BY CANDY WAYLOCK JAN 2016
We know that finding the right school for their children is a top priority for Central Georgia parents.
Here are some key questions to ask if you are considering a private school.
Choosing the right school is one of the most important decisions you can make in your child’s future. Because each child is unique, as is each school, it is important to make the best school choice for your child based on your child’s needs and your values and educational philosophy. As parents consider educational options beyond their neighborhood public schools, private schools are the answer for parents seeking more for their children.
Whether those reasons are smaller class sizes, fewer disciplinary issues, or a faith-based preference, parents at some point explore the available options of public and private schools, then decide what is best for their children.
The decision starts with understanding your children, says Jeff Jackson, president of the Georgia Independent Schools Association (GISA).
“Know what your hopes and dreams are for your child,” explains Jackson. “Is it to be nurtured in a good academic environment, to be in a school with a particular faith, the opportunity to be involved in [extracurricular], or to be prepared for college and beyond?”
The questions and answers, he said, may vary based on the age of the child, but a school that supports the interests of the family are key to success.
So how do parents navigate the complexities of private school offerings? Here are a few questions to ask when considering a private school.
Is the school accredited by a nationally-recognized organization?
If your child plans to attend college, know that most colleges and scholarships providers require students to be graduates of accredited high schools unless home schooled.
In Georgia, the primary accreditation agencies recognized nationally are the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)/AdvancEd, the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS), the Georgia Private School Accreditation Council (GAPSAC), and the Georgia Accrediting Commission (GAC).
Once a school is accredited, it is reviewed and renewed every five years. Accreditation lets parents know the school is committed to continuous improvement and open to outside review.
How does the school’s academic achievement compare to the public school?
There are many high-performing public schools across Central Georgia, but enrolling into these top schools often depends on your home address—if you don’t live in the attendance zone, you may not get into that school. So if your preferred public school is not an option, a private school may be the best choice.
Overall, statistics show private school students outperform their public school peers in nearly all areas, from state assessments, to Advanced Placement (AP) scores, to college entrance exams, and acceptance. According to The Condition of Education 2001, from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), “Private high schools typically have more demanding graduation requirements than do public high schools.” Needless to say, private schools have a natural filtering system that public schools don’t have, such as residential area, family income, race, and education level of parents.
Compared with public schools, private schools required more coursework (in 4-year high school programs). According to the National Association of Educational Progress (NAEP): “Comparing Private Schools and Public Schools Using Hierarchical Linear Modeling,” private school students in 4th, 8th, and 12th had higher average scores in reading, mathematics, science, and writing than their public school peers.
Much of the success for private school students can be tied to smaller class sizes. Educational research shows academic performance is highest when class sizes stay below 20 students—the norm for private schools—but a nearly impossible goal in a traditional public school. However, there seems to be a trend of increased class sizes among some of Central Georgia’s private schools.
Will a private school education get my child into their college of choice?
The answer to this depends on the focus of the school and whether its curriculum is based on rigor and college prep. Nonetheless, the individual student’s ability and the college of choice come into play as well.
Stratford Academy’s officials note the school’s mission is to provide “a college-preparatory school for its students in pre-kindergarten through grade twelve that challenges students to achieve their full potential by providing a superior education for students with diverse backgrounds and talents and developing responsible, ethical, life-long learners.” Graduating classes boast 100 percent matriculation at colleges and universities in Georgia and across the U.S.
Other local private schools, such as Westfield School in Perry, note similar results. “Parents choose Westfield for several reasons, [including] the opportunities for their children to experience learning and critical thinking, not only in the classroom, but also through participation in athletics, fine arts, and extracurricular activities,” says admissions officer Mary Jane Kinnas.
Parents should look for high schools that offer a wide range of Advanced Placement (AP) courses (there are 37 total). Ask to see the list of available AP courses, the participation rates, and the pass rates on the AP exams. A passing score on the AP exam could mean college credit for the course.
Graduation rates are also a good indicator of a student body committed to academic achievement. Private schools generally exceed the public school rates in Georgia, with a graduation rate above 90% for private school students, compared to below 80% for public school students.
Are private school teachers as qualified as public school teachers?
In general, private school teachers make less than their public school counterparts. However, there are good reasons private school teachers accept salaries 5–10 percent lower than public school staff, including a more supportive work environment, smaller classes, and fewer discipline issues.
A study done by the U.S. Department of Education showed little difference in experience and credentials between public and private school teachers. Teachers in both public and private schools have an average 14 years of teaching experience, with about half holding an advanced degree, based on the study for the 2011-2012 school year.
How important is a faith-based school environment?
Nearly 70% of private schools in Georgia are religiously affiliated, with the majority of those being Catholic and Christian-centered. School leaders say the choice of a faith-based school is often a desire for parents to maintain their values from home to school.
“I believe most parents who select Central Fellowship Christian Academy are looking for a school that will be an extension of their home,” states Josh Queen, headmaster of CFCA in Macon. “When it comes to that final decision, parents realize that the school will be the place where their children will spend the majority of their waking moments during their childhood.”
Can I afford the tuition?
With tuition averaging around $10,000 a year for private schools, the decision becomes a personal one. Financial aid is available at nearly every private school, but is primarily needs-based. Investigate the options, compare tuition and financial aid packages, look for sibling discounts, and then decide if the cost is worth the more individualized education your child will receive.