Parents have access to all of the answers – especially when they know who to ask first.
School hunting can be a daunting task for even the most devoted parents, so knowing what to ask and where to look for answers can help move the process along quickly. You’ll ask: How do I know which school my child will thrive at? What kind of extracurricular programs should I be looking for? Can I even afford it? The good news is that the answers are easily accessible, provided you know what resources to consult.
Public versus Private
If the ultimate goal is to ensure that your child makes it into a suitable college, private school is an avenue that can help outline that path. Most private schools in Orange County cite post-high school college attendee statistics in the 90th percentile, and according to the National Center for Education Statistics, public school statistics are steadily increasing, sending more students to college each year. Even more than percentile brackets, a student’s GPA and individual effort matter more than the type of school from which a soon-to-be college student received their education.
The quality of education determines the success of students later in life moreso than grade averages. Luckily for private schools, this is where they (and consequently, where the students) shine. Less prone to budget cuts in the unstable economy, private schools are in better positions to offer advanced placement classes and extracurricular activities like sports and art, classes that many public schools have had to cut in recent years. With an average student to teacher ratio of 14-to-1 as reported by Private School Review, Orange County private schools can afford to spend more time and money per student than the 23-to-1 laden public schools, translating to a more focused work environment for children. For example, at Rancho Viejo Montessori School (RVMS), with class sizes as small as 6-to-1, “Classrooms are tailored to provide each child with the curriculum he or she needs at any particular moment in the trajectory toward mastery of skills,” according to Deborah Warkentien, Head of School at RVMS.
Another difference between public and private schools in Orange County is whether or not they require participation in standardized testing. According to Dr. Ron Reynolds, executive director, California Association of Private School Organizations (CAPSO), parents often ask whether private schools administer the same achievement tests as public schools. In California, the answer is no. The reason is simply that state law prohibits it. However, that may be about to change. A current bill, AB 923, authored by Assemblymember Kristin Olsen (R-Modesto), would make it possible for private schools to voluntarily administer the same tests used by public schools to gauge academic achievement. There is, however, a catch. In its current form, the bill would require any private school wishing to use the state tests to obtain a surety bond with a principal sum of up to $1 million as a form of insurance in the event that the private school’s use of the test should result in a breach of security. The private school would also be required to pay for “all costs associated with the assessment.”
CAPSO believes the surety bond provision is unfair, and will effectively serve as a barrier preventing private schools from using the state tests. “There are numerous other states in which private schools are permitted to administer the same tests as public schools,” Reynolds stated, “And not a single one of them imposes a surety bond requirement, or anything similar.” Reynolds added that CAPSO is currently engaged in discussions with the bill’s author and representatives of the California Department of Education to seek an alternative to the surety bond provision.
While this would seem to offer an assurance of the quality of education, private schools are reluctant to take up the offer, understanding the negative impact it could have. Private schools are able to put their students’ best interests at heart, ensuring quality learning that will follow them through school, college and life.
Choosing the Right School
For parents who have already made the choice to send their children to private school, the difficulty lies in deciding which private school is the best choice. The good news is that there is a multitude of choices in OC, allowing for an amount of customization in choosing the right school for each unique child. Class size can play as a factor, so it’s great that most schools have open houses and offer tours during school hours just so parents can feel out the environment and make an informed decision.
Many private schools are religious-based, and that can be an important aspect for a family that wants to instill spirituality in their child’s life. Schools with specific religious backgrounds often hold chapels and other religious services for their students, allowing the children to express their spirituality in an environment with guidance from peers and adults of their faith. In the same vein, uniforms may be an important part of the decision-making process. Modesty and equality accompany uniformed school settings, while creativity and individuality can be expressed in free-dress schools. Fortunately, there are private schools for both ideals. Similarly, parents can determine where they want their child’s school to place emphasis, such as academics, sports, arts and other extracurricular activities, since many schools foster rich environments for student-run clubs. Gone is the “old factory model” where, Warkentien explained, “The lesson plans map out the day.”
For some parents, the question is not “Which school do I want my child to attend?” but rather, “How do I afford it?” Private schools do not depend on funds from the state, but instead require tuition. That said, most private schools offer merit-based scholarships. Tuition assistance plans (based on need) are common, as are multi-student discounts and church-affiliated discounts. Some other places to look can be local volunteer organizations (for need-based and minority students,) membership organizations and companies sometimes offer education scholarships for the children of employees. For parents in the planning stages of elementary or high school, they can begin saving funds through a Coverdell Education Savings Account, an untaxed trust fund specifically for the use of a child’s K-12 education.
Ultimately, the choice of which school will suit your child best is dependent on the personality type and learning style of the child. Researching and learning about the schools in your area is a great first step, but visiting the school, meeting the teachers, speaking with parents and assessing the environment with your own eyes allows for a first-person impression and evaluation. Your child’s education is an investment that will hold long-term results. Therefore, making a well-informed decision can help ensure a successful path for your child’s education career.
By Stephanie Miles