Why Parents Choose Private Schools and Implications on School Marketing

Should I send my child to the local public school or the private school down the road? This is a question which many prospective parents have in their minds before deciding on a school. This question has been a divisive and a source of anxiety for many parents for a while. Public schools have their appeal, there is no tuition, and you already pay for it through your taxes to the state. Private schools provide a greater level of control, and the ability to choose many aspects of the child's educational path. But what does the research show? Also, what is this debate's implication on school promotion and marketing? 

Perception of quality

This is a concept I have tackled in the past, but it is worth mentioning again. Firstly it has to do with the perception of higher quality. This might not always be true, but most parents perceive that a private school will be of higher quality than a public school [2]. There is also a strong perception that post-secondary opportunities will be greater in a private school education [2]. Research out of Georgia Southern University also indicates that most parents have personal reasons as to why they choose a private school for their own kids [2]. Another study in 2011 seemed to confirm this first one as it looked at parents in central Tennessee and found again, that parents perceived public education as being of less quality than private education [6].

Traditional teachings

Many parents are willing to sacrifice financially if they are ensured that their values are going to be taught at their children's school. Research out of Australia shows that parental interest in the private school  was mainly based on "the extent to which the school embraced traditional values to do with discipline, religious or moral values". This also meant that the school required uniforms to be worn [3].

Educational Achievement

A 2009 study from the Journal of School Choice looked at eight educational outcomes, and more than 150 statistical comparisons, and determined that the private and market schools "outperform[ed] the public sector in the overwhelming majority of cases" [4]. This study is a confirmation of an earlier 1982 study indicating higher vocabulary and mathematics achievement in private schools compared to public schools [5]. 


A report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) called Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2013 looked at safety for students (and teachers) in both public and private schools. It concluded that students in middle and high school attending public schools reported being victimized (4% of students) more than students attending private schools (2%). The report also says that 19% of public school students reported gangs being present in their school, as compared to 2% for private school students. Finally, 28% of students of public schools report bullying as compared to 21% in private schools [7]. 

Implications for public schools

As members of the educational markets in which they find themselves, public schools should use this information to their advantage. While private schools appear of higher quality, provide for more traditional environments, have a quantifiably higher educational achievement, and a much safer environment; public schools are tuition-free, and placement is guaranteed. Public schools should remember what parents are looking for in education, and compete in the educational market by providing it to them.

Implications for school marketing

Knowing why students are sent to private schools is key to promoting and marketing a school. Maintaining a healthy position in the school market also comes from knowing that private school parent's taxes pay for a public school seat which they are not using. This makes a private school one of choice and not convenience. 

Also, more emphasis should be put in the categories of safety, achievement, quality, and tradition as these are the elements which parents look to when choosing their child's private school. A school may, for example, position themselves as a:

"Safe environment for character and academic development for children of all backgrounds."

This positioning statement hits safety, tradition, achievement and even diversity.


It should be noted that there will always be detractors on both sides of the debate, and when a study or piece of research is presented, it may be all too easy to dismiss it as coming from a source which is "biased". There is never an ability to provide a completely understood arguments since the legitimacy of the sources used can never be truly corroborated. Yet, it is important to discuss this question, even with incomplete information [1]. 


At its heart, schools benefit from being on the open market. This is the case for both public and private schools. Parents must make a choice, and it is this choice which drives enrollment. Private schools are schools of choice since there are significant financial burdens for parents in exchange for a differential experience which they may not be able to get at the local public school. 



[1] Perspectives on Scientific Argumentation: Theory, Practice, and Research. Edited by Myint Swe Khine http://bit.ly/1RQ9IPJ

[2] Why Do Parents Choose to Send Their Children To Private Schools? Ava M. Davis, 2011 http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1382&context=etd

[3]Why parents choose public or private schools, Dr. Adrian Beavis, 2004 http://research.acer.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1010&context=resdev

[4] Comparing Public, Private, and Market Schools: The International Evidence
Coulson, Andrew J. Journal of School Choice, v3 n1 p31-54 Jan 2009

[5] Cognitive Outcomes in Public and Private Schools, James Coleman, Thomas Hoffer and Sally Kilgore,n 1982  https://www.jstor.org/stable/2112288?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[6]Parental Perceptions of School Quality in Public and Private Schools, Gabrina Williams, Ed.D. 2011 http://gradworks.umi.com/34/47/3447723.html

[7] Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2013, Robers, Simone; Kemp, Jana; Rathbun, Amy; Morgan, Rachel http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2014042