When parents have children with Learning Disabilities (LDs) they may face the question, given the ability to afford it, as to whether a public or private school provides the best learning environment for their children. This is very much an individual call, and may be based on ability to afford a private school as much as it is based on weighing the merits of the schools in your area. For parents with limitless income, there are some schools that specifically cater to children with learning disabilities, like ADHD and autism spectrum disorder. Some find these schools easier for their children, because most or all students attending them share common learning issues, and there is less opportunity for social ostracization under these circumstances.
When private schools do not specifically work with children with learning disabilities, they can either be fantastic options, or not so good ones. One of the disadvantages of private schools is they are not required by law to provide support services to these students. In order to get these services, parents must usually petition their own school district, and it may be more work to coordinate the flow of information between two schools, than it is to simply work with a single school that must provide LD support.
Private schools, though again this is highly dependent, may also not have departments or support services that can quickly identify the child with learning disabilities. When LDs aren’t identified early, this can mean that poor performance in class is blamed on the child who may be called lazy, unwilling, and problematic. In defense of private schools, many offer skilled teachers who are very good at identifying children with potential LDs and recommend that the parents explore this through the child’s home school district. Even if a child attends private school, public schools in great part, investigate and respond to requests to test for learning disabilities. These tests may take some time to get, and furthermore, they can possibly require greater time spent in a school for a child who doesn’t want to be there to begin with.
There are some who believe that private schools are inherently better than public schools in providing education and producing superior achievement and higher test scores. A comprehensive US national study in 2005 suggests this is not the case, and that private and public schools have essentially the same achievement rates, especially when students of similar socioeconomic status and parental education levels are compared. So the argument that a child will learn more or achieve more at a private school may only be true in so far as an individual private school compares to an individual public school.
On the other hand, some people have problems with the way a public school administers its programs to assist children with learning disabilities. In grade school, instead of learning with their class, students may be pulled out of class for additional instruction or support, and by doing so they miss instruction that they then must make up. In middle and high school, students who can manage most mainstream classes may take a directed studies course, which pretty much prohibits them from pursuing any elective courses until their junior year in high school. Some schools attempt to compensate for this by offering students zero period PE, but not all students with LDs are anxious to take yet more classes at school and to be there for longer time periods.
Some parents have very good reasons for putting a child with learning disabilities in a private school. The school may have an excellent department that helps these children learn in the manner best fitted to them, or it may have a philosophy that seems particularly tailored to a child with certain learning patterns. The advantage in many private schools of students progressing at their own pace, a trend being discarded in many US public schools, can be appealing.
Important things to consider when evaluating private and public schools are how well their philosophies mesh with yours, and the degree to which you think your child benefits from these philosophies. Another thing to look at is your child’s wishes. Children may be loath to leave a public school if they feel socially comfortable there, or they may be more anxious to leave if they have felt socially uncomfortable in that environment. Use summertime months, or quick visits after school to investigate schools with your child. Since many LDs aren’t identified until children are in the third or fourth grade, giving a child some input may help them become more participatory in the learning process.