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Public and Private Schools: Comparing

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. – Albert Einstein.

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Are private schools more effective than public schools to educate children? The first couple of United States sent their children to the élites private school in Washington and so did the grandchildren of the present vice president of the United States. Study shows that all congressional representatives staying in Washington send their children to public schools and 25 percent of the public school teachers send their children to private schools1. Research has shown that the students of privately run schools perform better in standardized tests than students from public schools. Nevertheless, the question that arises is that how true is these findings? If at all there are differences between private and public schools, where are the differences? Are there no similarities between the two? If we take what Einstein said is true, should such a distinction be made?

Proponents of private schools argue that they provide higher quality of education as compared to public schools whereas on the other side of the debate, the argument is that public schools are better suited to meet the educational demand of the nations2. Clearly, there are inherent differences between the two types of schooling. However, the aim of the essay is not to take a side in the debate around public and private schools but to compare and contrast both system of schooling. In the following paragraphs, this essay will evaluate the differences and similarities between public and private schools.

Private Schools

Private schools are independently run schools, which cater to small number of students and are costlier. There are more than 28 thousand private schools in the US3 and 25 thousand in the UK4. These schools run independent of local or central government. As they are not under any government regulations, they are not restricted under the state budget. They also get extra freedom in designing their education system and curriculum.

The annual cost of private schools in the United States in 2005-06 was $14000 for grades 1 to 3 and $15000 for grades 6 to 8, and $16000 for 9 to 12. The fees for the boarding schools are higher ranging from $29000 to $32000. In the UK, the average cost of private school per annum is £2400 to £5000 and in a boarding school, the cost ranges from £3100 to £5600.

As these schools are costlier, they cater to a limited number of students. Further, they are also not under compulsion to enrol all the students seeking admission. Therefore, these schools are in a position to design their curriculum in order to meet individual child’s needs. In a 1915 letter to the editor of New York Times5, has mentioned that private schools are more “democratic” in nature and have greater “personal influence” over pupil at an age when they most need it. As these schools have individualistic attention on students, co-curricular activities like arts, music, sports, etc. are also a part of the educational values. Therefore, along with the general curriculum (like maths, English, science, etc.) children are also introduced to other activities.

The class sizes in private schools are small. As students have to go through a selection process, they form an almost homogeneous crowd with similar goals. Not all students are accepted in such schools, thus limiting the access of students with special needs to such schools. The following paragraphs look at the nature of public schools their functioning.

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Public Schools

In contrast to private run schools, public schools are state or government run schools. In the UK, such schools are called state schools. They follow local, state or central government laws. As they are state run, these schools receive funding from the government. Therefore, the budget of these schools is fixed by the government. Admissions to such schools are easy, as the schools have to accept all children who seek admission. There are no tuition fees and education is free. Still a test is set a selection process.

The teaching staffs in these schools are state certified. The certification is a surety that the teachers have the necessary educational background and experience to teach in schools. The public schools offer a general program in terms of curriculum. Here the curriculum is set by a mandate by the state and the school board has no influence over it.

In the public schools, children from all background can be found, thus boasting of diversity. They usually reflect the community. Further, due to the existence of special education laws, students with special needs can be taught in such schools. The teachers are trained to handle such requirements. Usually the schools are larger in public schools.


There are a lot of difference between public and private schools. Private schools are costlier and take in few students. Arguably, individual attention can be more in such a school. While public schools can boast of diversity and students, get to interact with children from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Private schools can decide their own curriculum and the management decision are not bounded by state governance. Public schools must accept all students who wish to enrol in the school, while private schools have the liberty to accept students who meet their standards. Public schools must adhere to state regulations and decisions. Private schools, even though they have to follow some state rules, their governance is privately run independent of government intervention. There is a difference in the graduation rate from private and public schools. 90-95 percent student from private schools enter college while 62 to 67 percent of the students from public schools enter college. The difference is attributable to the socioeconomic background of the student’s and the selective admission procedure of private schools.

There are certain similarities between private and public schools. All schools have to adhere to certain state laws. For instance, both the schools must follow the general curriculum form like teaching maths, science, and english. Regulations and disciplining of students are practiced in both forms of schools. Though private schools have an option of taking or not taking standardized tests, they usually take them and public schools usually take them mandatorily. In both form of schools student’s safety is a priority issue for the school management.

Even though there are more differences than similarities between private and public schools, it should be overlooked that both type of schools primarily are educational bodies. Their main aim is to educate students.


  1. Suzanne Fields, “Public or private schools”, Washington Times, 2008, p21
  2. Kevin C. Duncan and Jonathan Sandy, “Explaining The Performance Gap Between Public And Private School Students”, Eastern Economic Journal, Vol. 33, No. 2, 2007
  3. Private Schools Directory & Guide 2009.
  4. Letter to the Editor by William F. Slocum, President Colorado College, “Public and Private Schools”, The New York Times, 1915

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