Many of our nation’s schools today are struggling to provide a quality education that would prepare young people to become successful adults. However, a growing number of parents have become disenchanted with the education being provided by traditional public schools; particularly middle and high schools and have moved their children into either charter schools or even more so, into private schools. While, the specific reasons for doing so, vary, the common thread among their concerns was that the nation’s public schools were in need of vast improvement.
Today, roughly 5.7 million Pre-Kindergarten through 12th-grade students attend one of 3,457 private schools throughout the nation, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In one two-year period (2013-15), the number grew by 400,000 new students.
What are the problems public schools are facing?
In 2019, a Public School Review blog outlined the major problems that most education stakeholders agree are facing public schools; a summary of which follows:
- Funding: Budget cuts have created huge problems for a growing number of schools in recent years. And, there’s every reason to predict with certainty that funding shortages will become more common and severe in the foreseeable future, given the current shutdown of the economy, causing school districts to have to compete even more for less tax revenues. Less funding equates to fewer teachers, shrinking instruction resources, services for students, and the physical conditions of the schools themselves, including the following:
- Classroom size: Many schools are facing a growing lack of classrooms, both in numbers and size. As a result, class sizes are growing in order for public schools to pay faculty and administrative salaries and other costs. Well over 80 cents out of every public school district dollar is spent on salaries, pensions and other benefits for teachers and other employees. In many cases, voters in recent elections are no longer approving school bond issues to build, expand or revise existing classrooms, labs, and other teaching venues, exacerbating the problem even further.
- Technology: Today’s students are part of the techno-savvy iGEN generation which makes them more advanced technologically than many of their teachers. A teacher’s lack the ability to compete with laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones often finds it difficult to keep students’ interest and attention. The problem is even worse when distant or remote learning technologies becomes necessary.
- Student behaviors: Many public-school teachers complain about apathy, tardiness, absenteeism, and disrespect for the teacher’s authority as being major problems; particularly at the high school level.
So, what should parents look for in a school?
A review and summary of various guides for parents seeking advice on choosing a school includes the following characteristics they should look for in grading prospective schools. For purposes here, we will focus on middle and high school.
- Academic programs. Does the school offer an academically robust curriculum that prepares and gives students a wide range of options to pursue when he or she graduates. At the least, it should be college preparatory and include traditional and evolving methods of instruction – from standard classroom formats to project-based learning formats. Does the school have a STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering Math – emphasis that prepares students to pursue a higher education in the professions and vocations where there are critical shortages of future workers and leaders is a key factor.
- Diversity. The school’s student body should have students from different ethnic, racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds to provide opportunities for students to learn from each other as they prepare to enter an increasingly global society – and in many cases, a global workforce.
- Size. Just as smaller class sizes have a positive effect on student achievement so does the size of the school itself. Schools with smaller enrollments have smaller classes, a more collegial environment where friendships and interaction with other students can flourish easier than at larger campuses.
- Student-teacher interaction. Teachers and students who become acquainted and know each other can be an important resource for students who may need help in their class. Having good interaction between a teacher and his/her students often results in the teacher sharing additional information and perspective on the class topic that can enhance learning on the part of the student.
- School culture. The term school culture generally refers to the beliefs, perceptions, relationships, attitudes, and written and unwritten rules that shape and influence every aspect of how a school functions. The term also encompasses more concrete issues such as the physical and emotional safety of students, the orderliness of classrooms and public spaces, or the degree to which a school embraces and celebrates racial, ethnic, linguistic, or cultural diversity. Like the larger social culture, a school culture results from both conscious and unconscious perspectives, values, interactions, and practices, and it is heavily shaped by a school’s particular institutional history.
- Beyond classroom instruction . A robust education extends well beyond what takes place in the classroom, library or study hall. A well-rounded education needs to include teaching personal development skills, including, but not limited to leadership, personal fitness, and character development.
There’s one school that has it all – and more
The Army and Navy Academy, a college preparatory boarding school for middle- and high school-age boys in Carlsbad, Calif. fits the above checklist and more. What follows are the reasons why:
- Academic program. The Academy’s college preparatory curriculum is based on the University of California’s rigorous A-G entrance requirements and includes several Advanced Placement (AP) and honors courses as well as training courses in aviation and computer science.
- Diversity. So much of a student’s education is what they learn about each other. During the 2019-20 school year, the Academy’s nearly 300 cadets hailed from 15 states and 14 countries on six continents, collectively speaking 15 languages while having English fluency in common. The Cadets lived and interacted with each other, learning about each other’s cultures and making lifelong friendships.
- Size. The quality of learning as an Academy Cadet is further enhanced by small class sizes. The teacher-student ratio is 1 teacher per 15 Cadets, well below the average for public and many private schools.
- Student-teacher interaction. The low ratio of students per teacher is an important Academy distinctive that enhances interaction between teachers and Cadets. Outside class times, teachers work with Cadets in before-school tutorials and are also available for help during evening office hours. All of which combine to give Cadets the extra resources they need to excel academically.
- School culture. Scientists who study how children learn as well as the physical structure of the human brain have learned in recent years what the Army and Navy Academy has known intuitively since its founding 110 years ago. Boys thrive in single-gender learning environments. The conclusions are based on scientific evidence that boys and girls learn differently, based on their respective biological characteristics. The Academy’s faculty and Cadet Life staff are trained how to work with the developmental needs of adolescent boys.
Overall, the Academy’s central emphasis is its core belief in the boy – the unqualified belief that he can achieve or exceed any goal he sets for himself and that he should pursue independence and leadership in all that he undertakes, following the Academy’s tagline: “Be Bold. Be Brilliant. Be You.”
- Beyond classroom instruction. Leadership, teamwork, and character development rounds out an education of the whole boy and is taught through the Academy’s JROTC program as well as 13 fall, winter, and spring sports; several extra-curricular clubs and events. These activities and functions embed in each Cadet’s personal character the Academy’s values of honor, integrity, respect, responsibility, compassion, and gratitude.