I blog on Brain-Based Learning, Metacognition, EdTech, and Social-Emotional Learning. I am the author of the Crush School Series of Books, which help students understand how their brains process information and learn. I also wrote The Power of Three: How to Simplify Your Life to Amplify Your Personal and Professional Success, but be warned that it's meant for adults who want to thrive and are comfortable with four letter words.


by Oskar Cymerman       @focus2achieve



I am a public schools' child. When I lived in Poland, I attended a public elementary school. Upon landing in the U.S., I enrolled in the Chicago Public School's (CPS) Curie High School. Later, I received a degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), a State University. In my career, I only taught in public schools. First in CPS, then SPPS (Saint Paul Public Schools) in St. Paul, Minnesota, and finally in SWCS (South Washington County Schools) in Woodbury, Minnesota. 

What do I know of Private Schools? Other than hear-say and the mean nun stories (I am 100% positive ALL nuns in Catholic/Christian schools are mean :-), which depict teacher-nuns smacking pupils' hands with rulers when they make grammatical errors or portray these instructors as "punishers" who make kids kneel down and hold their arms, fingers pointing to the heavens, until all blood leaves these extremities, for misbehaving.

My son is not yet two, but I must confess that I never thought he might go to a private school. I am public school biased. I know it, I admit it, and I do not apologize for it. However, I realize that I know very little about what private schools are all about, so I decided to take a closer look and compare them to what I know, which is public schooling. Thus, I researched and compiled the biggest contrasts in the table below. What follows is my analysis of these differences and conclusions I draw from them. 




I do not view the state standards as something that limits me as a teacher. I see them as a guide that specifies the skills and big ideas I must help my public school students learn. The way I do that is up to me and I like the curriculum planning process as I see it as practice in creativity. I strive to make my lessons meaningful, interesting, and, if possible, fun. I believe in people, so I will give the private school instructors the benefit of the doubt and trust that they do teach their students the skills and ideas they will need to use at the next level. I do admit though that such lack of oversight makes me a little uneasy, as all I have to do is close my eyes and envision a rogue teacher discrediting evolution and teaching creationism as a de facto scientific theory. Yikes!  


The public schools rid themselves of uncertified teachers as the G. W. Bush’s claim to fame (or infamy, depending on how you look at it) the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) mandates state institutions to provide “highly qualified” educators for their children. While the private sector of our industry still employs license-less instructors, sources I reviewed report that these individuals tend to possess the “real-world” experience in the subject they teach. That doesn’t seem so bad…


Public schools are more diverse. As a 14 year-old kid leaving the country of my birth, Poland, I have seen people of different races on television only. Then, the airplane my family was on landed in Chicago, and in an instant I was immersed in the cultural and ethnic melting pot of the Midwest, as I walked the streets, played sports at the local park, and enrolled in a public high school near where we rented our attic apartment. While attending Curie High School, I had to learn to embrace and I have come to appreciate the differences, the customs, and the traditions of other ethnicities. We are all humans, and as such, we will always be more connected than divided, but I would not be able to arrive at this fact had my parents placed me in a private school. I want the same experience for my son.

 School/Class Size

On average, public schools have two time more students than their private counterparts. In general, smaller schools are better. Research seems consistent on this issue as smaller schools are reported to lessen the effects of poverty, reduce violence, and increase student accountability.

Private schools are thought to have smaller class sizes, but there is no guarantee that they will, and some, especially catholic schools, sometimes have larger classes than those in public schools. However, many publications, including Visible Learning by John Hattie, report class size having little effect on student success. 

Test Statistics

Traditionally, students in private schools are assumed to score better on assessments. However, I came across a few publications, including The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools, which, when apples are compared to apples, show that students in public schools indeed score higher than their private school counterparts. So rather than trying to pick the winner here I’ll say this: Anyone can be successful in most schools, he or she just has to want to.

Bottom Line

Private schools are not better than public schools. Public schools are not better than private schools. They are different. There are some things that favor private schooling and others that favor public education. Every family has to decide for itself what is best for their children and make school choices based on that. I want Adam to go to a public school, but my wife might have a different idea when we sit down to talk about it. But no matter what we decide, I will have the comfort of knowing that my son can be successful wherever he goes.

What is your preference and why?

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