Please don't take my comments as a slam on the public school system - there ARE many wonderful public schools out there - and there are some lousy ones too. I have friends who teach in both systems - and I have substitute taught in both - and volunteered in both - among other activities requiring parent involvement.
I am speaking from a local perspective - based on facts from my area. It will probably take me a while to lay my hands on the statistics - but I'll see what I can dig up and post it when I find it.
For now - I'll just write what I can recollect.
1) on the gang involvement
This is personal observation - and also reports from law enforcement and gang response "teams." Granted - private schools wear uniforms - so it's harder to detect any clothing or color clues - but I venture to say that the public schools in my experience do not have gang involvement. One of the best public schools in the county - a so called "magnet" school - does have police confirmed gang activity. Cliques and other type of socially excluding groups - including very spoiled rich kids - can be VERY cruel - and this DOES exist in private schools - but I'll take that over gang involvement any day! Sticks and stones...etc. Emotional damage? Sure - but I'll deal with that with love, support and encouragement - that's preferable to me than bullets.
2) Parental involvement
True - more and more public schools are taking a clue - and getting parents more involved through incentive programs etc. Your concerns about working parents, social strata etc. are well noted. I've also had to balance single parenthood - full-time jobs - and my children. I am not independently wealthy - and sending my child to private school involved a lot of sacrifice, and extra work on my part. But my involvement in both public and private schools has shown serious amount of apathy from parents in public schools. For myself, I can't IMAGINE not knowing my child's teacher. But friends of mine who teach in public schools say that they OFTEN will make it through an entire school year with no communication from the parent or guardian from some children in their class. And these children are from a variety of backgrounds and social strata. This is impossible in the private schools I have experience with. In fact, the community I live in contains what would be termed a decidedly upper middle class neighborhood - and even some stay at home moms. Still, a lack of participation by parents in public schools is woefully evident. I'm sure you've experienced some frustrations like this at one time or another.
3) Weapons and contraband
Again, I'm speaking only from local experience. This was garnered from a county wide police report. I'm not saying that contraband never makes it into a public school. But when it is discovered - the student is suspended or expelled - end of story. Certainly similar measures are used in public schools - but why do the public schools need the metal detetors and drug sniffing dogs? The private schools locally do not yet need these measures. Something's up here. The police report was published in the local paper listing occurrences of drugs and weapons and firearms at the local schools. The private schools had little or no instances (and none involving firearms) - and the public schools - even the best ones - had a shocking number of gun confiscations for this "quiet" area. Again, I am NOT saying it can NOT happen - only that it appears to be less likely.
4) On Discipline
Here I have to differ with you. The public schools are bound by beaurocracy, red tape, social service organizations, the latest children's rights bill, etc. etc. ad nauseum. The private schools are not as bound by that - and enforce a stricter code of respect and punishment where necessary. Going to the principal's office is TERRIFYING in a private school - and avoided at all costs. The threat alone deters undesirable behaviour. In a public school however, going to the principal's office is a joke, and a way of getting out of class. Again, I am speaking STRICTLY from my own experience, in public AND private schools - and only in my local backwater town.
Again I differ here. The private schools in my experience went over homework and assigned importance to it. The public schools in my experience assigned a much lighter load - if any - and often it is checked - but not for accuracy or completion or correctness - just a checkmark in a book to show that the student wrote something down approximating the assignment.
6. Higher test scores
These I know I can obtain a copy of - it may take me some time though now that summer vacation is here. I will post what I find. I'm referring to standardized test scores - CTBS and the like - and also have to qualify that statement with my own belief that test scores are NOT a valuable measure of quality of education.
By this I am referring to a general sense of respect for your fellow human being. And also a sense of self-respect. Again, based solely on observations on a local level. I see in private schools MORE students concerned with doing their best, more concerned with their fellow students' welfare, more concerned with self-respect. I have observed in the public schools some (NOT ALL) students shunned for being different, ostracized for dressing different or not "cool", no respect for teachers or parents, a constant quest for the sensational to garner attention, and much much more. Yes, this does exist in private schools as well, but again, in my experience, to a much lesser degree.
I'm the last person to press religious views on anyone. In fact, I experienced consternation that my own child had mandatory attendance at weekly church services, along with the Buddhists and Muslims in her class. However, exposure to teachings and stories about doing good for your fellow man, etc. are not detrimental to my way of thinking. Any religion, or set of moral standards, can accept positive teachings from other systems if they are worth anything. I would not subject my child to an extremist view of religion, and she was not required to participate in any of the "rites" - but sitting in a church situation for one hour a week seemed to me a lot more positive than some of the free-for-all "study-halls" or "free periods" that abound in the public school format.
I welcome your comments Mike - like you I am commenting on the issue - this is not directed at you - especially as a teacher. As a public school teacher - you have my highest regard. Even more these days as your job becomes more difficult and challenging on a daily basis. It is not something I can do. I don't even substitute in public schools anymore. I say quite honestly that you have my admiration and highest respect for choosing a profession that is so incredibly important, inappropriately compensated, and consistently more dangerous. I've seen too many teachers give up after a few years of facing the challenges you do on a daily basis. More power to you - and I hope that teachers with your dedication increase in number. It may do something to improve the public school system.