Public vs private school

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  June 3, 2009 06:00 AM

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Maddy's Mom wants to know if I have any thoughts on this. You betcha....

Hello Barbara,
My husband and I are attempting to decide whether to send our daughter to a private school vs. public school. She has been in daycare since she was a baby and moved from a daycare setting to a private school Kindergarten this year. She did very well and really enjoyed being a big kid. She is in a class of 19 kids with a teacher and an assistant. She's a bright girl, but I worry a bit about her confidence. We had always planned to send her to the public school in our town, but I am having some doubts now. The school she is in has a great reputation, is very small and very caring. She would be in a 1st grade class with approx 12 children vs. approx 26 children in the public school. She's come a long way in reading, math and other things this year. My reason to keep her would be to get her the best foundation in the early years. But, I could also put some of the tuition money towards her college fund. The final factor in all of this is that we don't know how long we plan to stay in our house/town ... so I would hate to have her have to move schools yet again if we were to move next year. Do you have any thoughts on this subject?

Thanks

From: Maddy's Mom, Billerica

Maddy's Mom, you have hit the nail on the head: There are two guarantees that come with a private school education: The first is the teacher-to-student ratio.
In private school, you know for sure that your child will be in small classes with no chance of being ingored no matter where he or she falls in the bell curve. But beware: There is no guarantee that every teacher will be terrific; just as in public school, some are bound to be duds.

Here's the second guarantee with private school: It will take more effort on your part to keep your child feeling part of the neighborhood & community in which you live. By and large, children make their friends from among their classmates so, depending on the year in which they enter private school, the neighborhood best buddies will disappear over time (older kids can be better about staying in touch). But here's a loss many parents don't consider: Your connection to the neighborhood/community will lesson, too, unless you make an effort. The rememdy is to remain part of community programs of any kind (sports, religious, etc), but as kids get older and have more comittments to their school, that gets harder.

This is one aspect of private school that parents often don't consider carefully enough and, in my opinion, it's no small thing. Yes, you are gaining a new community, but you may also be losing one. Go to a social event at the propsective school and look around at the parents and families. Your child is the most important piece of this equation but you also need to see if you -- the adults -- could be comfortable here. Are there families who look like yours? Families whose values reflect yours?

Full disclosure: my son, who is now in college, attended private school all the way through. We started with a private kindergarden as a transition year and, like you, our intent was for only that one year. But we loved the school -- small, warm, cozy, caring -- and we stayed. We have no regrets; in fact, we look back on his education as a gift we were able to give him. Does that mean he would have had less of an education in public school? I don't think so, at least not in our school system. Does it mean he had a better social experience in some way? I doubt that as well.

We made the decision based on who our child was and on his needs at the time, which is what I suggest you do. Is your child slow to warm up? Someone who might get lost in a large classroom because she wouldn't attract attention either as a stand-out student or as a challenging one? (By the way, children with special needs tend to be better off in the public realm unless you are choosing a school that caters to her particular deficit.)

Here's something else to consider: teacher satisfaction. A privately-funded study published last month says that teachers in private schools enjoy greater job satisfaction than teachers in public schools.

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6 comments so far...
  1. While I'm sure that the benefits of some private schools over public schools are real, I have a hard time with the attitude from some parents that public school automatically = bad. I had a parent tell me how wonderful their child's private school was because of a "values based" curriculum. Meanwhile, in my child's public school classroom, every week was devoted to a different value (generosity, kindness, honesty etc). Although how values were taught varied from teacher to teacher, I was willing to accept that and save myself $14K/year. I believe in a quality education for all children, not just my own, and through working with the PTA and attending school board meetings I have bonded with a great set of like-minded parents. For me, the benefit of public school is truly feeling a part of my community. Wherever we go in town, the pool, town league soccer or baseball, the ice cream parlor, we always know people and as the years go by, our circle keeps expanding because of our school connections. My son's friend who is in private school in a neighboring town seems like a fish out of water to me – he knows very few kids in town. The other benefit of public school is that my kids are exposed to people of all walks of life, the kids who have everything and the kids who have very little, the kid whose parent is a doctor, the kid whose parent is a UPS driver and the kid on welfare. Because of my gift of public school, my kids lack of sense of entitlement, learn to interact with those who are different and have the support of a whole community.

    Posted by GeorgiaGrrl June 4, 09 01:53 PM
  1. I attended parochial school as a child. I also agree with GeorgieGrrl, despite the fact that I was very involved with town sports, I always felt like a fish out of water. The kids on my teams were all good friends as they went to school together. I wasn't a very out going child anyway and it was intimidating to approach these kids and try to make friends with them, even though I was on the same team with many of these kids for years.
    Now that I have my own children, my husband and I have thought about the pros and cons of public vs. private schools. The town we live in has a great public school system and we have opted for that. With that said, I also believe we will be living in our town for quite some time. Despite the classes being larger in public school, I think in the end education values are given to children by their parents. Children who's parents value education will thrive in either setting. Also as the poster above comments, public schools tend to be more diverse. When I finally did go to public school in 10th grade, I was shocked to learn that people didn't go to church. I knew there was different religions, but I thought everyone went to church! It's funny to think back on some of the revelations I had when going from parochial school to public school. I think if the family is planning on moving out of town stay in private school until the move and then reconsider after.


    Posted by momof2 June 5, 09 11:00 AM
  1. Private school can be a good or bad thing, socially speaking.

    When I was 14 my father wanted me to enroll in a private Catholic high school. I had many fast friendships and dreaded being taken away from my friends. Conversely, a friend who was socially awkward in junior high was thrilled to move from her town's public school system to a private high school. She got a fresh start, and enjoyed making new friendships.

    Posted by HollyP June 8, 09 09:56 PM
  1. God, please, don't torture your child like that. I hated private school as a kid, and when I finally had to change schools for Junior High, my parents gave me the choice to switch to public school or continue in Private. I chose public, and I very much enjoyed it. I'm now in College with straight As. It depends if your child is a good student of not.
    Good Luck!

    Posted by Carcy. June 9, 09 05:52 PM
  1. I'm a product of 13 years of Catholic education. My mother was very devout, so public schools weren't an option. We had academics, but no art or music, and very few sports. We also had very little diversity, cultural or ethnic.

    Unless I live in a place with extremely bad public schools, I intend to send my kid to a public school. Part of being educated is knowing how to deal with people who aren't just like you. You really don't get that in a private school.

    Posted by Liz June 22, 09 02:30 AM
  1. I also attended private school growing up. Unlike a lot of these posters, I live in Baltimore city with some of the worst public schools imaginable. They are overcrowded (40+ kindergartners to one teacher), have bars and metal detectors, and some of the five year olds are still on the steps at 5:00. I am sticking with private school for my kids. Every region is different. Do your homework. My sons kindergarten class has 10 kids in it with two teachers. I feel like he's safer there.

    Posted by Heather Dow January 24, 13 08:03 PM
 
6 comments so far...
  1. While I'm sure that the benefits of some private schools over public schools are real, I have a hard time with the attitude from some parents that public school automatically = bad. I had a parent tell me how wonderful their child's private school was because of a "values based" curriculum. Meanwhile, in my child's public school classroom, every week was devoted to a different value (generosity, kindness, honesty etc). Although how values were taught varied from teacher to teacher, I was willing to accept that and save myself $14K/year. I believe in a quality education for all children, not just my own, and through working with the PTA and attending school board meetings I have bonded with a great set of like-minded parents. For me, the benefit of public school is truly feeling a part of my community. Wherever we go in town, the pool, town league soccer or baseball, the ice cream parlor, we always know people and as the years go by, our circle keeps expanding because of our school connections. My son's friend who is in private school in a neighboring town seems like a fish out of water to me – he knows very few kids in town. The other benefit of public school is that my kids are exposed to people of all walks of life, the kids who have everything and the kids who have very little, the kid whose parent is a doctor, the kid whose parent is a UPS driver and the kid on welfare. Because of my gift of public school, my kids lack of sense of entitlement, learn to interact with those who are different and have the support of a whole community.

    Posted by GeorgiaGrrl June 4, 09 01:53 PM
  1. I attended parochial school as a child. I also agree with GeorgieGrrl, despite the fact that I was very involved with town sports, I always felt like a fish out of water. The kids on my teams were all good friends as they went to school together. I wasn't a very out going child anyway and it was intimidating to approach these kids and try to make friends with them, even though I was on the same team with many of these kids for years.
    Now that I have my own children, my husband and I have thought about the pros and cons of public vs. private schools. The town we live in has a great public school system and we have opted for that. With that said, I also believe we will be living in our town for quite some time. Despite the classes being larger in public school, I think in the end education values are given to children by their parents. Children who's parents value education will thrive in either setting. Also as the poster above comments, public schools tend to be more diverse. When I finally did go to public school in 10th grade, I was shocked to learn that people didn't go to church. I knew there was different religions, but I thought everyone went to church! It's funny to think back on some of the revelations I had when going from parochial school to public school. I think if the family is planning on moving out of town stay in private school until the move and then reconsider after.


    Posted by momof2 June 5, 09 11:00 AM
  1. Private school can be a good or bad thing, socially speaking.

    When I was 14 my father wanted me to enroll in a private Catholic high school. I had many fast friendships and dreaded being taken away from my friends. Conversely, a friend who was socially awkward in junior high was thrilled to move from her town's public school system to a private high school. She got a fresh start, and enjoyed making new friendships.

    Posted by HollyP June 8, 09 09:56 PM
  1. God, please, don't torture your child like that. I hated private school as a kid, and when I finally had to change schools for Junior High, my parents gave me the choice to switch to public school or continue in Private. I chose public, and I very much enjoyed it. I'm now in College with straight As. It depends if your child is a good student of not.
    Good Luck!

    Posted by Carcy. June 9, 09 05:52 PM
  1. I'm a product of 13 years of Catholic education. My mother was very devout, so public schools weren't an option. We had academics, but no art or music, and very few sports. We also had very little diversity, cultural or ethnic.

    Unless I live in a place with extremely bad public schools, I intend to send my kid to a public school. Part of being educated is knowing how to deal with people who aren't just like you. You really don't get that in a private school.

    Posted by Liz June 22, 09 02:30 AM
  1. I also attended private school growing up. Unlike a lot of these posters, I live in Baltimore city with some of the worst public schools imaginable. They are overcrowded (40+ kindergartners to one teacher), have bars and metal detectors, and some of the five year olds are still on the steps at 5:00. I am sticking with private school for my kids. Every region is different. Do your homework. My sons kindergarten class has 10 kids in it with two teachers. I feel like he's safer there.

    Posted by Heather Dow January 24, 13 08:03 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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