What do you think about public and private school?

So, the eldest of my children is getting to be pre-K age, so of course flyers for various private K-12 schools are starting to show up in my mailbox. While my wife and are are just planning to send out kid to the local (very good) public school, it made me think if that’s the right choice. Mainly because parents love to second guess everything about their kid :slight_smile:

Of course all these flyers promote how their students get great test scores, and high acceptance rates to good colleges, and all these enriching activities and blah, blah, blah. And I’m sure the local private schools do have better graduation rates, college acceptance rates, test scores, etc than the local public schools. But then, if I could exclude all the public school kids whose parents made less than six figures and also exclude the public school kids who have an IQ less than 120*, I bet what’s left would have really good graduation rates/acceptance rates/test scores too. In other words, it’s the selection bias of the students at the private school that makes it look good, not anything about the school itself.

I will say that my wife never went to private school, so she has a somewhat romanticized view of it. I, however, did go to private school for a year, and I hated it. Mainly because while I went from being one of the smartest 5 people in my grade to one of the smartest 5 people in my grade** (i.e. it wasn’t suddenly a bastion of intellectuals, just missing the kids that were failing everything anyway), I did go from being solidly middle-class in public school to being the poorest SOB at the private school (my parents needed a grant from my grandfather to afford sending me). And when you take a field trip in public school it’s “we’re going on a field trip, everything’s covered”, but in private school it’s “we’re going on a field trip, bring money for breakfast and lunch, and don’t forget spending money for the giftshop”, and it’s rather embarrassing to have to ask if you can brownbag it because mom doesn’t have $20 (or $120) lying around for a field trip.

Full disclosure: the teacher I had that year was a total bitch, so my perception is somewhat colored by that.

So, I’m inclined to send my kid to public school not just because I think he’ll be fine academically, but because I want him to have the social education of dealing with people from every socioeconomic class and not just snotty rich kids. But, this being the dope, I am sure there are other experiences and I’m curious to hear them.

For purposes of the poll:

When I say private school, I’m not thinking of “RichKid Prep”, where tuition is $100,000 and you practically have to be nobility to get in, but more like “Hometown Academy”, where tuitition is $15,000 ± $5,000, and you just need to pass the admission test to get in.

And when I say public school, I’m not thinking of “Ghetto High”, where the graduation rate is rivaled by the pregnancy rate and more kids end up in prison than college. I’m thinking of “Suburban High”, where there’s an even mix of working class and college bound kids, and while things aren’t perfect it’s a school in the top 25% of the state’s public schools.

So what does the Dope think?

  • I don’t think there’s an actual IQ requirement, but the private schools do require testing to be admitted. IQ is just a flippant way for me to mention this.

** I know bragging is frowned upon. Let’s just say I still did extremely well compared to my classmates grade/extracurricular/etc wise whether I was in public or private school

I don’t (sadly) expect to have children at this point in my life, but I wouldn’t send them to any of the private schools in the area where I live, because they’re all religiously affiliated and a lot of them started off as all-white academies intended to maintain segregation. The public schools, by all accounts, aren’t very good, but I’ll take a not-so-good school over a racist one any day.

I’ve taught in public school for well over a decade, in both a comprehensive school and now in a highly selective STEM magnet. I’ve taught kids who have come out of pretty much every private school and public middle school in a big city. And all I can say is that even within the pretty narrow parameters you’ve laid out, it varies tremendously. Some are surprisingly good; others are surprisingly bad, for all that they look superficially the same. School culture is another factor. Some schools are cliquish, some are competitive, some are inclusive, some encourage kids to conform to the mean, others encourage eccentricity. While some school cultures are downright toxic, others are simply better or worse for different sorts of kids.

I will say this–both the types of schools you are talking about basically specialize in not fucking kids up. What you get for your money (or moving into the right district) is a promise that your kid will be educated enough to succeed in a state school, good enough to follow a solid career path. What you do not get in either is a lot of pressure to excel, at least not academically. For that, you either have to homeschool, supplement, or really work to find a school that has that kind of culture. They do exist, but you absolutely can’t assume it, or infer from the literature.

Fair point. I’m never sending my kid to a religious or racist school either - I’m more thinking of the secular school that doesn’t have a particular agenda.

No argument there. I realize this will be rife with generalizations.

That’s for damn sure. A kid that doesn’t care with parents that don’t care is going to suck at school no matter what school it is.

I would say, save your money, start your kid in the local public school and see how it goes for a couple of years. You dont know how your kid will do until then. They could even have a learning issue you arent aware of yet.

Mainly what you are buying at private school is an environment where the parents care enough to send their kids to private school. You tend to loose the parents who don’t give a shit. For me I think that it is a large advantage that whatever level your kid socializes at their friends will have involved parents. There are of course other advantages to self selection into a more affluent group and those do tend to correlate to race and privilege but if you’re able to join the group with the power why wouldn’t you.

I went to a private high school with a religious affiliation but since it was the only private school there were kids from every religion and it was a minor part of school life. It’s fun now seeing all of the kids that I went to high school with succeeding at everything from producing TV shows to owning wineries. The kids that are unsuccessful are great things like teachers and cops. I don’t know anyone from the school who hasn’t at least moved on to a solid professional career.

My oldest daughter from a previous marriage went to a private Catholic school. In New Orleans, this is absolutely required if you can afford it. My other two daughters grew up on the northshore of New Orleans where the public schools are fabulous, so there was no need to to pay the extra expense.

I would probably not ever send my kids to a private school. As much fun as I had in my private school career, it ended up not being academically challenging and the school had shit for opportunities. There are far more opportunities in the public school for advanced classes and clubs that the smaller private schools simply can’t afford.

We’re at that pre-k point now, ourselves. It’s hard to answer this without being informed by our specific circumstances, which are:

Public school: solid academic reputation, extremely diverse, further away from us, biggest problem is that it is overcrowded – music and art class now meet in the hallway so that the classrooms can be used for academic classes, and there is no longer a playground because it is used to park classroom trailers. On the one hand, I am a fan of creative problem solving, but this also seems like a signal that they are far beyond reasonable capacity. There is a lot of turnover of both staff and students from year to year. Free.

Private (Catholic): solid academic reputation, more diverse than the rest of America but not AS diverse as the public school, closer to us (coincidentally, we live literally next door to the school), reasonable class size and overall school size. Cohorts of staff and students stay fairly consistent from year to year. Costly, as in we could swing it but it would be an adjustment.

We are leaning toward the Catholic school, but it would not be the end of the world if we ended up with the public school.

Bolding mine.

At this point my biggest objection would be I don’t want to graduate a kid that thinks being a teacher or a cop is ‘unsuccessful’. That’s the snotty attitude I got from the other kids at private school, which is a major turnoff.

Plus, while it is nice to surround yourself with motivated people who give a shit, the world is not like that, and I’d somewhat prefer my kid learns that from his peers at age 7 rather than age 27.

The town we live in was picked mainly because of it’s school district. We could afford a private school of a certain level but there is no need. Most if not all of the mid level private schools that the OP is talking about are parochial schools and we are not religious. Above that there are a number of rich kid academies which are well above our price range.

What I think is that whether a school is “public” or “private” is just one of many, many data points about the school, and doesn’t, by itself, tell you nearly enough about what kind of experience or education a kid will get there in order for you to make a decision.

I taught for 28 years at an English private school (confusingly we called private schools ‘Public’ and public schools ‘State’.)
My sister taught in a State school, so I have a good comparison.

My private school had small class sizes, well-paid staff, amazing facilities (250 seat Theatre, Music school with 20 practice rooms, Arts centre, 20 sports pitches, 8 tennis courts, indoor sports centre with squash + badminton courts, 600 computers and a Library with 40,000 books.)
We offer a wide range of activities, including sailing, shooting, golf, flying and chess.

Our pass rate for exams for 16 year olds was usually 100% (with around 30% achieving distinction in all 9 subjects); our pass rate at 18 was usually over 98% (with around 25% achieving distinction in all 3 subjects); almost all pupils go on to University.

This of course shows what money can do to fund a top-quality education. (It costs parents thousands of pounds each year.)
Since I taught at the school, I would have got a staff discount on the fees, so if I had any children, I would have sent them to my private school.

I come at it from a teacher’s perspective, and I’m really torn.

On the one hand, I ideologically believe in public school: we need to have a robust system of schools to serve everyone if we’re going to function as a modern democratic society. I think our system right now is pretty decent, although it could be improved, and I think that a lot of what appear to be problems with schools are really problems with societal economic inequality and childhood poverty, problems that get reflected within school walls.

On the other hand, standardized testing, man. Standardized curricula. Standardized everything.

A few years ago, I worked with some teachers from around the country on a study of fairy tales and children’s fantasy literature. I talked after classes about how I could maybe sneak some of this material into our standardized curricula, maybe go off-message to help kids learna bout the rich tradition of oral storytelling. My peers who taught at private schools, meanwhile, told me about how they were designing entire courses that revolved around what they were learning, with the blessing and admiration of their principal.

My kids will go wherever I go as a teacher. And I really believe in public education. I wish public education policy didn’t make it so hard.

No kids but I taught in both public and private schools. Both can be equally bad or good depending on a lot of variables from the neighborhood and parents to the fiscal state of the school. Most times it will come down to the teachers; does the school attract good instructors and support them?

Public schools don’t prevent snottiness, especially the way public schools operate now–with everyone scrambling for a few spots at a few elite magnet schools. It’s real easy for a kid who attends the premier public school in his area to get a fat head about those “ghetto” kids in the lower performing schools. Newspapers publish school rankings every year. Everyone knows which high schools are brag-worthy and which ones you want to leave out of pleasant conversation.

And the schools nowadays are doing the whole “school within school” thing. Charter schools operating under the same roof as “regular” schools. AP/IB kids separated from the “regular” kids. Socioeconomics and race map quite well to these divisions. At my high school, even though the student body was 60% black, the AP classes were almost all white. Upper middle-class white. Whether by design or accident, the elite classes were no different from the make up of the elite private institution just down the street. I’m sure my classmates were exposed to things they wouldn’t have been exposed to if they had gone private. But I don’t know if the exposure made them better people.

I would think being the “poor” kid in a classful of “rich” kids would encourage more compassion than being the “rich” kid in a classful of “poor” kids. A full-fledged inferiority complex is not ideal, of course, but a little taste of it can fuel ambition. And parents can clip any snobbiness in the bud. I remember my mother taking me down a peg when–as a senior in HS–I opined that everyone could get a B average if they worked hard enough.

I’m well past this issue. We sent our kids to public school, no regrets. In our town in NJ the public school was far superior to any local private schools, mostly due to the population, which was well educated thanks to the many research centers nearby. And also thanks to bond issues always passing.
when we moved to California we looked at available private schools, but they were either religious, not very good, or too far away.
It is definitely not true that any private school is better than any public school. It depends strongly on the base of parents.

So the question is: was it the money that made your school so great, or the fact that you only got smart kids from wealthy families that made it great?

Both of these I agree with wholeheartedly.

I’ve got two little kids. My wife and I are planning on sending them to public school*. We could easily afford private school.

*There are caveats, of course. Here, the public schools are okay. In other states we’d be going private.

My kid goes to a public school that’s considered one of the top ten elementary schools in the country, private or public. It’s one of the main reasons we live in our neighborhood.