A Comparison between Private and Public Schools

Published 01 Jun 2017

Table of content


“Does paying for an education matter?” (Shortt 5). In arguing that private school is still a much better alternative than public school, a clear context of the issue should first be described beginning with the definitions of what constitutes a public and a private school. In most countries including the United States, the distinction is simple and is mainly with regards to the source of funding that a particular school enjoys (Hochschild & Scovronick 7). A public school is state funded. This means that the government pays for most if not all of the operational expenses of a school with minor assistance from outside contributions and donations. Public schools normally have minimal if not non-existent tuition fees and are designed to make education accessible to all the citizens of a country regardless of financial capabilities.

As a consequence, public schools are also government run, usually under a particular state department for education. On the other hand, private schools are mainly funded by its customers, which are primarily the school’s students usually through their parents who pay for their education. A private school is run by an internal school board that is registered but not significantly beholden to the state’s Department of Education (Hochschild & Scovronick 8). According to Maddoux, “It cannot be denied that any argument against public schools should be balanced with the fact that it is free, hence a balance of interests must always be present” (31). Therefore, any supposed advantage that a private school has over public schools should be weighed according to the price that students are paying for it. There are three main standards of comparison by which this paper makes its assessment of public and private schools. These three levels are facilities, curriculum, and environment.


Obviously, public schools constantly depend on government funding to maintain operations and modernize equipment. For many governments in poorer countries, this has been one grave reason for public school being extremely worse than private schools. Non-existent facilities such as science or speech laboratories, inadequately furnished classrooms, and an overcrowding of students characterize public school in the Third World. In some countries such as Vietnam or the Philippines, student-teacher ratios can shoot as high as eighty to one (Shortt 22), making it a near impossible task for any teacher to effectively keep track of each student’s learning progress. In more affluent countries such as the United States, having sizeable budgets for public education has not seemed to result in better school facilities either.

Gross claimed that even if the U.S. Department of Education spends an average of $10,000 per student a year, most of these expenses are from administrative and faculty costs with only as small as 10% going into the improvement of facilities, this is contrary to private schools that dedicate ample funding for improving school facilities, most of the time even requiring a separate fee for modernization from their students (71). Since private schools are in heavy competition with one another over the scant number of people who can afford it, they need to devote considerable funding to modernize facilities in order to attract more customers. This atmosphere of competitiveness is absent in the typical public school set-up, wherein students are allocated depending on where they live.


Taking academic performance into consideration, historical data shows that private school has fared relatively better than public schools (Gross 92). In an international study conducted on the top 21 industrialized countries, basic education in the United States ranked 17th in terms of mathematics and science. However, a cross-sectional observation reveals that the low rank is mostly due to public school contribution. Separately, public and private schools would rank 19th and 14th respectively (93). Public school curriculum is generalized throughout schools in a particular state by an umbrella school board. Since new curricula are implemented across all public schools, the processes involved in implementation, monitoring, and assessment of such new material takes substantially long.

Private schools are not required to conform to the entire prescribed curricula of the Department of Education. Hence, this freedom allows them to incorporate materials, strategies, and entire curricula that could suit their students better, as opposed to public schools that are constrained within the exact recommendations of the state. The ability to choose tailor-made ways to address student learning puts private schools in a better position than public schools in drafting and revising the substance of education offered. Because of the smaller scope of implementation, assessing results of particular implemented curricula is faster, making private school curricula more comprehensive and up-to-date.


Since public school is open for everyone, many socio-cultural problems arise to hinder learning and even threaten student safety. In Zimmerman, it was described that “most cases related to racial or gender discrimination happen in public schools”(18). Furthermore, it is more than twice as likely to get bullied in a public school as in a private school (23). Although governments such as the United States have been fervent in implementing policies against discrimination and bullying, the inherent mass of public school students makes such policies a lot harder to implement effectively than in private schools. Hence, private schools are able to provide a better learning environment for their students than their public counterparts.


Based on the given three standards, it can be concluded that private schools are still better than public schools in terms of facilities, curriculum, and environment. Even taking Shortt’s words into consideration, the fact that Americans pay more in taxes for their public schools than the tuition that private schools charge means that the insufficiency of money is not a factor that should neutralize the disparity between public and private schools.

Works Cited

  • Gross, Martin L. The Conspiracy of Ignorance: The Failure of American Public Schools. N.J.: Harper Paperbacks, 2000.
  • Hochschild, Jennifer L. & Scovronick, Nathan. The American Dream and the Public Schools. Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Maddoux, Marlin. Public Education Against America: The Hidden Agenda. I.N.: Whitaker House, 2006.
  • Shortt, Bruce N. The Harsh Truth About Public Schools. N.J.: Ross House Books, 2004.
  • Zimmerman, Jonathan Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools. Harvard University Press, 2002.
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