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Public vs. private vs. charter schools

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By Psyche Pascual

Racial and religious diversity

Scholarships and loan programs have helped to make private schools increasingly diverse — though not as diverse as many public schools. Today, one out of every four students at a private school comes from a racial minority, compared to over two out of every five in a public school.

For many parents, school is a microcosm of the real world, and many want their child to attend schools that are just as diverse as the communities around them. Public schools systems have tried to address racial segregation by creating magnet schools. Like charter schools, magnet schools are public, and they draw students from different incomes and racial groups often by offering special programs, such as math, engineering, and environmental sciences.

But some say those aims fall short, especially for charter schools. One report from UCLA found that African American charter school students are more likely to be in a school of mostly black students than their peers in traditional public schools.

For many parents, a faith-based education matters. Since teaching religion in a non-secular context in public schools is banned, these parents may opt for a private school with a religious component. Catholic, Jewish, and Christian schools can embrace faith-based education in their curriculum and other activities. Many go beyond academics and require daily attendance at a chapel, synagogue, or temple.

Kids of non-religious families also attend religious schools. For instance, the number of non-Catholic students attending Catholic schools, for example, has risen from 2.7 percent in 1970 to 15.4 percent today, according to the National Catholic Educational Association.

Freedom of school choice is wider than it ever was, but it doesn’t have to be daunting for parents. Visiting a school and talking to other parents is the key to finding out if it’s the right match no matter what kind of school you’re looking for.

Final words of advice

Selecting a school for your child can be a deeply personal choice and may be rooted in your family's beliefs and values. Whether a school is private, public, or charter, what's most important is that the school is a good fit for your child and your family. Be sure to visit any school you are considering. Talk to other parents whose children have attended the school. Finally, look at a school's GreatSchools' rating and reviews to make sure your child is getting the best education possible.