Public School vs. Private School: The Great Debate

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Can we just open a conversation here? This past year has sparked a question: what is best for our family – the public or private school system?

I’m ready for full blown backlash and opinions to fly here. To be honest, I’m welcoming it. God knows my research is limited to personal experience and I’ve yet to nail down a clear-cut answer. Just being totally transparent: having all three kids in private school over the past four years has been both a blessing and a beating. Transitioning from public to private was a decision based on a compilation of factors. 

Let’s start with our public school experience. I mean, get real, the Collin County public school system is among the top-rated school systems in the state, maybe even the nation. For us, the move to Collin County was strictly driven by the school districts and we landed in what I would STILL refer to as the best elementary school around. Like, we loved it. 

All of our expectations, even the ones we didn’t know we had, were met. The boys got an amazing, creative, structured education. Teachers were involved and strategic in their approach. Technologically, the school was advanced and offered unique opportunities for hands-on experiences. Field trips, assemblies, and extracurricular activities filled our days. 

Around the 4th-5th grade years, the school district was expanding, portables more prevalent, and the number of kids growing exponentially. Increase the number of kids and decrease the level of supervising eyes; the intensity of real-life experiences started to expose some cracks in the system’s foundation. Cracks that, as parents, we were not ready to face. Feelings of being lost in the crowd and some morally questionable experiences jolted us. 

Having been moved around, a lot, and with the growing school district threatening rezone after rezone, we shifted our direction. We decided the stability of a private school was the better decision for the boys. Middle and high school years, we agreed, would best be lived out in a smaller environment with a lower student-to-teacher ratio.  A faith-based, Christian education during these formative years, we thought, just made more sense. Insert transition from public (K-5) to private. 

The first couple years at our private school were a learning curve; not educationally, since our kids were on par, but rather structurally. When everything shrinks, this includes the decision makers, leadership, circles of influence, and the level of involvement encouraged. Private, in our experience, has been – well – a lot more private. Less transparency and more standing tradition. With this, I struggle. 

The small environment nurtured the boys in ways that encouraged both emotional and spiritual growth, but questions started to surface.

  • What are the pros and cons of the public vs. private school system: educationally, emotionally, spiritually?
  • Is prolonging their exposure to a broad pool of worldly experiences setting them up for success or failure?
  • When a school is rooted in faith, it holds a significantly higher responsibility to said faith. What happens when real people make real choices that aren’t aligned with the school’s mission or our family’s belief system?  
  • Is it best to have higher exposure to teachable moments while living at home, in order walk them through how to face real life once they’re adults?
  • The foundation of religion—are we relying too much on others to influence our children and their belief systems?
  • Is safety one of our concerns? Because if so, would a Christian school be more of a target? 
  • And, seriously, the cost. Is a private school education worth the cost of not being able to fund a college education? For us, money is finite and I get that there are students loans available, but the amount of debt these kids are coming out of college with is life altering. Cost of private school vs. paying for college tuition; what’s the value?

The truth is, I don’t really know the answers to these questions. These are some of the questions that sparked the great debate of private vs. public in our home this past school year. The other truth is, we live in a community where the choice is between good and better, as opposed to good and bad. Private school isn’t an option for all, that’s also a reality. At one point, it wasn’t for us. Exposed to both sides of the argument and holding close to intuitions, the questions (still) ensue. Truth is, the primary environment of change exists right inside the walls of our homes. With that, we do the best we can with the resources we have.   

Through the wrestle of this year, the only clarity I’ve gained is the question is not actually what system is best, because they both have advantages and disadvantages. The question is, what are the unique needs of my child and how can those needs best be met with the resources available?  

We were all created uniquely, not the exact same way. Suggesting we are all created the exact same detracts from the unique qualities that make us exactly who we are. We are all one of a kind, have unique needs, and all require different foundations for growth. Some needs will be met in a public school system far greater than a private school system, and vice versa. It is the determination of needs that should drive the decision. 

You know what’s best? School. School is best. 

I’ve learned to treat each child as a unique set of needs. Determine what those needs are and then evaluate the best environment for their personal growth. The answer for each child, in every family, will be different. And, that, my friends, is perfectly okay.  

Summer Butler
Summer was born and raised in the NTX area, went to college in Kansas City, and returned to TX to earn a MA in Counseling. After spending many years managing non profit programs focused on mental health, Summer left her career to be a SAHM after meeting her husband and two bonus boys. From single to stepmom, Dallas to the ‘burbs, career life to PTO prez, having a blended family would later spark a life calling to spread hope and healing. Summer now lives in McKinney TX with her husband, two bonus boys, and son Eli. Traveling, writing, and livin’ life in the crazy fill her days with the most joy.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Summer. We are in this situation right now. Our oldest is enrolled in private school since Allen ISD begins middle school at grade 7. My middle son will still stay in public for the time being (2nd) grade but I’m curious to see how the older ones sees it. If it turns out to be a good choice for him we may begin making the transition to private for my younger boys. Thanks for this awesome post btw!

  2. Thank you, Vanessa! It’s been super important for us to take each one’s needs and each year as it comes. We thought for sure, a year ago, 3 in private would be our norm. I love how some hard conversations turned into a time of learning for us as a family.

  3. This has been a tough choice for us as well. Ultimately, we decided that a school that is most personalized and flexible for our children would be best. It sounds like private school would win – but the money and resources provided to the public school actually made them MORE accommodating for my kid’s specific needs.

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