Regardless of conventional wisdom, there are many of the same issues in private and public schools : unruly students; great variations in ability; demanding, second-guessing parents.
Some students are good in some academic areas while having a difficult time in others. They come from a wide range of socioeconomic levels, family functioning and lifestyles.
The major difference between private and public schools is tax money. Public schools receive it while private schools pay it. Private schools are financed by tuitions that are paid by the consumer.
Since private school parents pay tuition they have the ultimate power in quality control: withdrawing their child. They determine the status of the school. When a school does not have enough income to pay its bills, it ceases to exist or it thrives as the tuition outpaces expenditures.
In public schools there is no such objective economic mechanism. The level of functioning of a government school is based on criteria established internally by educational bureaucrats with community cronies rubber-stamping these decisions.
In district schools there is red tape that hinders changes. Government representatives act as if their power to distribute taxpayer funds gives them the right to dictate educational policies. Money often causes arbitrary decisions that frequently change school programs. These new programs require expensive implementation, assessments and training which is often confusing and in conflict with past policies and interfere with educational continuity.
Besides increasing paperwork and manpower, these added requirements and regulations usher in new procedures and policies that alter the school's climate. From 1950 to 2009 administrative mandates with minimal local input have increased administrative staff 702 percent with only a 252 percent increase in teachers, while student population has risen only 96 percent.
Private school proprietors are not beholden to government handouts. Their vision is driven by a mission to better education. There are no layers of bureaucratic politics to wade through before instituting any change.
The private school owner has the power and dedication to do those things necessary to upgrade the school's quality.
Private schools are able to positively impact the whole child, including character, due to the years of being part of a school community where all the students, teachers and parents know each other. The continuity of instruction from year to year, effective parent-school communication, and the necessary time to train students to strengthen their initial deficits are simple measures that make a huge difference in the quality and climate of the school.
In a free enterprise, private schools are too small to be viable targets for unionization. Being free of the shackles of union control private schools are able to keep schools in line with local economic realities. Teachers who have committed serious indiscretions are dismissed without compensation or prolonged union litigation.
Private schools are experimental laboratories for education. They will often appeal to different audiences according to the different ways they attempt to reach their educational goals. Each school is unique. Some will develop ideas that will show undeniably positive results that will often be adopted by others, thus improving education.
These private schools are in an enviable position as they are directed by the consumer. There are no government bailouts that can save poorly operating private schools. Without this crutch they know they have to deliver valuable services or the consumers will put them out of business.
Dr. Maglio is a columnist carried by various newspapers, an author of several books and owner/director of Wider Horizons School, a college prep program. You can visit Dr. Maglio at www.drmaglio.blogspot.com.