The elementary schools in Hillsborough are considered to be fairly good. Both Cameron Park and Grady Brown are designated "Schools of Distinction" putting them in the upper 25% of all schools in the state. Central Elementary is not considered to be as good. I don't think you can compare public to private schools, but perhaps not for the reason you might think. Often time parents who are paying for a private school are more engaged with their children when it comes to education, and personally having had our son attend small rural schools in Vermont, I know from first hand experience that this is what really matters. When it comes to private schools, there are good and not so good ones, and I can't really comment on them other than to say that there are myriad options available to you.
Chapel Hill schools have an excellent reputation, some of it deserved, some if it hype from what I can tell. Certainly they have more to offer in terms of resources and programs. The average income and educational level of families in Chapel Hill is much higher than that of Hillsborough and this is likely significant. Unfortunately quality education follows money.
I would not waste my time on the site www.greatschools.org this site is short of facts and long on opinion. The best site I have found for hard statistical data on schools is www.NCReportCard.org and this is the site I recommend to my clients.
There are a number of excellent charter schools in the area as well, catering to different philosophies and to specific focuses (arts, science math)
Durham schools get a bad rap, I live in Durham and the first thing you need to understand is that you're comparing apples to oranges. Durham is a true city and as such has a much broader socioeconomic spectrum than does the town of Chapel Hill or Hillsborough. Nonetheless if you look at some of the better schools in Durham you find the students are scoring as high as those in the surrounding communities. Some of the best Durham schools are found in North Durham.
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