According to a National Center for Education Statistics survey of more than 30,000 private school, over 5 million American students—or about 10 percent of the entire school population—attended private schools during the 2001–2002 school year. The National Center for Education Statistics says non-public schools account for 24% of US schools. That said, private schools vary widely by type, accreditation, focus, quality, educational content and delivery and other factors.
Because non-public, or independent, schools vary so widely, it’s important to be well-informed about non-public school choices and to know how to evaluate independent schools to make sure they best meet family and student needs. It also helps to know a bit about the history and trends of independent education in America.
The history of private education in the US is well documented and there are many sources for reading up on it. The Buckeye Institute provides an interesting look at private education that says, in part:
“Before the mid-1800s, America relied on the competition between private, for-profit and non-profit schools. In small communities, “district schools” were established. A district school was funded through a combination of tuition and local taxes, enabling some students who could not afford the tuition to attend. Larger communities relied on private, independent institutions to educate their young people. Some charged tuition. Others, relying on the philanthropy of wealthy benefactors, charged no fee. “This competitive approach remained the norm until the mid-1800s when the idea of government run schools took hold. Government schools did not arise because the private, independent institutions were not serving the needs of the public. On the contrary, literacy rates in America rose steadily in the early 1800s. Rather, they surfaced due to exaggerated promises of what government-run schools could accomplish and a desire for uniformity in education to counter the influence of immigrants from Ireland, Italy and other non-Protestant nations. Government school advocates looked to the regimented, homogenous school systems of countries like Prussia for organizational models.”
In addition to determining family preferences ranging from cost to educational philosophy, there are a lot of other things to look for in good private schools. The Century Foundation article Socioeconomic School Integration , identifies ten key factors for good schools – both public and private: