CAPE | Council for American Private Education

Council for American Private Education

Why Teach in a Private School?

 

student writing on chalk board

Henry Adams once said, "A teacher affects eternity." Teachers in private schools profoundly appreciate the eternal dimensions of their work, for they nourish not only the minds but also the hearts and souls of their students. Serving in schools that emphasize a child's complete development, private school teachers have the privileged opportunity to transmit the core academic skills as well as the lessons that count most in life: lessons about spirituality, love, values, the wonder of creation, the purpose of existence. Can any work be more important?

Indeed, the work of the private school teacher is of such significance, it is often regarded as a ministry and a calling, rather than just a job. Patty Quinn, a teacher at a private school in Maryland, described it this way: "I look at this job as a vocation, not as a career. I really think that the work that I'm doing has eternal consequences." (Education Week, March 29, 2000)

Private schools are wonderful places in which to teach. They offer caring, orderly, safe, and nurturing environments; they emphasize the education of the whole child; they insist on academic excellence; and they treat teachers as professionals, giving them considerable autonomy and independence in matters of instruction. The disciplined environment, rigorous curriculum, caring communities, and high expectations private schools provide make them some of the most effective schools in the country. Teachers in private schools can spend their time doing what they are supposed to be doing: teaching.

A century ago, many parents counted on schools to help rescue their children from the terrible shadow of poverty. Today, a new generation of children needs deliverance from a far more crushing poverty, a poverty of spirit. In an age which sometimes seems so void of basic values, an age where children are coarsened by the media and numbed by nihilism, parents are calling on private schools to help them infuse their children's lives with purpose and meaning. They desperately want teachers who can enliven the mind as well as the heart; teachers who can call youngsters to a life of service and love; teachers who can not only teach children to read and write, but also to tell right from wrong.

The life of the private school teacher is an extraordinary calling. Are you up to the challenge?

View CAPE's Video to find out how private schools promote the public good and provide a path to a promising future.

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Private School Advantages

Exceptional Job Satisfaction

free to teach

May 20, 2009 -- Private school teachers are more satisfied than their public school counterparts with careers, classroom conditions, and school climate, according to a groundbreaking report released today by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. 

The report, titled Free to Teach: What America’s Teachers Say About Teaching in Public and Private Schools, draws on data from the Schools and Staffing Survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education.

"These are eye-opening data on how America's public and private school teachers view their work and their schools," said Greg Forster, one of the authors of the study.

"The results here highlight the professional differences felt by teachers from public and private schools," said Christian D'Andrea, the study's co-author. "While public school teachers are faced with more hassles inside and outside the classroom, private school teachers have much more freedom to teach. These private school teachers report having better working environments and stronger networks of staff support."

According to the report’s executive summary…

  • Private school teachers are much more likely to say they will continue teaching as long as they are able (62 percent v. 44 percent), while public school teachers are much more likely to say they'll leave teaching as soon as they are eligible for retirement (33 percent v. 12 percent) and that they would immediately leave teaching if a higher paying job were available (20 percent v. 12 percent).
  • Private school teachers are much more likely to have a great deal of control over selection of textbooks and instructional materials (53 percent v. 32 percent) and content, topics, and skills to be taught (60 percent v. 36 percent).
  • Private school teachers are much more likely to have a great deal of influence on performance standards for students (40 percent v. 18 percent), curriculum (47 percent v. 22 percent), and discipline policy (25 percent v. 13 percent).
  • Public school teachers are much more likely to report that student misbehavior (37 percent v. 21 percent) or tardiness and class cutting (33 percent v. 17 percent) disrupt their classes, and are four times more likely to say student violence is a problem on at least a monthly basis (48 percent v. 12 percent).
  • Private school teachers are much more likely to strongly agree that they have all the textbooks and supplies they need (67 percent v. 41 percent).
  • Public school teachers are twice as likely as private school teachers to agree that the stress and disappointments they experience at their schools are so great that teaching there isn't really worth it (13 percent v. 6 percent).
  • Public school teachers are almost twice as likely to agree that they sometimes feel it is a waste of time to try to do their best as a teacher (17 percent v. 9 percent).
  • Nearly one in five public school teachers has been physically threatened by a student, compared to only one in twenty private school teachers (18 percent v. 5 percent).
  • Nearly one in ten public school teachers has been physically attacked by a student, three times the rate in private schools (9 percent v. 3 percent).

"Documenting existing teacher working conditions is a first step in helping the nation's educational system - both private and public schools - improve working conditions and the overall profession," said Robert Enlow, President and CEO of the Friedman Foundation.

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Private School Teachers More Satisfied with Their Jobs

Progress Through the Teacher Pipeline, released in December 1999 by the National Center for Education Statistics, tracked 1992-93 college graduates as they wound their way from diploma to first teaching job. The report showed that private school teachers typically were more satisfied with their jobs than their colleagues in public schools. In fact, on all six aspects of job satisfaction examined in the study, substantially higher percentages of private school teachers reported they were "very satisfied" (see chart). Further, 42 percent of private school teachers, but only 23 percent of public school teachers, said they were "quite satisfied overall" during their most recent semester of teaching.

 

Percentage of teachers who reported they were very satisfied with...
  Private Public
Student motivation to learn36.2 22.9
School learning environment 54.7 42.4
Student discipline and behavior 42.4 29.1
Class size 68.2 41.8
Support from parents 51.5 26.3
Esteem of society for teaching profession 23.2 11.6
Percent quite satisfied overall 42.4 23.1
Base: 1992-1993 bachelor's degree recipients who first taught after 1992 in a public or private elementary or secondary school. Respondents were evaluating the most recent semester of their most recent job as of 1997.

 

Another measure of teacher job satisfaction is the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. A report from NCES in 2002 entitled Private Schools: A Brief Portrait used 1999-2000 SASS data to show that private school teachers are more satisfied with their jobs than public school teachers--not a trivial finding. Private school teachers are also more content about class size and more likely to say they receive lots of support from parents. By substantial margins, they are more likely to agree that most colleagues share the school's mission and that staff cooperative effort is high. The report notes the significance of the last two items this way: "A school's professional climate, in particular the existence of a strong shared purpose among staff members and cooperative interactions among people at the school, is likely to contribute to its effectiveness."

 
Percentage of teachers who strongly agree with the following statements about school climate
  Private Public
I am satisfied with teaching at this school 66.4 53.7
I am satisfied with my class size 66.0 35.8
Most colleagues share school's mission 59.9 33.2
Staff cooperative effort is high 56.0 33.9
I receive lots of parent support for my work 42.4 15.6
Rules are consistently enforced by teachers 37.8 22.8
Source: Private Schools: A Brief Portrait

 

Although complaining about management may be an American pastime, most private school teachers have some positive things to say about school administrators. A majority strongly agrees that the principal enforces school rules (63 percent), expresses expectations for staff (57 percent), and communicates school goals clearly (61 percent). Six of ten private school teachers regard the administration as supportive and encouraging. By contrast, none of those items won strong agreement from a majority of public school teachers.

Another report from the U.S. Department of Education presents additional data from the Schools and Staffing Survey, which also demonstrate that private school teachers appear to be happier about their jobs than public school teachers. (Data are from the 1999-2000 SASS and appear in table 74 of the Digest of Education Statistics: 2002, published June 2003.)

 
Percentage of teachers who agree with the following statements
  Private Public
The school administration's behavior toward the staff is supportive. 87 79
In this school, staff members are recognized for a job well done. 79 68
The level of student misbehavior in this school interferes with my teaching. 24 41
I am satisfied with my teaching salary. 42 39
I am given the support I need to teach students with special needs. 67 61

 

Morale Higher Among Private School Teachers

What motivates a person to become a teacher? A study released in May 2000 by Public Agenda examines that question, and the answers are surprising.

Higher salaries, which many policymakers now regard as the magic bullet for the looming teacher shortage, may not be what teachers want most, according to the report. "They want to work in schools with involved parents, well-behaved students, smaller classes and supportive administrators, and most would even pass up significantly higher salaries in favor or working conditions that offer these."

Private school teachers reported higher levels of morale than public school teachers, a greater sense of being respected and appreciated, and less likelihood to "face a lot of frustration in their work." By a greater than two-to-one margin (54 percent to 20 percent) private school teachers were more likely than their counterparts in public schools to agree strongly with the statement "At my school teachers can count on the support of parents."

The report is based on a series of focus-group sessions and national telephone surveys, including one of 664 public school teachers and 250 private school teachers with five or fewer years of experience.

The full report, which is entitled A Sense of Calling: Who Teaches and Why, is available on the Public Agenda Web Site.

 
Percentage of teachers who say...
  Private Public
Their job gives them a sense that they are respected and appreciated. 86 66
They can count on parental support. 54 20
Teachers' morale is high at their school. 49 28
Source: A Sense of Calling: Who Teaches and Why

 

For more information on teacher job satisfaction, read CAPE's summary of a June 2002 report on private schools from the U.S. Department of Education or download the report directly from the USDE Web site.

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Schools Committed to Excellence

Private schools are known for the high standards they set. Teachers expect excellence from students, and students tend to live up to those expectations. The high expectations and academic rigor help account for above-average levels of student success. If you're looking to help students reach their potential in a school committed to excellence, consider teaching in a private school.

In a June 2002 report titled Private Schools: A Brief Portrait, the U.S. Department of Education had this to say about the academic performance of private schools:

  • Private school students generally perform higher than their public school counterparts on standardized achievement tests.
  • Private high schools typically have more demanding graduation requirements than do public high schools.
  • Private school graduates are more likely than their peers from public schools to have completed advanced-level courses in three academic subject areas [mathematics, science, and foreign language].
  • Private school students are more likely than public school students to complete a bachelor's or advanced degree by their mid-20s.

According to NCES data, 88 percent of private high school students apply to college, compared to 57 percent of public high school students. And reports from the College Board indicate that SAT scores for private school students are well above the national average.

When it comes to challenging students to stretch their capacity, private schools do an exceptional job. Statistics from the College Board and NCES show that for high school seniors, 24.2 percent of private school students took AP exams in 1998, while 9.4 percent of public school students did so. Private schools, which account for only 7.5 percent of all high school students, produced 20 percent of 12th graders who took AP exams in 1998 and 22 percent of those who scored high enough to have the advanced courses count for college credit.

Academic Performance

Outlook Articles on Academic Performance

 

The National Center for Education Statistics periodically administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to test the knowledge and skills of the nation's students in grades 4, 8, and 12. Students in private schools consistently score well above the national average. At all three grades a significantly higher percentage of private school students score at or above the Basic, Proficient, and Advanced levels than public school students. Below are the results from the most recent NAEP report cards in reading. To see results from NAEP report cards in other subjects.

 

NAEP 2009 Reading Report Card

Percentage of Students in Public and Private Schools At or Above Various Achievement Levels
Grade 4
  Private Public
Basic 81 66
Proficient 48 32
Advanced 13 7
Grade 8
  Private Public
Basic 92 74
Proficient 52 30
Advanced 6 2
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Invigorating Professional Environment

Teachers in private schools typically enjoy a considerable degree of professional autonomy. They are not entangled in an elaborate web of regulations that control their every move, but are treated as professionals, and are given the discretion they need to help students succeed. The NCES report Private Schools: A Brief Portrait showed that teachers in private schools have more influence on school policies and teaching practices than their counterparts in public schools. When it comes to practices such as selecting teaching techniques, evaluating students, selecting textbooks and materials, choosing content, and disciplining students, private school teachers are more likely than public school teachers to see themselves as having a lot of control (see table).

 

 
Percentage of teachers who thought they had a lot of control over various teaching practices
  Private Public
Selecting teaching techniques 92.5 87.4
Evaluating and grading students 92.4 89.1
Determining homework quantity 87.3 87.9
Disciplining students 85.5 73.3
Choosing content and skills to teach 75.0 56.7
Selecting textbook, materials 70.6 54.1
Source: Private Schools: A Brief Portrait

 

And in matters of policy, the report notes substantial sector differences in the percentage of teachers who see themselves as having a lot of influence in establishing curriculum, setting student performance standards, setting discipline policy, and evaluating teachers (see table). In short, the data suggest that private schools trust the professional judgment of teachers and value their counsel.

 

 
Percentage of teachers who thought they had a lot of influence on various school policies
  Private Public
Establishing curriculum 67.5 44.3
Setting student performance standards 62.5 37.6
Setting discipline policy 47.9 30.4
In-service training content 35.5 32.5
Evaluating teachers 18.6 08.2
Hiring full-time teachers 14.1 14.5
Source: Private Schools: A Brief Portrait

 

Academic Background of Teachers

Progress Through the Teacher Pipeline, released in December 1999 by the National Center for Education Statistics, tracked the demographic characteristics and academic preparation of 1992-93 college graduates who became teachers. According to the report, graduates with higher college entrance examination scores were more likely to teach in private schools. Although private schools attracted 13 percent of first-time teachers overall, they drew 26 percent of the teachers who had college entrance examination (CEE) scores in the top quartile. Looking at the data from another angle, 38 percent of the private school group had CEE scores in the top quartile, compared to 18 percent of the public school cohort. The ability of private schools to attract teachers who were higher-achieving college students was also reflected in SAT scores. The average composite score of those who taught in private schools was 1136, 100 points higher than those who taught in public schools.

For the latest information on professional environment, read CAPE's summary of a June 2002 report on private schools from the U.S. Department of Education.


Secretary Paige Issues Teacher Quality Report

Notes Effectiveness of Private Schools in Recruiting Top Students into Teaching

quality

June 21, 2002 - What are the marks of an effective teacher? "[R]igorous research indicates that verbal ability and content knowledge are the most important attributes of highly qualified teachers." So says Secretary of Education Rod Paige in his first annual report to Congress on teacher quality.

According to the report, titled Meeting the Highly Qualified Teacher Challenge, "[S]tudies have consistently documented the important connection between a teacher's verbal and cognitive abilities and student achievement." Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek is quoted in the report as saying, "[P]erhaps the closest thing to a consistent conclusion across studies is the finding that teachers who perform well on verbal ability tests do better in the classroom [in boosting student achievement]."

That's good news for students in private schools. A 1999 report on first-time teachers from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that the average SAT verbal score was 578 for private school teachers and 520 for public school teachers (Progress Through the Teacher Pipeline, table C26). The average SAT math score was 558 for private school teachers and 516 for public school teachers.

Secretary Paige's report calls into question the value of prospective teachers attending schools of education. "Historically, research suggests that students enrolled in schools of education are not as academically accomplished as other university students." Data also suggest that such schools "fail to attract the best students." Only 14 percent of college graduates who majored in education and 15 percent of all public school teachers had SAT or ACT scores in the top quartile. "In contrast, 25 percent of uncertified teachers scored in the top quartile on these tests, as did 33 percent of private school teachers."

A report released last month by NCES shows that 39 percent of private schools and 70 percent of public schools require teacher applicants to be graduates of a state-approved teacher preparation program (Schools and Staffing Survey 1999-2000: Overview of the Data for Public, Private, and Public Charter, and BIA Elementary and Secondary Schools, tables 1.04 and 2.03).

Secretary Paige's report asks why the "best students are the least likely to enter traditional teacher-training programs," and it offers as one explanation the low pay levels in the profession. But the report goes on to note that "private schools are more effective at recruiting top students into teaching than public schools, despite the generally lower pay offered by these schools."

Paige concludes that the current system of teacher certification "discourages some of the most talented candidates from entering the profession while allowing too many poorly qualified individuals to teach." He proposes a model for teacher preparation and recruitment that includes high standards for verbal ability and content knowledge, streamlined certification requirements, and alternate routes to teaching.

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School Safety and Discipline

Outlook Articles on School Safety

 

The Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), published by the National Center for Education Statistics, provides data on public and private schools. The following table, based on 1999-2000 SASS data (the most recent), indicates the extent to which teachers think various behaviors are serious problems in their schools. (Source: Table 73, Digest of Education Statistics: 2002)

 

Percentage of teachers who perceive certain issues as serious problems in their schools
  Public Private
student disrespect for teachers 17 4
use of alcohol 7 3
drug abuse 6 2
student tardiness 10 3
student absenteeism 14 3
students unprepared to learn 30 5
lack of parent involvement 24 3
student apathy 21 4

 

In October 2003, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics released Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2003, which provides a comprehensive picture of the exposure of students and teachers to crime in schools. While the report's main focus is public schools, a few of its many charts and tables also extend to private schools. The charts below capture the major findings of the report that involve private schools.

 

 
Percentage of teachers in 1999-2000 who reported that a student...
  Public Private
threatened them with injury 10 4
physically attacked them 4 2

 

Percentage of students, age 12-18, who in 2001 reported...
  Public Private
having experienced violent victimization at school 1.9 1.0
being bullied at school 8.0 7.3
fearing being attacked or harmed at school 6.6 4.6
being targets of hate-related words at school 12.7 8.2
that street gangs were present in school 21.6 4.9
that they avoided certain places in school for fear of their own safety 4.9 2.0

 

Each year the Horatio Alger Association issues a back-to-school report on the opinions and attitudes of American teenagers. The 2000 State of Our Nation's Youth report covered how teens feel about a host of issues, including safety and security in school. The following table summarizes what students in public and private schools think about safety.

 
Safety and Security in School
  Public Private
Always feel safe in my school 36% 64%
Teachers and administrators have taken all necessary steps for my safety and security 41% 57%

 

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Supportive Community

OTI chart

Teachers in private schools are enormously dedicated. With their interest being a child's entire development, they tend to build strong bonds with students and their families. In response, parents and students generally give high marks to private schools and have great regard for the teachers who staff them.

Public Agenda, a national research organization, released a report in November 1999 entitled On Thin Ice, which found that people who have private schools in their communities believe by wide margins that such schools "generally provide a better education" than public schools and do a better job "teaching academic skills" and "maintaining discipline and order." (For 67 percent of respondents, the term "private schools" refers to "parochial schools or Christian academies," while for 16 percent it refers to "nonreligious private schools.")

Most studies of school choice for low-income families find that parents whose children attend private schools are much more satisfied with various elements of school life than parents of students in public schools. To illustrate this point, the following table compares the attitudes of two sets of low-income parents who applied for privately funded scholarships in Washington, DC: those whose children received the scholarships (as a result of a lottery drawing) and those whose children did not. The table reflects data in a 2000 report from Harvard University entitled School Choice in Washington, DC: An Evaluation After One Year.

 
Percentage of parents in Washington, DC who were "very satisfied" with...
  Public Private
safety 20 60
teacher-parent relations 29 55
teacher skills 22 57
school discipline 19 56
academic program 17 56
student respect for teachers 26 50
teacher respect for students 25 51
moral values 20 52
clarity of school goals 18 51
teamwork among school staff 18 49
parental involvement 19 47

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Focus on Values

Private schools focus on the essentials -- that which provides purpose and meaning to life. The sad reality is that our society is marked by a great fear that fundamental values are coming undone. Within that context, a growing number of parents desperately desire the opportunity to choose schools whose primary purpose is to provide youngsters a sound moral and religious education. Private schools are the only schools we have that can assist parents with the religious and spiritual development of their children -- a sphere of development so essential for their complete and proper upbringing.

The 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey mentioned above asked school principals to rate various goals as their most important. Below is the rank order of goals rated by principals of public schools and private schools, with the percentage of principals ranking each goal as their first, second, or third most important (Public school principals were not asked about the goal of religious/spiritual development.)

 

 
School Goals Rated By Principals
Private Public
Academic excellence (66%) Basic literacy (80%)
Religious/spiritual life (64%) Academic excellence (70%)
Basic literacy (51%) Work habits/self-discipline (60%)
Work habits/self-discipline (47%) Personal growth (32%)
Personal growth (32%) Social skills (25%)
Specific moral values (24%) Occupational skills (13%)
Social skills (12%) Specific moral values (9%)
Occupational skills (4%)  

 

Community Service

In November 1999, the National Center for Education Statistics reported on the participation of students in grades 6-12 in community service projects. The report showed a significant difference in community service based on the type of schools that students attend. In public schools, 50% of students in grades 6-12 in 1999 reported participating in community service. For church-related private schools, the participation rate was 72 percent and for non-church-related private schools it was 68 percent (table 2 of Service-Learning and Community Service Among 6th- through 12th Grade Students in the United States: 1996 and 1999).

 

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Private School Job Banks

 

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Links to Federal Programs for Teachers

 

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