I live in a metro area where many people wouldn’t dream of sending their children to public schools. It’s simply not an option that they would consider despite the high price of private schools (between $6,000-20,000 in my area). After all, the schools in my area are notorious for low test scores and discipline problems, so private schools are the only option, right?
From my perspective, and that of many dedicated public school parents, the answer is a clear no. Private schools can offer many things that public schools cannot (religious instruction, the ability to be more selective about which students they choose) but they aren’t always the best choice.
How to Make the Decision Between Public and Private
I don’t know many parents who don’t want to give their children the best possible start in life. That doesn’t always mean making the most expensive or exclusive choice, however. It also doesn’t mean going with the “common wisdom”, either. For example, there are more people than I can count who loudly declare that sending your child to one of my city’s public schools is foolhardy, despite having never set a foot in any school in the city!
Here are some things to do before making your decision:
- Do visit several schools in your area, private and public. Many experienced parents recommend that you schedule these visits outside of the annual “open houses” in order to get a better feel for what a typical day is like in these schools.
- Do find out what your options are in your local public school system. Are magnet schools or charter schools an option? Can you request a transfer to a school that better meets your child’s needs?
- Find out what your options are for paying for private school. Are need-based scholarships a possibility? Can you get tuition discounts for being a church member? Are there flexible payment options?
- Do network extensively with other parents. They can give you the inside scoop on what’s really going at each school. Do ask direct questions, but also keep your ears open to the “playground chatter”. They can also give you a good feel for the culture of each school and how well your family would fit in.
- Do keep in mind that test scores don’t always tell the whole story. I remember sending my oldest son to an elementary school with mediocre test scores but one of the best gifted and talented programs I’d ever come across. The overall scores of the school were dragged down because they served an area of town with extremely poor and underprivileged children. However the teachers were incredibly dedicated and creative and there were plenty of opportunities for above average children to receive enriched education so it was a great choice for our family.
- By the same token, schools with high test scores might not be the best fit for your child. Perhaps they are more rigid or high pressure than you are comfortable with. Maybe they lack electives that are important to you such as art or music.
- Remember that homeschooling is an option. If you are at all interested, it is a good idea to check out what resources are available to homeschooling families in your area. You should also find out the legal requirements for teaching your child at home in your area.
Once you’ve done your research and learned about all of the options in your area, talk to your spouse and/or your child’s other parent and discuss what’s best for your child and your family as a whole. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you weigh the pros and cons of each decision:
- Spending money on private school tuition can make saving for other goals (retirement, higher education) more difficult. It can also make the decision to have another child or have one spouse be a full time parent unfeasible. A good education is priceless, but some education options may simply be too costly for your particular situation.
- Making the decision to go with a public school doesn’t mean that you don’t value your child’s education. You can help your child make the most of his or her education no matter how poor the school seems.
- Do remember to weigh other people’s opinions appropriately. How much experience do they have with the schools in question or with education in general?
- Don’t write off private schools or homeschooling completely just because of the money (or loss of income) involved. I’m a huge believer in public schools but if a private school or homeschooling is going to be the best possible fit for your child’s needs, it might be worth making sacrifices to make it a reality.
- That said, be mindful about keeping things in perspective. Education is priceless, but there are several routes to get to the same destination. Don’t feel like your child’s future will be doomed if they don’t get into one particular school. All or nothing thinking is a sure path to misery!
If you’re a parent of a school aged child, how did you make the decision between public, private and homeschooling? Do you wish your parents had made different decisions about your schooling?