The debate over which is better, private versus public school, has been alive for centuries. The main difference between the two is that private schools are largely privately funded, while public schools are funded by taxes. This difference leads to private schools having some advantages over public schools: a fact that creates inequalities especially as money begins to determine the level of education a child can receive.
There is a constant question about the equity regarding private schools as the the rich and middle class are much more likely to be able to attend private institutions due to tuition costs. While financial aid for tuition is provided, more money and resources ‒ like tutoring and test prep ‒ are often needed for students to keep up with their peers in these environments. Families often elect to pay these costs because of the added advantages private schools offer their students. Some of these advantages include smaller class sizes and more flexibility with curriculum and subject choices compared to public schools.
These advantages often lead to private school students scoring higher on tests. According to the National Assessment of Education Process, “students in private schools achieved at higher levels than students in public schools” in both grades 4 and 8. The differences between public and private ranged from 8 points in grade 4, to almost 18 points in grade 8. As the students progress through their schooling, the divide widens.
Some people look at these higher academic results as indicating these students are receiving a superior education. In Oregon, the top five schools ranked by academic performance are consistently private institutions. Lower ranked or less respected schools and worse test scores make it harder to get accepted into a prestigious university and receive merit scholarships. These disadvantages can result in lower salaries and fewer job opportunities, impacting student’s futures.
I am not arguing that people with more money do not have the right and don’t deserve to give their children the best education they are able. Instead, I am reflecting on how we need to ensure students that do not attend these schools have access to a similar level of education. It should not matter whether a student attends a private or a public school. One potential solutions is encouraging all families (whether or not their children attend a private school) to be involved in the local public school system in order to raise awareness about the challenges facing these schools and facilitate more participation in making change.
It is naive to believe that education will be equal, however, it is important to recognize where the system can be more equitable. Schooling and education is supposed to give students hope and create opportunity, and everyone in the community should be involved in making sure this is achieved. This is not always feasible with the distinct divisions between private and public schools.
Victoria Siegel is a senior at Lincoln High School and a Student Voice Blogger at Oregon Student Voice, a student-led organization that empowers all students to be authentic partners in making decisions that affect their K-12 education.