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

Comments

  1. 1

    mdb says

    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.

    • 2

      says

      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!

  2. 3

    says

    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.

    • 4

      says

      @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!

      • 5

        Eyes says

        @Len, I’ve noticed you consistently telling people to homeschool instead of private school when they live in urban areas with terrible school districts and peer groups. Have you weighed the economic costs of having a non-working parent against these?

        It’s very reasonable to assume that a reasonably-intelligent parent will earn more than $8,000 per year. A lot more, most likely. In that sense, home-schooling may be the clearly worst economic decision a family could make. (Barring of course families where a parent already stays home, works from home, etc., but there is no reason to assume the readers you are counseling are in these situations.)

        Are you making a value judgement when recommending home-schooling instead of an unbiased economic comparison? That would be a shame since before it seemed like you had a vendetta, this article was really interesting for showing the true cost objectively.

    • 6

      C W C says

      Here’s the bigger problem How about my kids’s assigned school is a dangerous criminal filled cesspool. In kindergarten my kid was stabbed with a spork and robbed of his lunch money by the kids being bussed in from public housing. Yes it is politically incorrect and I said it. His poor teacher was in tears half the time and apologized weekly for the out of control antics in the classroom. His teacher in kindergarten quit after one year and moves north. What do you do when your child’s safety is at risk. The schools general fcat grades dropped exponentially after the “new students” were brought into the school. The teachers are all putting in for reassignments and sending their own kids to private schools to get away from the chaos ( and chaos is a generous word for what is going on there) At what point do you value your child’s safety and well being more than the money?

  3. 7

    says

    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.

    • 8

      says

      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.

      • 9

        Ann says

        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.

    • 10

      says

      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.

      • 11

        says

        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. :-)

  4. 12

    Dan says

    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.

  5. 13

    Bob says

    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?

    • 14

      Wiseguy says

      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.

    • 15

      Dave Nash says

      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.

      • 16

        says

        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.

        • 17

          wheaton says

          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?

          • 18

            Len Penzo says

            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.

  6. 19

    says

    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.

    • 20

      Penny Simmons says

      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…

      • 21

        says

        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.

  7. 22

    says

    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.

    • 23

      Wiseguy says

      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.”

      • 24

        penny says

        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!!!!!

  8. 25

    says

    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.

    • 26

      says

      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.

  9. 28

    says

    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.

  10. 29

    Holly says

    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.

  11. 30

    says

    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. :)

    • 31

      says

      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. :-)

  12. 32

    says

    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.

    • 33

      says

      “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!

      • 34

        says

        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.

    • 35

      cheekybegr says

      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.

  13. 36

    says

    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)!

  14. 37

    Julie says

    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.

    • 38

      Jan says

      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.

  15. 39

    says

    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.

    • 40

      says

      @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.

      • 41

        says

        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) ;)

  16. 42

    says

    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

  17. 43

    chris says

    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.

    • 44

      says

      Thanks, Barb and Chris, for sharing your comments. This has turned into a terrific discussion and I appreciate hearing the different perspectives.

  18. 45

    says

    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.

    • 46

      says

      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.

    • 47

      says

      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.

  19. 48

    Anne says

    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.

  20. 49

    says

    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.

  21. 50

    Liz says

    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”

    • 51

      says

      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.

  22. 52

    M Allardyce says

    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.

  23. 53

    Bill in NC says

    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.

  24. 54

    Mick says

    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!

    • 55

      Len Penzo says

      I’m not so certain those are absolute guarantees when it comes to private schools, Mick.

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