By Patrick Gallant
Lots of things are better if you pay more money for them. This is often true for consumer goods, like food or clothing.
But is education better if you pay more for it? Education is more than just a consumer good like food or clothing. Education is more like an investment you make for the future of your life.
It’s not easy to say whether private schools are generally better than public schools. For some families, there may be clear advantages. But simply paying more for education does not make it higher quality.
More concerning is the lack of equitable access to education facing our schools today. The pandemic has exacerbated issues like teacher shortages and varying access to technology. An education sector dominated by private schools would be even more unequal.
In this article, we will cover the following:
- Private schools vs. Public schools
- Drawbacks of private education in 2023
- The crisis of equitable access to education
- How unequal education affects all schools
Klassroom offers programs that help increase the supply of teachers using alternative certification programs. This is the best way we can help make education more equal.
Private Schools vs. Public Schools
There is no clear-cut reason why public or private schools are better. Factors like location and specific needs complicate the question. And it’s hard to objectively measure educational outcomes because public and private schools start with different sets of students.
The first complication is where. The United States is a big country that has 50 different state-level education systems.
Education funding and quality vary widely from state to state. New Jersey and Massachusetts, for example, rank highly in terms of public education, while Alaska and New Mexico fall at the other end of the list.
In some places, educational outcomes may be better in private schools simply because the quality of the local public schools is poor. Equitable funding of education would reduce the difference.
For many families, the Private vs. Public debate is a moot point because they have overriding needs that settle it one way or another.
Some families are serious about their religion and strongly prefer to send their children to a private school run on religious lines.
Other families have children with special needs who must be educated in a certain environment. In many cases, their needs are only accommodated at public schools, but sometimes the opposite is true.
Outputs reflect inputs
Some research indicates that students at private schools perform better on standardized tests. But much of the difference can be explained by socioeconomic factors rather than educational practices.
Private school costs money, so their students tend to come from wealthier families. And more affluent families start with advantages that give their children a leg up to begin with.
In other words, it’s unclear whether private schools produce better outcomes or if their students’ socioeconomic background gave them the real advantage. This is another case where improving equitable access to education would improve outcomes for everybody.
Drawbacks of Privatized Education in 2023
Private schools vary widely across all dimensions but have a few common drawbacks:
- Less diversity
- Higher pressure
- Limited resources
- Higher costs
Private schools tend to source their students from affluent, primarily white backgrounds. They tend to be less diverse than public schools, so sending your kids to a private school will mean exposing them to fewer types of people.
Private schools often place higher pressure on their students to succeed. As a result, many have earned a reputation for sending their students to elite schools, and wish to keep that reputation.
Private schools are usually smaller than public schools, and may have more limited resources. This can seem like a bit of a paradox, as private schools may have more money than public schools. But at the same time, their smaller size can mean fewer AP classes and niche courses, like music.
And, of course, private schools are by definition more expensive than public schools. That being said, some do offer generous scholarships.
The Crisis of Equitable Access to Education
The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic brought many societal problems to light. It revealed severe social inequalities across many domains, including education.
Most of the problems facing the US education system are bad across the board, but worse at public schools. Shifting to a private-dominated system would likely make the disparity even more extreme.
These problems include:
- Teacher shortages
- Access to technology
- Unequal school discipline
- In-school violence
The teacher shortage in America isn’t due to a lack of people who can teach. It has more to do with a lack of well-paid teaching positions.
Teaching is a stressful, demanding job. In many countries, it is accorded prestige and is highly compensated. In the US, however, teachers are often paid less than bartenders and dog sitters.
Teachers make 14% less than professionals with similar qualifications. They often have to take on extra jobs to make ends meet.
Despite the low pay, teaching is a serious profession that requires costly credentials to perform. Teaching certificates take time and energy to acquire, and this also contributes to the shortage. Fortunately, there are alternative paths that make it easier to get certified.
It’s no mystery, then, that many schools struggle to hire teachers. And the problem is made worse by the private public split, when many private schools can afford to pay their teachers more.
Access to technology
When education went online nationwide in March 2020, many schools were unprepared for the shift. Lacking funding, they didn’t have laptops to give students who needed one. Many students had no way to attend class.
This is another problem that is dividing education. Students at private schools are more likely to come from wealthier families that can afford technology. Students that need help are more likely to attend public schools.
Unequal school discipline
Students of color, students with economic disadvantages, and students with disabilities, are suspended more often other students.
Moreover, restorative justice programs tend to benefit white students more than black students.
These effects compound over time, as students facing discipline do worse in school, drop out more, and attend college less frequently. This contributes to an overall less equitable learning environment.
School shootings are a regular occurrence at American schools, although far more common at public schools. They have caused a heavier police and security presence across the education system.
Increased school violence is another deterrent for teachers. When their job potentially puts their life on the line every day, this is another factor disincentivizing them from taking teaching jobs.
How unequal education affects all schools
It is true that private schools generally have better access to technology and teachers and have lower rates of in-school violence. But these are problems that shouldn’t exist in the first place.
The societal solution to unequal education is not to prioritize private schools. That would only increase the divide.
The societal solution to unequal education is to make sure that all schools are adequately funded, that all teachers are adequately compensated, and that schools act as a safe space for all students.
That being said, for individual families, choosing a private school may be the right choice, depending on factors like location and specific needs.
How Klassroom is helping to ensure more equitable access to education
Klassroom offers teachers’ certification programs for aspiring teachers and recruitment programs for school districts. We believe that increasing the supply of available teachers is one of the best ways we can help make education more accessible for all.
To that end, our Teacher Certification Program helps confident, compassionate individuals pursue their dreams of becoming a teacher. The program can be completed in as little as one year.
Also, our Grow Your Own program helps districts recruit and license currently unlicensed individuals in their community.
Although these programs alone won’t fix all the problems in America’s education system, we believe in helping in whatever way we can.