I don’t recommend thinking about a private high school for your rising freshman unless you care about small class sizes, more individualized attention especially in writing, and solid college counseling. If those things aren’t a concern and your student thrives in a big school environment, private school might not be right.
Here’s what a private school can offer:
1. Small class sizes: There’s no doubt about it, research shows that a lower student teacher ratio can make a big difference in academic achievement. Most public schools have classrooms up to 30 students. But private schools, on the other hand, tout classes about half that size. Why is that important? Well, for one, the teacher has more time to devote to your child. The teacher gets to know your child and understands her strengths and her weaknesses. When her strengths are fully noticed she is able to be challenged to move on quicker to the next level. But if weaknesses are seen, it’s easy to intervene and give the child the appropriate help.
I had a 9th grade student tell me the other day that his English teacher didn’t even know his name. He is in a large public high school with 2000 other kids and it is easy to see how kids can go unnoticed, especially when they’re the type not to raise their hand, not to get involved and to sit in the back of the room. Kids are almost always involved in a private high school. Sitting in the back of the room and not engaging in a discussion is rare.
2. Writing program: If your child needs some extra help or can even charge ahead in writing, a small class may be just the ticket to bring written language to the next level. In a large classroom it’s almost impossible for a teacher to provide detailed written feedback. Instead, kids often receive an A or a B with a few comments, but not enough to help them understand what they need to change in their writing. In a private school, kids meet directly with their teachers one-on-one and sometimes in small groups, but there’s always ample feedback for how they can improve their writing. To me, being a good writer is paramount, especially when it comes to college. It’s the one skill students absolutely must have.
3. College counseling: If you have a student who is able to plan his schedule and pick his classes and who knows exactly where he wants to go to school, this may a non-issue. But if you feel that your student is going to need guidance in terms of class selection and finding the right match for college, a private school might be a good option.
In a public environment, the model is 300 students to every one counselor. That one counselor is responsible for not only making sure class schedules work but also mediating student disputes and making sure kids adhere to the dress code. But in many independent schools, a college counselor is only responsible for 30-50 students. They’re able to start with those kids in freshman year, help them pick their classes, get focused on the curriculum that interests them, walk them through the entire application process, and direct them in terms of taking the ACT or the SAT and choosing the college that is a good match for them.
I do believe that parents who are happy with a large high school environment and who have a child who thrives in that atmosphere probably do not want to consider a private high school. But if you are concerned about the size of classes, the writing program, and college counseling, it’s a great idea to consider a private high school.