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Is Private School Better Than Public School?

Gifted and Talented Expert Advice from Mary Ruth Coleman, Ph.D.

Q: My eight-year-old daughter was recently tested by her public school gifted specialist and scored in the 99th and 98th percentile on all categories. Her IQ score is 138. She was then "identified" and admitted to the gifted program in our system (in North Carolina). Unfortunately, this only provides her with one hour a week with the gifted specialist. Frankly, this seems quite inadequate to me. Her class size is 24, with a wide range of academic abilities represented. My husband and I are investigating a local, well-respected private school, where the class size is 18 and the academic range is skewed towards more advanced kids by virtue of their admission requirements. This school costs over $8,000 per year and we are not wealthy. Our four-year-old son also seems gifted and I need to consider offering this to him, too. If there is a clear benefit in the private school, we will find a way for this to happen. How important is this overall?

  1. Is there hard evidence that gifted kids do better in a private school setting when the class size and demographics are similar to those I described? Can you steer me towards any articles that touch on this?
  2. Will I significantly hurt my son if I place him first in the public system, and allow him to change schools in a few years when money is (hopefully) more plentiful?
  3. Is there an optimum age for a gifted child to move to this smaller class structure?
  4. Are there programs that my public school may not be offering us that we may be entitled to now that she has been identified, and how do I go about finding this information?
I want to do what is best for my kids. If there is a clear benefit in the private school we will find a way for this to happen. I just need to know how important this is, overall. Thank you so much for your help and advice.

A: In North Carolina, each district is required to have a plan for gifted education. Your first step is to get a copy of this plan and to read it carefully to see what options can be made available to your daughter and later to your son. Although your child only receives formal services for one hour a week she should be getting additional support through curriculum differentiation in her general education classroom. Ask to meet with her teacher and the gifted specialist to develop a differentiated education plan outlining how her needs will be met in reading and math, and what extended learning opportunities she will receive. Can she work with a class a grade or two ahead? Is there a junior Great Books program for reading enrichment? What computer software is available for her to use? Will the teacher agree to use curriculum compacting to adjust the pace of your child's learning?

Private schools may be an option -- and may be where you end up -- but I would not rush into this decision without exploring how to increase the services offered by the public schools. There is no evidence that gifted children do better in private vs. public schools. They do best when their needs are met, and there is likely more that can be done right now in her current school. Good luck.

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Mary Ruth Coleman is the director of Project U-STARS (Using Science Talent and Abilities to Recognize Students) at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Coleman has taught in both general and gifted educational programs in both public and private schools.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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