Perhaps the biggest difference between public and private school is the system of accountability. Children know all about being held accountable. Not long after they leave behind infancy, children learn that virtually everybody is going to hold them accountable for something or another in almost every situation they will be in. And they become little experts at meeting the expectations of adults, even if it’s just surface fulfillment of the requirements and not a genuine accountability.
But the truth is that all of us are held accountable to fulfill our responsibilities. Jobs hold employees accountable. In marriage, the husband and wives hold each other accountable to live up to the marriage vows. Even businesses are held accountable by customers. If the business fails to live up to the expectation of the customers, they will go out of business and not make any money any more.
Responsibility and accountability are the core of what makes us tick as people and by extension what makes institutions work the way they are supposed to work to serve the needs of the public. Accountability means that someone somewhere is going to judge you on your performance. If you are performing well, you are rewarded. If you are not performing well, you are punished, corrected or dismissed. It’s not a hard system to understand and your children understand it in depth.
In school, children are held accountable every day. Not only do they have to live up to behavior expectations in class, they must participate in lessons, be part of lesson related activities and do homework and take tests and get good grades to be rewarded with a high grade average to take on to the next grade and eventually to college.
But who holds the schools accountable to do the jobs they are required to do? This is the fundamental difference between public and private schools. Private schools are quite simply held accountable by the parents of the children who attend that school. Now in every private school, there is an internal system and structure to execute accountability on a daily basis in the form of the school administration and the principle. But ultimately if the school is not living up to the promises it makes to the parents who pay what are often high fees for that education for their children, those parents can pull their kids out and go elsewhere.
So a private school lives under the laws of the marketplace which keeps other businesses working correctly. They can be fired by parents so it pays for them to listen to parents, to keep parents informed and to make sure that at the end of the semester, the quality of education and the educational experience the kids had was top notch.
Public schools on the other hand are not held accountable by parents. They are held accountable by the government. And as we all know from watching how well our politicians behave, the government is pretty awful at holding anybody accountable for anything. So the public school systems and the schools in your town learn quickly how to “just get by” on satisfying government requirements and those requirements have precious little to do with the educational experience of your child or of your expectations as parents.
Now the public schools will put on a pretty good show that they want the input of parents and that they want to be accountable to parents. That is because you as a parent have two very potent weapons at your disposal that can hurt the school if they don’t convince you that they are living up to expectations. You can vote and use politics to make the government live up to its job. Or you can take your child out of the public schools and take them to a school that will be responsive to your needs and expectations.
One system is bureaucratic and based on government oversight which almost never works. The other is based on the laws of the marketplace and driven by satisfying consumer need. That system is the private school system and the consumer is you and your child. And while the private school route is more expensive, by patronizing the system that works and that will be ultimately accountable to you, you are voting that the public system doesn’t work so maybe someday the government will fix it. But we aren’t holding our breath for that.