Can’t Afford Private School? It May Not Matter.

According to the latest study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), randomly selected 15 year old students in America are almost average compared to counterparts in 70 participating countries. Just average. Not good.

Debate rages in the country to figure out how to get those scores up. Ignoring government attempts to regulate our kids into better test scores, many parents are having the public vs private school debate.

Many believe it is better to send their children to private schools. After all, public schools have to cater to the lowest common denominator – right? Remember No Child Left Behind?

Because private schools are more elite and selective, many think they turn out better scholars, but they come at higher out of pocket costs, parents end up paying the added school taxes anyway and fund raisers can consume a lot of parental time.

A report called “Comparing Private Schools and Public Schools Using Hierarchical Linear Modeling,“from the U.S. Department of Education shows that there’s not as big a difference between public and private school performance as many believe – at least when it comes to reading and math.

In a Times article Are Private Schools Really Better, the author quotes Jack Jennings statement in the press release about the report: “Contrary to popular belief, we can find no evidence that private schools actually increase student performance. Instead, it appears that private schools simply have higher percentages of students who would perform well in any environment based on their previous performance and background.”

The USDA study tries to account for things like ethnicity, family income, and English language proficiency, and the skill and experience of the teaching staff.

What are your schooling choices?

As a parent, you want to try to give your child every advantage you can. What are the schooling choices for your child and can you afford your preferred option?

Public Schools

Each American child is required by the laws of the state in which they live to go to school. As a result local, state and federal taxes are allocated to providing the needed facilities, resources and staffing. As you know, each neighborhood has it’s own schools, supported by local county school district taxation. Even in the same county, some schools are better than others.

Many people carefully select the location of their home, to make sure it is in the best possible school district. Taxation in these best districts is typically higher than elsewhere, to help keep the schools rated as ‘best’.

Your costs for public school include the possible extra cost you may pay for housing in the school district as well as the local taxes you pay to support the schools. You pay these costs whether or not your children are currently attending the schools!

Public Charter Schools

In many metropolitan areas, alternatives to the traditional local school districts have arisen, with the concept of charter schools. These schools have a particular set of guidelines which they attempt to meet (their charter). Some focus on particular areas of study, such as vocational, or mathematics, the theater or the arts.

Your costs for public charter schools are essentially the same as public local schools.

Private Religious Schools

Although many religions offer schooling, the Catholic religion is most predominant – exerting great pressure on parish members to support the parish school and send their children through it – primarily for the religious education.

According to the National Catholic Educational Associate site elementary school tuition averages $3,383 with the freshman year in high school averaging $8,787 per child. In richer parishes however, those figures can multiply fast. We have one family member paying more than $14,000 a year in high school tuition per child!

Private Non-Religious Schools

Of course, anyone can seek out a private school. “Medium tuition”, according to Great Schools  “for their member private day schools in 2008-2009 in the United States was $17,441. Tuition for boarding schools was close to $37,017. (Of the 28,384 private schools in the United States, about 1,050 are affiliated with the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS)). Average tuition for nonmember schools is substantially less: Day schools charge $10,841 and boarding schools $23,448.

Home Schooling is Another Route.

Costs include materials, supplies, environmental issue resolution (lighting, ergonomic furniture and etc), opportunity cost of the parent staying home to teach, and hiring of teachers for advanced subjects that the parents can’t teach.

According to BankRate Adding up the Cost of Home Schooling  “Clive Belfield, professor of economics at Queens College, City University of New York, estimates that the cost for parents who keep a careful accounting is about $2,500 for a family’s first child and slightly less for the next one or two home-schooled kids.” But, this doesn’t include the cost of tutors for those advanced subjects the parent can’t teach. Belfield also claims that most parents give up on home schooling once they have three or more students.

It’s a Personal Issue.

In our family, the public vs. private debate is very personal and intense. For us, it has been mainly a debate between public and Catholic private schooling. My Mom was a public elementary school teacher. At the time I went to grade school and high school, and in the neighborhood in which we lived, the public schools were better. The teachers had been trained and certified, as opposed to housewife assistants and nuns without educational backgrounds. The resources were superior and the students tested better.

Fate would have it that I fell in love with a man raised as a strict Catholic kid – parochial schools for him all the way through high school, with a year out to try out the seminary! So when our two boys came along, the debate began. I wanted public schools, he wanted private. At the time we were dirt poor and he was disillusioned with the church so the boys attended public schools. During grade school, we were in a not so great school district, but we both showed keen interest in the boys education and made sure they knew the materials at each grade level. Later, when they were in junior high and high school, we moved to a fantastic public school district and they both continued to do well. Both were in advanced placement classes and both earned college credit while in high school.

Now, along comes the next generation and our non-Catholic boy marries a good Catholic girl. She wants to send their offspring to Catholic schools, he doesn’t. They do live in a fine public school district and ended up sending their kids through public schools (at least so far). They too work hard to make sure the kids are learning what they should be learning.

In my experience, the key to successful learning and attaining educational and life goals is parental involvement, mentoring and expectation setting along with positive reinforcement for success and help with failure.

So I think the choice you make depends….it depends on what your local public schools are like, it depends on how much money and time you want to spend on educating your kids, and it depends on how much religion you want included in your child’s daily learning.  It also depends on how well or poorly your child integrates with the school you choose.  But most of all, I think a quality education depends on you, the parent.

Where do you stand on the public vs. private school debate? Are there other schooling choices out there?



Can’t Afford Private School? It May Not Matter. — 34 Comments

  1. My wife and I were just having this conversation the other day about some of our friends. In particular, two groups of friends are having money problems. Yet, they’ve both decided to send their children to private schools. The kicker is that for one family, their child is in Kindergarten. The other family’s 3 kids are in PRESCHOOL. This particular school costs several hundred dollars per week. I just can’t see justifying that amount of money on schooling for young children, especially when you are having money problems. I’ve found that sending your children to a private school is more of a status symbol than it is for any practical learning experience.

    • When I was in KG, there really wasn’t a public option – I went to a protestant church for half day KG. When my kids were pre-school age, I didn’t know of any public school options either. I solved the problem by becoming part of the staff at a church pre-school and they they got to go at reduced rates.

  2. I never went to a private school and turned out fine. I think the child needs to take ownership of their education and if they do that they should do fine in public schools. Big city schools like NYC, Chicago and LA might be different though. I always lived in smaller cities or suburbs.

    • It does kind of depend on where you choose to live. I know someone who opted for an ‘exclusive’ neighborhood, but the schools suck there – consequently she sends her kids to private schools.

      Other folks want to have their religion included in education – which can’t be done in the US in the public school system.

  3. “In my experience, the key to successful learning and attaining educational and life goals is parental involvement, mentoring and expectation setting along with positive reinforcement for success and help with failure.”

    I could not agree more. In the end, in general, the school of choice does not matter a whole lot in my opinion. I think that parental involvement is key to help children succeed in school. On a separate note, I heard an interview given by Condoleezza Rice recently, and she was making the argument that education is really a national defense issue as we do not want to continue to fall behind other countries. She was making a very convincing argument and also said a lot of it comes down to parents.

  4. I think the argument of private school versus public applies really well particularly to poor areas in highly populated regions like Southern Los Angeles. In the Midwest or even east coast it doesn’t seem like a big issue of schools not having good teachers and small enough (well behaved) classes compared to schools in poor areas. The kids in those areas generally have an attitude against learning and they come from families of violence and poverty, making it difficult to focus on school. If you’re a parent living in one of those areas you are probably working your behind off just to get out or get your kid into a private school that doesn’t have overcrowded classes and discipline problems.

  5. My family’s experience with private schools has SUCKED. In Canada, you don’t need certification to work at a private school. Literally anyone can.

    Both myself and my brother were private school students for years at two different schools, and both times we hated it so much that we both threatened to purposely fail EVERYTHING if we weren’t pulled out. Our grades skyrocketed as soon as we hit the public schools, because we were actually taught.

    Of course that’s one person’s opinion- I’m sure there are some private schools that are great. I would never put my child in one though.

  6. I know that a lot of people love the education that their children receive from private schools, but I see no point in spending that kind of money. I went to a public school and I was still able to get a college degree from a top business school. I like to think I turned out just fine. 🙂

  7. Our son took the exam for a private school here in the UK – this is a school that was set up during the rule of Henry VIII though and has maintained impacable academic reputation through the centuries. As it happens he (son) decided to go to the local comprehensive – and he is thriving there.

    All this was creating a big, fat cognitive dissonance in me: I am against private education in principle (and our government at the moment is a proof that expensive private education can, and does, produce ignorant people); at the same time the facilities were great. This said, most private school teach children how to pass exams not how to learn.

    • Good point, but do connections really matter at the grade school and high school level? Or is more a matter of being exposed to different lifestyles?

  8. I went to both a low-income neighborhood public school and a high-income, prestigious private school. From my experience there was absolutely no comparison between the two. Ultimately, I think my experience will determine where we send our (eventual) children. However, sending them to private school has to fit into the budget of course.

    • So which was better for you? I imagine you will say private. I wonder how your comparison would fare between that prestigious private school and a high-income neighborhood public school with great ratings?

  9. I went to private school my entire life. My children went to private school too. The irony is my newest career (7th) is a public high school teacher. As a teacher, I am even more convinced I made the right decision. My adult children are very successful. One could say, they probably would have been anyway. I did not want to experiment on them.

  10. We don’t really have private school options other than a very small parochial school that isn’t really strong in academics.Our public schools are not that good either. We have sent our daughter to a neighboring district that has excellent schools, so we are very fortunate. I do think parental involvement makes all the difference. My husband teaches fifth grade in the rural elementary school of the poorer preforming district. His school always does great on academics and test scores and has a very active parent population (think farmers and ranchers kids) The kids usually have horses or 4H projects they are responsible for and are very good, responsible kids with responsible parents. The schools in town do not have this level of parental involvement and while there are always exceptions, the schools perform very poorly on most standards and have poor attendance. Parents really need to be held accountable. I can’t fathom not making sure your child gets to school, but it is truly an epidemic in many schools.

  11. I think we’re going to go the private school route, because based on anecdotal evidence alone, I had a rather tough time of it at several different public schools, and the teachers (mostly) didn’t seem to care. My girlfriend doesn’t have the fondest memories from her private school, either, but she learned a heck of a lot more than I did. 😉

    I guess there’s pros and cons to both, and it really depends on where you live. At least if you have the means for a private school, you can choose. The public schools in some areas are downright atrocious.

  12. Excellent point -it really depends on parent involvement and the schools in the area. I’m a public school teacher. I’m very well qualified and good at what I do, if I do say so myself (I have a passion for teaching). Some schools have better “scores” than others and it is often dependent on a mixture of things: good teachers, motivated students, parent involvement.

    However, test scores don’t tell the whole picture. If a person lives in an area where schools are scoring slightly below where they should, don’t think the schools are bad. It could be that the scores are taking into consideration English Language Learners who don’t read English very well yet, or a large group of Special Education Students who are doing quite well, but can’t show that performance on standardized tests.

    Parents need to do due diligence before ruling out the public school system.

  13. We are coming up on this decision in a few months when I must either register my 4-yr-old for public school or fill out private school applications. We live in a large school system that fights within itself to assign kids to schools (it varies, usually between the decision to make them go to schools in their neighborhoods or give parents choices). The school my daughter goes to next year might not be the one she’s allowed to attend next year. So a lot is up in the air. If it weren’t for that, I would never consider private school because our school system is rather good.

    After quite a bit of thought, we have decided to stick with public school for several reasons. 1) I don’t have it in me to homeschool – that was never an option! LOL 2) I am pretty frugal and can’t seem to justify spending thousands per year per child (and we have 3 kids) when our public school system offers a good education 3) I am a strong believer in letting kids live in the real world. I am a little worried that sheltering our kids would do them more harm than good. As an adult, I have to interact with people of all races, abilities, and backgrounds, so I think it’s a good idea to give our kids that exposure early on. I think public school will prepare them for real life in a way that homeschooling or private school likely wouldn’t.

  14. Interesting, Marie! It’s just a theory of mine, but I’ve never had my assumptions backed up by someone who actually lived it.

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