra academic help when they have 25 or more students to keep track of in each class.

4 Freedom of Choice

For many people, a major disadvantage of public schools is parents', students' and teachers' inability to choose curriculum based on personal values, religious beliefs or specific artistic interests. Private schools typically stress moral or religious values. Many of them also require students to participate in community outreach programs as part of their educational requirements, according to Robert Kennedy, a writer for Private School Review. Charter schools and private schools often prioritize the arts as major components of their curriculum. Teachers have the flexibility to develop lesson plans that relate to specific religious doctrines or moral values.

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.