While Washington, D.C. residents have increasingly enrolled their children in public elementary schools in recent years, they tend to cast a wider net when approaching middle school.
“Middle school is the time at which many families who would not necessarily consider private school, who would not consider themselves to be ‘private school families,’ seriously look at private schools for their kids,” says E.V. Downey, a Washington-based education consultant. “These parents have often made use of their neighborhood public elementary schools, but now feel that their middle school options in the neighborhood are not suitable for various reasons, usually having to do with academics and peer groups.”
The pandemic has added to the sense that a private school could reduce risks, some Washington-based education experts say.
After the pandemic hit in March 2020, private schools tended to pivot quickly to provide some in-person education, says Amy McNamer, executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington, known as the AISGW.
“Our schools really reasserted their value proposition,” she says. “They were really able to turn on a dime and provide virtual learning right away, bring their students back to school sooner and continue to keep their communities connected in a really creative way.”
Because of that continuity, McNamer says, private school students are not necessarily seeing the same degree of decline in academic skills that has been reported in public school students around the country due to the pandemic.
“Some students may be moving a little slower than we would in a normal year,” McNamer says. “But we are not seeing a big learning loss.”
Interest in Private Middle Schools
In the 2020-21 school year, the average cost of tuition in sixth grade, when middle school generally starts, was almost $41,000 in AISGW’s Washington schools, according to the association. More than 28% of students receive need-based financial aid.
Overall, there were more than 11,800 students enrolled in AISGW’s Washington schools in the 2020-21 school year. While full data is not yet available, “anecdotally, there has been an increased interest across the board,” McNamer says.
That number does not include students at any of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington’s schools, which appears to be having a similar experience.
“Throughout the pandemic, Catholic schools in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington have risen to the challenges of educating children,” says Kelly Branaman, the archdiocese’s superintendent of schools, in a statement. “Students did not miss any instructional time.”
Branaman says the archdiocese’s schools were quick to move to virtual instruction after the pandemic struck in 2020 and to return to in-person learning when that became an option. As a result, the system is growing.
“Like many Catholic schools across the country, the Archdiocese of Washington has experienced an enrollment increase — approximately 5% — for the first time since 2008,” she says.
The Lure of Private Middle School
A 2019 survey of existing studies of public-private school trends by Paul Knudson, an associate professor and chair of sociology at Methodist University, found that parents who send children to public elementary school may move their children to private middle or high schools because they feel “public middle and high schools (are) too big, making parental control out of reach.”
Knudson, writing in the American Journal of Qualitative Research, also notes that some studies “indicate that ‘pull’ factors pertaining to private schools generally outweigh what ‘pushes’ families away from public schools. These factors include the religious values espoused in private, parochial schools, the lure of smaller class sizes, the belief that children should wear uniforms, and how these schools differ in their approaches to disciplinary and behavioral standards.”
Downey says exploring private options after elementary school is part of an overall trend among parents. They tend to become more selective about their children’s education as students get older.
“Parents are less likely to ‘take risks’ at the middle school level and are willing to spend money to make sure their children are accessing a safe, educationally sound environment,” she says.
Private Middle School Options
For parents interested in exploring private middle schools in Washington, here is a sample of what’s available:
— Capitol Hill Day School is a PK-8 school on Capitol Hill. The school bills itself as a “progressive school” that emphasizes diversity and a connection between the classroom and the real world.
— Edmund Burke School serves grades 6-12. It emphasizes “the value of student ideas and the confidence that comes from overcoming challenges.”
— The Field School serves grades 6-12. It seeks to honor the “unique learning style of each student” through creative, individualized teaching and an inclusive community, according to the school.
— Georgetown Day School is a PK-12 school that promotes “joyful learning” that “leads to meaningful impact in a changing world.” Georgetown Day says its middle school is “all about discovery and trying things on — from clothes and identities to attitudes and worldviews.”
— Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital is the only Jewish day school in Washington serving grades PK-8. “We dive into Jewish life — from a spirited early-morning ‘tefilah‘ experience to the foundational texts of the Jewish people,” the school says on its website, adding that, “we immerse students in Hebrew conversation, songs, poems and Israeli literature.”
— The Lab School of Washington is a PK-12 school that focuses on students with learning differences.
— Maret School is a K-12 school that features a 6-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio and an average class size of 16. The school is more than 100 years old.
— National Cathedral School offers an all-girls education option for almost 600 students in grades 4-12. Founded in 1900 and located near the famous Washington National Cathedral, the Episcopal school offers a 9-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio.
— Parkmont School serves grades 6-12, offering an educational option for students with learning differences and other educational challenges.
— St. Albans School is an all-boys Episcopal school that serves grades 4-12. Founded more than 100 years ago, the school has almost 600 students, including boarders who live on campus. The student-to-teacher ratio is 7-to-1 and the average class size is 13.
Searching for a school? Explore our K-12 directory.
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Looking at Private Middle Schools in Washington, D.C. originally appeared on usnews.com