Private vs. Public vs. Home

As a college professor I frequently get asked if I can tell the difference between public school, private school and home school children.  The short answer is “yes” but the real answer is far more complex.  I teach freshman composition and this gives me a view of students fresh from the arms of their high school or home.

Private School

Of the three groups these students are by far the most consistently prepared and advanced as incoming freshmen.  They all have experience writing a research paper, are well disciplined and don’t flinch at the prospect of the work load assigned to them.  They are less likely to be “whiners” and to provide hundreds of excuses as to why they didn’t get their work done.   Most find freshmen composition easy and breeze through it.

However, I also teach a junior level communications course and I can assure you that any difference between private and public school children by the time they reach that level has evaporated.  Private school might provide students with an edge the first year of college but by their sophomore or junior year that advantage has disappeared.

Public School

My public school students are a mixed bag and I find that their level of preparedness for college can be equally contributed to their school district and their family.  Some students come from excellent schools but without a home environment that encourages reading, education and proper study skills this student will arrive ill-prepared.  Some of my public school students function at the same level as my private school students.  My public school students that struggle the most are usually those that come from a lower socioeconomic background with a family who themselves did not achieve education past high school.

Home School

This is the most surprising section of students and the one people are most eager to hear about.  My home school students are also a mixed bag and perform equal to my public school students.  This also falls on the family.  Some people do an excellent job home schooling and others, well, not so much.   Some home school kids arrive in my class with oodles of self-discipline and excellent study skills.  These students also perform equal to my private school students and my excellent public school students.  HOWEVER, there is an equal number of home school kids who have never written a research paper, lack all signs of self-discipline, and have big gaps in their education.

Many times the story I hear is that “Mommy” never pushed them, did the work for them, let them not do the parts that were hard or didn’t feel that part was “important”.  These kids arrive in class asking for assistance on EVERYTHING.  They give up at the slightest sign of difficulty and don’t understand why I’m not willing to hold their hand the entire way through class.

So again, it comes down to family environment.  What is being encouraged and supported within the family unit.


If you want the school to insure that your child is prepared for college without you putting any effort into it then I suggest you place them in private schools.  If you live in an area that has a good public school and you don’t mind putting in a little extra effort at home, keeping your kids on task and staying on top of their education then public schools are just fine.  And finally, if you enjoy home schooling by all means pursue it but learn to separate the “teacher” from the “parent”.  Hold your kid to tough standards, let them fail and learn, and teach them to face their challenges. The bottom line is that education starts and ends at home.  A school environment can help but it is never the total solution.

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