If you are moving to Florida from another state or country, or you live in South Florida and are looking for schools for your children, these questions often arise: Do I want my child to attend a public school or a private school? And then, Which school is right for my child and my family?
What’s the difference between public schools and private schools?
Independent (aka private) schools vary greatly in curriculum quality, school philosophy, and tuition cost. They differ from public schools in several important ways: selectivity, governance, autonomy, specialized support, and funding.
By nature, public schools are not selective, because they serve the public, (i.e., all types of students). By contrast, independent and charter schools don’t service all students. Because of their admission requirements, not all applicants are accepted. What are their considerations?
Independent schools evaluate applicants holistically by considering students’ academic strengths and weaknesses, extracurricular talents, essays written by parents and students, and teacher recommendations. Many schools require interviews of students and parents. In this more personalized process, the independent school can be highly selective. Religious schools may, of course, ask about an applicant family’s religious affiliation and beliefs. The decision made after such a thorough process helps ensure the school’s particular mission and reputation. Parents generally view favorably such a competitive admissions process; they want their child to attend school with other high-achieving, highly motivated students or those with similar learning styles.
Here’s another important consideration: Independent schools are not required to support students with special needs, while public schools are. If your child has a diagnosed learning difference, acknowledge it in the independent school admission process. It is not prudent to place a student who needs accommodations and special learning strategies at a school that cannot provide them, no matter how prestigious the institution.
Governance and Accountability
Independent schools are not accountable to the state for achievement, while all Florida public school students are – they must take and pass the high-stakes Florida Standards Assessment tests. Typically, in the public venue there is a process designed by education experts for the selection of textbooks, teacher evaluation, and assessment of students. School grades, promotion, graduation, and teacher evaluations are based on the data collected from these tests at certain grade levels.
The highest quality independent schools meet the standards of an accrediting agency, such as Cognia/AdvancEd or Florida Council of Independent Schools, which perform on-site evaluations every 3-5 years. Teachers are usually evaluated regularly by the department chair or the division head. Additionally, independent schools are governed by their board of trustees and answer to their students’ parents.
In the same vein, independent school parents view the lack of state supervision as a benefit. Less bureaucracy allows teachers the freedom to implement an enriched curriculum that encourages critical thinking and suits individual learning styles, uses problem-based learning and thematic curriculum integration. Since independent-school teachers are not hampered by state regulations, they are often given the freedom to design their own curricula and choose their textbooks. Their personalized classroom styles must produce the outcomes that the school administrators, trustees, parents, and the accrediting agency want.
Independent-school teachers are not required to have state certification in the subjects they teach; very often, their enriching life experience is, where appropriate, woven into classroom pedagogy. Conversely, public school teachers must teach the prescribed curriculum for each grade level and have certification in at least one principal field. Failure to earn the appropriate certification in a specified period of time may result in teacher termination.
South Florida public schools are funded through county property taxes and state grants. According to NPR, schools, on average, receive 45% of funding from the state, 45% from local taxes, and 10% from the federal government. Public schools do not charge tuition and most high schools in Florida graduate students who go on to college or other post-secondary education. Independent schools receive very little funding from the state, are typically tuition-driven, rely on the generosity of donors, and may have endowments that supplement annual costs.
With a plethora of school choices, South Florida is a wonderful place to live and educate children. There are many choices in the public and private sectors. In fact, with so many options, many parents feel overwhelmed! Contact us for a consultation with our school choice expert. She has personal insight into Florida’s most popular schools, having visited dozens of them in almost every community from coast to coast in Florida, and from Orlando south to Miami. She’ll help you decide which school is right school for your family, and facilitate your application process.