Because the United States does not have a state-controlled educational system, parents have the choice of sending their children to public or private schools. While pubic schools are funded through taxation, private schools rely on a combination of tuition and, in many cases, donations for the members of the religious organization operating the school. Private schools date back to the early colonial history of America and continue to thrive alongside their public school counterparts. Some Americans believe that private schools are safer and provide better social and intellectual training, while others argue that the alleged benefits of private schools are overblown. One continuing controversy involves school vouchers, government coupons enabling parents to use public money to help pay for private school education. Private schools in America today consist of a wide variety of different types such as preparatory (prep) schools, Waldorf schools, Montessori schools, parochial schools, Christian schools, Hebrew schools and Islamic schools.
ACADEMIC TOPIC OVERVIEWS
Alternative Education > Private Schools
Unlike many other nations in both the developed and developing world, the United States does not have a state-controlled educational system. In terms of K-12 education, parents are free to send their children to taxpayer-funded public schools, educate their children at home, or send them to a private school by paying the tuition fee.
Private Schools in Colonial America
The earliest educational method in the American colonies was homeschooling. This was partly out of necessity--as no schools existed when the colonists arrived--and partly because of the conviction of many early colonists, and particularly the Puritan settlers of New England, that a child's parents were to be the primary educators. Of course, as the colonies became established, and books and teachers proliferated, both private and public schools became established as institutions that would educate colonial children.
In Virginia, the history of private schools dates back to 1635-1636, when a school was opened in Elizabeth County, and at least five others were later founded (Dexter, 1906, p. 6). The first private schools in New Amsterdam (later New York City) were opened by 1642 (Dexter, 1906, p. 14). In Rhode Island, where publicly funded schools came later than in most of the colonies, one writer observed in 1716 that "there were schools of all kinds, though no uniform organized system" (quoted in Dexter, 1906, pp. 51-52).
Delaware's first schools were either run by religious organizations, such as the Quakers, or were private, with public schools established later in the eighteenth century after the importance of public education was stressed in the 1792 state constitution (Dexter, 1906, pp. 58-59). In Pennsylvania, cultural conflicts between German and English settlers inhibited the early growth of public education, so private schools filled the void by providing the predominant form of education throughout the colonial period; students without financial means were educated at private schools for free (Dexter, 1906, pp. 60-61).
In Maryland, "Catholic missionary and parochial schools have played an important part in the educational history of the state; the first of the former, for the Indians, having been established as early as 1677" (Dexter, 1906, p. 65). Other types of private schools flourished throughout the eighteenth century, despite the colonial government's attempt to encourage the creation of public county schools. Meanwhile, in North Carolina, public-private partnerships created schools funded by the state but operated by churches and missionary societies (Dexter, 1906, p. 68). Charitable organizations founded private elementary schools in South Carolina by the end of the Revolutionary War, while there were eleven public elementary schools (Dexter, 1906, p. 70). In Georgia, the Moravian missionaries and later the evangelist George Whitfield founded charity schools for the poor, but legislative action helped public education gain a solid foothold in the decades between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War (Dexter, 1906, pp. 71-72).
As the colonies became the United States and the nation began to expand its territory, similar public-private patterns continued to be commonplace along the frontier. In newer Midwestern states such as Minnesota, for example, private and public schools sprang up almost alongside each other ("Public and private schools," 2001). In Western states, mission schools were the first to educate young people. Sometimes, however, it seems that students attending privately funded frontier schools in places such as Fort Vancouver (Washington) were not quite so young--one teacher in the small school there in the 1840s had "three shipwrecked Japanese among his pupils" (Lee & Frosy, 1844, p. 126).
Today's Private Schools
One in ten K-12 students in the United States attends a private school (Broughman & Swaim, 2006; Feinberg, 2007). Among members of the 110th Congress (2007-2009), 37 percent of Representatives and 45 percent of Senators sent their children to private schools--roughly four times the national average. For members of the Congressional Black Caucus, a group comprised of African American legislators, the number rose to 52 percent (Feinberg, 2007).
What does today's private school universe in the United States look like? According to the biennial Private School Universe Survey (PSS) conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education, 33,366 private schools enrolled 4.7 million students in 2009-2010. The researchers also identified some other information that paints a vivid picture:
* 68.1 percent of private schools were either Catholic or otherwise religious, with the remainder being nonsectarian.
* Private schools tend to have small student bodies--86.8 percent enrolled fewer than 300 students.
* Geographically, private schools are evenly distributed across the United States, but 67 percent are in city or suburban areas, while the remainder are in towns or rural areas.
* Those private schools in urban centers are much more likely to have a large minority student enrollment--up to 12 percent in 2009-2010--while the minority enrollment in rural and small town schools was 5 percent or less.
* Public schools, on average, enroll more minority students, students with disabilities, and poor students than private and preparatory schools.
* Private schools tend to have low student-to-teacher ratios. The average student/teacher ratio for Catholic schools was 14.1:1 in 2009-2010; for other religious schools it was 10.2:1, and for nonsectarian it was 7.6:1.
* Graduation rates were also extremely high, ranging from 95 percent for nonsectarian private schools in 2008-2009 to 99.4 percent for Catholic schools (Broughman & Swaim, 2006; National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.).
The annual tuition for private schools can be considerable, though most schools offer financial aid, and many Catholic and religious schools offer tuition discounts based on need and/or church membership. In addition, Sallie Mae, an institution well known for offering federal student loans to college students and their parents, also offers loans to help parents finance a private elementary or high school education (Melendez, 2007).
The National Association of Independent Schools, which represents 1,400 private and preparatory schools in the United States, reports that the average median 2010-2011 tuition for K-12 was $19,075. For boarding schools, that number rose to $42,770 (NAIS, 2007).
The relationship between public schools and private schools has sometimes been uneasy. While there are many instances in which public and private schools enjoy a friendly rivalry, both on and off the athletic field, there are ongoing policy debates about the use of government funds to let parents finance a private school education, and, since many private schools are religious in nature, deeper controversies involving the proper relationship between church and state.
Different Types of Private Schools
There are distinctions that should be made between different types of private schools. One school can traverse several sub categories. The differences between the types of private schools in the United States often can be put down to emphasis and/or philosophy of education.
* Preparatory Private (prep) Schools tend to be larger private boarding schools that focus on preparing students to win acceptance to the nation's elite colleges and universities.
* Waldorf Schools practice a holistic, more arts-based method of education that lets the teacher set his or her own curriculum and tailor it to the needs of the individual children in the classroom.
* Montessori Schools , most of which are elementary schools, view...
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