In addition to differences between schools in the private and public sectors, within each sector, schools vary in size, level, community type, and student populations. Differences in internal management practices, staff cohesiveness, top-priority goals, and professional climate also appear between and within each sector. Some characteristics of private schools vary widely according to the type of school, while others do not.
Private schools overall have fewer students than public schools, and minorities are a lower percentage of the student population. Catholic schools tend to be larger and have greater diversity in enrollment than other types of private schools. Teachers in private schools report that they have wide latitude in deciding how and what to teach, as well as a fairly strong influence on many school policies. Nonsectarian schools, in particular, may give teachers greater influence in shaping their school’s activities. In contrast, though the majority of teachers in each private school type agreed with positive statements about staff cooperation and the school’s management, teachers at other religious schools were more likely than other private school teachers to agree strongly with many of these statements. Teachers at other religious schools were particularly likely to give their administrators high marks, and to report that their colleagues shared similar beliefs about their school’s central mission and that rules were enforced consistently. Principals at the three types of private schools had different top priorities for their schools, but at least 60 percent in each school type included academic excellence. Public school principals most often cited teaching basic literacy skills as one of their top three goals (80 percent included it), while 51 percent of private school principals did so.
Achievement tests in reading, mathematics, and science show higher average scores for private school students. In addition, private schools tend to require more years of core academic subjects for high school graduation than do public schools, with some variation across school types. Graduates of private high schools have on average completed more advanced courses than public school graduates in science, mathematics, and foreign language. Finally, students who had attended private school in 8th grade were twice as likely as those who had attended public school to have completed a bachelor’s or higher degree by their mid-20s, and far less likely to have had no postsecondary education.
Private schools have advantages from the outset that many public schools cannot match, stemming from the choice by students and their families to participate in private education. However, requiring students to tackle difficult course material, developing consistent commitment from staff to meet clearly communicated goals, and maintaining a school climate that extols learning may well contribute to better achievement at schools in either sector.