Q: We are looking for a private school for our 4-year-old. We want to keep him there through eighth grade at least. We live in a suburban area, so we have a lot of options. Our son is intelligent, creative and imaginative. Do you have a recommendation?
A: These days, the educational options, especially in high-density population areas, can be daunting. Since you’ve already narrowed your search to private schools, the first thing to decide is whether you’re looking for a religious or non-religious experience. From there, decide whether you think your child would do better in a more structured, traditional environment that emphasizes classroom discipline and the “three Rs,” or a more creative, child-centered one.
Most religious schools, including schools that are loosely affiliated with churches and synagogues, put some emphasis on moral education, which I believe is a good thing. They also tend to be traditional, especially Catholic schools, which also tend to have the most demographically diverse student population of all private schools.
The average age and experience of the faculty are also important, as is the teacher turnover rate. A high turnover rate is a red flag, as is a faculty with few years of experience. Perhaps the most telling indication of problems behind the scenes is a high turnover at the top (principal, director, head-of-school).
Private schools tend to tout their average achievement test scores, the number of graduates that go on to top-flight colleges, and so on. I don’t put a lot of stock in those statistics, because research has shown that student achievement is primarily a matter of parent education and expectations, not the school one attends. When parents place a high value on education, and their academic expectations are high, public- and private-school kids do equally well. That is, however, an “on average” finding and may not be true of any particular school.
I am biased toward two educational philosophies that are, in fact, somewhat disparate: Montessori and classical.
A Montessori education is child-centered, but in its original form also emphasizes classroom discipline and student responsibility while allowing for independence and peer collaboration.
A classical education places emphasis on learning core liberal arts subjects: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. In a classical school, Latin is usually introduced in the upper elementary grades.
Both Montessori and classical educators claim that their philosophies, however different (for example, Montessori education does not emphasize memorization while classical does), are in keeping with a child’s natural development. I like both approaches, but for different reasons. My experience has led me to conclude that both Montessori and classical educators are highly committed to the needs of their students.
In the final analysis, if you like a particular school and support its educational philosophy, it will most likely turn out to be a good fit for your child.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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