7 Deadly Myths about Public School

Myth #1: “Public schools aren’t as good as private schools.”First off, this is rather a meaningless assertion to begin with, since there’s no such thing as a “typical” public school. Because the American public school system is decentralized, quality varies tremendously.

Your child can get a first class, quality education from your local public school

The fact is, however, that, depending on what indicator you choose to use, many public schools outperform private schools.It is important to understand that knowledge has no address. Knowledge does not “reside” in one location or another. In fact, now that the internet has broken down nearly all the barriers that once limited information access, this reality is more true than ever. Your child can get a first class, quality education from your local public school.Saying that private schools are “better” than public schools is a lot like saying that books you purchase from Barnes Noble are “better” than those you obtain from your local public library. The knowledge, the access is the same. It’s what you (and your child) do with the books that matters. Likewise, it is what you and your child do with your public school that will determine his or her educational outcomes.

The fact of the matter is that people living in affluent communities tend to have fewer children

Frankly, we think that blaming your child’s public school if your child is not achieving academically is a lot like blaming your gym if you’re out of shape. It’s not the fault of the institution; it’s what you do there that makes the crucial difference.Your child can absolutely still obtain an Ivy league-worthy education from the public school system. That’s assuming that he or she is willing to work hard in the top level classes, of course.Myth #2: “Private schools have better teachers than public schools.

Public school teachers tend to come from the middle classes and to be drawn to these types of schools

“Let’s address this one head-on. Recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics indicate that public school teachers are better educated than private school teachers with more experience, on average. For example, public school teachers are more likely to have a master’s degree than private school teachers.Public schools experience less teacher turnover, mainly because public school teachers are much better paid. This means public school teachers are more experienced. Also, Public schools require professional credentials for teachers and administrators. Many private school teachers work there because they lack the required credentials for a public school job.It is undoubtedly true that public schools have their share of teachers who are duds, so you are going to have to be proactive about seeking out the best teachers for your child. Stay alert and stay in touch with guidance personnel to steer your towards the most talented teachers.Myth #3: “My child will meet bad influences in public school.”It’s true that public schools have to serve everyone, including students who have no interest in learning. But they don’t have to serve them all equally. Because of tracking, every public school of sufficient size has “schools within the school”–subsets of high achieving students who take classes together. The environment within this subset is entirely different from what exists in lower-achieving classrooms.It’s also a mistake to assume that private schools are filled with high achievers. Many children in private school were placed there precisely because they failed to do what they needed to do to achieve in public school. Some even go to private school because they were expelled from public school! This is certainly not the minority, but it does happen.Don’t kid yourself into believing that private schools somehow insulate your children from bad influences. Depending on the student culture, the environment in a private school can be extremely decadent, anti-intellectual, and drug-fueled.Remember: the higher tracks are the “inside track” to higher achievement and high-performing peers within public schools.Myth #4: “Public schools lack academic rigor.”It used to be true that a student who didn’t care much about learning could slide through high school in low-level classes and “earn” a diploma without learning much. Recent changes in accountability and exit-testing have largely eliminated this option, and public schools now face the predictable problem of large numbers of low-achieving students not graduating.On the other end of the grading scale, however, more public school students than ever are now taking advantage of high caliber learning opportunities such as AP and Honors courses, which–at their best–rival what is available in the most exclusive private schools.There are multiple realities in a typical public school, but students who are motivated to challenge themselves with the highest level of classes are apt to find that intellectual challenges are abundant in public school. (Your typical public school teacher is more likely to complain that too few students rise to the challenge than that too few challenges exist for motivated students.)Consider this factoid, as well: 64% of admitted Harvard students went to public school. If there were enough challenges for these students in public school, there are enough challenges for your child, as well.Myth #5: “My child will have better extracurricular activities in private school.”This one is a no-brainer. Public schools, due to their sheer size both in terms of budget and student numbers, have the competititve edge in offering a wider array of extracurricular opportunities. This is definitely an area in which the public schools excel.Public schools clearly have the advantage in terms of being able to offer more competitive athletic programs and a full selection of band and orchestral choices. Small private schools just don’t have the numbers to support the same breadth of offerings–at least not at a competitive level.The reality is, some extracurriculars may become so competitive at the public high school that it is difficult for a casual participant to make the teams or achieve distinction. In this case, a private school might provide greater opportunities for involvement. It is important to point out that programs wax or wane within public schools, depending on personnel and the quality of student involvement.Myth #6: “I have to live in a rich neighborhood to find good public schools.”This myth seems to make sense on its face. It seems logical to assume that the public schools in the more affluent areas would be “better” than the public schools in less affluent areas. Because the tax base is stronger, you would expect to find increased support for school funding, as well.Don’t assume that this is necessarily the case, however. The fact of the matter is that people living in affluent communities tend to have fewer children. (Or, none at all. Sometimes people decide to focus on earning money instead of rearing children, or affluent communities may include many older adults with grown children.) Hence, support for the public schools may be lacking.Also, affluent families may not balk at the cost of private education, so the public schools may find themselves left with only the students from the lowest socioeconomic sectors. The children of affluent families also tend not to be “upwardly-mobile” and the schools in affluent areas are prone to taking on a cultural sense of entitlement. This is not a helpful environment for those seeking academic advancement for their children.The reality is that public schools tend to excel in areas with a strong middle class. Public school teachers tend to come from the middle classes and to be drawn to these types of schools. So, as long as you are avoiding severely under-funded schools in impoverished areas, do not worry that your child is not attending the “posh” public school in your area.Myth #7: “I have no choice but to send my child to my local public school.”This has traditionally been the case, but is no longer necessarily true. Options are expanding. For one thing, many public school districts are willing to accept “out-of-area” students. Usually, this depends on enrollment numbers. Some school districts may impose a “tuition” fee; others may not. It never hurts to ask. Also, within your own district, you may be able to request permission for your child to attend a different school than the one he or she is “zoned” to attend. Again, the amount of flexibility possibility may depend upon enrollment numbers. Sometimes, a district may be happy to honor this type of request, if it helps to relieve crowding in one school.”School choice” has been a hot-button political issue for some time. Despite the fact that it has never really officially caught on, it does seem that there is a trend towards increased school options. This probably also has a lot to do with basic demographics in many districts. When the numbers are down, schools are more likely to allow transfer students in from other districts. The homeschooling option has drawn off a certain percentage of students in many districts, leaving spaces in some classrooms. Bear in mind, if you choose this option, thast you will probably have to provide your own transportation. Obviously, they are not going to be willing to send a bus to come and pick up a child who lives “out-of-area.”Also, there are increasing school options within districts. Magnet schools and Governor’s or Honor’s schools are examples of this. These are public schools that cater to students with specialized interests and students may have to apply to qualify for admission. There are increasing opportunities for online public K-12 education. Some of these schools are for-profit; others are operated as public magnet schools and your child’s public school “allotment” may be used to pay for enrollment. Finally, the No Child Left Behind Act includes a stipulation that basically says that students in so-called “failing” Title 1 schools need to be offered expanded transfer options. The law has been in place long enough for these consequences to apply, so that will increase school choice options for more students. The bottom line is, be sure to do your homework and research all options available to you and your child.

Dr. Bonnie Kerrigan Snyder, D.Ed. is the author of “The Public School Parent’s Guide to Success: How to Beat Private School and Homeschooling,” available at http://www.publicschoolparent.com. A Doctor of Education, she has worked as a public school teacher, guidance counselor, and teacher educator. She is public schooling her own children in Lancaster, PA.