Taking a cue from David Letterman, a John Locke Foundation expert has compiled a new top 10 list to battle misconceptions about North Carolina’s private schools. That list makes up the bulk of a new Parent’s Guide to private schools.

“This guide is a first step in a larger effort to correct decades-old misconceptions,” said Terry Stoops, JLF Education Policy Analyst. “As Benjamin Franklin knew, better information leads to better decisions. Better information about our state’s private schools can help families make more informed choices about the kind of schooling that best meets their children’s needs.”

The parent’s guide is based on survey results Stoops compiled this spring from 117 of North Carolina’s private schools. “Results of this first-of-its-kind survey should help lay some popular myths to rest.”

First on the list is the myth that private schools are not affordable. “The average private elementary day school tuition was $4,889 among schools that responded to our survey,” Stoops said. “The average private middle day school tuition was $5,410. The average private high school tuition was $5,916. Recognizing that some families have difficulty paying for fees and tuition, over two-thirds of all private schools reported that they offered financial aid.”

North Carolina also has more private schools and private school students than some people expect, Stoops said. In 2007-08, 683 private schools enrolled more than 97,600 students.

“Today private school students make up about 6 percent of all K-12 students in North Carolina, and enrollment is increasing,” he said. “Despite fluctuations in the economy, private school enrollment has increased by 16 percent in the last decade. The number of private schools has increased by 9 percent. North Carolina private schools added nearly 1,000 students last year during the current economic slump.”

The parent’s guide also rebuts myths that private schools are large, college preparatory schools located only in urban or suburban areas. “Most counties have at least one private school,” Stoops said. “Most of them are small, religious schools. The average private school in North Carolina enrolls fewer than 150 students and employs 20 faculty and staff members. According to the John Locke Foundation’s survey results, the average private school has a class size of 14 students.”

About two-thirds of the private schools surveyed reported that they served students with learning differences and disabilities, Stoops said. “There goes another myth — that private schools do not serve students with special needs,” he said. “About half of the survey respondents said they had the ability to enroll more students with learning differences or disabilities.”

Parents should not worry that private schools are not held accountable, Stoops said. “State regulation and oversight ensure that North Carolina’s private schools comply with mandatory attendance laws, meet health and safety regulations, administer standardized tests in basic skills, and maintain records.”

Some parents believe that there’s little difference between public and private school teachers, Stoops said. “That’s another myth that our survey refutes,” he said. “Unlike public schools, private schools do not use state certification to bar individuals from teaching. This difference helps private schools hire the best applicant for a teaching job, not just the best applicant from the pool of people with government certification.”

Stoops’ guide also tackles the idea that many students have a difficult time meeting private schools’ admissions standards. “Although most private schools have admissions guidelines, few of those surveyed had prohibitive standards,” he said. “Typically, admission is based on a minimum standardized test score, plus some combination of an interview, recommendations, or parental input. A handful of the religious schools required students and parents to be members of a particular church or adhere to a particular faith.”

Private school leaders also tend to support school choice, Stoops said. “The survey poked a hole in the myth that private schools do not support school choice initiatives,” he said. “About 86 percent of survey respondents supported a voucher program that would fund their school’s full tuition. None of the private schools surveyed opposed a tax credit program that would cover partial or full tuition.”

North Carolina families are beginning to recognize that finding alternatives to public schools may be the only way to guarantee that children receive a quality education, Stoops said.

“The growing disenchantment with public schools has forced financially able parents to pay twice for their child’s education — taxes to pay for public schools and tuition to pay for the private schools that their children attend,” he said. “Meanwhile, families that cannot afford private schools are demanding that the state provide them a scholarship or tax credit that covers part or all of the cost of a private school education. The information in this private school parent’s guide is the first step toward persuading legislators and policymakers to increase educational options for North Carolina families.”

Terry Stoops’ Policy report, “Ten Myths about North Carolina’s Private Schools: A Parent’s Guide,” is available at the JLF Web site. For more information, please contact Stoops at (919) 828-3876 or tstoops@johnlocke.org. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or mkokai@johnlocke.org.