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What ALL Families Should Look for When Choosing a Private School

There are a number of reasons why your family may be considering a private school. I taught in one for twelve years and was surrounded by committed faculty, extraordinary facilities, and we had the budget to send our teachers to various professional development workshops.

The choice of school is highly personal for most families. I do not believe that there is a guide created that can, by itself, lead families to their perfect school. However, I have created a list of 7 things that you should consider when making the decision to invest in a private institution.

#7 Extracurriculars

Private schools often offer a wide range of extracurricular activities, some of which families won’t find at the local public school. These extracurriculars may include sports like lacrosse or field hockey, a foreign-language immersion program, courses in Latin or religious studies, or a more robust approach to arts education.

However, when making your decision understand that not every private school will have the same offerings or focus. Families need to look for a school with programs and that align with their children’s interests and abilities. Another factor to consider is that although private schools may offer “exclusive” extracurriculars, some programs such as football, culinary or vocational training may be absent from private schools’ offerings.

#6 Accredidation

Since private schools aren’t required to meet state standards, hire certified teachers, or follow a district- or state-mandated curriculum, accreditation serves a vital function. While public schools are usually accredited, this is done by a state board or a regional agency (or both). And it usually boils down to whether the school follow the district’s directions and how well students do in testing.

A private school’s accreditation serves as the primary external seal of approval that a school is meeting its stated objectives. The process tends to be more thorough, because the scope of what’s reviewed is much wider.

#5 Class Size

Class size, or student-to-teacher ratio, can be a measure of quality. It’s an indirect measure of how much attention individual students are likely to receive. The fewer students a teacher has, the more attention he or she can give each one. Private schools typically report a low student-to-teacher ratio. In the public school realm, class size is inversely proportional to funding: more funding means smaller classes, and less means larger. In general, families tend to prioritize schools with smaller class sizes.

**Note, however, that Catholic schools tend to have larger-than-average class sizes. Families looking specifically for Catholic instruction should compare class size with other nearby Catholic schools, not with nonsectarian schools.

#4 Is Religious Affiliation Important?

Families who choose private school must decide whether they want their children to attend a religious school. This is not a hard decision for parents that are religious, of course. And for those parents, the denomination or affiliation of the school is often important enough to override most factors.

#3 Geographic Location

The vast majority of private schools don’t offer bus service. This makes location a major factor in families’ decision-making process. If a school isn’t reasonably close to home or work, it probably shouldn't stay on the list.

#2 Budget

Private schools cost money. Some cost a little, and some cost a lot. According to TheStreet, the average Catholic high school tuition is over $9000. The average non-sectarian school is over $28,000. And Forman, in Litchfield, Connecticut, is the country’s most expensive. It runs an eye-popping $62,000 per year.

Before getting too far into the process, families need to take a hard look at their budget. How much money is available per child? Are there any expenses the family is willing to give up to pursue private education? What are the quality schools in their city that are realistic choices for their budget?

And the #1 factor to consider when choosing a private school is....

#1 Culture

What we all must understand and acknowledge is that many of these institutions were built on the backs of slaves — having been founded with the proceeds of the slave trade. All of them failed to approach integration holistically — for years turning a blind eye to the racism that was and is part of the institutional DNA (Walter Cooper, PhD). As a nation, we have yet to tell the truth about racism — neither historically nor currently and we cannot begin to dismantle racism until we admit its depths and severity.

I recently read a blog post written by Dr. Carrie Sampson for educationpost.org. It was titled, What If Black People Had a 'Green Book' for Finding Schools Our Kids Deserve. Dr. Sampson answered the question of how Black families can find schools where our children are loved, nurtured and enjoy learning.

She states that the two main criteria that should make a school 'Green Book' worthy are:

  • A demonstrated commitment to successfully educating Black children

  • A demonstrated commitment to anti-racist practices that affirm the inherent worth of Black children.

I agree that these are two qualities that should be non-negotiable for Black families and families of color; however, these should be a non-negotiable for ALL families. When children are a part of a school community that values diversity studies have shown that they are better prepared for the global economy, it builds confidence, promotes empathy and reduces prejudice, improves student achievement, and fosters creativity. All families should want this for their children.

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” It is essential that all schools have a culture to support and nurture all students, and surely the most prestigious schools in America can be the starting point for that change.​

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