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Unraveling the Private School Experience: Success, Costs, and Affordability

Updated: May 26, 2023

The world of private schools can be a complex and often mystifying realm for parents considering alternative educational options for their children. This article explores the private school experience in the United States, focusing on the factors that contribute to student success, the costs associated with private education, and ways to make it more affordable for families. We will also address some frequently asked questions and provide helpful resources.

Private school students wearing school uniforms.
Private School Students

What does going to a private school mean?

Private schools are educational institutions that operate independently from the public school system. They are funded through tuition fees, donations, and endowments rather than government funding. Private schools can be religious or non-religious, single-gender or co-ed, and can offer a variety of educational approaches, from traditional to progressive. Parents often choose private schools for their smaller class sizes, specialized curricula, and individualized attention from teachers.

What is the difference between private and public schools?

The primary difference between private and public schools lies in their funding and governance. Public schools are funded through federal, state, and local government funds, making them accessible to all students within their designated district at no cost. They are overseen by elected school boards and must adhere to state and federal regulations.

Private schools, on the other hand, are funded through tuition fees, donations, and endowments.

They operate independently from the public school system and are usually governed by a board of trustees or directors. Since private schools are not publicly funded, they can be selective in their admissions process and may require students to meet certain academic or behavioral standards. Additionally, private schools often have more flexibility in developing curricula, teaching methodologies, and extracurricular offerings, allowing them to cater to specific educational philosophies, religious affiliations, or other unique attributes.

Are private schools required to follow state curriculum standards?

Private schools generally have more autonomy in determining their curriculum than public schools. While they must meet certain state requirements, such as maintaining a safe environment and adhering to compulsory education laws, they are not obligated to follow state curriculum standards like public schools. This flexibility allows private schools to develop their own curricula, often based on their educational philosophy, religious beliefs, or specialized focus areas.

However, private schools still need to ensure their graduates are prepared to meet state and federal requirements for further education or employment. Many private schools choose to align their curricula with state standards. In contrast, others may follow nationally recognized curricula or accreditation guidelines, such as those provided by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), or the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Additionally, some private schools may adopt rigorous international curricula, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) program or Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

Are private school students more successful?

There is an ongoing debate about whether private school students are more successful than public school students. Several studies have investigated this topic, with varying results.

A 2018 study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that private school students scored higher on standardized tests, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), when compared to their public school counterparts. Private school students had an average reading score of 275, while public school students scored 263. In math, private school students scored an average of 286 compared to public school students' average of 269. However, the study also noted that factors such as students' socioeconomic status, race, and parent education level could contribute to these differences.

Another study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) suggests that students who attend private schools have higher graduation rates, college enrollment, and college graduation rates compared to their public school counterparts. The researchers found that attending a private high school increases the probability of graduating from high school by about 4 percentage points and the likelihood of enrolling in college by about 5 percentage points.

However, it's essential to consider that other factors, such as family background, socio-economic status, and the individual student's motivation and work ethic, also contribute to success. A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Education found that when controlling for these factors, there was no significant difference in student achievement between private and public schools.

Given the mixed findings, parents need to consider the specific needs and goals of their child when evaluating the potential benefits of private education. It's worth noting that the National PTA and state-specific PTA organizations like the Texas PTA, California PTA, North Carolina PTA, and New York State PTA often provide resources and support to help parents make informed decisions about their child's education, whether in public or private schools.

What is the average price of a private school?

The cost of private education can vary significantly depending on location, school size, and the type of institution. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual tuition for private elementary schools in the United States is approximately $11,000, while the average for private high schools is around $15,000. However, the most prestigious and exclusive schools can charge $50,000 annually.

How to afford private school?

Although private school tuition can be expensive, there are several ways to make it more affordable:

  1. Financial aid and scholarships: Many private schools offer need-based financial aid and merit-based scholarships to help families cover tuition costs. Be sure to inquire about these opportunities during the admissions process.

  2. Tuition payment plans: Some schools provide payment plans that allow families to spread tuition costs over several months or even years, making them more manageable.

  3. Tax-advantaged savings plans: Parents can use savings plans, such as 529, to save for their child's private school education.

  4. Discounts for siblings or employees: Many private schools offer discounts for families with multiple children attending the school or for staff members' children.

  5. Local and state programs: In some states, voucher programs or tax credits are available for families that choose private education. Be sure to research your state's options.

What is the most expensive private school in the US?

The most expensive private schools in the US can have tuition fees exceeding $50,000 per year. These prestigious institutions include the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, Avenues: The World School in New York City, and the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, New York.

Can I claim my child's private school tuition on taxes? Can parents write off private school tuition?

Unfortunately, parents cannot typically claim their child's private school tuition on their federal income taxes or write it off as a deduction. However, there are some tax-advantaged options to help offset the costs of private education:

  1. 529 Plans: While these plans are primarily designed for college savings, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 expanded the qualified use of 529 plans to include tuition for K-12 private schools. Parents can now use up to $10,000 per year per child from a 529 plan to pay for private school tuition.

  2. Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs): Coverdell ESAs can be used to pay for qualified K-12 education expenses, including private school tuition. The annual contribution limit for these accounts is $2,000 per beneficiary.

  3. Tax Credits: Some states offer tax credits for private school tuition. These programs vary by state, so it's essential to research the specific rules and requirements for your location.

It's always a good idea to consult with a financial planner or tax professional to understand the best options for your family's unique financial situation.

Students sitting in chairs in a classroom
Students in Classroom

Navigating the Private School Experience: Helpful Resources and Organizations

As you explore the world of private schools and consider the best options for your family, take advantage of the numerous resources and organizations available to help you make informed decisions. Some of these resources include:

  • PTO Today: A resource for parents, teachers, and school administrators, offering valuable tips, tools, and ideas for improving your child's educational experience.

  • National and state PTA organizations: As mentioned earlier, the National PTA, Texas PTA, California PTA, North Carolina PTA, and New York State PTA provide resources and support for parents navigating the educational landscape.

  • Private School Review: This website offers a comprehensive directory of private schools, helpful articles, and resources to guide parents through the private school selection process.

  • National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS): NAIS is a membership organization representing independent K-12 schools in the United States. Their website offers resources for parents, including a school search tool and articles about the benefits of independent school education.

Partnering with K-12 Clothing for Your Private School Spirit Wear and School Uniform Needs

This article was written by K-12 Clothing. Founded by a PTA Dad, K-12 Clothing offers a wide range of spirit wear, team gear, and staff apparel to help foster a sense of community and pride in your child's school. With no minimum order requirements and direct shipping to parents, K-12 Clothing makes supporting your school community easy.



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