School choice is a hot topic today, and for good reason. Choosing a good school for your kids is extremely important, especially since education has declined so much in recent years, both morally and academically. Besides that, all children and families are different, and maybe the public school in your district isn’t meeting you or your child’s needs.
Whatever the reasons, now you’re exploring school choice. Maybe you’ve decided you want to try a private school, and you’re at the point where you just need to find the right fit. But how do you even start?
First, make a list of all the things you can’t budge on when it comes to a school. This could be anything from location, to special needs support, to costs—whatever is non-negotiable. Then, create a wishlist. This is everything that would be nice, but not critical to your choice. For example, maybe you’d like for your child to play sports, but you aren’t really worried if a school doesn’t offer that option because it’s not something that is too important to you.
What’s Your Budget?
Next, take a while to decide on your budget. This is a big concern for many families who want to send their child to private school, but think it’s beyond their means. However, actually, there are ways to make private school much more affordable. Private School Review says “there’s a private school for virtually every budget,” and “don’t think that sending your child to private school is an impossible dream. It’s much more affordable than you think. The secret is to be open and honest about your situation and ask lots of questions.”
Private schools usually offer financial aid. You can apply for scholarships, grants, loans, or discounts. So if money is a problem, be realistic about how much you can spend on your child’s education, and find a school that either fits within that budget or gives you options that make it doable with a little financial helping hand.
But of course, that’s not the end of your search for the perfect private school. Now you have to start evaluating your options.
Exploring Schools Online and On Campus
To find schools in your area, word of mouth is your best resource. If you’ve been recommended a school or know someone who could give you details on a school in the area, take advantage of that.
But, we get it—sometimes you don’t know anyone who sends their children to private school. Maybe you just moved into the area and don’t know anyone yet. If you have no clue where to start, then do some online research. Start with websites that will give you an overview of all the schools in your city. You can narrow your search using websites like Niche and Private School Review. These websites provide profiles, pictures, and reviews of thousands of private schools across the country.
And don’t forget to thoroughly explore each school’s website for detailed information on admission, faculty, schedules, values, and more.
Choose a few schools to tour in person. See the location for yourself, meet with the people there, and ask if you can sit in on a class. Discuss security and disciplinary measures with the administration. Do their views align with your own? Take mental notes on the campus culture. Does it feel like a safe, positive environment? Do you like the size? Keep these questions in mind as you tour.
Evaluating Educational Philosophy
Knowing where a private school stands on education is vitally important. What worldview is behind what they teach and their goals for their students? Keep in mind that a Christian school will have a different worldview than a secular school, because they’re getting their ideas from different places.
While methods and discipline play into whether you choose one school over another, the root you’re looking for is solid philosophy. Educational philosophy is basically the core of what people believe about learning and teaching. For instance, why do children need to learn? How do they learn best? What is the end goal of education? Find a school that believes in the same purposeful education that you do. You need to know that your children’s teachers have the goal of shaping your child into an educated, wise, and discerning adult. In cooperation with you, of course!
After you’ve identified a school founded on good educational philosophy, you can begin to evaluate their methods. Here are a few questions to get you started:
- Do they involve the child by teaching them to love learning?
- Use more of a classical or hands-on approach?
- Help students learn to study, memorize, and take notes?
- Lead their classrooms with a firm but gentle hand?
- What techniques and activities do they use?
You may also want to look into what extracurricular activities private schools offer. Do you want your child to get the experience of being on a sports team? Learn to play an instrument? Is he or she interested in learning acting or some other art? Many private schools do offer extracurriculars, and some even specialize in particular subjects, like music for example.
Looking at a School’s Culture and Values
“Private schools do a better job than traditional public schools at cultivating civic virtues in their students, such as civic participation and tolerance. They also tend to give more focus to character and moral formation,” says The Heritage Foundation.
For this very reason, “Most private school students (78 percent) attend religiously-affiliated schools,” with most going to Catholic schools, CAPE reports, because parents want to keep their children within the religious culture that they’re comfortable with. They want to make sure those same values are passed down to their children.
Obviously, a school’s faith is something to keep in mind since so many are run by churches or denominations. But it’s also good to look at a school’s culture and their values. A school’s philosophy will be different depending on whether they are Baptist, Cathlolic, Jewish, secular, or any number of different labels.
If you already ascribe to a certain faith and know you want to keep your child inside that, most of your work is done. But maybe you aren’t sure if you should pick a religious school or a secular one. Or maybe you’re considering the pros and cons of Protestant versus Catholic schools.
In that case, do some research and get advice from people you trust. Even parents who aren’t religious still send their children to Christian schools because they have a reputation of being traditional, conservative, instilling good character traits, and maintaining better structure and discipline on campus. There’s less of a threat of violence, bullying, or other misconduct.
So it’s important to evaluate campus culture when you’re looking at private schools. Does the school enforce values similar to yours? If the answer is yes, then it might be the right school for you.
If you’re religious, say a Christian and send your children to a non-Christian school, what ideas will they take away with them at the end of the day? Are they ideas that align with your faith? On the flip side, if you send your child to a religious school, they may hear things you don’t agree with. Religious schools do have religious classes. However, you can ask if the school offers a chance for students to opt out of these classes.
It’s up to you to decide.
The Right School For You
Finding “the perfect school” is a pretty big deal.
You want to be able to support the school your child goes to. So start searching, not for the perfect school, but for the right fit for you, your child, and your family.
What is the right fit? A school that lines up with your goals and your values. Find that, and your child will be well on their way to a solid education.
This is part two in a series on private schools. Read part one and part three.