A private school is autonomous and generates its own funding through various sources like student tuition, private grants and endowments. A public school is government funded and all students attend free of cost.

Because of funding from several sources, private schools may teach above and beyond the standard curriculum, may cater to a specific kind of students (gifted, special needs, specific religion/language) or have an alternative curriculum like art, drama, technology etc. Public schools have to adhere to the curriculum charted out by the district, and cannot deny admission to any child within the residential school zone.

There are several preconceived notions regarding private and public schools. Private schools are often assumed to be very expensive, elitist and a better bet for admission to good colleges. Public schools are often thought of as shoddy, less disciplined and low-grade curriculum. This comparison offers a fair insight into both schools for parents to make an informed decision.

Comparison chart

Private School versus Public School comparison chart
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Introduction An elementary or secondary school run and supported by private individuals or a corporation rather than by a government or public agency. An elementary or secondary school in the United States supported by public funds and providing free education to children of a community or district.
Education Decided by the school board Mandated by state curriculum. more often by the Common Core national standards.
Schedule Schedule is dictated by the school Schedule is often a mix of graduation requirements and electives
Teachers May or may not be certified but often hold a graduate degree or higher education. Teachers must meet all state-mandated requirements and be highly proficient in their subject area (i.e. have at least a BA with a major in their subject). Most teachers have Masters Degrees.
Technology Depends on the school. Private schools with higher tuition have more up-to-date technology. Depends on the school; can be very modern or relatively outdated.
Funding Tuition, gifts, endowments, private corporations, fundraising events. Federal government, State government, Local government (people's taxes), grants, awards, donations.
Accreditation Agency Private accreditation agencies like • National Association of Independent schools • National council for private school accreditation • Commission on Transregional and International accreditation. State Board of Education.
Admission Criteria Not determined by student address. School zoning determined by student address.
Purpose Build religious foundation for youth. Not much education about real-life situations, such as tax and funding. To teach children and spend money provided by the community through taxes and bond initiatives
Denial of admission School reserves the right to deny admission a student if s/he does not meet the eligibility criteria as decided by the school. School cannot deny admission to any student within the designated geographical area of the school.
Transportation Provided by school or to be arranged by student Provided by school within designated area
Class size Roughly 16 occupants or less. Very rarely more. About 20-25 per room.
Social life More secluded groups. Students get to know other students greatly. No preparation in elementary or junior high schools. High school shows a variety if in a co-ed school. Larger pool of people allows for more social interaction. Opportunities for sports, clubs, community service groups and other after-school activities help broaden students' boundaries. Very good preparation for social pressures of college.
School Calendar Set by school Decided by district for all schools in the district
Bullying Handled by the principal or dean of students. Usually punishments are suspension or In School Suspension. Teachers are trained to intervene, and most schools now have cameras to help deter bullying. However it is hard to manage classrooms with 25 students and in a litigious society some teachers avoid conflicts.
Religious Affiliations Can have religious affiliations None
Curriculum May create own Curriculum. Common Core standards; State standards

Admission Criteria

Anyone may apply to attend a private school, there is no zoning based on the students address. However, granting admission to a student is up to the school authorities and is based on tests and other criteria.

Admission to public school is determined by the address of the students. Every community has a zoned school and students attend their respective zoned school. Certain school districts may have variations to this rule. Public schools are required to accommodate all children within the zoning area.



Private schools have to raise their own funds and they get most of their funding through student tuition, fundraising events, gifts and endowments from donors.

Funding for public schools is a three tiered process. The federal government allocates certain amount of funds to each state for education. The state government contributes through income taxes, lotteries and property taxes. The local government may also contribute through taxation funds. Some public schools these days have resorted to a some amount of fundraising on account of budget cuts.


Private schools do not have to adhere to their respective state’s standards or the Common Core state standards and have the freedom to choose their own curriculum.

Public schools are moving towards adoption of the Common Core State Standards. As of today, 45states, the District of Columbia and 4 territories have adopted the Common Core State Standards.

The Common Core State Standards in a nutshell:

Class Size

Private schools usually have smaller class sizes and could have as many as 10 to 15 students in an elementary classroom. A lower student ratio can mean a more personalized interaction for students and teachers.

Public schools have a larger student to teacher ratio and have larger class sizes. This is often due to budget cuts or inadequate funding. There can be as many as 30 students in an elementary classroom.


Private schools are subjective in their requirement for teachers to be certified, some do not require certification, and others may require certification but could be open to a certification from a different state.

Public schools required teachers to be certified in the state they teach. Certification requirements vary and are determined by each state.

Teacher Pay

Private school teachers get paid less than public school teachers and may or may not have health insurance. (In the UK private school teachers receive higher wages than their state school counterparts.)

Teachers in public schools get paid more than their private school counterparts. Public schools also offer health insurance and retirement benefits which may vary depending on the state.


Private schools are free to choose their own form of assessments and tests. They are not required to publish results of their tests.

Public schools are required to administer standardized tests to their students which are chosen by the state. The test scores are required to be published by the school.


Private schools may or may not provide transportation to students; the provision differs from school to school.

It is mandatory for public schools to provide bus transportation to all students living in the school's designated residential area.

Additional Resources

Funds from various resources enable private schools to offer more to students in terms of science, technology, humanities, and the visual and performing arts.

Due to dependency on government funding, public schools may not have enough resources to offer technology tools, music, art and other activities to their students.

Test Scores

Comparison between public and private school test scores is a difficult if not virtually impossible task, because the type of tests may differ, and private schools have a choice to not publish their scores.

Are Private Schools Really Better?

It is very difficult to give a conclusive answer with an absolute "Yes" or "No." It depends on what parents want for their child, what and whether they're willing to pay to get it, and what the child is capable of. While curriculum is often considered to be more rigorous in private schools, private schools are not a guaranteed access to a better college or university. The following videos throw light on different perspectives of private vs public schools.

KCRA News discusses the results of studies conducted on the much debated topic:

An insight on whether private schools stand to have an advantage for admission to Standoford:

A word from the dean at USC on the topic:

How To Choose

Choosing between a private and public school goes beyond just affordability. Choosing the right school for your child is a process where there's no such thing as too much information. A good place to start would be to eliminate all preconceived notions about private and public schools and knowing that's it's more about the best fit for a child as opposed to "the best school in town." Of course, there's no substitute to visiting every short-listed school.

This video presents some facts about private schools, and might help bust some myths regarding affordability and elitism:

While test scores seem to be a natural go-to criterion to compare schools, they can often be misleading. Test scores cannot be the absolute criterion to assess a school, whether public or private; there is more to a school than just test scores, and it's possible that a school with a lower score may actually be more nurturing or a better fit for a child:


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