From a large Catholic high school to a small Montessori elementary, a nature-based program on 40 acres or a selective school for gifted students, private education in Indianapolis comes in many forms.
Nationally, there are more than 33,000 private schools educating 5 million — or roughly 10 percent — of all U.S. students. So why do families choose private schools? The reasons are as diverse as the educational offerings. If private school education has never been on your radar, here are some reasons to reconsider.
Education with a Mission
Private schools have the freedom to define their own mission, which is often centered on a particular educational philosophy or value system. The school must be intentional in determining why they exist, who they will serve and what they’re going to achieve.
“Our schools have the freedom to be oriented to a very specific mission, to be mission-centric in a way that often isn’t as possible in other schools,” noted Claudia Daggett, executive director of the Independent Schools Association of the Central States, which includes Indiana. “When we accredit schools, we look at those factors: Do they have a distinct school identity? What are the school’s core values? How effectively do they fulfill their mission?”
Different Ways of Teaching
Private schools aren’t bound by the same governmental regulations as public schools, including curriculum and textbook mandates, which often equates to teachers having more freedom in the classroom.
That flexibility extends to assessing student progress, since private schools aren’t bound by the same standardized testing as public schools. Instead, teachers spend time on other ways of assessing knowledge, said Hal Schwartz, director of Early Childhood and Elementary School at The Orchard School.
“If the only way we ask what students have learned is through a bubble test, we’re going to have a certain number of students who are always going to be considered behind or not learning,” Schwartz says. “Instead, we find different ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding, which is a different approach to a practice in which standardization has become the norm.”
Even at the largest of private schools, it’s difficult for a student to be just an anonymous face in the crowded hallway. Instead, individual attention is a major reason parents choose private school education.
“Our schools characteristically offer a higher level of personalized attention. If you enroll there, they will know your child,” Daggett says. “Part of that has to do with the typically smaller schools and classes, but it also has to do with climate and culture focused on educating the whole child.”
Building strong relationships with students not only allows teachers to find creative ways to connect lessons to real-life interests, but also ensures students’ emotional development is progressing, too.
“The best schools, in my opinion, are ones that balance relationships, interests and intellectual muscularity,” Schwartz says. “It’s a balance between looking at a child’s social and emotional intelligence and their academic growth. Those things need to develop on equal plains, otherwise, they may be performing well academically, but they may be so stressed out they don’t want to go to school.”
By definition, private schools are communities of families with shared values, where parents must make a choice — and often some sacrifices — to take part. That often equates to a high rate of parental involvement. That partnership between school and parents is especially pronounced at faith-based schools, where families look to the school to nurture their child’s faith as well as academic pursuits.
“Our commitment to each student’s spiritual development is at the heart of who we are,” says Christine Williams, assistant principal and director of academics at Guerin Catholic High School in Noblesville. “Students can be open about their faith, and it’s expected that teachers and staff share their faith journeys as well. When conflicts arise, we handle them in the context of our faith.”
There are many different reasons why parents choose private school education, just as there are many different types of private schools. Advocates encourage parents to assess what their family values most about education and then weigh all the options.
Click here to explore a number of Indianapolis area schools from the comfort of your home in our Virtual Open House Guide.