Thinking About Private School? 4 Things You Should Consider

Private school is a $54 billion industry, according to IBISWorld, a market research firm. Each year, millions of parents of elementary, middle, and high school students evaluate the various educational options for their children. With the overall goal of promoting our children’s success, coupled with the desire to send our kids to a place where they will be happy and thrive, we make a decision based on the information we have available.

Sometimes, we hear about a friend or neighbor whose child flourished at specific private school. Other times, a private school in our community has a reputation for excellence. Whatever the reasons for considering private school, it is never a decision to make lightly.

School choice impacts our day-to-day lives. In addition to the money spent on private school tuition, a change in school may also involve a move to a different location, children growing up around different peers, and learning a different curriculum. Given the importance of such a decision, it’s essential to evaluate any and all relevant data available. Here is a breakdown of some of the statistical information you may want to consider.

1. Tuition cost

According to Private School Review, the national average cost of private school tuition for the 2013-2014 school year is $9,237 annually, with elementary school tuition averaging $8,221 and high school tuition averaging $11,820. Your private school tuition costs depend largely on your location. Maine has the highest overall average tuition costs at $22,588. For elementary school tuition, the highest costs are in the District of Columbia, where they average $16,156. Massachusetts, Delaware, and New Hampshire also have higher-than-average elementary school tuition — you’ll pay an average cost of between $10,000 and $12,500 in those states.

As for high school tuition, Vermont has by far the highest average cost in this category at $38,082, comparable to many private colleges. Maine ($29,428), Connecticut ($28,618), and Massachusetts ($28,414) have expensive average high school tuition costs, as well. Private school tuition is at its lowest in all categories in North Dakota, where it averages $2,525 overall: $2,100 for elementary school and $2,950 for high school.

2. Commonality

During the most recently reported year, the Department of Education found there were more than 30,000 private elementary and secondary schools, around 4.5 million attending students, and about 421,000 full-time teachers. Parents who are teachers are more likely to send their kids to private school than non-teacher parents, even if a teacher earns lower wages. Recent Census data indicate that of families earning at least $75,000, 12 percent have children who only attend private schools, and an additional 3 percent have children in both public and private schools. Data from a Town Hall publication indicates that around one-third of public school teachers in many areas, such as San Francisco and Baltimore, send their children to private schools.

3. Benefits

The Council for American Private Education (CAPE) published data on the academic achievement of public and private school students. A higher percentage of private school students take advanced-level high school science and mathematics courses when compared to public school students. A study that examined the educational attainment of students from eighth grade to their mid-20s found that “students who had attended private school in 8th grade were twice as likely as those who had attended public school to have completed a bachelor’s or higher degree by their mid-20s.” The difference is 52 percent of all private school students versus 26 percent of all public school students. Among students who perform in the highest quartile, however, these differences become less substantial. Around 57 percent of the highest academic achievers in public schools earned at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to 69 percent of private school high achievers.

4. Other options

Magnet schools provide a cost-free option for parents who are seeking an alternative but are not looking to pay tuition costs. In contrast to private schools, magnet schools are part of the public school system. They often have a focus area — like mathematics, science, or the arts — and these schools may require specific admission standards. Sometimes, a child has to score high on standardized testing and earn certain grades. However, any child can find an appropriate magnet school. Magnet Schools of America says that 80 percent of its programs serve all students. Magnet schools outperform other schools nationwide, performing 83 percent better in reading and 84 percent better in math.

Homeschooling is also an option for those who do not want to send their children to public school. The number of children receiving home school has increased in recent years. Parents magazine reports that in 2007, 2.9 percent of children were homeschooled, and by the 2011-2012 school year, that number increased to 3.4 percent. The top reason parents cite for homeschooling is a concern about the school environment. Data from the University of St. Thomas found that homeschoolers have several markers of academic success during their young adult academic careers. For instance, home schoolers score markedly high on English and Reading ACT tests.