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Myths & Facts of Public, Charter, and Private Schools

Schooling has changed. It is no longer the way it was when we were all younger but we often view decisions about schools and stereotype schools through the perspective of our childhood.

What school looked like in 1980-something:

  • Most kids went to the neighborhood public schools in their geographic area.

  • Public schools rarely let kids attend a school in an area they didn’t live.

  • There might have been one private school around and maybe you knew a few kids that went there, if any at all.

  • Home-schooled children were as rare as the private school children. You didn’t know many and if you did, you didn’t interact with them much.

What school looks like today:

  • The kids in your neighborhood are likely spread across 3-5 different schooling methodologies with a mix of homeschooling, charter schools, public schools, and private schools.

  • The number of home-schooled children has doubled since 1999 to 1.5M in the United States. You now know someone that homeschools their children.

  • Online-only schools offer yet another hybrid model of homeschooling with online teachers -- some are even charter schools.

  • There are 4.5 million children in private schools in the United States. Private schools are very common outside of Utah. Broward County, Florida has 190 private schools in their county!

  • The stereotype of private schools from the past doesn't hold today -- they are culturally diverse and the families are more financially diverse than 30 years ago.

  • In Utah, students’ scores have not kept pace in the past 20 years when compared to the rest of the nation and other countries.

  • Today there is a lot of debate about common core, standardized testing, federal standards, quality of teaching, political agendas, school shootings, bullying, sexting, etc.

Given all of the changes in education and the current environment of education in Utah, we wanted to respond to Myths with some Facts for parents.

Myth: My friend that is a public school teacher told me that only teachers that can’t get hired by a public schools teach at charter schools or private schools. The best teachers are at the public schools.

Fact: This myth is a little bit like rooting for your favorite football team. The reality is that the public schools need more teachers than they have -- they aren’t turning people away (check the local news about teacher shortages).

So, why would a teacher choose somewhere other than a public school? “Why” they teach somewhere is as diverse as why parents choose all of these different approaches to schooling. They may believe in a certain method of teaching that a school uses. They may belong to a union and thus their political feelings align more with public schools. They may teach at the school that is closest to their home.

Often the bureaucracy of public schools and the lists of regulations, requirements, and curriculum dictated to public school teachers from above robs them of the creative teaching opportunities that attracted them to the profession in the first place.

At Arches, our teachers love the freedom we give them to teach in effective and powerful ways. With smaller class sizes, they get to know their students and the students in other grades. With leveled learning, they get to actually narrow in and find solutions for kids that may be struggling with certain concepts. Education can be individualized, based on each student’s strengths, talents, and needs. They get to choose their field trips, try new gifted & talented learning ideas, incorporate performing and fine arts into their curriculum, work with other teachers to create a holistic experience for each child, and tailor their class instruction to students’ abilities, rather than being held to a standardized minimum. Many of our founding teachers chose a private school for their kids and as they learned more about the school, they chose to join the faculty -- ultimately that lead to the creation of Arches Academy.

Myth: Charter schools are better than public schools. They’re like a private school you don’t have to pay for.

Fact: Only 20% of charter schools test higher than public schools. Two charter schools were closed by the state of Utah in 2015. As of the date of this blog, one Utah County charter school in 2017 has been put on probation by the Utah State Board of Education and three in Utah County are scheduled to close at the end of the school year. We’ve had children come to Arches from charter schools that are now behind because learning didn’t happen for that child at that charter school. While it can seem that Charter schools can offer many extra benefits, and of course some do, it can also be the case that a charter school is stuck in the worst intersection of all options.

“Royce Van Tassell, executive director of the Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, said every charter school is a little bit of an experiment.” Choosing a charter school takes as much due diligence as choosing other types of schools.

Myth: Charter schools have smaller class sizes than public schools.

Fact: For elementary schools, charter schools and public schools have the same average class size of 25 (statewide). Alpine School district starts at a median class size of 25 for K and goes up to 30 median class size in the older elementary grades. Only for grades 7+ do charter schools have smaller average classes sizes than public school, with 22 students versus 29 students. These are averages/medians, so about half the classes out there are above these numbers. (This is data for the 2013-2014 and 2015-2016 school year from the Utah State Board of Education.)

On top of the large classes in public/charter schools, there is also the challenge of disruptive students. Often disruptive students get moved to the charter schools hoping they can handle them. That leaves your studious, well behaved child wasting precious time as the teacher deals with the disruptive students over and over and over, day after day after day.

Bigger classes with even one disruptive student equals significantly less learning.

Arches Academy class sizes are often half the size of these averages. And because we can carefully craft our student body, unruly and constantly disruptive students will not be in your child’s class.

Myth: I don’t like what is going on at public/charter schools. I have concerns about the values taught at public schools, the politics, child safety, quality of education, bullying, sexting, drugs, gangs, etc. I feel homeschooling is the only solution that lets me control all of those variables and lets me protect my children.

Fact: All of these reasons for choosing homeschooling are also reasons to choose a private school. Because of our smaller classes, higher teacher/student ratios, ability to choose the makeup of our student body, and constant casual and formal communication between parents and teachers, we can address these issues. Parents often tell us they love Arches Academy because we don’t have these problems.

Not all parents are wired to be homeschool moms or dads -- there’s nothing wrong with that. Often times the kids outgrow their parents’ ability to keep ahead of the children’s insatiable learning. Arches Academy can provide the benefits of homeschooling without its limitations.

Myth: Private schools turn kids into snobs, elitists, or cause them to not be able to relate to other kids. Private schools are for rich kids.

Fact: As mentioned elsewhere in this post, our demographic diversity is much greater than the surrounding Utah County. Our students are more likely to interact with people and students with different backgrounds and worldviews than themselves. They are challenged to explore other cultures. They are taught the worth of individuals through the Leader in Me program.

While the stereotype of private schools and rich kids was common in the 80s, it is no longer the reality. Every private school has its own budgeting and financial systems, and many are now able to offer various means and methods for allowing students from all backgrounds to attend thanks to their generous donors. Through our scholarship fund and variable tuition program, Arches Academy keeps an open door for students from all income levels.

Myth: Kids at private schools don’t get the social interaction they need. They turn into awkward kids.

Fact: This question shows concern for a child’s holistic and well-rounded educational experience. However, it may not be the right question. Students will be interacting with adults and a wide variety of their peers wherever they attend school. So the better question might be, what kind of social interaction is my child receiving? Are they being bullied or ignored? Are the teachers and other adults at the school aware of my child academically and socially? Is my child battling cliques? Are they required to treat their teachers and fellow students with respect, and treated with respect in return? Do they see their peers behaving respectfully as well?

In other words, the question of social interaction might best be viewed from the angle of quality rather than quantity. There may be a larger student body at a public or charter school, but if that number includes bullies, cliques, and constant disruptors, is that really the socialization they need?

What we have found is that children become MORE social because of their schooling at Arches Academy. Due to our smaller class sizes, they participate in class discussions, they participate in the school plays and musical performances. Rather than the reserved student being invisible and missing out on participation, they are given the opportunity and experiences that include them and build their confidence and self image. At our last gala we observed “shy” kids get up and sing solos in front of 250 people. All of this leads to children that are more likely to speak up and participate when outside of school.

Myth: Teachers at private schools aren’t certified.

Fact: Arches Academy is a teacher lead school with most of our teachers having certificates, including all core teachers. Arches Academy is also an accredited school.

Arches Academy seeks to hire Highly Qualified teachers, as defined by our state and accrediting agency.

The guidelines Arches uses is as follows:

- Preschool Teachers: Certified teachers or experience teaching 3-4yr old PK children

- Grade level classes from Kindergarten through 6th grade: Certified Teachers

- Middle School Grade Level Classes: Certified Teachers or college degree in subject area

- Specialist/Elective Classes: Certified Teachers, or a Bachelor Degree in the subject area, or proof of being an expert in the field of study.

Myth: Private schools are too expensive. They cost a fortune right?