Five Big Differences Between Traditional and Developmental/Progressive Private Schools

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Many L.A. private schools are a hybrid of educational philosophies, a blend of school types (traditional, developmental and progressive) that define each institution. However, there are schools that are purely traditional or progressive and have chosen not to incorporate a mix of educational philosophies. Any of these school types can offer an academically challenging, intellectually rigorous learning environment. Selecting a school depends on your preferences as a parent and finding the best fit for your kid.


Here are 5 differences between traditional and developmental/progressive schools:


1. Traditional schools tend to teach critical thinking in conjunction with heavy content acquisition. Developmental/Progressive schools are more focused on the process of learning than detailed content acquisition. Teachers are interested in what students know in traditional schools. Developmental/progressive schools want to know what students think.


2. The curriculum at developmental/progressive schools includes more project based learning, where kids work in groups and projects can take a week or more.


3. Traditional schools have more homework, tests and quizzes. They tend to use textbooks more often than developmental/progressive schools.


4. The report cards and grading systems are very different. Developmental/Progressive schools tend to use narrative written reports for elementary school. Traditional schools use grades and/or numeric evaluation methods.


5. Academic achievement is celebrated in traditional schools. Honor lists are posted, students discuss grades. Developmental/progressive schools de-emphasize the focus on public display of individual academic success.




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You Can Tell A Lot About A Private School By…

…the school’s events.



When I was looking at private elementary schools for my daughter, one of the clues that helped me decide whether my family would be a good fit for a school were the type of annual events the school held. All private elementary schools hold special events throughout the year. These events reflect the culture of the school and its families. I was interested in schools that were progressive/developmental and modern. Anything old fashioned didn’t interest me. If the campus, the teachers or the curriculum had an old fashioned vibe, we didn’t apply. I felt that my family would be happiest at a school where kids didn’t wear traditional uniforms and one that was in an urban area. My husband, a college math major, didn’t want any schools with “fuzzy math” as he put it. I wanted diversity and the dynamic energy that comes with an urban school.


As soon as I walked into The Willows School, it had me from “hello” as they say. That being said, there was one school that I wasn’t expecting to love, but I came away from the tour in awe of the school. Unfortunately, this school, Brentwood School, was way too far from our house for elementary school. Still, I have it in mind for high school.


Here are some typical private elementary school events that will give you clues as to the type of school it is:


  • Ice cream social – fairly traditional
  • Golf extravaganza-traditional. If it’s at an exclusive, pricey country club, very traditional
  • Eco-clean up -progressive/developmental
  • Book Fair- fits into any category
  • Annual tennis tournament-traditional
  • Annual, mandatory camping trip-progressive/developmental
  • Large percentage of students involved in Girl Scouts/Boy Scouts- traditional
  • Any school event at a private country club-fairly traditional
  • Event with a “star spangled banner” theme- traditional
  • Annual event to honor diverse cultures from around the world-progressive/developmental/traditional
  • Salute to the flag-traditional
  • Charitable events like feeding the homeless- Fit into any category
  • Events that are green, global, organic - progressive




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