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The Difference Between Private Schools and Public Schools

A hand rolls dice lined up in a row that read "private" or "public" on different sides next to dice that read "school""

For many parents, no decision will be thought over more than where they decide to send their children to school. Whether to go to a public or private school may infiltrate the conversation. For some, public school makes the most sense for a variety of reasons from proximity to home to financial constraints to support services. 

Yet, there are times when the public option may not offer what you’re looking for in a schoolIn those times, seeking out a private school with unique value propositions, program offerings, or high educational standards or can serve as the x-factor as your child develops a lifelong passion for the pursuit of knowledge. 

If you find yourself unable to choose between these options, it may help to have a guide that walks you through the key differences between public and private schools. We put together a quick, high-level guide for you.

What is a Public School? 

Most families are familiar with public schools and their public school system. These schools are funded by local, state, federal governments and are designed to offer a baseline education to all children within their area. Public schools typically start at kindergarten, but some do offer pre-school or other early childhood education programs. All children within a school’s district are eligible to attend tuition-free. 

While a public school’s education curriculum contains math, communication, reading, and social studies components, much of the education is geared towards standardized tests that help determine the school’s eligibility for federal funding. 

What is a Private School?

While a public school is run by a government agency, often a school board composed of elected officials, a private school is run by a private individual or organization. Private schools offer a curriculum that may be more focused on the specific values of the school, such as a religion or a belief in certain theories of education. 

A private school’s student population is typically composed of children without regard to their area of residence. While public schools must allow all children within their district to attend, not every child is entitled to private school education. 

You might also hear the word “Independent School” thrown out. The International School of Denver is an example. We are like a private school but actually are governed by an elected Board of Directors. 

What is the Difference Between Public and Private Schools? 

Beyond some definitional differences listed above, public and private schools offer children very different educational experiences. Some children may thrive in one environment over the other, but whereas public schools must provide an education based on guidelines set by the local school board, state government, and federal funding requirements, a private school generally has greater leeway and nimbleness in decision making. 

As an example, we have a bit more flexibility to try new things with our teaching, and grow from them, always with the focal point of what’s best for the students. 

Questions to ask as you explore schools.

What is your average class size? 

Class size (also student to teacher ratio) is always one of the first things parents ask us about at ISDenver - so we know it is top of mind as you explore school options.

What are your Admissions requirements? 

Ask about Admissions requirements to know what the school is looking for! And, yes, for some Public Schools - especially charters or more prestigious programs - you might have to apply just like you do at a private or independent school. 

What does your Curriculum look like? 

Public schools must adhere to the state’s standards and often to Common Core principles. Due to the wide variation in the learning skills of students in the same grade, many schools opt for a one-size-fits-all approach in their choice of curriculum. That said, some public schools have funding for gifted programs or advanced placement classes so that those with a demonstrated ability can continue to be challenged. Private schools must also follow the standards set by the state when it comes to their curriculum. However, a private school curriculum is often more focused on the educational values of the school. Religious schools may include classes on the religion on which the school is based. Other private schools, such as the International School of Denver, may hone in more on creating an expansive educational experience that pushes to challenge children or help them develop the ability to speak and write in a second language.

What is the cost? 

Cost is an important consideration. But don’t rule out a private school just because there is a price tag on it. Private school can often be more in reach than you might have thought. Check out this post for some thoughts when considering whether you can afford a private school in Denver.

The International School of Denver

The International School of Denver offers a multilingual, multicultural education to a diverse community of students within the Denver metro. Our unique private school curriculum focused on developing global citizens within the interdisciplinary International Baccalaureate framework. 

We’d love to meet you and show you our educational model in action. Campus tours are available to fully-vaccinated adults or you can work with the Admissions team to schedule a virtual tour.


Image Source: FrankHH / Shutterstock

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