Selecting a school for your children can be a challenging process. Every family is different in terms of educational philosophy and the needs of individual children. My earlier article “Going to a Catholic School: Some Pros and Cons” offered some things to think about. Here I address the pros and cons of public school.
As a disclaimer, these are generalities. School districts and schools within those districts can vary wildly; a school in rural North Dakota is going to be very different from one in inner city Chicago or suburban New York. It’s not a bad idea to talk to people and research the schools in your area. My hope is that this list will help you form questions to assist in that research.
The Pros Can Also Be Cons
1. Separation of Church and State
As a Catholic family living your faith, you are a walking evangelization team. Your family can provide witness to living a Christ-centered life. Jesus calls us to make disciples. We can’t hunker down and live in a bubble. Being exposed to a variety of beliefs can make for some interesting family dinner conversations as parents respond to what kids hear in school. Your kids won’t be too sheltered—but as parents you’re going to need to know your stuff.
However, this means sending them to parish religious education classes and as a family, you may be an island. When children get to middle school and high school and peer influence is greater, parents may find themselves alone or in the minority in teaching Catholic values and virtues. Gathering your children for Sunday Mass is harder when “no one else has to go” and public schools are more open to cultural ideology regarding sexuality and marriage.
2. Open to All
Federal and state laws mandate that public schools serve all children, including those with emotional, mental, and physical challenges. School districts are staffed with psychologists and special education experts who work with classroom teachers in developing individualized education plans for kids. Having this mix of students in the classroom also teaches compassion. Regular education kids learn through experience, for example, that a child with Down Syndrome will bring richness to the classroom and they learn compassion for differences. Public schools invest in identifying at-risk students and provide behavioral and academic support.
However, it also means there may be a disruptive student in your child’s class who demands more teacher attention, taking it away from the rest of the class. Expelling students who are violent, disruptive, or caught breaking the law, requires a hearing.
3. More Financial Resources
Public schools have licensed nurses in the health rooms, offer higher teacher salaries, and better facilities. Public schools are able to afford park-like play structures and state-of-the-art gymnasiums. Public schools also have the resources to offer more advanced placement classes at the high school level and specialized programs such as English as a second language or language immersion. Since you’re not paying tuition, you can stash away more cash for college.
However, if you live in a poorer district or a small town with a small tax base, your school may not have funding to support some special services. Schools may compensate for this by having fundraisers which means buying huge candy bars, wrapping paper, and magazine subscriptions.
4. Classroom Size
According to Public School Review, there is debate as to the effect of class size on academic achievement. A large but well-managed classroom can be an excellent learning environment and some kids thrive in a larger environment. School districts may choose to increase funding at the lower grades to have smaller class sizes when the children are younger.
However, bigger classes mean less individualized attention or your child getting lost in the shuffle. Classroom size can get larger as the kids move to higher grades and some kids have trouble finding their niche.
5. Neighborhood Schools
Children attend the school based on where they live, making public schools true neighborhood schools. A fair amount of civic pride wells up in support of the local high schools and people come together to build communities and relationships. In urban and suburban areas, kids can walk or bike to school.
However, higher quality schools are often located in more expensive neighborhoods, so housing and food costs will be greater. It may also be harder to find a home if the district is in high demand.
Public school teachers are required to be certified by the state. They also are typically paid higher salaries, potentially attracting higher quality teachers.
However, public school teachers are granted tenure so it is hard to get rid of an ineffective one.
All in all, sending your children to public school can be both a risk and an opportunity. The cultural immersion could be great for your child, but if his or her conscience isn’t well-formed at home that immersion can have undesired results. What matters most is the parents’ attention to what their children are learning in public school, and the parents’ understanding that they are still their children’s primary educators (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1653).
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About Merridith Frediani
Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three teenagers. She loves leading small faith groups for moms and looking for God in the silly and ordinary. She blogs and writes for her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee.