So many things to comment on...
1. Musick: What do you mean by, "one who has a either a lot of unresolved social issues or no *reason to develop further"
I don't know that people that go to private schools have any more unresolved issues than others and I'm not clear on what the "no reason to develop further" means.
2. of Troy wrote, "but they do want to take public money, and then not really offer to meet the publics needs.."
Actually, many private schools do not want to take money for just that reason, they do not want the government to dictate what or how they should teach beyond meeting provincial standards. As to meeting all of the public's needs, no one school can do that. Most larger cities in Canada have schools for the arts. Obviously, such a school could discriminate against a whole variety of people. They system has to meet the needs of society, every individual school cannot.
Some school boards are allowing the creation of public schools that meet particular needs. For example in Surrey, (a suburb of Vancouver, BC) a "traditional" school was set up. In this case, traditional meant desks in rows, spelling and math drills, and uniforms. The uniforms I believe were just grey pants with a green shirt. The BC Teacher's Federation said the school would be discriminatory, restrictive, cater to the more well-off, and not be progressive. Further, they said that none of there members should accept transfers to the school. Unfortunately, parents started camping out days in advance so they could register their children at this public school.
3. Bobyoungbalt wrote: "mandated tests at various levels (3rd grade, 8th grade, 11th grade, I believe) to check on the schools' performance in teaching the mandated content. This has resulted in the phenomenon of "teaching to the test". In order to have students score as high as possible, teachers, with the support (nay, the direction) of principals, spend their time teaching only what will be covered by the tests, so as to have maximum time to cram the kids for the test. Anything not expected to be on the test is rigorously excluded, as taking up valuable time for no good end.
Ontario has gone this route as well, but the idea of teaching to the test is not new. When I was in high school I wrote the American SAT's just out of curiosity. I couldn't imagine how they could be of much use. Multiple-choice tests in English and math are not the best measure of a student's ability. Do U.S. high school teachers not spend considerable amounts of time teaching to these tests? Not all such testing has to be negative, Quebec has had provincial exams for the last two years of high school since at least the 1940's (they involved both multiple-choice and essay questions). My mother said she always liked the Provincial exams because she was being marked by someone who didn't know who she was and so the mark she got was based solely on her work.
4. Several comments made about religious schools, in particular Catholic ones. This is an interesting issue in Canada because of our Constitution. Ontario typically has four school boards covering every region. They are: English and French public and English and French Separate (Catholic). This is a constitutional guarantee and cannot be changed. Other religous groups (mainly Islamic and Jewish from what I have seen) are mounting a challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (think Bill of Rights) to get funding for their schools as well.
5. ewein's original question: do you think the private schools (hard, I know, to generalize) do a better job?
My answer: Yes and no. When I went to public schools I was bored out of my mind. At one point, in grade 9, my math class had 34 students, but only 30 desks. My average hovered around 60% and I failed two courses. After that I went to boarding school for the remainder of high school and averaged 80% while being required to do sports every weekday and Saturday morning. It worked for me. One of my brothers, on the other hand, hated it and couldn't wait to get out. The difficult thing is finding the approach that meets the needs of the individual and no one system can be everything to everyone.
Ewein, I have thought about this a lot because I have two toddlers. My first preference is a private school especially because they are very active boys and many public schools are very hostile to boys in that they are expected to behave like girls; I will not stand for a teacher trying to prescribe Ritalin. I enjoyed the private schools I went to and, like most parents, want to to the best possible for my children. There are no suitable private schools near us though, so our oldest will be starting at the French Catholic (public) school next year. This school has a lot of parental involvement and demanding teachers who expect parents to be involved. There is a real sense of community around the school and everyone we have talked to who has children there have sung its praises. I feel this is due in large part to the fact it requires much more effort for families to maintain their French in a sea of English.
This is the kind of school we want our children to go to, one where the staff and parents are involved and engaged. No system, public or private, has a monopoly on good or bad teaching. We will go where the quality is.