Arc Development

Professional Services for Teachers, Administrators, and School Families

Arc Professional Development helps teachers and school administrators make thoughtful and productive choices about the evolution of their careers. 

MYTHS AND REALITIES ABOUT NON-PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Myths and misconceptions regarding non-public schools abound. In reality, non-public schools serve a wide range of students from a broad and creative palette of educational perspectives and instructional strategies, creating a wide range of options. Here are some of the most common myths, with a quick reality check included for each.

Myth 1. Only super-rich kids go to private schools.

Reality: Tuition at independent schools can be expensive, but some schools are more affordable, and in almost every school significant numbers of families qualify for financial aid for a variety of reasons. The general rule in admission offices: If you’re not sure, go ahead and apply for aid. There are no guarantees, but many middle-class families qualify for lower total tuition payments than they anticipated.

Myth 2. Independent schools aren’t as diverse as public schools.

Reality: Virtually every independent school goes out of its way to attract a diverse population, with many high schools’ students comprising more than 40% students of color. But it’s not only racial and ethnic diversity; at many schools “diversity” includes a significant effort to enroll children of different skills, diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, different religious traditions, LGBTQ students and children of LGBT parents. Many schools hold frequent discussions about the meaning, effects, and challenges of diversity in their communities — making diversity not just a question of numbers, but a significant component of a complete education. It’s not hard to find public schools with diverse populations, but finding the rich discussions around those issues among school-aged children is relatively rare in public school environments.

Myth 3. Academically “average” kids don't go to non-public schools.

Reality: Not to burst bubbles, but, by definition, most kids are average — or, as we prefer, “normal.” (“Average” is such a dreadful word, isn’t it?) What distinguishes non-public school kids is not that they all have stratospheric test scores — but that their families want something different from school. For some of those somethings, see “Why do families consider school counseling?”

Myth 4. Independent schools are (or aren’t) for kids with learning challenges.

Reality: Every school has kids with learning challenges, ranging from mild dyslexia to AD/HD to much more serious challenges. That said, each school is generally at its best within a range of student abilities, and schools usually tell parents candidly what that range is. Yes, a handful of schools admit only students for whom school comes easily — but few schools seek homogeneity. (See Diversity, above.) In addition, there is a small number of schools that are designed for kids who struggle with traditional approaches. When the match between a school and a student with learning challenges is strong, those schools often change lives.

Myth 5. Kids who go to private schools are neglected, troubled, and unhappy.

Reality: Most kids who go to non-public schools are well adjusted, friendly, and pretty (here’s that word again) normal. They also have the benefit of being surrounded by caring adults who take a personal interest in each student. I worked for five years in a boarding school more than 20 years ago and still cherish connections I made, many of which I have kept as former students have become terrific adults.

Myth 6. Independent schools don’t reflect the real world.

Reality: Well, this one might be true — and for good reason! Most people who choose independent schools have glimpsed the “real world” and found it wanting. Families who consider independent schools usually want manageable class sizes, a deep commitment to each individual student, meaningful connections to adults, and strong community values. Independent schools foster all of those qualities and more.

Myth 7 (the practical myth). If we miss the application deadline, it’s not worth applying.

Reality: In a small number of the most competitive schools, spots are pretty well filled after the admission deadline. (Even in those schools, there are exceptions, however.) But the majority of independent schools have spots open well into spring and even summer. Once admission numbers are known more firmly, most schools actively seek additional applicants.