Why Private Schools Are Financial Rip Offs

Annual tuition at K-8 private schools currently averages about $8,000.

That means over a nine-year period parents will end up spending $72,000 per child — as long as tuition rates never increase. (Insert laugh track here.)

Of course, most parents end up considering private education because they only want what is best for their child.

Well, today I’m going to show you why private school is absolutely not worth it – not only for my kids, but yours too. Well, that is unless you’re so wealthy you not only burn $100 bills to light your cigars but you also pay the neighborhood kids a weekly stipend to stay off your perfectly-manicured lawn, in which case it really doesn’t matter.

A Little Perspective

First off, let’s keep things in perspective here. I guarantee you that private K-8 schools aren’t teaching your 10-year-old even the most basic engineering skills required to build, say, a communications satellite.

I can also assure you that after completing a nine-year private school curriculum — and spending an average of $72,000 in the process – your child will still be unable to remove a brain tumor, argue a case before the Supreme Court, or have the business acumen to run a Fortune 500 company. That’s because, for the most part, K-8 private schools are still teaching the same stuff that the public schools do: basic reading, writing and arithmetic.

Yes, I realize most K-8 private schools have benefits like low teacher-student ratios and fancy computers in beautiful buildings with all the amenities — but in the end they’re still just teaching the basics.

Who cares if Junior ends up reading in kindergarten instead of first grade, or learning algebra in fifth grade instead of seventh like his public school peers? Does that really matter in the grand scheme of things? The learning process is supposed to be a marathon — not a sprint.

I’m certain there are many folks out there who disagree with me. And I’m sure that many of you will try and make the case that private schools provide intangible benefits that a public school can’t. Fair enough.

But it’s hard to argue this fact: private school costs more money than most people realize.

To prove it, I am going to do what most people fail to do before committing to send their kid to private school for nine years: estimate the opportunity cost of investing the money and sending a child to public school instead.

Why Private Schools Cost More than You Think

Let’s stick with our basic assumptions above. That is, let’s assume that instead of paying the private school $8000 in tuition each year, we faithfully invest the money into a fund that earns a modest five percent annual return. Using a spreadsheet, it would look something like this:

PrivateSchool1

Now let’s assume that, for your child’s final four years of school, you decide to make no additional contributions and simply let the money you’ve saved over the previous nine years accrue interest.

Assuming we earn the same modest five percent rate of return, you would have $112,583. That’s a pretty decent start on a college fund, don’t you think?

If we continued to let the money ride for another two years while our child went to a junior college, we’d have $124,123, as you can see here:

PrivateSchool2

Now that’s pretty impressive, but what if we didn’t use that money to pay for college? What if we treated it as a sacrosanct nest egg for our kids instead? What if we thought outside the box, went against conventional wisdom, and gave that money to our son or daughter under the condition that they continue to let the money grow, untouched, until they reached the ripe old age of 65?

If we did, and assuming the money grew at a rate of five percent annually, thanks to the magic of compound interest our child would have $1,115,253 – and that is if he or she never contributed a penny over their lifetime!

Even better, if our child had the financial discipline to contribute $100 per week over those 45 years, that nest egg would be worth an astounding $1,953,679.

Let’s pause for a moment to let that sink in. That’s almost two-million dollars, folks.

Now ask yourself this: How much extra cash do you think your child will earn over his lifetime because he or she went to a private K-8 school instead of a public one? For most people, the answer is not even close to a million dollars, let alone two.

The Bottom Line

I’m a firm believer that a child’s success in grade school is largely a function of their personality and willingness to learn. Kids that have the hunger to learn and thirst for knowledge will excel, regardless of the environment. Parents can help too by steering them away from the video games and nurturing their child’s innate curiosity about the world around them.

So save your money. You’d be doing your kids a bigger favor by using that K-8 private school tuition to save for college or, better yet, help build them a healthy nest egg that they could tap in their retirement years.

And if you’re going to insist that lower student-teacher ratios provided by private schools are essential to Junior’s learning, you’d still be much better served financially by sending him to a public school and getting a tutor.

That is, unless you like getting ripped off.

I’m just sayin’.

(This is an updated version of an article originally written on June 14, 2010.)

Photo Credit: Liz West

104 comments to Why Private Schools Are Financial Rip Offs

  • mdb

    I live in Boston, and the schools here are horrendous, with the exception of Boston Latin (my older son attends there now). My other children will/are in private school and if they don’t get into Boston Latin, they will attend a private high school.

    My math is this:
    If I were to move to a suburb with a good school system my commute would increase 2 hours a day/500 hours a year/$2000.

    Property taxes would increase $2000

    I would have to drive (I ride my bike now) or buy a commuter rail pass (would increase commuting time even more), say 40 miles a day/$5 a day in gas/I would lose my low mileage insurance discount/We would need 2 cars instead of 1 and a zipcar… a lot of money.

    The whole family would spend more time driving or commuting (groceries, shopping, anything).

    All in all, rather than exercise school choice through re-locating, I am better off paying for choice, because the Boston school system is not a choice.

    • There is a similar situation here in Dallas, although the commutes are not nearly as long. It’s possible to walk 3 blocks from my house and be in a different public school district, Highland Park. However, your house will now cost 125% more, and expect property taxes to run $17-20K per year for the more modest size houses. It may well be cheaper to pay for private school because you don’t want to send your kid to the school in this neighborhood!

  • I know this will shock you, Len, but my son is very much in public school ;) He’ll probably attend public school for his undergrad as well. I manage just fine with the public school education I got for my high school and my undergrad (I did go to Syracuse for my MA). You make a great point that, for the most part, you get out what you put in. I’m involved in my son’s education, I encourage him to do extra learning at home, and I hope I am teaching him to work hard, enjoy learning and be a decent person (and a contributing member of society). No amount of money can buy those qualities.

    • @mdb: I understand your plight. I for one would never tolerate a longer commute either. Have you considered home schooling?
      @Miranda: What!? You’ve got your son in public school??!!! LOL But seriously, I too managed just fine in public school – with 35 kids per class, no less!

  • One of the problems with private schools (vs. public) is that they tend to be elitist and cater to a certain student profile. A child with ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities or behavioral issues won’t fit that mold, and may be asked to leave.

    That has to make you wonder if it’s the school that makes the student, or the student that makes the school. If the school is only selecting top performers, of course it will look like a top drawer institution. So is your child benefiting from the school, or upholding it?

    And do you want to pay $72,000 for your child to make the private school a better place?

    Your child plus the saved tuition money will make him or her a better student/person in the long run.

    • That’s funny that you say that Kevin. My cousin’s child is in Catholic school BECAUSE he has learning disabilities. His mother tried for 2 years to work with the public school to get the services he needed but they claimed there was nothing wrong with him (It’s apparent he’s about 3 years behind his grade level just talking to him and he’s only 11). The private school is giving him extra tutoring and other support that the public system refused to.

      • Ann

        Jennifer, Would you mind noting which Catholic school in Dallas accepts LD kids? We are willing to pay for attendance in a Catholic school; however, have found a diocesan-wide rejection of kids with any differences. We have fought from day one for our child to remain at our parish school, but now must think about public schools, as the most ‘Christian’ of schools in Dallas are the least accepting of any differences.

    • Kevin,

      My experience was similar to Jennifer’s cousin. My son didn’t have problems with ADHD, but he was more athletic than academic. My nephew was on medication when he arrived and was soon off of it. Between regular PE, the basketball team and other activities, both boys improved academically and socially. This wasn’t by accident, since the principal was an ex-marine.

      I don’t think most private schools are as elitist as some people think. One more thought, how much does it cost if your kid drops out of school or ends up in drug rehab? That happened to my neighbor across the street and we live in a very nice area. She is selling her house to pay for the medical bills.

      • As expected, I see I’m getting beat up just a bit on this one. It is a provocative piece. Thank you all for sharing your perspective.

        @Dan: No joke. I completely agree that public schools are highly inefficient when it comes to spending per student. I’ve seen numbers that show public schools spend even more than what you stated. Unfortunately, unlike private school, we don’t have a choice when it comes to paying for the public school system.
        @Bob: I’m glad you had a terrific experience in private school. This article was meant to address the financial impacts of private school. As I mentioned in the article, for those who believe private schools offer intangible benefits (that some people consider to be “priceless”) there is nothing I can say that will change their minds regarding the financial facts.
        @Bret: Agree with you on the lack of accountability in public schools. This article was not intended to make a case for public schools. It was meant to show an opportunity cost of going to private school.
        @Chip: Based on the financial scenario I gave, I can’t justify the financial investment of sending a child to private K-8 school. You really think its worth up to $2 million over your child’s lifetime? As for me holding a grudge against “the kids who had opportunities growing up”, I begrudge nobody. (And I made my own opportunities growing up.) :-)
        @Holly: I am a firm believer that student performance has less to do with the teachers and more to do with the parents. I guess my point is that the drop-out rate of a particular high school should have little bearing on the risk of a child washing out assuming the parents stay actively involved in their child’s education. Just my two cents. :-)

  • Dan

    Is this a joke?

    The public school I went to years ago got $7500 per student from tax payers. People should have the option to use that money at the school of their choice. Public schools sucks.

  • Bob

    What an arrogant article. First of all, most private schools are religious institutions. People send their children because they want their religion to be respected and taught to their children alongside the academic curriculum. What is it worth for them to avoid a school where their religion is carefully ignored all day long? Perhaps it’s priceless.

    Second, it’s not all about money, or even performance. The best reason I can think of to send a kid to private school is to choose a better set of peers. Not richer or smarter, but *nicer*. I went to a very small Christian school for half of my K-8 education, after having been at a public school for the first half. The public school was a good one, but the private school was ten times better. I got much more personal time with the teacher, despite the fact that he was teaching four grades in one classroom. The whole school played together at recess. There was no bullying. Academic laggards were helped on the side instead of slowing the entire class down. Why were we all so nice to each other? Because our families all knew each other from church.

    That school cost $270/mo at the time. We had less facilities and equipment than the public schools, by far. And of course our parents were required to pay for your schooling as well, via their taxes. But I had a happier and more secure childhood as a result, and I learned to enjoy school. I’m not even a Christian anymore, but I will seriously consider sending my child to a small, Christian grade school.

    What would have been really useful is an examination of the various motivations for sending a child to private schools, a consideration of the full range of choices and costs, and an admonition that families consider the costs fully before making their decision. Instead, you spent the whole article trying to make it out as if there is only one right answer, and anyone who doesn’t see it is an idiot. Arrogant.

    Oh, and my mother was a teacher at the public school I left. She preferred to have me in the private school. Makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?

    • Wiseguy

      Well said, Bob. Nobody can unequivocally prove that public or private is better, as each has its merits to different people. “Better” is certainly a relative evaluation, which is true for almost every comparison argument.

      I’m glad this article showed the cost breakdown, which everyone should (but probably doesn’t) consider. However, since this article was presenting an argument and not purely objective, I was disappointed with how little substance there was to the reasoning. It was plainly surmised that private schools are not better than public schools without mentioning many factors that weigh in the evaluation of “better,” as Bob and I previously mentioned.

      Ultimately, the only true conclusion I reached from this article is that “cheaper schools are cheaper.” I think we can all agree with that.

    • Dave Nash

      I’m with Bob on this one. This kind of blanket article doesn’t make sense – whether or not private school makes sense is really a case by case issue. My kids are in private school for the reasons he listed, as well as the fact that where I live is growing quickly so they are constantly changing the home schools in our area around, and we don’t want the instability of the kids changing schools every couple years (many families in my area have grade school kids who attend DIFFERENT schools from each other!). No thanks.

      Also, our school teaches a classical education, and the amount of stuff that the kids are learning is astounding. For example, they start learning Latin in third grade in order to provide a foundation for learning other languages in the coming years. I could go on, but I shouldn’t have to. If you can afford it and you don’t like the local public schools, the 70 grand + opportunity cost of sending your kids to a good private school is completely worth it IMO.

      • Yep. I agree with you Dave that everybody has to evaluate the opportunity costs and make their own decision. I did that before deciding which type of school my kids would go to, but I would wager most (not all, but most) people that send their kids to private school never did.

        For folks that can afford it, and feel the intangibles outweigh the opportunity costs I presented, then private school ISN’T a rip off. Now maybe I am being delusional, but I suspect most people who HAVEN’T yet committed to private school AND weigh the opportunity costs – as I presented here – will agree with me and decide that it is.

        • wheaton

          Hello Len. Thank you for the article. However, I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize the differences as “intangibles”.

          Actually, the advantages are quite tangible. Statistics show that kids coming out of private school education fare better on average in a variety of ways (staying out of prison, graduating college, not getting addicted to drugs, not getting pregnant, etc.) Additionally, with private schools, you have the power to choose as a consumer. If there is a problem and the school doesn’t address it the way you like, you can switch schools. In public school? You get what they assign to you and if you don’t like it? Your problem. Or, really, your kids problem.

          If you want to make it a purely economics-based evaluation, you need to complete the cost analysis by factoring for the different end results. It makes little economic sense to save $150k over 10 years if the decision results in a career with over $150k less salary (or worse).

          So, the question is, have YOU actually weighed all of the relevant costs?

          • Len Penzo

            You said: “I don’t think it’s accurate to characterize the differences as ‘intangibles’. Statistics show that kids coming out of private school education fare better on average in a variety of ways (staying out of prison, graduating college, not getting addicted to drugs, not getting pregnant, etc.)”

            Wheaton: With all due respect, you need to look up the definition of “intangible.” When you’re finished, reconsider your comment and then get back to me.

  • I am going to have to disagree with Len and agree with Dan. As a kid, I attended both public and private schools and there is a big difference. My children attended both public and private schools and it made a difference for them. The difference is accountability.

    The teachers don’t have tenure or unions. They don’t go on strike or talk in educational acronyms. And, they don’t try to get you to drug your kids for ADHD. Instead, they have sports and activities to keep kids involved. And, they personally deal with any difficulties your child may struggle with.

    We’re not high income, especially when our kids were younger, and it was tough to afford private school. But, I consider it one of the best investments we have made for our children. Not only were their educations greatly enhanced, their characters were as well. And, our school didn’t tolerate bullies or mean girl clicks, because it detracts from education.

    The real question isn’t why private school costs $8,000 per kid. The real question is why public school costs $9,800 per kid and so many kids don’t have fundamental skills after 12 years. The answer is accountability.

    Shout out to St. Michael’s Academy in San Clemente, CA.

    • Penny Simmons

      That is the best thing Ive read in this whole mess. Not only has he learned accountability but he has also learned that his teachers and parents have to be accountable also. My child has attened both private and public and the decision the send him to a private Christian school was a very hard choice for us we are not rich and we dont come form privledge but we do work hard and we do pay taxes. So when u say(Len Penzo)that most not all but most people dont consider cost you would lose your wager…all the the parents I know have had to reevaluate the benifit to cost issue and it is absurd to think that even if you do “have Money” you don’t have to think about intangables. Our children learn from the examples around them and when the the parents pay hard earned money and the teachers earn decent wages and the administration wants the best for the kids then the what out weighs the “intangables” is an education that produces a person with moral charater a who has sense of community pride that has a better than average education. That is what I am paying for and I suspect that all not most but all the parents who choose private will agree with me…

      • For the record, if my kids were forced to go to a dangerous public school that resembled Fort Apache, I would consider a private school. (Although I would probably decide to invest the money and home school them instead.)

        I do agree that most parents who send their kids to private school would agree with you. Considering the opportunity costs, they better have an extremely good reason for spending all that money when they could have invested it instead. :-)

        The problem with your justification, in my opinion, is that it sounds like you are saying that only kids who go to private schools can end up with moral character, a sense of community pride, and a better than average education. If that were true then I too would have to conclude that a private school is the only choice. But that claim is specious. There are plenty of kids who go to public school who end up with those very same characteristics you mention. Likewise, there are plenty of kids who go to private schools that don’t. I’ll argue that moral character and community pride are dependent on the parents – not a school, be it private or public. As for the education received, my position is that a child’s education is mainly dependent on the child and, to a lesser degree, the parent. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Likewise, you can put a kid in the best institution money can buy, but if they are unwilling or unable to handle the curriculum, then that is money down the tubes – and at a tremendous cost.

  • BYW, when I said accountability, I didn’t just mean from the teachers. I meant from the teachers, administration, parents and the students. The most important being accountability from students.

    • Wiseguy

      Good call on accountability. Everyone plays a part. The student must do his/her work. Teachers and administration must be (and often are) very dedicated. My biggest gripe is with parents. It drives me nuts when parents don’t teach their children anything at home because “that’s what schools are for.”

      • penny

        when a parent is paying a really expensive tuition, its expecting for results and ,of course, to have to work a litle less in home and not having to pay for a tutor, and belive me a lot of times it hapens, with totally normal kids, and that my friend its my biggest gripe!!!!!

  • I speak from experience when I say the investment in a private education is well worth it. Much of the time intended for educating in public schools is actually spent disciplining bad behavior, leaving the ambitious students to spend the “savings” mentioned in this article on SAT prep courses. Sounds to me Len is still holding a grudge against the kids who had opportunities growing up.

    • Chip,

      This is exactly what happened to us. My son was struggling and we thought about putting him in an afternoon program. Instead, I paid a little more to put him in a private school and it made all of the difference.

  • If the public option is really that bad in your neighborhood, people should consider moving to a better school district or hiring a tutor. That’s a lot cheaper than than private school in most cases. With respect to choosing the student’s peer group, that’s important. I have no problem with going private on that basis if a family can truly afford it. In other words, I believe private school is a luxury.

  • Holly

    I do have the luxury of sending my 3 children to private, Catholic school. And in my state, it is pretty much a no-brainer…half of the students here in public schools do not even graduate from the 12th grade.

    My husband, a police officer, had a very difficult time of seeing the guy whom he had just arrested dropping his kid off to sit next to ours. It is all about the peer group and the parents who have tremendous respect for the teachers and for learning in general.

  • Your post implies a very limited understanding of what learning is all about. For example, “The learning process is supposed to be a marathon – not a sprint.”
    Actually, it is a life long event. This subtlety, amongst many others, highlights why you would not see the value in private education. The intangible benefits are not measurable in a per $ spent way. We will continue with homeschooling. :)

    • Huh? That is precisely what I meant when I said the learning process is a marathon – not a sprint. And of course the intangible benefits are not necessarily measurable in dollars and cents, which is why I said in the article: “I’m sure that many of you will try and make the case that private schools provide intangible benefits that a public school can’t. Fair enough.” The reason I said that is because it’s tough to convince people who believe private school provides certain intangible benefits that it is not worth it.

      I think homeschooling is a noble endeavor. I tried to convince the Honeybee to homeschool our kids, but she just doesn’t have the patience. :-)

  • The comparative “financial” costs between public and private school is noteworthy, indeed, when limited only to the parameters of Len’s study. Others, however, have pointed out important considerations or “costs” falling outside the scope of Len’s comparison that serve to balance out one’s perspective a bit.

    A more important consideration or question to be asked is, “Why would a struggling family spend $8000 or more a year to choose an alternative private educational program, for their children, when the public option is available?” The obvious answer, at least for them, is that the public option leaves something to be desired. Few would turn to the more expensive private option if the public option met their expectations.

    So, the key to understanding why some parents choose the public option, versus other parents choosing private schooling, lies in the area of expectations. Different expectations lead to different choices.

    Although Len might view private education as a vast waste of financial resources, others may view the public option as a vast waste of time, tax dollars, and young malleable minds.

    In our view, the public option is the “socialist” solution to what is basically a parental responsibility while private education is the freemarket solution that more often than not identifies with the core values (good, bad, or ugly) that parents desire to pass on to their children. The public option tends to be a
    one-size-fits-all “conformist” model.

    We obviously value freedom of choice in these decsions, but there is, unfortunately, a penalty imposed on those who reject the “socialist” public education model for what they perceive as a more responsible model. They not only pay for the costs of privately educating their children but also pay for something (the public option) that inherently goes against their core values.

    Most parents who privately educate their children would never expect others to pay for their choice to do so, but are often disheartened and perplexed when advocates of the “socialist” model expect them to pay for their child’s education. Although we can understand their being disheartened over this inequity, they should not be perplexed about it since this is socialism at its core. Socialism is about putting your hand in someone else’s pocket.

    We advocate removing the “socialist” public option altogether and allow parents to fund solely the educational venue of their choosing. Some will say, “What about the poor, who can’t afford private education, and also what about those parents who are irresponsible towards the education of their children?” We ask, “Does the socialist model tend to make inherently irresponsible parents more responsible or less responsible?” Likewise, does the socialist model alleviate their poverty or add considerably to it? And, are we winning the war on illiteracy or does it appear to be a losing battle under the “socialist” public option?

    If parents are not responsible and engaged in the process of educating their children, neither system of education has the optimal chance of stimulating curiosity in young minds. Could we not conjecture, however, that financially struggling parents spending $8000 a year or more on private education may be somewhat more engaged in the process of educating their children and may have considerably more skin in the game’s outcome?

    Educating children is a parental responsibility, period.

    • “The public option is the ‘socialist’ solution to what is basically a parental responsibility while private education is the freemarket solution that more often than not identifies with the core values (good, bad, or ugly) that parents desire to pass on to their children.”

      Although this post was not an opinion piece espousing the superiority of public over private schools, I do agree with you completely, Steven and Debra. It is unfortunate that our government has decided to take on the responsibility of educating our children – and taxing us in the process to do so, whether we choose to send our children to the public schools or not (and that’s the rub, really). Most everyone who chooses to pay for private schools are actually paying for private AND public schools.

      To reiterate, it is my view that as long as we are stuck having to pay for an at-times-dysfunctional and almost-always-fiscally-inefficient public school system – whether we choose to use it or not – it’s tough to argue paying for an expensive K-8 private school education too makes any financial sense at all. Especially considering the curriculum is essentially the same.

      I’d love to see education completely removed from the government’s responsibility and handed over to the free market. I won’t hold my breath though.

      Thanks for the terrific comments!

      • I would just like to see public education compete with private. People keep voting down vouchers, but I suspect they will start to pass in the future.

        Once the funding monopoly is broken and the public schools have to compete with the private, I think we will see improvment in some public schools. If not, at least parents and students will have a choice.

    • cheekybegr

      Maybe the two instituations have more in common than you think. Dont be fooled, follow the money:

      Socialist movement – Public Schools

      A union member pays dues which in turn are sub divided the local lodge keeps the smallest cut, the district lodges follow and the lions share goes to the International Lodge the guy’s that are never seen who drive fancy cars and fly in private jets.

      Free Market – Private Schools

      The Catholic system like unions takes in money from the parishioners. The “collection” similar to unions is divided. The smallest portion the Parish gets to keep, next is the diocees followed by the vatican which houses fancy paintings, private jets and Pope Mobiles.

      Call it what you want, free market versus socialism we are all pawns in someone elses chess game,taught from an early age to beat each other over the head with our own ethics, morals and values.

  • Hmmm, I don’t think you buy a better education by going to a private school. You might get a better (or richer) mix of kids than a public school system. But if you choose a good public school system to begin with, I’d venture to say that it’s just as good.

    My dad went to a private school as a child, but he sent both of his kids (sis and I) to the public school system in our city. He said that the education was pretty much the same. Especially since we didn’t live in the big city, we didn’t have issues with crime and other problems.

    I guess if you live in a rough city, then to keep your kids safe and straight, it would be a worthwhile use of your money. If I was worried about my kids in the school system they are in, I would send them to private school too (but not at $8,000 a piece… luckily, the private schools in my area are about half of that)!

  • Julie

    I went to private school myself. My children will start out in private school then go on to public school. Part of the reason I am doing it this way is because after we moved here and bought our house, the public schools had a change in how they taught children to read and write. School districts are by the COUNTY where I live and the 2 adjacent counties actually have worse schools than mine. My husband and I both work in this county. We are not commuting 4 hours a day roundtrip just so we can be in a better school district. I am trading money to reduce time and wear & tear on our sanity.

    The main gist of the problem is that I went to a Montessori private school and was taught phonics and cursive among other things. Husband was taught sight words. The local schools moved to sight words only. Husband still has problems reading unfamiliar words to this day and it impacts his daily life. He and I agree that a foundation of phonics is important for our children. I will be helping to teach at home, but I know others with school aged children who learn phonics at home but have to do sight words at school. They get in trouble for using phonics. They also stopped teaching cursive in the public schools.

    Unfortunately, the local Montessori private school only goes to 1st grade. We will have to re-evaluate after our kids get there.

    • Jan

      Send them to Montessori until they read. Once they read the public schools will let them go. I advocate a mix of sight and phonics- so does that National Reading Panel from National Institute of Health. Get the document and take it to the next school board meeting.

  • Now, in some cases, depending on where one lives, I can see how private school makes sense. If you live in a large city where the public schools are awful – and this is a common situation – private school may be your best bet if you want to remain in your current residence. The drop off from private to public can be tremendous.

    That said, if you live an an area with decent public schools, why not send kids there? In that case, Len, I agree with your premise. The public schools just need to meet a threshold of decent quality.

    By the way – I’m a product of public schooling and my daughter goes to a public school. I’m a fan of public schools and prefer that route. I would not want to put my kids in private schools unless I had to.

    • @Money Reasons: I think if I lived in a rough city, I would use the money I saved by not going to a private school to get into a better neighborhood! ;-)
      @Julie: Wow, I can’t believe any school system would teach sight words over phonics unless the student had a learning difficulty that made it difficult for them to grasp phonics. The only way my son was able to learn how to read was via the brute force method of learning by sight. The big drawback, of course, is it really limits his reading ability to a very basic level.
      @Squirrelers: I think that is a good way to put it: “The public schools just need to meet a threshold of decent quality.” And if they don’t, I would work to come up with other options – just not a private K-8 school.

      • Hmmm, perhaps. I guess the journey would have to start with getting a better job, if that is the reasons that you are in the city in the first place. I wonder how much more expense the commute would be if you were to live in suburbia, not to mention the cost of getting a car, the gas, etc… hmmm. I guess it would still be cheaper than the $8,000 you mention is the cost for private school though, or would it?

        Either way, I went to public school and I can almost spell well… we never got to grammer though (county budget cuts) ;)

  • Len, Wow, lot’s of awesome comments. Like you, I am adamantly opposed to private schools as we are already paying for public schools with our tax dollars. My husband & I have always chosen to live in areas with excellent public schools….BUT THAT IS A CHOICE OF PRIVILEGE. We have he means and education to live where we want. That is not the case for all. You have brought up not only a financial issue buy a privilege and sociological issue. Thanks for the great article, Barb

  • chris

    My daughter finished her final senior years in a Government School. Obtained a high enough school to be awarded a full scholarship to study Occuptaional Therapy. In many ways you match your school with your child, but in general I tend to feel you can waste a lot of money on a private education, some of the facilities are so over the top, you wonder what damage you are doing to your child’s view of the world.

  • As a teacher myself, I want to add that many private schools lack special education services. So if Junior is struggling with reading because he has a processing deficiency, he isn’t going to have access to the kind of support he would have in a public school system, such as a special education teacher who could pull him out and instruct him in a small group learning environment.

    This year we had a student from a previous private school attend our public school because he had this same issue I just described. He really flourished this year. However, because we are suggesting he repeat 3rd grade (which I rarely recommend, but in his case I think he would benefit), the parents want to put him back into his private school into 4th grade. He won’t have any additional services next year if they do this and I am really quite upset about that! So private school isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

    • Little House: I can’t argue that public schools don’t have great special education services. My son has has ADD and he has been able to take advantage of the special teachers and classes. I have been very impressed with them.

    • Hi Little House, I would say YMMV on special ed and public schools. As I mentioned in my comment above, my cousin’s child who is obviously learning disabled was denied support services in public school for 2 years. The school system was perfectly happy to pass him every year just so they didn’t have to spend extra money on him. He is now doing much better in a Catholic school which has agreed to help him catch up to his grade level.

  • Anne

    The public school system my daughter was zoned into had a rather large problem with guns, gangs, and drugs, and this was in middle school in a so-called “good” side of town. Yep, I pulled her out. Private school through 5th grade, then I was able to home school through high school. (I don’t want to start a home schooling debate; it isn’t workable for everyone.) Sometimes public school is not an option.

  • jim

    I agree 95-99%.

    I generally agree with the argument that *in most cases* private schools are not worth the financial investment in terms of strict financial return. THe words *in most cases* are key here. Theres around 15,000 school districts in the USA. Some of those schools are very very bad. The real question is how good or bad is the public school? I think 90% of the time the public schools are good or “good enough”. But a small % of the time the public schools just don’t cut it by any real measure. If you think public schools are ‘fine’ since you went to one then take another look. Those of us who went to public school decades ago need to take another look as things have changed a lot in the past few decades and often for the worse.

    When the local public school really does suck then theres options. Move to another school district. Homeschool. Hire tutoring. All of which are likely as good as private school and much cheaper.

    If you don’t have the money to spare then don’t spend it on private schools. If you do have the money to spare then its a matter of personal priorities.

  • Liz

    I have always gone to public school, but I live in an area with a pretty good school system. I think my education was amazing (great teachers, great class options, etc). However, I am now doing my undergrad at a public university (that is named a great bargain), but wish I could have gone to a private school. The costs were too much for my family (even with some “great” scholarships that covered half of the costs, depressing). If you can handle the cost though, some private schools are a good investment:

    http://www.wallstmemo.com/news/2010/7/1/highest-roi-on-college-education.html”

    • Interesting link, Liz. Thanks for sharing! Regarding that list: I think it shows that the *type* of degree is more important than whether the school is private or public. Indeed, roughly 9 of the top 40 schools in the list that provided the highest returns on investment were schools that specialize in technical degrees – including the top 2. My school, California Polytechnic San Luis Obispo, was 64th (out of 852 universities), but I am certain would have been higher if the school hadn’t branched out to offer some non-technical degrees.

  • M Allardyce

    I attended a private school in Los Angeles and it was worth every penny to my parents. My “crowd” were students who grew up to be physicians, lawyers, etc. and recently an appointed judge. The power of a private school lies in its ability to kick out unwanted students.

    After living overseas for many years, I checked out high schools for my daughter. High fences, barbed wire (on occasion) and armed guards. No public school for her.

  • Bill in NC

    Buying a home in the ‘right’ area is no guarantee schools will be good in the future.

    The local system can ‘redistrict’ at any time.

    In my case, my high school redistricted between my junior and senior years, doubling the number of students by pulling in half from the inner city.

    From my student perspective, it was a disaster – fights every day (no one had ever seen police cars there before)

    What saved me was I only had one early-morning class, then went off-site the rest of the day for AP courses.

    Today that same school, which used to be ‘the’ high school locally, is still on semi-permanent lock-down.

    And taxes remain high for houses in that district – $15,000/year for where I grew up.

    Here where I am now (only about 5 miles away, and still in the city), the same square footage would cost $5,000 annually.

    So I live where I want and send my kids to private school, for less than the difference above.

  • Mick

    better morals, scholarships, safety and a future come to mind when measuring the benefits of private schools over public schools. only the foolish use money as a measure!

  • R in NJ

    Depends on a lot of factors. First, let’s make explicit some of your assumptions.

    1) The local public schools can provide an adequate education.

    2) You’re in a position where paying $8000/year is going to make a meaningful impact on you.

    If you look at it strictly on an ROI basis, then the answer is no, of course not. Also, the ROI is not linear; it picks up at the higher levels, but is non-existent at the lower levels.

    And quite frankly, speaking as someone who went to private school in the metro NYC area from 5th grade to 12th grade, 8k per year is way too low to expect to get anything meaningful. It’s in the donut between the free public schools and the hyperexpensive private schools that can actually do things.

    Private school really is only worth it at the elite levels: Choate, Andover, Exeter, the good day schools in major metro areas (St. Albans, Princeton Day School, Harvard-Westlake). At that tuition level, we’re talking 30k+, add at least 15k for room and board. Unless you’re a fool, you don’t borrow money to go to these schools and you don’t send your kids if you might have trouble with the payments.

    I went to one of the latter schools. In that sort of environment, there is one, clear metric: college acceptances. If people didn’t get into elite colleges (USNWR top 20 schools + liberal arts equivalents), people got fired. Simple as that. The year after me, several people in a class of 150 went to the state flagship university, while most went to the usual suspects. As a direct result, half the guidance department was fired.

    I got a great education, but, to a large degree, it was due to the massive amount of resources dumped on us due to both tuition and a large endowment; a school with an 8k tuition just isn’t going to have the juice to be worth it, barring the existence of a school using its endowment to massively offset tuition. Another reason is that the school got rid of kids who didn’t perform. If you had academic or behavioral issues, you were done. I saw kids who had began to have issues one year and then disappeared the next. It wasn’t a terribly forgiving environment. Looking back on it, it was kind of like Marine Corps boot camp: sure, we flushed some people that needed to get flushed, but some people just weren’t right for it.

    In addition to a desired outcome and a great education, going to one of the schools buys you acculturation: you get very well prepared for being the sort of person who goes to an Ivy, goes to a white-shoe investment bank, and joins a country club and the boards of some non-profits. The main drawbacks of going to the school I went to are that there is a fair bit of resentment in my area against my school for its elitism (my college girlfriend’s mom kind of unloaded on me because she taught at a nearby public high school and had some beef with her counterpart department at my school), and I have very little connection to the town I grew up in; I barely know anyone my age who’s either stayed or who’s moved away from my age group.

    If I were faced with the issue with just assumption #2 being true, I’d spend the money trying to get into a neighborhood with a better school and/or a magnet high school. You’d get a much better outcome for the same or less money. If #1 were true as well, I’d just park it.

  • Alison

    With the accessibility of the internet, you can create a curriculum for your child that is very close to what they would receive at a private school. Check out local museums for enrichment classes, add in a 15 minute lesson at home after dinner and he will be far ahead of his peers. Buy an at-home science lab kit and encourage him to explore it. Get him some musical instruments and let him express his creativity. You don’t have to go into debt to educate your child.

  • Libby

    Thank you for your FINANCIAL assessment of the situation. I couldn’t agree with you more. I find it interesting that there are so many who argue for the private schools with most of their arguments not adequately addressing that particular aspect of the equation. One can argue all day long about the quality of the education, the learning environment, etc, etc, etc. But coming down to your bare-bones financial assessment, it just doesn’t make sense to spend that kind of money on something that you are already paying for (involuntarily) through your taxes.

  • Sam

    I came across this article while researching private verses public schools. As a CPA, I agree with a lot of what you said in your article. This is why I started my son off in a public school, thinking he would learn the basics and I could save that money for college. This year, he just started Kindergarten. With that being said, I am starting to change my mind. Our public school’s scores are falling, pressure from the state to improve the test scores of the low income/bilingual population has translated into no assistance for my son’s class and the hiring of a spanish speaking teacher to teach the kids in spanish. In his homework folder, I get papers and papers of fund raising requests…and one page of homework. At the playground, I have witnessed bad bullying while supervisors chatted away in the middle, oblivious. And when I approached the boys and told them to stop, they ignored me. No respect for authority, no discipline. Last week my son got his head smashed into the bus window by another child. Last week I also walked in on his teacher telling the children they were “doing a bad job”. Despite they he is doing “well” in school from a academic/behavioral perspective, I see my son hanging his head low in the morning when its time to go to school, and saying things like he “hates” school. Yes, education is a marathon and not a sprint. But to run a marathon, you need to build strength and endurance, and my experience is showing me that the public schools are breaking down, not building up, my child. Until some accountability is put into the system the right way, Private schools are the better choice. Today I toured a private school during a event, and witnessed an entirely different energy amongst the staff and the children then my school has. Children helping me with the door, staff with genuine smiles. if felt like a community. And I saw a place where my son can build that endurance he will need for that long marathon ahead. Sometimes, you got a look at return on investment from different ways.

    • Len Penzo

      You’re right, Sam. In the end, there are lots of variables involved. Folks need to do their trade studies and come to their own conclusions.

  • Terra Snider

    The independent, private school that we choose to send our children to is extraordinary. Summit School fosters and cultivates a “love of lifetime learning” which in my opinion, is sorely lacking with the top-down, “No Child Left Behind” mandates that are being shoved down the public school system’s throat. A more appropriate description would be, “No Child Gets Ahead.”

  • Angela

    Don’t have kids, but I found the article interesting. What safe investment have you found to get 5% interest now? I recently reinvested a GIC and no matter how far out the term, the rates were all <3% (multi-institution). Enquiring minds …

  • Guy

    You are right I don’t see much benefit from a K-8 private school. However, once they get to high school I do see value in a private school. When they should be focusing on SAT and getting a good GPA and other things you don’t want them distracted by those people who don’t care about school. The nice thing about private schools is they will expel students that are failing and are causing a problem in school. Also, many of the types of parents that are willing to spend that kind of money to send their kids to a private school value education and are better off than their public school counterparts. Meaning your child’s friends will probably care about school as well.

  • bonnie w

    We chose a small, Christian school for our young sons that costs $2500 per student. The cost for an after-school program for one hour at the public school equaled this – plus they would have to ride a bus to school.
    I am able to take the boys to school on my way to work and my husband picks them up. The school hours are a better fit for our schedule.

    We would rather pay the money for schooling than for an after school program.

  • Oscar

    If you grew up in Podunk, Southern State, as I did, where the local public school graduation rate was sub 50% and guns were as common as number 2 pencils, you would have also attended a local private school and never wrote this piece of junk article.

    • Len Penzo

      If people can afford to pay that much for private school in order to avoid a miserable public school such as the one you described, then why wouldn’t they simply move to a location with a better public school? If the public school is that miserable, it stands to reason the neighborhood the kids come from is too. It seems financially ludicrous to spend $72k per child to stay in a bad neighborhood if one could afford to leave.

    • Oscar, there’s no reason to call this article a “piece of junk.” If you disagree, please do it respectfully, without insult-flinging.

  • Jay

    My daughter is flourishing in public school. I’m a product of public schools and went on to college and grad school. Nothing against private school, if that is your thing, great. I think everything depends on the particular school. There are lots of excellent public schools and just because you are paying for schooling and it’s called “private” it doesn’t make it great. Depends on the situation.

  • Paul

    THis touches a sensitive nerve for me. I attended Catholic middle school from 5-8 and yes there was a notable difference between there and the public school I attended previously. However entering high school that all changed.

    My father wanted me to attend an all boys Catholic school and I was vehemently opposed as expected. I deliberately flubbed the entrance exam and on the cover page where you had to list your top five choice of schools it read from 1-5:
    Anywhere
    But
    XXXX
    XXXX
    PLEASE

    Soon thereafter my father drags me into the principal’s office to discuss my “lashing out” against the system. Keep in mind school hadn’t even started yet. The principal decided he would “grant and exception” in my case (translation: my father’s check cleared) and keep close tabs on me. Lets just say the demons still have not been silenced after 30 years. I was eventually expelled for snapping on some kid for taking a snack from me.
    Private schools are not always a better alternative. Seems as if they operate as a for profit business most of the time and people with enough $$$ to send them there will do so with delusions of grandeur when in all likelihood it makes them worse.
    BTW – love the blog. Stumbled upon it thru MSN and it’s nice to see different perspectives. Keep it up.

  • Lola

    Wow Len, you took a lot of flack on this one! Personally, I loved seeing your financial breakdown. I’m a product and firm believer of public schools, but of course the schools I went to were GOOD public schools.

    One of my friends put her son into private school, thinking the educational benefits would be greater. He’s a very bright kid and was bored with his classes, so he was figity and distracted in class a lot. The private school teachers wanted my friend to put him on ADD drugs (he did NOT have ADD). She immediately pulled him out of the private school and enrolled him in public school. He had no further problems, and there was no more talk of medicating him. Just one person’s story. :)

  • ELAINE

    I agree 100% with this article!
    my husband went to fancy private schools his entire life – and so did his brother, his dad had to work 3 jobs at 1 point to afford it (the hight school is $20,000/year tuition now)i feel like they were never there for their children b/c they were working so hard to afford it for them,My husband is now a philadelphia firefighter and his brother is a tearcher – jobs that they could have WITH OUT the private school education.My husband won’t even admit he went to lasalle high school b/c he is almost embarrased in front of his friends. the sacrifice does not out weigh the reward as far as i’m concerned

    • Len Penzo

      You’ve got to be kidding me, Elaine. Twenty grand for high school tuition??? Eeeeiiiiiiii!

    • Mindimoo

      Elaine your comments remind me of when I went to college. I had kids in my year who had gone to some of the best private high schools and in the end they were doing the exact same course as me – who had gone to public schools all my life. Some of these kids even ended up dropping out; I often wonder what they’re doing now. Remember thinking at the time what a waste all that money was on their high schooling. I was interested to read recently that Warren Buffett sent his kids to public schools – even with all that money.

      But hey, each to his own. You do what’s best for your kids based on your particular circumstances.

  • Usually quiet

    Well…a lot of snarky comments…so, here’s mine: I’ll send them to private school AND put away the maximum allowed in their own accounts and let it grow. I plan on the combination of family, school and community to teach them the right thing…

  • This post is excellent, on so many levels. As with most things for most of us, I can only speak from personal experience but I attribute my education primarily to my parents who instilled from an early age a curiosity in the world around and pushed for us to find out how things worked. (that was literally the title of the book ‘How things work’)

    I think the quote ‘never let your schooling interfere with your education’ is hugely apt. Amazing teachers exist everywhere and are fundamental but in K12 the difference seems so often to be the desire instilled in the child to learn rather than the ability of the institution to provide the service

    Save your money to help pay for college where specific technical skills can be learned off the base that K12 provides is sensational thinking

  • Susie

    So I just sent my kid to a private school for the past 14 years 3-12 and was told 20 days prior to graduaton that she had executive function issues. She did not graduate and we are devastated. $25,000 per year down the drain….

    • Len Penzo

      That truly is disheartening, Susie. You would think the school would have brought up adverse information like that much sooner than they did.

  • Susie

    Has anyone successfully sued a private school for not keeping up their end of the bargain??

  • It cannot be concluded that private schools are only out to get money because this may reflect badly on some incorrupt honest schools too.

  • Shawn

    Has the federal government been successful at anything? Are you really going to spend all this time defending public schools? I live in Pensacola, Florida where a principal almost went to prison for asking a teacher to pray before a meal. Children will spend fourteen thousand seat hours in classrooms and your going to tell me it doesn’t affect a child to not hear one word mentioned of Christ? I would like you to read this book and when you finish it please reply to my post. Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning (Douglas Wilson)

    • Len Penzo

      I agree, Shawn, that the federal government does a lousy job at most everything except our national defense. Interestingly enough, that is one of the few things the Constitution actually authorizes the federal government to handle.

      Keep in mind that there are other (less-costly) alternatives to private schools besides public schools — a prime example is home schooling.

      (By the way, regular readers of my blog know from my weekend Black Coffee columns that I am a small-government advocate, and a strict Constitutionalist.)

      • Happy Single Mom

        Len, what is your suggestions for single parents with single income? I can’t afford to stay at home and homeschool my child. I have to find time to work, besides not everybody are born teachers. Also I would not agree that socialy homeschooling would benefit the child. However private school provides everything that my child needs academicaly and socialy, and it definitely does not cost $8000 a year. I am single mother and there is help available for a parent to send a child to a private school for a very resonable or no cost at all if you qualify.

  • jellysquare

    My children only went to public school, because the schools were good ones, those were the days. Today I would be homeschooling, because there is no private school in the area AND in California they are so enamored with teaching everything, BUT the basics, that California is in the tank when it comes to public education.

  • Desiree

    Parents are often too shy to ask for a tuition discount based on income, but they do exist. Don’t hesitate to ask. I got put through the Dave Ramsey program when I signed up, and I can afford more of the tuition this year than last year, and by next year I hope to pay full tuition. I have also been doing better with my income since we stated going. My budget has been prioritized properly. I agree with Bob, I pay for my kid not to be bullied, become a bully, hear Bible stories every day, have her unique traits expanded on, etc. Her class has 12 1st and 8 second graders, and is the largest class in the whole school.

    My school is kind of like a family, we build eachother up.

    And the tuition is only $3800 for full price. So that # isn’t close in my town. The expensive private school here (it is bigger too) costs 5800 and they offer financial aid too!

  • Love to Teach

    Thank you for the article.
    I am a public school teacher in an inner city. I must say I love what I do but public school makes me question societies values. I love to teach & see children light up when they have mastered an objective; not many care what happens to teachers or students that really want to learn. I have been cursed out by parents, hit by a student, had to keep other students safe while one child destroys my classroom and have to hear how much people are against teachers. There are students who really want to learn out there but not as many as when I was growing up. The ones that don’t want to learn stop others from learning and it is not easy to get a child out of your classroom. Most parents think it is the teachers’ responsibility to teach their child when parents are suppose to be the first teachers. Teachers are here to build on what parents have already taught; most kids come with no knowledge which makes it hard for a teacher to build. People think we sit and do nothing all day, they say we baby sit, we don’t deserved to get paid like others with a career, we get paid to sit at home in the summer. We actually don’t our checks are just broken up over 12 months instead of 10(it is kind of hard to pay bills with no check). I went to a public school growing up and loved it. I must say I never went to school where I lived. My mom choose our schools and made sure we went where we would benefit the most. It was 6 of us so private school was not an option. I sent my child to a private school. I like the atmosphere of the building when you walk in, the constant smiles of everyone in the school, the fact that she gets a chance to pray when she wants to (also a requirement), she has tested well every year(2-3 years above grade level), has a different vocabulary than her peers at my school, has a love of learning, and she loves her school. I tried public school and charter it just wasn’t for me and my child. Being a teacher I know when I am being told something just to get me to go away. (I didn’t tell her school I was a teacher) When your child comes home and says mom can I go back to my old school I am not learning anything, there is a problem. The sad fact is teachers are now faced with children of parents who are not parenting. Until something is done to hold parents accountable for their children there will continue to be low test scores, more laws that hurt the willing, and more GOOD teachers deciding to leave the field. I am not for private or public school I am for whatever works for your child. I can’t really afford for my child to go to private school but I sacrifice for my child because I feel education is extremely important and my child shouldn’t have to go to school and have other children stop her from learning. The financial brake down is not true in all cases but I know you where probably trying to find a middle ground.

    • Happy Single Mom

      Thank you for your honest comment from a public school teacher prospective. It is so very true that teachers are not appreciated and most parents these days are so overconsumed with themselves that they leave their children to public system. That is why us, parents who do care about our children’s education and welll being have to make sucrifices and send our children to private schools.

  • JLG

    I agree that children with academic challenges will receive much more assistance in a private school. In public schools, Special Education is basically used to contain behavior issues. Children are labeled with disorders they may not have. My child had trouble reading, and because he was frustrated, public school wanted to label him emotionally impaired, and put him out of their way. His private Christian school immediately put him on a program that improved his reading and spelling skills and he has had no signs of emotional problems!! I am outraged at what the Michigan public school tried to do to my son!

  • Sweet Witch

    Is your math off for Kindergarten to first grade? You seem to add the interest plus $8,000.00 per year but only add the interest between Kindergarten and first grade.

  • Our children are the most important people for the future and if they cannot get what they need from public school, I would sacrifice every penny in order to get them to a place where they are happy, instill a love of learning, and feel proud of their school. No extra money to be had, yet not concerned, about the scholarships that anticipate them to college. Below poverty level and my children deserve better than what a rural education offers them. Which is ridiculous rules, walking tag for recess, and they wonder why the children are overweight! So concerned of lawsuits everything is restricted and reviewed, without the children’s best interest in effect, but worry’s of the next complaint or lawsuit that may cause a uproar. Parent’s have no say and have no say in what they feel should be the law regarding their children’s rights while in the classroom. Remove the flag, the under god, the Christmas tree???? Please this is absolutely absurd. The single mom who fights the Father Daughter Dance, they are out there and are ruining all of our public school systems. I go with private while struggling, due to the education end of it. I understand no child left behind but what about the gifted children? They are left behind in public school and bored out of their seats. I believe in nothing more than cutting your costs of daily living and investing in the education of your child and I am a single mother and have no problem with any father daughter dance!

  • Happy Single Mom

    My son is very active and energetic boy, but he is also very inteligent and gets bored because of that. If he would be in public school he would considered ADHD or have caused any other problems. He goes to a wonderful private school where he feels like a part of a family. Classes are very small, everybody knows him by name and he know everybody. Everybody take care of each other and kids don’t bully one another. Older kids get very well along with the younger once. Eveb though the school is private there is a big variety of students representing different races, counties and family conditions. I am a single mom and i found a program to get government funding to help me with my sons education. I don’t pay $8000 a year, not even $5000 a year to provide him with the best education. My only sacrifice is early mornings to get him to school. I don’t have to worry about zonning laws (I can live wherever I want as long as my son is in school before 9 am), I don’t have to worry about oversize classrooms, my son wears a uniform, which means I save money on clothes for him, teachers are very involved in students education and well beeing, the school offers after school care, students have karate class, gymnastics and balet which would cost me extra if I wanted him to be involved in activities like that while attending public school. Teachers come from various backgrounds and volunteer to teach Japaneese and Spanish, because they want to share their culture with students. I see my sons private school education as a great advantage and at the end of the day great savings and not an extra expense, plus he has an opportunity to get a wonderful education.

  • Happy Single Mom

    The way how I feel about the public schools is sad and devastating. I live in Florida and many families here don’t care about educating their children. I see kids out of control every day at the stores and in the play grounds. Parents realy rely on public system to teach their children. My child is in private school because I don’t want him to pick up the bad habits and become a bully. In additon to his educational advancements and everyday family environment where he can feel safe, he also learns to appreciate women and elders. He always opens doors for others, women always go in first, he never forgets thank you and please and behaves during visits to other people’s homes. Until parents will not become more responsible and more involved in their children lives, I will not let my child to be exposed to public school system. I agree with the public school teachers coment. Too many parents think that it is societies responsability to teach their children, and when good is taught, they go home and the parents reverese it by showing disrespect to their partners and arguing in faul language. Child should not be a part of that and if the school is responsible for teaching good, at least don’t try to reverse it at home…

  • Renee

    I understand what you are saying, Len. We considered sending our children to a private school after our son encountered many difficulties during his early years of education at our local public school. He has Aspergers and dyslexia, so his challenges were in both the social and academic realms. His natural curiosity was dying, as was his positive outlook on life. Switching him to a private school that emphasized the ideals of social responsibility and children developing at their own pace seemed like a good option at first. However, the more we thought about it, the more we were not convinced that it was the right route for him. He was easily distracted in his public school classroom, and although we loved the philosophy and curriculum of the private school, we did not know if he would be able to learn any better in this particular group setting than in the group setting where he had been before. And the money that we were putting into a 529…well, we would have had to stop saving for his college education altogether. A scary thought, especially considering that merit scholarships might be a little hard for him to attain in the future if he were to face similar challenges. He has a wonderful head for math and science (especially science), but language and writing are a little more difficult for him. Do we condemn him to no higher learning when his talents could take him far in the areas where he excels? We decided not to enroll him in the private school, and I started homeschooling him. The individual focus and calm environment were just what he needed. I no longer worry as much about his abilities in writing and reading. He has come so far. He is a good learner. He just needed the right setting. I feel that is true for the vast majority of kids.

    His sister had the opposite problem when she began kindergarten at the public school. She was bored. She had already learned to read at the age of 4, and kindergarten did not give her many opportunities to grow in that department. She was also very curious about a variety of topics, but her teacher did not see piquing children’s curiosity by exploring various subjects as a priority, as my daughter’s preschool teacher had. I thought about homeschooling my daughter, too, but she was not interested in it. She really wanted to be around peers for several hours everyday. I started wondering if we should move to another neighborhood, in a “better” school district. Or perhaps we should find her a private school. My husband and I couldn’t agree on which path was best for her. We were quite fortunate to have her name drawn in the lottery of an amazing local charter school. I really can’t compliment the school enough. No public schools are the same, nor are private, nor charters. But this particular school, we love it. Project-based learning was just what she needed. Her ability in all subjects has been boosted tremendously, and the teachers are such wonderful role models of compassion and they strongly believe in building a desire to learn in their students. And thanks to it being a public charter school, we’re still able to save for both of our children’s future college endeavors.

    Now, if things change (as in life they tend to), would I be willing to send our children to private school and pay for it? Yes. Circumstances guide decisions. We tend to have to sacrifice one thing for another, but choosing which would be the bigger sacrifice changes with the parameters given. I don’t think that there’s one clear-cut answer for a topic that entails so many variables. But I enjoyed reading your article. It is good food for thought. I also enjoyed all of the comments that followed.

  • Chris

    We (my wife) has sent my daughter to private school. Now I don’t believe in private schools either. Yes they have a lot more to offer and they open the child’s mind up to numerous possibilities.

    But there are just as many kids who excel in life wether they went to private school or not. It all comes down to the childs willingness to learn. You can always supplement with extra-curriculars and home learning helps too.

    Where my daughter is in public school I am finding is that the class can’t move on until everyone can, and that is detrimental to my daughters learning. We can’t change schools because of our location and schools are limited. Although academically the school is the top in the area it is so focussed on academics it is forgetting everything else. That is one reason my wife wanted to move my daughter.

    Of course our money is lost for the 2nd half of this term, and we’ll play it out. I’m not sure it’s worth $5000 but I am thinking moving her back to public school next fall.

    The learning in private school is great but not being able to learn with your old friends is a cost you can’t replace.

  • T Markham

    Yeah, this is a contentious issue: from my view, as someone who went to private school forever, married to someone who went to public school and was also home-schooled, there is no comparison: non-public schooling all the way.
    My husband is from Texas, where home-schooling is far more feasible, and we’re probably having kids in California, where home-schooling is wildly more difficult, so I think we may try home-schooling but otherwise we’re sending our kiddos to public school. It seems very short-sighted to look at the financial possibilities of the same money, because we’re comparing apples to oranges. Sure, private schooling may not pay out dollar for dollar in your kids’ eventual salary, but you have to think of intangibles like safety and enrichment, and not to mention you can probably save a lot of therapy if your kids are able to enjoy their school years ;)
    My father is the most frugal, penny-pinching, careful investing, always saving fellow, and he considered private school to be the one absolute expense of raising children, and I am so so grateful for that. We were “poor” when I was growing up, meaning we had a home and at least one car but no eating out and no tv and little outside entertainment, but I’m so glad we skipped on unnecessary expenses and still managed to be able to send my brother and I to private school.
    Now, I went to private college as well, and I’m willing to consider that a rip-off, but I will never ever change my mind about AT LEAST middle and high private school, though perhaps elementary can be spent in public school. Such a needless gamble though, I think.

  • Lisa

    The public schools we had to choose from here in San Francisco ranged [for K-5] from $20,000 to $32,000 per year. Yeah, you heard that right. Up there with sending them to Stanford University — every year, for 16 years.

    When my daughter drew the lottery and in Kindergarten was accepted to the best public elementary school in San Francisco, I literally fell to my knees and screamed with overwhelming joy. I knew we had just saved $100,000 that we had no way of raising. There is a reason we only have ONE child — it is the expense of sending a child to school, pure and simple.

  • I really dont think that the problem is being in the private or in the public. What I think the problem is that the environment of the school where it is located. A lot of public schools here in our country that is great in terms of quality of teaching, but some sucks. Also a lot of private here are also nice, but some really has many bullies. So I think its not about the title.

  • namika

    But I’m so glad we skipped on unnecessary expenses and still managed to be able to send my brother and I to private school.

  • SB

    Like R in NJ, I went to an exclusive boys prep school, grades 9-12. I also ended up at top public state universities for undergrad and later grad school.

    I’m sending my kids to public school.

    I feel for a lot of the parents on this blog after reading about their experiences with public school in their areas. It’s sad what some public schools have become.

    I served 8 years on the local school board, working long hours with our staff and other board members to make the local schools very good. We have a lot of accountability in our schools, tremendous parental involvement, which makes all the difference in the world, and the community supports of schools well.

    My classmates in private school were no better morally than my friends that attended public. I’m not sure where that bias comes in. I could tell you things that would make your head spin about what 17 and 18 yr old boys and girls do that attend private school. (one kid from my private school murdered his best friend, who went to a public school, over a girl) How some of them turned out as adults wasn’t much better. This, coming from a school (now coed), that charges $23K/yr for tuition.

    If the public schools aren’t good in your area, either:
    1) put the time in by serving in the PTA, or better yet, run for school board.
    or
    2) move to an area that has better public schools. If it is too expensive to buy there, rent.

    In the end, paying $8K/child (and a lot more for two kids) isn’t worth it.

    • Len Penzo

      Great tips, SB. Especially, number 1. The only way we can makes things better in our schools is by getting involved and infiltrating positions where we can begin instituting real changes.

      Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Norma

    Dear Len:

    I am a big fan of yours, eventhough I disagree with some of your comments mainly because I think we have a culture crash here…

    I am a Mexican National, and I pride myself to have had a wonderful education in this USA Backyard country. Considering the fact that I speak English fluently thanks to my parents investment in private bilingual/bicultural schools in Mexico, I must say that this gave me some (or huge) advantage over many US citizens when I studied college there (and still does when I visit this beautiful country).

    I can assure you that in countries like Mexico, you get really bad education in public schools, not to mention the fact that your kids will not be proficient in a language other than spanish (if they are lucky enough).

    So when I read your 40K/year income survival posts, I can simply conclude that we, Mexicans, are even poorer than the poorest US Citizen. We have to pay for a good elementary education aproximately 6,500USD per year, then this amount increases 35%-50% for middle school and I don’t even want to tell you how much the costs rise in the case you want to get a Bachelor’s degree, but it would be something similar for a public college in the US.

    Of course you have the option to send your kids to public schools and save a lot of money but they certainly will not become good competitors for a decently paying job. This is the main reason why my daughter attends a British School, which considerably decreases the amount of money that I can put in her College Savings fund, but it is definitely worth it.

    Just saying… Very lucky if you were born in a first world country.

    I totally love your blog!!! Wish it could be translated to Spanish and Portuguese to make a wake up call to Latin America.

    Happy New Year!

    Norma

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