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Public vs. Private School: What's Better?

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Momlogic's financial expert Danielle Hoston's "Money Mondays" column examines whether private school is really worth the cost.

Mom thinking about daughter in university

One of my closest friends is in a very tough position. She can no longer afford the private school her daughter attends but is determined to make sure that her daughter has the best, most well-rounded, and overall positive school experience possible. Because of her shrinking budget, she's worried that the level of education her daughter is currently receiving is at risk. I'm not nearly as worried about her daughter's future in the public school system -- and here's why:

I attended private school until about 3rd grade. I had already learned to read in kindergarten and, because I was an only child and had nothing better to do, I completed my math and reading workbooks at home. The private school I attended had little choice but to skip me up a grade. I was admitted into the highly gifted magnet program in the Los Angeles public school system by the 5th grade and remained in magnet programs through high school. Upon graduation at the age of 16, I had my choice of universities and ultimately chose to stay close to home (UCLA).

I've never felt slighted by my public school experience. In fact, I was thankful for the friendships I formed with children of very diverse backgrounds and felt extremely well prepared for college. I was admitted to every school I applied to and was offered several scholarships. Was I lucky? Or is public school not as inferior as it is sometimes perceived?

Technically, I can afford private school for my daughter but have not found a compelling reason for the expense at her age. She is thriving at her current public school but is also asking for more of a challenge academically. I have considered private school for her junior high and high school years in the event that the magnet program doesn't work out. I do have my reservations about the potential lack of racial, socio-economic, and religious diversity represented in private school classrooms, so I will have to make this choice carefully as this is very important to me.

Daniell Hoston Community

There are numerous studies that demonstrate that there is no appreciable difference in admission to top universities of students from private vs. public schools. There is also little doubt that in certain areas the public school system leaves much to be desired. Every parent wants the best education available for their child and, for some children, a better education is the ticket to a brighter future than their parents ever had. In today's financial crunch, we all must ask ourselves...

Is private school worth it? If so, at what age? And why?

next: Wasted Youth: College Freshmen Gone Wild
22 comments so far | Post a comment now
CNA December 15, 2008, 1:45 PM

Great article. My fiance and I have this debate all the time. I attended public school all of my life, while he went to private school for Junior High and High School. I think the most important thing to do is to assess the child as an individual and figure out what his or her needs are. Therefore, I imagine that the answer is different with each child.

Leslie December 15, 2008, 1:56 PM

I live in a district that has a public school known more for corruption and inadequacy than for any kind of success. I can’t afford private school, and as you mentioned, wasn’t sure about the social benefits anyway. My solution? I enrolled my daughter in a neighboring public school district, more known for academic success. I drive almost 30 minutes to get her there, but what else do I have to do? What’s more important than raising my kids?!

I think that as a parent who is active in your kid’s schooling, you quickly realize that how your kids do in school is largely based on how much time and effort YOU put into it.

Excellent blog! Hopefully we can all focus more on helping our kids be successful in any situation than just the ideal ones.

Danny/ Prime Management Group, Inc. December 15, 2008, 2:26 PM

Thanks for the post Danielle. My wife was raised in a public school system and I have been to private schools all my life, including USC. As we have discussed this subject we have come to one relization. The public schools of yesterday are not the same as todays. They are hugely overcrowded, they are constantly in budget contraints, they don’t have money for maintenance. Now this may not apply to all but maybe to a lot. Not our fault just the administration.

My neighbor and I had this discussion yesterday and he said he was putting together a fund for college for his two kids. As he thought it through, he asked himself why save for their education in the future where there is no guarantee that they would want to attend college. Why not put them in a private school now and give them the best from day one. The best meaning academics, religion, social skills, sports etc. And hope that they will surround themselves with friends that have the same goals to attend college.

Personally I prefer private schools and that is where my kids are. I also spend a lot of time with my kids homework, taking them to the library, teaching them about our president, public policy, international affairs, taking them on vacations, horseback riding, skiing, boating, fishing, respecting people, giving to the less fortunate, obeying the laws, etc.

The schools can have a positive effect to some degree but the greatest effect will come from your dedication to your kids!

T.C. December 15, 2008, 2:37 PM

I too am in a similar situation. I’m a single mom and my daughter is currently in private Christian school. I attended private school through 7th grade. I switched to public for jr. and sr. high. I found my experience to be one of culture shock. The violence and promiscuity and drinking were off the charts, and this was twenty years ago. I want not only an excellent education for my daughter, I want her to be safe. I’m aware all schools have serious problems these days, unfortunately a sign of the times. But if I can , in any way, give my child a little bit more of an edge and protection in the process I see that as a benefit. I do, however agree that each child is different and what one may benefit from may not suit another. In the end, I believe we have to make the best choice we are in a position to make, keeping our childs unique personality and needs in mind and support that descision with as much personal involvment as possible.

Jayson December 15, 2008, 3:26 PM

I think as a parent it is most important to know your kids personality and perhaps patience or desire to learn at an early age so you can make that decision. There is a very very prestigious private school where I grew up which as basically college before college. A parent would basically end up paying about 4-8 years earlier because once graduated from the school a full scholarship to about any college is inevitable. I don’t have any children but i grew up in public schools and unless i become some type of celebrity where my child can’t get the privacy he or she needs, they will most likely go and excel in a public school. i’m sure there are stats that can be proven to shwo the pros and cons but that is the same for home schooled children as well. say if a parent can’t afford it then she should simple do a few extra things to make up for the lack of attentiveness that private schools offer if the child desires a challenge.

Jerwayne December 15, 2008, 3:30 PM

I think it 100% depends on the child. My oldest daughter up to this point is a nerd. She is in 3rd grade but already taking 5th grade math classes. Always tests very high. So for her I have no problem with the public school appearance as I feel that she will continue to excel.

For my younger daughter she is more of a social butterfly and does not focus as much on school. In her case I feel private school would be more beneficial as there will be more attention paid by the faculty in regards to getting her focused on school work.

I started out for the first two years in a private school. By the time I attended public school I was already advanced for my age compared to the other students even though I was a year younger than everyone in my grade so there may be something to be said about at least starting kids out in private school to get learning in their system and then sending them to public school later on for the social implications (being that people I know that solely attended private schools seem maladjusted).

Lodie December 15, 2008, 7:22 PM

Great article, Danielle! Like some of the other postings, the decision between public and private education comes down to the individual’s learning ability and willingness to learn. Some children thrive in public school environments and may not need the individual attention; whereas, other kids require a small, intimate class size. If the decision is strictly financial, then I would suggest spending the money for a tutor. Tutors are under utilized and can offer so much for far less money than private school education.

D December 15, 2008, 9:56 PM

This article provides no facts whatsoever. It poses a question and leaves it unanswered.

Anonymous December 16, 2008, 12:00 AM

I have 3 in private Christian school - I struggle with this. I love the religion, uniforms, typing, spanish, social network and supportive bonds the children have with each other. With the families too! As parents to “these” kids - we watch out for each other. Will they get this in public school?

Brandon Carlton December 16, 2008, 12:16 AM

I think its has a lot to do with if you can afford private school or not. Next you have to look at how are the public schools in your area. Most of the time if you can afford private school you dont have bad public schools in your area though.

kelly detrick December 16, 2008, 8:35 AM

my son is in public school my friend has 3 kid’s in private. her son is the same age and grade as mine they both struggle in math the difference is my son is doing algabra her son is still doing basic math there seem’s to be a large gap between these school’s

Anonymous December 16, 2008, 9:20 AM

Great, great topic! Like everyone here has said, I think it depends on the child. I went to private school for 3 years but was too busy getting in trouble because of stupid rules such as my pants were not blue or my belt was white. Once I transfered to a public school I did much better because I felt like I could be myself.


Been on Both Sides December 16, 2008, 10:23 AM

As an educator I have had experience teaching in both public and private schools. Public schools require students to pass state mandated standardized tests that private schools do not require. Most private schools are known to be “college preparatory” schools, yet students are WAY behind on what is needed to be “college prep”. I have heard students in private schools say that public schools are “harder” and I have heard students in public schools say that in private schools you don’t have to do anything to pass because “the teachers work for the parents and they give grades to make parents happy”. So it takes time to look into the schools and decide what you want for your child. Check ACT test scores and SAT test scores for your private schools. See how many students are testing average and above. This helps determine whether the students are really being challenged and prepared for college. In public schools, check their state test scores. Granted, state tests usually test just the minimum required, but there is a high and low end to these tests. See where the majority test in the district in which you live. This information from both private and public schools has to be shared with concerned parents. You are not asking for a particular student, you are asking for overall performance. Most schools will probably tell you that their schools test “high” but ask to show proof to back it up. Don’t go just on word of mouth. Being a parent who has had children in both private and public schools and an educator that has taught in both situations, I know it is VERY important to check everything and not just take someones word for it.

Al B. DAMN! December 16, 2008, 1:49 PM

awww i used to have a money mondays segment… nice! I am not in the position to think about school for kids, but as a kid to went to private school from k-12… HELLS YES!!! deff had some issues - socially/race related, but i was/am learning disabled and im not sure the public school system (at least in philly) could have addressed it properly (small classes & individual attention)… Prive Schl was just what i needed… I appreciated my experience so much, that i went back and coach track at the school now (since 2000)… it depends on your district, your own situation and the needs of your children… for me it was the best thing…

Raynaldo December 17, 2008, 3:06 AM

I think a lot of the debate depends on where you are. I attended a public school until third grade. My first day at my private school the teacher had us practice writing in cursive and I had no idea what it was. I live in Dayton,OH and we probably have the worst public school system in the state. The private schools I attended in elementary and high school were extremely diverse. But like I said, it depends on the area you live.

kevin December 17, 2008, 11:25 AM

There are a number of reasons that come to mind why going to either forms of education really does not matter. But the most important one is, what are the parents doing to help further enhance the level of education at home. I am a single parent and I want nothing but the best for my children. I attended public schools throughout all academic levels. My parents saw to it that my education did not stop after school let out. I had homework on top of homework and still had time to have a kids life. I attended college, earned a degree, and now have a job that I love and working on the second part of my career. The education that I learned from school,from my parents, and the streets are invaluable. Ultimately what it boils down to are two things, are we as parents going to hone the skills that our children learn in school and provide them an avenue to use those skills to be better at whatever it is they want to do or be in life, and secondly, what will be the choices our children make once we have done our part as parents to provide them with the best opportunities to be successful in whatever it is they choose to be in THEIR LIFE. Yes, it is their life, not ours. So no matter what type of education we provide for our children, it just comes down to us as parents and the choices the children make. I know plenty of people who have had both types of education, some are very successful and others are not. CHOICES!

Kevin A. Moore
RVI Sports Management

Celeste December 17, 2008, 3:34 PM

I’m thrilled to see so many parents commenting that you need to make the decision based on the child’s needs, because that’s absolutely right. I work at a boarding & day school, and the students who are successful here are the ones who want to be here.

One personal observation: many of the students who are well-suited for my school are like my son. They are really smart, but fall short of qualifying for a G/T program in public schools. I was always concerned my son would fall through the cracks at public school because of that, but thankfully he chose to come to my school (as a day student). He has blossomed here in more ways than I could have imagined.

Charles H December 18, 2008, 7:37 PM

Hey Danisha. I went to public school for K through 12th grade…but I was part of a bus program where I was sent to a public school in the suburbs. So that’s not really the same as most who go right in their neighborhoods. Years later, I asked my mom why she sent me and she said so that I could have no distractions from my education. And looking back, it did make me more focused, it helped me in adapting to college since I ultimately attended a pre-dominantly white private university (I’m Black), and it garnered more attention towards me by my teachers since I was one of few Blacks who excelled in my work. I eventually got enough academic scholarships and grants to cover 4 out of the 5 years that I did in college (yes, 5 years…the distractions caught up with me in college! LOL!). Anyways, I think public school is fine…it all depends on which one you go to. Hopefully your friend will have an option of picking which one her child will attend…that will make the biggest difference in the world.

- Charles H of MKE

Christine December 21, 2008, 1:28 AM

I think each type of school has its pros and cons. It really depends on the child in my opinion. If they have a good foundation it doesnt matter which type of school. I am a product of both, majority public. I learned from both experiences. Public schools taught me good things I would have not experienced in private schools. I am well rounded and I have the ability to adapt and acheive in any situation. Its not about the atmosphere if your strong and focus person. In my opinion if you start you kids in private school they put them into public I think thata the best of both worlds. I know some amazing people who have come out of public schools all their life and also some people who went to private schools all their lives.These are my views from the best of both worlds.

jess January 13, 2009, 2:31 PM

as a product of the SAME public schooling as you (word to the LAUSD magnets), I don’t have a problem with public schooling per se. However, in the large southern city where I live, the public schools leave a lot to be desired. there are a few schools with magnet-like programs, but nothing that rivals what we had. And, with my daughter’s special needs, I fear that she will be further slighted by the public schools in my area. Therefore, if we are still here by the time she is school-aged, I will look into sending her to the parochial school at our parish church. I am already looking into private pre-schools that can meet her needs, and finding them to be just a little more expensive than our current daycare costs.
i really think the decision has to do with the area and what the public schools can offer, and with the child as well. I know that she will experience diversity in the private schools I am considering, and will also have her needs met as well. (additionally, her “special education” will be administered by the public schools, so we won’t be totally outside the system there.)
BTW, congrats on this forum. I think you are doing a great job!

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