Let me start off by saying that I work in a private school. We don't have buckets of money lying around, and my salary is less than that of many public school teachers with less experience than I have.
But what we DO have, that many public schools do not, are quite a few things.
1. Our students typically don't come to school hungry. Their parents have the time, energy, and funding to make sure their kids are dressed properly and appropriately and well-nourished.
2. Our parents are employed, typically in well-paying jobs. In some families, only one parent works, making big bucks while the other stays home to tend house and make sure the kids have all the attention and supervision they require. Some families have two highly-paid parents or two working parents whose combined incomes make the family's life comfortable enough to afford private school tuition.
3. Our parents, for the most part, are involved. They have clearly communicated to their children that education is top priority, and they walk their talk by attending school functions, taking the time to find out what their kids are learning, helping with homework, and maintaining good communication with teachers. Our parents have e-mail, with access at both home and work, so they can reach teachers almost instantly. This is the case in most of our families. Some parents are TOO involved, which leads to other issues, but we've learned to manage that.
4. Because it is a Christian school, although many of our families are not churched or belong to other religions (Buddhism and Hinduism are big ones here), we have the luxury of teaching our students values education in a single, unabashed framework of the Christian faith. That means they get the same message throughout the school, and we, as staff, can back one another up. I know that most teachers impart values to their students, and most schools have a central values framework, but ours comes from outside our school (the Bible) and is one we can all adhere to because of our faith beliefs. We can tell kids that something is wrong because the Bible says so, not because of one teacher's or administrator's personal preference.
(Not everyone has to agree that this is a good thing, but it works well for us in our school.)
5. Most important to me, when I consider what my public school colleagues face, is that we DON'T have to bow down to the Almighty test score. We are not bound by NCLB, API ratings, or the results on our annual standardized tests. Our students do very well on tests, by the way, but I think that has more to do with my above-stated reasons than anything else. As teachers, we can do our jobs without having to worry about all the other things our public school counterparts face every day. That's not to say our kids don't have problems and issues. Theirs just aren't issues of day-to-day survival or safety.
What we've discovered is that test scores don't tell you much more than how that group of kids was doing with that information or skill set on that particular testing day. Teach to the test all you want; we know the kids aren't really learning anything useful (except how to play the system) when we do that. If the government (which is made up of individuals who live in nice areas and/or send their kids to private schools) could be more patient and await results, maybe public schools all over our country would have a better chance of succeeding where it really counts. Kids could work collaboratively on projects that would give them the 21st Century Skills most of our "ruling class" doesn't even know exist.
I am so tired of the hypocrisy inherent in big government, full of wealthy white guys and out-of-touch old folks, telling professional educators how kids learn and how we measure the quality of that learning. Maybe they would see us more as the professionals we are if our salary were commensurate with our responsibilities.
But that's another rant for another day.