Charter and private schools are very different, at virtually all levels—including at the preschool level.
Here, we discuss some of the key differences between private and charter preschools so that you have all of the resources and information you need to make an informed decision about which school is the best fit for your child and family.
What is a Charter School?
In New Orleans, the term charter school refers to a public school which is independently operated. Charter schools are often established by teachers, the local school district, parents, or community groups. They are governed by the “charter,” which is a contract outlining the school’s academic program, mission, goals, and enrollment.
Though charter schools are run independently, they are still public schools and are therefore funded by taxpayer money. These schools are free to attend, but in order to secure funding from the state they must meet the academic and enrollment standards outlined in the charter contract.
What is an Independent/Private School?
Like charter schools, independent schools are run independently of a school district. But while charter schools are funded by taxpayer dollars, and are therefore held accountable by the taxpayer, independent schools are typically funded almost exclusively by tuition payments, donations, and endowment revenue.
This means independent schools often enjoy much more latitude in developing their academic curriculum, mission, and philosophy compared to charter schools. For example, independent schools are routinely exempt from testing requirements highlighted by state and/or federal mandates. Additionally, private/independent schools can set their own admission requirements while operating free from the limits of school districts.
Independent schools can be run as non-profit (501(c)(3)) or for-profit businesses. The IRS requires that all 501(c)(3) organizations be governed by an independent board of trustees.
Independent vs. Charter School: Which Makes Sense For You
When determining which preschool is right for your child, it’s important that you consider all of your options before making any decision. Below are five considerations to keep in mind when choosing the right preschool for your child.
1. Academic Standards
As previously mentioned, there are significant differences in the academic standards at charter and private schools. Most private/independent schools do not receive state or federal funding, or receive only minimal amounts.
Charter schools, like public schools, receive state funding. As a result, charter schools are held to state mandates on curriculum, which requires those schools to fulfill somewhat of an obligation. This is often seen in the form of standardized testing where charter/public schools have to devote their teaching on a set of topics without much flexibility.
Most private/independent schools do not receive state or federal funding, or receive only minimal amounts. Independent schools are accredited by applicable state and/or national governing bodies and are generally expected to meet similar national standards as charter/public schools. However, their independent status provides a platform for more freedom in shaping their curriculum and delivering their program. Independent school curriculums are not designed around a specific mandated, end-of-year test.
Because of this, private and independent schools can often feature more progressive approaches to pedagogy (the delivery of curriculum) and programs that also emphasize many of the “soft” skills—such as social-emotional growth, public speaking, and critical thinking—that a more flexible structure allows.
2. Educational Philosophy
A big distinguishing factor between charter and independent schools is that independent schools typically have a unique mission statement, which becomes the root of all their programming, scheduling, and curricular offerings. This means that independent schools can be selective in finding students and families that will thrive in regards to their own unique mission statement.
For example, independent schools can have a religious affiliation, offer single-sex or coed environments, or focus on a specific range of grades levels. Each of these distinctions means that parents have more choices to find the school option that fits best with their unique values and priorities.
Charter and public schools, however, are held to stricter limitations when it comes to mixing religious values with educational philosophy. As a result, religion is mostly kept out of the classroom due to legal requirements mandated at the state and federal levels.
3. Student/Teacher Ratio
Generally, private schools offer smaller class sizes, which allows for more individual attention in a student-focused environment. In fact, the median ratio for independent schools within the National Association of Independent Schools last year was 4.48 students to each teacher.
Class sizes at charter and public schools, however, are usually larger, so teachers may be limited in the amount of individual attention they can give to each student. It’s important to remember:
- Charter schools are funded on a per-pupil basis based on the number of enrolled students.
- The national average for public school student to teacher ratio is 16:1.
The important question parents should ask involves the overall quality of instruction. For example, how does the school and its teachers demonstrate that they know my child and are able to personalize/customize their unique learning journey?
Especially in a preschool setting, a diverse array of teaching opportunities through one-on-one or small and large group situations is extremely important for your child’s educational and social development.
4. Parental Involvement
Both public and private schools have the ability to build the type of relationships between themselves and their families that work for both parties. The reality for independent schools, however, is they put an emphasis on providing customer service for their parents because, after all, they are customers who are investing time, energy, and various resources into what many would describe as their most important investment—their child’s educational experience.
Given this financial commitment and investment, it’s no surprise that parents are heavily involved in the overall education offered at an independent school.
Ultimately, the focus lies in creating an environment where parents, families, teachers, and administrators all come together to create a community that supports students.
5. Price and Value
When considering an independent school, it’s important to remember what the business model looks like. In most cases, independent schools are funded by tuition and philanthropy—and it’s important to understand what that money really goes toward.
For example, roughly 70 to 80 percent of private school expenses are attributed to faculty and staff salaries. This financial commitment allows independent schools to provide students with the most talented faculty and staff as possible.
Essentially, the money that parents invest in independent/private education is really going towards the people that are going to be the biggest difference makers in their child’s life.
Making the Right Decision for your Family
Choosing the right preschool for your child is an important step to ensuring they develop proper fundamental learning skills. When considering an independent or charter school, it’s important to evaluate your own values and goals.
For instance, ask yourself:
- Do I want my child to be influenced by religious values in a faith-based educational environment?
- Will my child be given the freedom and flexibility to learn in an inclusive, welcoming environment?
- How involved do I want to be in my child’s overall education?
- Will my child receive individual attention from the best, most qualified teachers?
Consider these questions before attending an open house or admissions interview to determine if that school closely aligns with what you are looking for.
Additionally, in a preschool environment, consider the importance of a child-centered learning experience that focuses on a ‘whole child approach’—meaning all aspects of a student’s educational, social, and emotional development are included.
Ultimately, as mentioned earlier, the best method to choosing the right preschool for your child requires extensive research both online and in-person. Doing so will allow you to look at all the available options when it comes to selecting the right educational experience for your child.
Are you considering a private or independent preschool in the New Orleans area for your family? See what makes Trinity Episcopal School’s Preschool Program an exceptional learning environment for young child.