Private School vs. Public School: Private Is Not Right for Everyone

Over the past few years, many people have asked me to include Private School information in Home by  And up until now, I didn’t have the ability to provide those answers.

The good news is that now we have a relationship with a great person in our area’s educational space who can answer all your questions – and beyond.

A serendipitous encounter with Ann Dolin

Ann Dolin; Education Expert, Author, Speaker, and Consultant

Ann Dolin: Education Expert, Author, Speaker, and Consultant

Back in October of 2012, my husband and I took a little weekend trip up to Cape Cod, MA.

While on the airplane, I was lucky enough to sit next to a really nice lady. She seemed to be very busy writing a post for her own blog.

Inevitably, I glanced onto her screen and caught a glimpse of her topic

She was writing about Private Schools in the Washington, DC area.

Needless to say, I was very intrigued since I also write often about public schools in Fairfax County.  So I carefully apologized for being nosy, introduced myself, and told her that I was very intrigued with her topic.

Little did I know that I was sitting next to the famous Ann Dolin of Educational Connections

Ann is a speaker, author, consultant, and all-around education expert.  So, we got to chatting, I told her about this website and about how some of my readers had asked me for private schools information.

She was kind enough to agree to guest post on the topic of Private schools vs. Public Schools (especially since our Public Schools are so highly rated, why do many people send their kids to Private Schools?).

Thanks to Ann for generously offering to share an excerpt of her upcoming new book A Parent’s Guide to DC Area Private Schools:

Private School vs. Public School: Private Is Not Right for Everyone

By Ann Dolin, M.Ed.

Residents of Virginia and Maryland are lucky to have such top-notch public schools, and parents across the nation would love to have these kinds of options. When deciding between private and public schooling, it could be the case that private school is not necessary or right for your child. There are a lot of factors to consider.

Perhaps the most important reason to stay with your public school is the district in which you live

Your location matters when choosing between public and private. In Maryland, schools in the Chevy Chase area, for example, boast higher scores than in Rockville. In DC, schools in the Northwest area of the District are stronger than in Southwest.

And in Virginia, for instance, public schools in the Vienna area, are strong while schools in parts of the Alexandria area tend to be weaker. Where your home is located is going to be a significant deciding factor in whether to choose private over public.

How do you know if your local base school is “good” or not?

One way to make this determination is to look at the data. The easiest marker is test scores. Look at average SAT scores, MSA scores (Maryland), SOL scores (Virginia), and AP offerings as a starting point. Then, look into the depth of each program to see how much your student can pursue in certain classes or arts programs.

For websites that allow you to compare local schools

For websites that allow you to compare local schools, try or You can sort by grade, type of test, and subject scores. Standardized tests are the easiest way to compare public schools to each other, and any extra time you spend on research will pay off in your search.

Closer to home, the Maryland Department of Education has an outstanding website to help parents review its 24 school systems. Here you will find information on the Maryland School Assessment (MSA), High School Assessment (HSA) and demographic and enrollment facts. By far, this website is the easiest to use when considering public schools in the close-in suburbs of Montgomery County.

If you live in or around Fairfax County, Virginia

If you live in or around Fairfax County, Virginia, check out Marina Brito’s terrific website, Although it’s primarily focused on helping families choose a public school when they are moving to the area, I’ve found great value in using it to gather data on various schools.

The Northern Virginia school systems, especially Fairfax County (the nation’s 11th largest) do not do a good job of putting all the data (state test scores, ACT and SAT scores) into one place. Instead, parents are left to sift through various websites. Although these are good, Marina’s site is unbiased and relies on the data.

Beyond the Data

Beyond numbers, you will also want to talk to your friends and neighbors. Open up the dialogue with many people with different types of children. Seek out the family with an high achieving child, one who might have a child with special needs, or another with a fairly average student (although many won’t admit to that!).

Get opinions from different types of parents

Use your own best judgment, too. Call the school to request a meeting, quick visit, or tour so that you can get a feel for the school. And finally, sort through the data. How does this school’s state test scores compare to the state average or others in your district? If you are passionate about education, you will want your child to be in an environment with students who surpass state averages.

It may be the case that the schools in your area are actually quite good

Don’t pass judgment on your local school because of what you’ve heard from friends and acquaintances. When it comes to education, people have very strong opinions and aren’t afraid to voice them. It may be that their experience is an outlier and is not indicative of what life is really like at that particular school.

I always recommend to parents that they visit their local school

Arrange for a meeting or tour while the students are in session. There are many public schools in our area that offer far more than their smaller private counterparts. Furthermore, there are public institutions have phenomenal matriculation lists that are better than some private schools. Do your homework or check with a consultant if you are considering a public school in the mix.

Beyond academics is your child’s social and emotional well-being

It’s important to seriously consider his or her feelings in your decision. For example, if all of your daughter’s friends are going to public school and she’ll be absolutely heartbroken anywhere else, that should weigh on your decision. Each child is different, but in some cases a parent shouldn’t compromise their relationship with their child if their child if he or she is a happy and productive member of their local public school.

It’s important to listen to your child, especially the older he or she is

I’ve worked with many parents who feel a change is necessary, especially in the high school years, yet their child doesn’t buy into the move. These are the kids who sit across from me in my office with tears flowing down their cheeks, very upset because they don’t think their parents listen to them. When the move from public to private is thrust upon their child, about half the students end up enjoying their new school, but an equal number are resentful. When considering a switch, have a heart-to-heart discussion with your child so that he or she is a part of the decision-making process.

Keep in mind, there are many students who thrive in a large school environment – they love the large sports programs and don’t feel lost in the crowd. These are the kids who will ask their teachers for help if they need it. They are the ones who are self-motivated and can navigate a large school. When students are doing well academically and socially, they are good candidates to stay put.

If finances are an issue

If finances are an issue and you find yourself scraping together funds to afford a particular school, consider sticking with the public system and supporting your child with tutors and other professionals. Many parents find that they are better off hiring tutors for enrichment to get ahead or remediation to catch up than paying a tuition bill they really cannot afford.

Also consider that your child may feel like an outlier when his friends are going on a weekend ski trip, for example, and he cannot. The public option also allows kids to stay with the other neighborhood students. For some, the socialization aspect of riding the bus and hanging out with friends in the neighborhood that all attend the same school is attractive and it’s a lot less stressful when balancing the checkbook.

About the author

Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections Tutoring and Test Prep in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD.

In her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Numerous examples and easy-to-implement, fun tips will help make learning less of a chore for the whole family.

Due out in 2013 is her new book, A Parent’s Guide to DC Area Private Schools. Learn more at

Your Questions and Comments are welcome

If you have a moment, please leave a comment (or question) below for Ann or feel free to connect with her directly.

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