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Comparing the differences between teaching in a private school vs. public school

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This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
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This article has been reviewed by Kathryn Uhles, MIS, MSP, Dean, College of Business and IT

At a glance

  • Private and public schools are similar in many ways, but it is important to know the differences if you plan to enter the field of education. 
  • One of the biggest differences is often the teachers’ level of education. Public schools typically require an education degree, while private schools may only require a college degree and not necessarily in primary or secondary education.
  • Some of the other differences between private and public schools are teacher salaries, class sizes and curriculum.
  • University of Phoenix can help you take charge of your teaching career with bachelor’s and master’s degrees

6 differences in teaching at public vs. private schools

If you are a teacher, your two options for employment are typically within private and public schools. There were 49.4 million students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools in the United States as of 2020. In private schools, there were 4.7 million students.

Most private and public schools teach the same basic subjects and often measure learning through standardized tests. That said, the two types of institutions have many differences. Public schools typically follow a common structure that separates children by age groups, meaning elementary, middle and high school students attend classes in different locations. Private schools teach students of the same age, but they may all reside in one building or location due to the schools being smaller. Many private schools have admissions requirements and charge tuition, whereas public schools do not.

Whether you choose to teach in a private or public school, teaching can provide a professional with a rewarding career. Let’s dive into six differences between private and public schools. 


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1. Required credentials

Credentials required of teachers in public and private schools can differ, especially among states. For example, public school teachers often need one or a combination of the following:

Private school teachers may face different requirements. In more rural and remote environments with teacher shortages, degree requirements for private school teachers may be less stringent, although typically a bachelor’s degree is required. Teacher aides and substitutes may be able to work without a bachelor’s degree. In a more affluent area, private school teachers may be required to have a master’s degree in education or even a doctoral degree in education to teach students from kindergarten to 12th grade.

The level of education required depends on your employer, your location, local laws and the type of school.

2. Class sizes

Private schools often have smaller class sizes due to a variety of factors, including higher cost of attendance and specific admissions requirements. As a result, smaller class sizes can facilitate more personalized instruction and may allow for better student–teacher relationships. However, private schools may require teachers to take on multiple roles.

Public schools often have larger class sizes compared to private schools. Class sizes can vary widely depending on the school district and location. Larger class sizes mean that teachers may have to manage and differentiate instruction for a more diverse group of students, which can be challenging but also rewarding.

Another factor that can affect class size is a school’s setting. For example, public schools in a rural area may have smaller class sizes than those in a large urban environment.

3. Funding

Public and private schools are typically funded through very different sources. Public schools are funded by taxpayer dollars and government allocations at various levels. While this funding model ensures access to education for all, it also makes public school budgets susceptible to fluctuations influenced by economic and political factors. These fluctuations can create challenges in maintaining consistent funding levels.

For teachers in public schools, resourcefulness and creativity often become essential traits as they navigate the dynamic funding landscape. Finding ways to secure additional resources, whether through grants, partnerships or community support, becomes a valuable skill.

On the plus side, public school educators often enjoy a sense of job security thanks to union protections and tenure systems. This stability can be a significant factor for those seeking a long-term teaching career.

As for private schools, they are typically funded through tuition payments, donors and fundraisers. In contrast to public schools, this leads to a greater degree of financial stability. Teachers in private schools may have more autonomy over budget decisions or fundraising efforts, depending on the school’s structure. It should be noted that private schools may offer competitive salaries to attract and retain top talent in the teaching profession. However, the trade-off can be fewer benefits and more variability in compensation packages compared to public school positions.

4. Teaching principles and curricula

Core principles, as well as subject or overall curriculum, may differ between public and private schools. Public schools are required to teach according to the standards that are laid out by the state government and local school boards. This could include what the teachers are required to teach and what they are not allowed to teach.

In a private school, an individual school may be tasked with choosing or creating the curriculum that teachers use in the classroom. In some cases, this gives teachers much more of a creative license when creating their classes.

5. Teaching styles

Public school teachers are often required to hold certifications and follow particular methods. Private schools may have a more varied pool of educators with different educational backgrounds who may have their own methods they are allowed to implement.

A teaching style is the way in which a teacher provides lessons to students throughout the school year. Each teacher has their own teaching style, which, as mentioned, can be affected by the environment in which the teacher works. Teachers may prefer lecture-based learning or project-based learning, or they may focus on collaborative projects or individual work. 

A teacher who prefers project-based learning may have different opportunities to use their preferred teaching method in a private school. These opportunities could include more field trips, extra crafting supplies or simply smaller class sizes that facilitate this type of learning. 

Teaching styles can vary widely within both public and private settings depending on school culture, leadership and even parental expectations.

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6. Standards

In public schools, the actions of administrators and teachers are overseen by school districts. The board of a school district, which may consist of any number of schools, makes decisions that can affect all the teachers, administrators and students. The district can include several schools across one district.

The standards that a private school needs to abide by are often overseen by the school’s board, and they make decisions based on the mission of the school.

Teaching at private and public schools

Teaching in general has many benefits and challenges, and they can differ depending on the type of school and a teacher’s ideal teaching goals. It can be helpful to continue your research about what it may be like to work in both settings before making a decision about what path you want to take.

Whether you decide to teach at a public or private school, you can have the chance to make a long-term difference in the lives of students.

Earn a degree in education at University of Phoenix

Whether you are taking the first step in your journey toward a career in education or looking to expand your existing knowledge and skill set, University of Phoenix offers a variety of degree and certificate options for those with busy schedules who need flexible options. These include:

Learn more about online education degrees and certificates through University of Phoenix.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Feder is a content marketing specialist at University of Phoenix, where he researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from healthcare to IT. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program and a New Jersey native!

 

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