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.
“Parents are looking for different things. Most of all though, they’re looking for a community that they’re confident will help their child grow into the adult they want them to be,” said Myra McGovern, vice president of media for the National Association of Independent Schools. “There are programs that are more formal, more traditional. There are programs that are more progressive and a little more child-led. Different options really let people look at what community works best for them.”
If private school education has never been on your radar, here are some reasons to reconsider:
1) Mission-centric education
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?”
Why it matters: A school’s mission gives parents a look inside the program’s priorities and keeps teachers, staff and students focused on the big picture, advocates say.
2) Different ways of teaching
Private schools aren’t bound by the same government regulations as public schools, including curriculum and textbook mandates, which often equates to teachers having more freedom in the classroom, supporters say.
“While most private schools are accredited by the Indiana Department of Education, there is more flexibly and more teacher autonomy to be creative, which leads to greater innovation and academic quality,” said Duane Emery, vice president of enrollment at Cathedral High School, a Catholic high school on Indy’s northeast side.
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 on Indy’s north side.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Why it matters: Giving teachers the freedom to experiment with how best to reach students fosters creativity and innovation, improving academic outcomes, private school proponents say.
3) Individual attention
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 noted. “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, Schwartz said.
“The best schools, in my opinion, are ones that balance relationships, interests and intellectual muscularity,” he said. “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.”
Why it matters: Individual attention for students fosters strong relationships with teachers and staff, who are committed to working with the child on academic and developmental progress, advocates say.
4) Close-knit community
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.
“For private school parents, there’s more skin in the game,” Emery noted. “If I’m investing money or driving my child to and from school, I probably feel more inclined or obligated or entitled to play a more active role as a parent.”
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,” said 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.”
Why it matters: A close-knit community of teachers, staff, students and parents creates an environment where a child’s academics and character are supported, advocates say.
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.