Public Schools versus Private Schools
By Taqwa Dilek
Salaam alaaykum Brothers and Sisters,
Insha’Allah you are all doing well and strengthening your Imaan daily as we all move through uncertain times. I hope that you all have moments daily to reflect upon those things that are blessings in our lives and give thanks to Allah swt for those things.
In my years as a Muslim I have met many sisters who worried about their children’s social and academic education in public schools. As a result of this concern many brothers and sisters are opting to send their students to private schools. As an educator, administrator and now mother, I wonder where I will place my son when he is of age, insha’Allah.
As a parent, you worry about the academic content of what is presented to students, how they interact with the staff, and what they are learning from their peers. This is the concern of most involved parents. But as Muslims, we must also give thought to what view of this Dunya children are exposed to and will they be able to maintain their Islamic identity. With all things being equal, (both with the same resources and trained staff) I believe that an Islamic school is best for our children. Unfortunately, in this world things are not equal, and so I will attempt to give you a quick inside look into public and private schools.
What you should know…
As a parent you have the right and obligation to see the rating of your school district. In Texas, schools and districts receive a “report card” from the state. This document (Academic Excellence Indicator System) is available online through the Texas Education Agency http://www.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/aeis. Through this document you can learn how your child’s school district ranked academically and how they performed on state mandated tests. While you are online take a moment to “Google” your child’s school district. Most district websites will provide you with information on your child’s school as well as important information within the district. Another important website that you can use to learn statistics about the school is: http://www.schools-data.com.
With all the information that you can gather online nothing can compare to actually visiting the school. This is your right as a parent and a taxpayer. If it’s a new school, visit before the school year begins or before your child transfers. Take time to schedule an appointment with the principal to “get a feel” for their attitudes and outlooks on education. Learn if any of the teachers available are Muslim and whether or not your child will be able to be in that teacher’s class. If not, then perhaps you can be introduced to that teacher or staff member. Forming an alliance with a fellow Muslim on campus can be extremely beneficial.
For example, there are two Muslimahs on my campus. We have met to locate the Muslim students in our population and basically “made it our business” to keep abreast of these students and their progress. I have helped students with getting time off for Eid, made inquiries about school lunches, and helped with peer pressure from other students. This is no more than another Muslim would do to help your child as well, insha’Allah. I know that in older grades they have MSA (Muslim Students Association) on campus and that students meet for Dhur prayer. Many other campuses are less fortunate.
Once school has begun, make a habit of spending time on campus, especially with students in the younger grades. I have told sisters time and time again that schools love volunteers, and many teachers have never met a Muslim person. What a wonderful way to make Dawah and also support your child’s learning! I especially ask that sisters in hijab or brothers who wear “more ethnic” Islamic clothing spend time on campus. You have no idea how this will impact and help the climate at your child’s school. I have learned that the more that people are exposed to something the more “normal” it becomes. Basically the more non-Muslims see hijab, the more accepting they will become. This will not only lift the self-esteem of your child, especially if they wear these types of clothes, but also the lurking teacher who is worried about wearing hijab at work.
You also have the right to have certain concessions made for your child. Students in public school are not generally segregated by sex. Boys and girls are educated together. My students are young, before puberty, so this is not a real issue. However, I had a student in my class that was Muslim. Her father requested that she not be seated near boys. If your daughter is older, then you will definitely want to make sure that her teacher knows that she is not to have group work with boys.
There was also her lunch preference on file, so that she was not sold anything containing pork. She participated in Music and Physical Education (PE) but if you would like for your child to not participate they can be given other activities to do. Holiday parties and the pledge of allegiance are optional and other religious groups opt for their children to not be a part. For the two Eids, you child will not be marked absent because it is a religious holiday. Generally, only a note is needed marking the days.
Muslim students are in the minority. In fact, most are double minorities ethnic and religious. Because of this fact, they are not in consideration when it come to planning for meals on lunch calendars. In most districts there is at least one option that does not contain pork. It is important for you, as a parent, to find out what is available for your child. In many cases, there are vegetable dishes that are not prepared with pork, and each side dish has its own serving spoon. You will have to make your food preferences known to the school because the cafeteria workers will insist that your child have an entrée, which many contain pork or meat. Their insistence is due to state dietary law compliance.
Most of our readers are bilingual, and this can actually be of benefit. In my experience as a bilingual, ESL and general education teacher, I have learned that ESL and Bilingual classes have FAR fewer discipline referrals. The students, who many times are immigrants, are far more accepting of students who are “different” than themselves. ESL and Bilingual class sizes are, generally smaller, and they are privy to more technological opportunities than students in general education. The thought behind this is that these students need extra assistance to gain English language skills; therefore, they are given every chance to be successful in their native language and English. Rest assured ESL and Bilingual students are not “behind” other students. They are responsible for the exact same curriculum that all the other students are responsible for. In fact, they have more objectives that they cover in the same amount of time. The teachers are able to accomplish this because they have the aforementioned resources plus teaching assistants that visit the class and work with students in a small group setting. Your child can be eligible for ESL or Bilingual classes if there is a second language spoken in the home, not necessarily if your child is fluent in a second language.
Schools in public education have budgets that allow them to afford teachers who are degreed and certified. Beyond this, the states in which they are certified require them to attend professional development seminars or take college classes to keep their certification. Each teacher is evaluated by their principal. This evaluation system varies from state to state but the one in Texas covers nine domains with at least 15 sub-headings. The teacher must remain proficient in these domains to be assured of another contract. Our tax dollars purchase computers, library books, text books, supplementary materials, and pays for in school tutors.
As a counselor, I am aware of the social issues that arise on campus and am privy to other schools through counselor meetings. In elementary school, kindergarten through 4th grade, I am comfortable with the number of behavior incidents that occur on my campus. The children, for the most part, are innocent. Basically, I would not be overly concerned about my child’s social development or exposure at this school. Remember, I work at an inner city school in Houston, TX. I do not view the student’s awareness of adult vocabulary or issues to be more advanced than my students from my days in a smaller, rural area.
The concerns that have been brought to me are predominately divorce-related, concerning a parent in the military or overseas, and anger management. These topics are not very different from those that have been mentioned to me in the Islamic community.
Many parents do not know about the voucher system. The voucher system allows a parent to request admission for their student into another school. If the public school near your home is sub-standard (low test scores or behavior issues), you can request that your child be moved to another school, and the district will have to provide transportation for them. There is also the option of the magnet school. My district has an international school, science and performing arts academy, and a foreign language school. You may enter your child in a drawing to be selected to attend that type of school. Your child will receive door-to-door bus service.
Junior and Senior High Schools have their own dynamics, and each one is different. As young men and women are coming of age during those academic years, I feel that parents are completely justified for wanting to send their child to a private school. From my experience, the Shaytaan is working hard to extinguish the light of our Muslim youth at this level.
Each school and situation is different, so the schools in your area maybe completely different. The only way to know is to visit and assess the situation for yourself.
- Degreed and Certified Staff
- Professional Development for Teachers
- Textbooks are provided
- Technology is available
- Lunch is provided (depends on income)
- Science and Math Manipulative Equipment
- Accredited by State
- Classes are not Segregated (boys and girls together)
- No Islamic Classes
- Student may have to Pray Alone
- Lunch must be Investigated
- Behavior of some other Students may be Questionable
- Student may Experience Peer Pressure with Islamic dress
In Houston we have several Islamic schools. I have visited three of the academies and have had the pleasure of visiting with teachers in a few of the remaining. I must say that I have never worked at a private school, hence, I cannot really comment on the dynamics of the students. I was; however, impressed with the class sizes. Most academies have very small classes – no more than 15 in a class. That helps with one-on-one interaction between the students and teachers.
The students appear to be better behaved. The major complaint that I have heard from teachers in Islamic academies is that the students are “spoiled”. Meaning that some parents do not discipline their children, and this carries over to the school environment. I can quickly say that this is a problem that can come regardless of the placement of the child whether it be public or private.
Private schools either have Halal lunches or the parents pack their own lunches for their child. With this you can be assured that your child is not eating something haraam accidentally.
Since Islamic schools are not eligible for state funds, they are sometimes lacking technologically and in the area of text books and supplies. Parents are required to purchase text books for students who attend private schools. In many cases, everything extra (borders, supplies, paper etc.) is the responsibility of the teachers. The school does not provide math manipulative or science supplies for the students. So, for your child to have a comparable education with a public school student, someone has to make up the difference.
Beyond this, many teachers in Islamic schools, although well-meaning, are not degreed or certified. Because of this, most Islamic schools are not accredited by the state. This means that your child will have to pass an exam that will access what they learned in school in order for them to have their diploma to be considered by a university. There is always the option of charter schools. Charter schools do not receive the exact same amount of funds from the state that public schools do, but they are accredited. I know of two schools in the Houston area that have a very large Muslim staff and student population. A drawback to these schools is that they not only have a large Muslim population but also they have students that have been asked to leave neighborhood schools for behavior. Other students attend whose parents have opted to remove them from a public school.
And, of course, there is the invaluable Islamic and Quranic instruction. Many of us are converts and have to now, as adults, learn about Islam and have the jihad of learning Arabic. In an Islamic academy, your child can learn Arabic and learn about Islam from knowledgeable brothers and sisters. They will have time off during Ramadan for fasting and also to be available on Fridays for Jummah prayer. This is wonderful way to have Islam as a part of your child’s every day life. Many parents whose children are not enrolled in an Islamic school have them participate in Saturday school where they can learn Quran.
Beyond this, classes are segregated by sex after a certain age. Whereas a public school parent must be concerned about the separation of young men and women, an Islamic school understands our values and will insure no inappropriate contact occurs between the sexes. Our young brothers and sisters are also encouraged to wear hijab and dress in a way that is pleasing to Allah swt. Hijab is the norm in an Islamic Academy – not the exception.
- Islamic Education
- Positive Islamic Environment
- Adherence to Islamic Values
- Islamic Identity Maintained
- Sense of Belonging to the Ummah
- Positive Research on Private Schools
- Less Peer Pressure and Social Problems
- Small Class Size
- One-on-One Instruction
- Time off during Ramadan and Eid
- Limited Technology
- No Accreditation (in many cases)
- Parents must buy Textbooks
- No Transportation to and from School
- Teachers not Degreed or Certified
- No Professional Development for Teachers
Insha’Allah something I have said can be of assistance to you and your decision of where your child will be educated. Please remember that I speak to you with most of my experience being in public schools. I cannot be in every school, so I am certain that there are exceptions to the facts that I have presented in the piece.
Taqwa Dilek is a elementary school counselor with over a decade’s experience in education. She holds a M.A in school counseling and is pursuing a PhD in Educational Psychology from Texas A&M University.