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Private School Is NOT for Me

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The constant battle between public and private rages on. But is private school really that much more wondrous than the public-school option?

woman reading to child

Jeanne Sager: The dream went something like this: Great uncle I never met (and therefore am not saddened about) dies a not-in-the-least-bit-horrifying death and leaves me oodles of cash. After some never-before-known knack for investing turns it into quadruple oodles, I, in turn, plunk it down on tuition at a fancy private school where they speak in hushed tones about nurturing my daughter's "inner spark" and where they wouldn't dream of quashing her boisterous spirit like a mayfly on the windshield.

But there always lingered in the back of my mind a few hard, cold facts. I live in upstate New York, where, even if such a school were to exist, it would probably be a good hourlong drive from my house, even if it wasn't snowing. (Pour on the powder, and we'd be talking two hours of Mommy's knuckles gripping the steering wheel while Mommy curses her idealism.)

Just like that, the fantasy would be gone -- and along with it, the sense that going to a private school would be the thing that makes or breaks my daughter's future.

I went to public school. My husband went to public school. And we aren't, ahem, destitute idiots with no "inner sparks."

In fact, most of the parents who kvetch about the drive to private school, the tuition and the state of the local public schools went to public school themselves. And few of them have even given the local public school a try. Their kids entered private school in preschool, and there they will remain.


Because while our government's economic straits may not have been kind to our public- school systems in terms of resources, these days there's one thing the schools are never short of: students. According to a recent USA Today report, private-school enrollment has declined by 2.5 percent -- and that number is expected to grow. According to a recent Harris Interactive Poll, one in four parents are rethinking the type of school their kids should attend from now on.

For the families wanting to save themselves a wad of cash, not much has changed. If they were the types to supplement their kids' educations with piles of books to read at night, science projects in the toy cupboard and cultural trips taken "just because," they're still doing it.

Believe it or not, whether kids are inside a public school building or a private one, they're still the same kids. In a public school, they might even be kids with a bit of spunk and a flash of spirit.

Public school was where I spent eleven years, but it isn't who I am. I am a product of a household where the bookshelves were never empty and where the library card was never out of sight. I am the woman who chose to take college courses via my public high school -- while many students opted out. I am the woman who paid attention in class while some passed notes. Yes, I was (am?) a geek. You can blame my parents.

That said, a private school wouldn't have made my brain any more likely to make heads or tails of a quadratic equation -- or less inclined to lose myself in a book.

Private school is a nice dream, and for a certain few, a pleasant reality. But when an extra $20,000 is sitting in your bank account this September, you might find it a little easier to buy some extra books and at-home science kits.

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6 comments so far | Post a comment now
michelle March 5, 2010, 12:05 PM

Oh Jeanne. You have written smart posts before. That’s why I’m so disappointed in this one. Anecdotal evidence (“I went to public school and turned out fine!”) is meaningless. Tell me what the research says about outcomes for public vs private school students, after controlling for class and income. Then we’ll talk. BTW, it spoke volumes when you said you grew up in a home with books, etc. Of course you were going to be fine in public school. What about poorer children from chaotic homes where no one read to them? These kids would *probably* benefit hugely from a superior private school education. I say *probably* - because I want to know what the research shows rather than just spouting my opinion.

michelle March 5, 2010, 12:21 PM

One more thing…I think you misunderstand what the very best private schools can do for a child. Yes, the kid is fundamentally the same in public or private. But at the right private school (not all!), students are taught to ask questions and to research and solve problems on their own (I remember very well how this was discouraged in my NYC public school). They don’t learn facts to be regurgitated later; they learn to think critically about the why as well as the what. Many independent schools teach to the highest common denominator, not the lowest, they are academically demanding, and the kids tend to rise to meet those standards. That said, I am a big believer in public education, and I really want that kind of education to be available to everyone, regardless of their ability to pay or get a scholarship.

Black Iris March 5, 2010, 2:56 PM

I think it depends where you live and what your kids need. If you live somewhere with good public schools, you can save your money. And if your children have any special or unusual needs, they are often better off in public school.

Pamala March 5, 2010, 8:21 PM

Typically it’s better to put a special needs child in public school. Sadly with the state of the economy at least in my state, the first programs to be cut are special education and arts. Also they’re laying off all the nurses. So for me, private school is the only option. I need a nurse to dose my daughters medication.

Christina March 6, 2010, 7:12 AM

I went to both public and private schools as a child. I far preferred the private schools. In public school, the classes were larger and the teaching was generally at the level of the slowest student. In private school, the classes were smaller and students were expected to keep up. You can guess which scenario had fewer discipline problems.

kathy March 11, 2010, 12:24 PM

i believe if a child has a probably in publics,like reading math or any other major subject.they need to be in a private or christian school to get that one on one teaching.public school rooms have to many students to each class to help a child that is having a hard time.that happen to my grandson.he was in a head on collision in nov. 2008 and his mom and sister.his sis was fine .my daughter and grandson almost died.they both had surgerys and then his mom died oct.2009.i felt he wouldlose hope that he could learn.he is 9 yrs old and making a 3.6 average in school.i wouldn’t change that for the love of money.his education is more important to me. he is playing football,basketball and baseball and also loves to hunt,so he is a very smart young man.made the all-stars basketball a proud grandma to both my grandchildren.he has just had a harder time in school than my granddaughter.and now the Lord has let my raise them for my daughter which i love and miss every much.

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