Are private or public schools better for kids? |

Are private or public schools better for kids?

Frank Fisher, of the Record staff

Voucher fate will be decided behind voting-booth curtains in little more than a week. Millions have been spent on ad campaigns both for and against Referendum 1.

In recent interviews with the Park Record, administrators from both public and private schools described advantages and disadvantages of both types of schools..

"The voucher issue is not an issue of public vs. private," said Dr. Ray Timothy, superintendent of the Park City School District. "I don’t see us competing; I see us complementing. Research shows that public and private schools both do a nice job. Some may see them (private schools) as competitors; I see them as colleagues. Parents are looking for the best education for their children. Sometimes square pegs don’t fit in round holes." He said some parents move their children from public to private education and some do the reverse.

Dr. Amy Fehlberg, the head of The Colby School, an independent private school in Park City, praised public schools, but listed some of the reasons people choose private schools including for the extra help, the challenge, or for religious reasons.

Students who attend public and private schools take on a different profile

On Wednesday, officers with dogs did a sweep of students’ lockers at Treasure Mountain International School looking for drugs. No drugs were found.

One argument made against public education is the real-life situations encountered in schools. One argument made against private schools is that they are too homogeneous, not preparing students for the real world.

Diane Cashel, a counselor at the public Treasure Mountain International School,

said public schools prepare students for the real world. "It would be nice if the world was absolutely perfect, but it’s not. What goes on in the community certainly goes on here. The real world isn’t so shocking because you practice."

Michael Holland, president of the Park City Education Association, which represents teachers in the Park City School District, said he went to private school as a child. "You know what? The students in the school were all pretty much like me white, middle, or upper middle class." He said Utah is a state of overwhelming diversity "with very different kids, ethnicities backgrounds and challenges."

But Fehlberg said students should not be exposed to drug use or sex. "They are very impressionable. Your family isn’t with you. You can end up having a life-changing experience at 15."

Charles Sachs, who heads the Park City Academy, a private school, said, "Our school is a Norman Rockwelly kind of place. Our kids don’t have social pressures. We don’t have violence. It’s very safe. In the real world they will be hit by a 2 x 4 upside the head soon enough."

Timothy spoke of the diversity found in public schools. "Park City does have diversity. It does prepare kids for the real world. Students from some private schools may seem to come out of the same mold. I wouldn’t encourage kids to go there." But he was quick to add, "I could not improve any of the private schools in Park City."

Attending one private school housing students of all grades provides a contrasting experience to those attending a progressive series of schools in public education.

Each private school in Park City is housed in one facility. Sachs said some students in private schools say they need a break or a change by the time they get to 8th or 9th grades. Others, he said, like the familiarity of staying at one school. "My personal feeling, going from 6th and 7th grade to 8th and 9th and then to 10th and 12th grades (in different schools) that’s a lot of changes. It can break your stride. It can be discombobulating."

Students in Park City public education move from elementary school to middle school to a post-middle school to high school. "Most kids are excited to move on, maturing to the next step," Cashel said. "To new schools, new rooms, and new teachers taking buses or not taking buses depending on the school they attend. In a day or two kids adapt."

Fehlberg disagreed. "It’s very hard to change, moving from school to school. Especially from elementary to middle school. You move from one teacher to seven. It’s difficult for parents and kids.

School sizes, class sizes

"Public schools have a lot more students," Cashel said. "You’re certainly exposed to more that can be good, or bad. You have more choices in classes you take. But some students do better in smaller schools and smaller class sizes." Park City public schools try to keep an average of 23 students per instructor.

Fehlberg said that, in a large public school, a principal would find it difficult to know all the students. "It is impossible to ask a teacher with 35 kids to come up with four versions of teachings for a class. In a private school, a teacher with 17 students has much more flexibility on how individual students can be served," Fehlberg said.

School offerings differ between public and private schools

Public schools generally offer a full array of courses, electives and extracurricular activities, including sports. Students whose needs cannot be met in one public school may transfer to another public school. Private school options are more limited.

"We don’t have many electives," Sachs said. "Our curriculum is intended to prepare students for college. It’s very prescriptive."

"We have developed a niche for every type of student," said Hugo Meza, counselor at McPolin Elementary School. "We accept every student and have all types of opportunities for those students. We do that very well."

PCEA president Michael Holland said, "Public education is an inclusive environment verses an exclusive environment. We meet the needs of many different kids." He said that private schools have limited staffs and are unable to deal with certain types of students, including certain special-needs students. He said that public education offers many directions for students of different academic levels, catering to not just university-bound students, but also to students who may want to attend junior colleges or vocational schools.


Good and bad schools exist in both public and private education. Overall, do Ivy League colleges prefer public or private colleges?

Marlyn McGrath, the director of admissions at Harvard University in Cambridge Mass., said, "The most important thing to remember is that we admit students. We have no opinion of schools. We’ve accepted students from the best schools in the world and the weakest schools in the world." She said Harvard looks at the student’s performance. "We look at what she’s done with what she’s had," McGrath said. "We look for talent, academic engagement, ambition and energy." She added that, along with grades, SAT or ACT test scores are strongly considered.

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