Many parents who want the best education for their children turn to private schools, assuming they will lead their kids to greater success.

At first glance, some data appears to back up that notion. The National Association of Independent Schools and Gallup found that private schools tend to have a greater percentage of graduates going on to higher education, and also tend to attend selective colleges and universities. And a new study shows that overall, children who have attended private schools had better outcomes in nearly all assessed areas of adolescence.

For many parents, this prospect justifies spending thousands of dollars per year in private school tuition. They also bolster support for voucher systems, which distribute public education funds to parents to spend on private schools if they so choose.


Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

However, a recent study that showed better private school outcomes has a huge caveat.

When family wealth is factored out, the difference in private and public school outcomes disappears entirely.

Researchers at the University of Virginia found that when socioeconomic factors were controlled for in the study, all of the advantages of private school were negated. The study also found "no evidence to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefited more from private school enrollment."

Kids from the same socioeconomic class have similar outcomes, whether they attend public school or private school. In other words, it's the ability to afford private school that makes the difference, not private school itself. Since private school attendees tend to come from wealthier families, they generally have better outcomes.

But money, not the educational approach or quality of instruction offered in private schools, appears to be the driving factor.

Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

Parents choose private schools for diverse reasons, and choice is important. But not at the expense of public education.

Not all parents who choose to send their kids to private school do so for academic reasons. Some want their kids to have a religious element to their education. Some favor a specific educational philosophy that can only be found in a private school setting. Having a variety of educational options is a good thing.

However, if a parent feels compelled to send their kids to a private school over a public school for academic reasons, the data doesn't appear to be in their favor. And using such arguments to support voucher programs is disingenuous.

Secretary of Education Betsy Devos proposed an education budget in February that allocated $1 billion to private school vouchers and other school choice initiatives, and slashed $3.6 billion from the Department of Education. "So many of America's poorest children — especially African American and Hispanic children — attend failing public schools that afford them little hope of fulfilling their great potential," President Trump said in his budget summary.

But if our government's job is to make sure that children have equal access to quality education, we need more support for publicly funded neighborhood schools, not less. If private schools aren't proven to offer a better quality education, then taking money from public schools to provide private school vouchers doesn't make sense.

This data reinforces the fact that issues in our educational system largely stem from economic inequality.

Educational opportunity starts at home, and homes and communities that are struggling are automatically at a disadvantage. Though improving public schools is important, perhaps addressing economic inequality in general would do more for U.S. education than school choice programs or public education overhauls — and would ensure that more children reach their full potential.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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