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Why Public School Doesn't Suck

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Wendy Walsh: The recession has affected our kids in many ways. On the positive side, I've noticed a decline in the number of consumer-kids, for whom shopping was a common playdate activity. (Today, kids are being rewarded with less material stuff.) But on the downside, many private-school families are now unable to manage the hefty tuitions and are having to opt for public school. If you're one of them, here's a guide for your move, from a parent who has experienced both the private and parochial -- and is now happily entrenched in the public school system.
School Bus
The best gift of public school is the diversity that your children will be exposed to. Depending on your zip code, your kids' world-views will be expanded as they rub shoulders with a greater range of social, economic and (hopefully) racial diversity. There will also be an exposure to a wider range of family values and morals, so be prepared to review your family rules from time to time when your kids get distracted by so much choice.

At your local public school, your children will also have less exposure to the "wacky wealth" contingent (those affluent parents who spend more money than time on their kids) who are peppered through many private schools. As an involved public-school parent, you will still be expected to put in some volunteer hours, chaperone field trips, be room parent, run bake sales, etc., but I think the payoff is bigger. For one thing, the knowledge that your altruism is also benefiting lower-income families, single mothers and families with children who have disabilities is very meaningful.

Back when my daughter attended private school, I always felt a little resentful when I was pressured to donate money or raise funds in addition to paying a mighty tuition. Since most public schools "mainstream" children with special needs, I wondered if these kids would hold back the class or monopolize the teacher's attention. I learned that the opposite is true. One of two things happens: Either class-size shrinks for part of the day as some kids head to special-education classes, or the kids have a "shadow" in class. (A "shadow" is a behavioral therapist who might work with, say, a child with autism.) Having an extra adult in the classroom can be helpful to all the kids and is a great asset.

Public school is also a wonderful resource for a host of support programs and academic services, including after-school care, subsidized preschools and tutoring. You might have to jump through a few small hoops (battling the bureaucracy to get your child assessed), but in most states, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn what services your taxes grant you.

The very best thing about public school? It's an instant village in your own neighborhood. No more long drives to playdates two zip codes away; there's a local mommy network which can often pinch-hit during carpool emergencies. And what a treat to run into school friends at local restaurants! Public school offers the best diversity, academic services and community support. Oh, and did I mention it's also FREE?

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12 comments so far | Post a comment now
Black Iris May 10, 2010, 8:08 AM

Public school is often better for children who have special needs or who are advanced in any subjects. I think private school may be riskier in terms of family values, actually. Kids with too much money can get into a lot of trouble.

Diane May 10, 2010, 8:09 AM

Thank you for this article, and for showcasing the POSITIVES that public school can offer. The bottom line is that all parents need to be involved in their children’s education, no matter what. I like the social element of public school. I am tired of all the homeschooling parents thinking they are better than parents who send their kids to public school. It is NOT ‘free babysitting’ and it does not mean that we are uninvolved in our children’s education or that we are lazy. Not ALL public-educated kids get pregnant or get stabbed. We are all doing the best we can, so can we please stop putting each other down?

Sarah Mae May 10, 2010, 10:00 AM

Hehe…public school free? Um, have you heard of a little thing called taxes? ;)

Also, public school are always having fund raisers - at least where I’m from!

Nish May 10, 2010, 10:11 AM

I’m not sure where you live, but public school here is certainly NOT free! My taxes pay for kids’ schooling, and WOW do I get taxed on property AND income in our state. Special Education standards are different everywhere, also. There aren’t many districts here that offer the kinds of programs that you mention here. I have a dear friend with two severely autistic boys and they had to move extremely far away from the city and their families to get the proper Special Education needs for their kids… other school districts in the area had to cut a lot of Special Ed. programs so the resources were few.

While I’m a HUGE supporter of public schooling and plan to send my kids to public school instead of private or homeschool, it’s not always as great as you mention here… much to our kids’ misfortune!

TwinHappyJen May 10, 2010, 10:20 AM

First, public school is “free” because, you pay taxes whether you send your kids to public school or not. And, like the article mentioned above, I don’t mind fundraisers in the public school system… it’s ridiculously underfunded. Fundraisers for private schools, though, just seems like pure greed. I could be wrong, but considering how much the tuition is for most of those places… I’m quite sure they’re turning a profit whether or not you participate in their bake sales.

That said, there’s no one right way to raise your kids. Nobody should think they’re better then anybody else, for how they choose to educate their children… whether it be home-school, public school or private school. That’s why I’m so glad to see a positive article on public schools for once. They are nowhere near as bad as many make them out to be. My girls started Pre-K at our local public school this past fall and I’ve already seen them grown in leaps and bounds! The teachers and staff are there, not because they’re getting a huge salary, but because they truly want to help children learn and grow. As a result, my girls LOVE school (dreading the summer… they already bug me enough about going back to school just over the weekends :-p)… and they’re learning SO much (they certainly know a lot more than I did at their age). We also live in a very diverse neighborhood so, to them, everyone looking different from one another is completely normal. It’s beautiful…

Anonymous May 10, 2010, 11:21 AM

School is NEVER free. Be it paid by taxes,fun raiser’s or by our kids future, or by self-esteem. I’m pretty sure that there are some moms who may not agree with my comment but everyone is free to have one, and there is mine. My daughter goes to public school and sometimes I do wish that I could send her to public school or to even home school her but I think that no matter what we, as moms, decide to do, our children will always lack something somewhere.

Anonymous May 10, 2010, 1:53 PM

i hate public school…i’m 14 and went to private catholic school kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade…i loved it there even with the uniforms…everyone was nice and the teachers were great and it was more advanced than public school…when i finally went to public school in 3rd grade because my parents couldn’t afford it for me and my 2 brothers, it was horrible…i had no friends, everyone was mean, and public school was so far behind it was like repeating 2nd grade, i had to relearn cursive, multipication, division, and other things… and instead of doing things the old fashion way like 1x1=1, 2x2=4 ect. they made it so confusing! with elephants and pictures and stuff…starting in private school is why im so advanced now…even still im taking all honors and french…oh we also started taking languages in 1st grade rather than 8th…public school sucks and i wish i couldve stayed in private school

Anonymous May 10, 2010, 3:39 PM

It won’t kill them to go to public school.

tennmom May 10, 2010, 4:06 PM

My 12 year old daughter spent K-4 in a wonderful public school, now finishing her 2nd year in a private university prep school. My 10 year old daughter will join her sister at that school this Fall.
Great teachers, no expense spared for kids with special physical needs, a personal aid all day for the kids who needed one, one-on-one teachers for kids with learning disabilities.
For the gifted-kids, it isn’t so great. My daughtersd had an hour twice a week in gifted class.
If a child can’t walk or can’t talk or doesn’t realize they are even in school, our school district steps up to the plate.
Not to be cruel, but which child may end up being a doctor? How about giving equal funding to the gifted students?
This is the reason I chose to move my kids into private school. No foreign languages are offered in our public K-4. The pre-schools start Spanish at our private school.
All of the computers in tech lab work, too.

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Fashion October 1, 2010, 4:48 AM

Keep your posts coming, the fashion sector needs more articles like these. I’ve usually been in love with fashion all my life so I’ve produced a discussion board for business specialists to come together and discuss all things fashion. Again, thank you for writing this article.

NHTeacher October 17, 2010, 8:24 PM

Where do I begin? I am definitely not a proponent of public schools. I have been a teacher and tutor for over 25 years and I also attended 10 public schools myself growing up - from Hawaii to Maine. Overall, they are the WORST place to send your children to be socialized. Believe me! Drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, sex (at 10 and 12!)…I homeschooled both of my own kids and one is about to be 20 and speaks several languages, held down 2 jobs, has traveled extensively, taught a class at a University at 15, and NEVER did drugs, drank or got into any trouble. Is the average public school kid BETTER socialized than that? I consider myself an expert on public schools and they (along with many good teachers) are suffering under an outdated curriculum and senseless bureaucracy. And FREE?? Please. Dozens of other countries laugh at our school system. It would be a joke if it weren’t so sad.

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