Ask The Readers: Public Or Private School

Ask The Readers: Public Or Private School

Our oldest son is turning 4 in about 1 month and we’re starting to think about his future school. Basically, it boils down to 2 options….public or private school. But how do you determine what is best? How do you even define “best”? Does class size matter? Does the number of computers matter? Does cost per pupil matter?

I don’t know the answer, but to me…performance matters. But how is performance measured? I would look at test scores of standardized tests issued by the state or at the federal level to see how children are performing relative to other schools in the area. The problem is that private schools are not required to offer these exams so its difficult to do an apple to apples comparison between the performance of a public school and a private school.

We pay about $14,000 a year in property tax. Our public schools are better than most in the area (which is why the property tax rates are relatively high). We have 2 children and are planning for a third. If all 3 end up in a private school, the cost could range from $30,000 per year to $60,000 per year when they’re all in school…..on top of the $14,000 in property tax. It’s hard for me to justify this spending if I am unsure of the value that I’m getting.

In my opinion, the major drivers in the differences in the child’s education is not only a decent school, but a decent home life. Are you spending time doing homework with your children. Do you read to them or do you ask them to read? Can you afford to send them to summer camps? Do you take them to the arts and to see museums. Do you turn off the TV? Are their summers filled with educational activities?

Does anyone have any hard data on the differences between public and private schools? Am I missing anything during this decision process? Please leave a comment below! Thank you!

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Edwin is a marketer, social media influencer and head writer here at I Am 1 Percent. He manages a large network of high quality finance blogs and social media accounts. You can connect with him via email here.


28 Comments

  1. PK

    In California the Universities put out statistics about which High Schools had people accepted from which High Schools. Even our ‘highest rated’ public schools (California has a score known as an API score – 0-999; >900s appear in places like Los Gatos, Cupertino, and Palo Alto) shave only around 80% the acceptances as the top private schools.

    Now, of course, I grew up in New England – where some of the public schools may as well have been private. I went private, Catholic, but my town’s High School didn’t have the reputation, so my parents said it was “an easy choice”.

    Maybe you can get college acceptance statistics for some of the schools in the area? It’s as good a proxy as any, especially if you can’t find much other data.

    Reply
    1. iam1percent

      Yes, I’ve looked at the college acceptance rates. The best private school had 100%. I believe our public school had a rate in the mid 90’s. So they’re both high. Not sure if a 5% difference is worth $30k a year at a minimum especially if I anticipate my child to be one of the 95%.

      Reply
      1. PK

        Did you get any idea of the schools? I remember our High School listed where students were going, but California may be unique in listing acceptances. I can then look at, say, UCLA, Berkeley, and Davis and check across the High Schools I’m interested in.

        Reply
        1. iam1percent

          I see…no, I don’t know which colleges specifically they were accepted to. Good point, but not sure if that data is readily available!

          Reply
      2. Surya

        Of course, ultimately the performance of your kid matters but like you said how do you define performance.

        It all boils down to a couple of questions. Is is grades and test scores and knowledge that matters to you or is it the brand name and the push and backing he would get as he grows up that is more important.

        Simple, if your want you kid to be an engineer or a scientist or a professor send him to public school.

        If you’re more ambitious and want him to be a high flying executive/manager who can BS his way through the corporate ladder to make those big bucks, send him to a private school.

        🙂

        Reply
  2. mochimac

    With cousins in private schools, and us kids having gone to public ones, here are a few things I noticed

    1. You get better teachers. Not sure about your area, but the private schools can afford to attract and pay for top talent, and not all teachers are the same (unfortunately… I have first-hand experience as a student but also stories of family members who are teachers).

    2. You are with kids who are just as motivated as you are. The learning lessons go quicker because everyone understands at the same pace, and you learn a lot more with different opinions being thrown around.

    We went to a public school and turned out just fine, but it was not because of an active, cultural home life fostered by our parents — our parents were absent most of the time and we kids just pushed ourselves naturally (being very competitive).

    It really depends on your area.

    Reply
    1. Michelle

      I’m with mochimac. It really depends on your area. I went to a private school and turned out well also. I didn’t have parents who were there to help at all, I was very competitive and pushed myself to be the best.

      Also, I’m from St. Louis and I believe we have the most private schools in the nation. The private schools are good, but there are PLENTY of really good public schools. Some of the public schools are horrible, but some are way better than any private school in the area.

      Reply
  3. Finance Inspired

    Personally I think public schools provide a better education (although it does vary from area to area) in the sense that not only do they educate you about all the usual subjects such as Maths, English and Science, but they teach you about life and how to take care of yourself. Either way its still a massive decision for parents and child alike.

    Reply
  4. Noah

    If 95% of the students from your local public schools go to college vs 100% in private schools, this sounds like a no-brainer to me. However, I’m almost dubious of the 100% number. What happens if a student wants to go into the military? Does the school get rid of him so they can keep that 100% percentage? I know several VERY smart people that didn’t go to college right out of high school and are doing much better than I am financially.

    Paying an extra $15K a year seems like a waste of money if the local public schools are fantastic, but I guess they have employees to pay so they will definitely take your money 🙂

    Reply
  5. krantcents

    I am a product of private education and so are my children. My wife and I decide dto to send our children to private school for a better education. the best public schools in the Los Angeles area are few and far between. I was more concerned with some of the aimless students that are in school that may influence my kids. In a perfect world, I would have loved to have sent my kids to public school, but I am not sorry.

    Reply
    1. Noah

      I’m curious about why you didn’t decide to live in a better area of Los Angeles and pay more for a house vs paying for private education for your children. With 2 children, I could see the overall cost being $200-300K for 1st-12th grade. Wouldn’t it make more sense to pay that in the form of a mortgage and send your children to a good public school?

      By the way, I live in Orange County and understand your dilemma. With a 1.5 year old, I’m already trying to figure out where we can live so that he can go to a good public school (they really do exist).

      Reply
  6. Tushar @ Everything Finance

    There are plenty of successful public school students, however, I do have a friend that swears by private school. Her children attend a highly ranked private school and she loves it for her kids. She gets to be far more involved, knows the teachers, and her kids excel. They started in public school.

    Reply
  7. Shaped

    In my research, if the school is decent, then more of it depends on the parents and their home life.

    I read a study about how much children forget during the summer. It was really what occurred during the summer which predicted how the student would progress. Children of both groups gained the same amount of education during the school year, but the children with parents that were unengaged in their lives regressed more in the summer than parents who encouraged education activities and reading. Over the years it added up to the point that the others cannot catch up.

    I don’t think it matters private vs public if in the end they have good grades and score well on the ACT or SAT. The real question lies in what your public schools are like and what you want your children to be exposed to if your area has drug, violence, or gang issues in school.

    You might also want to check out Ken Robinson about the future of education and what skills will be important.

    Reply
    1. Shaped

      Ken Robinson on changing education: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

      Reply
      1. iam1percent

        Thanks for this link…I watched it this morning…loved it

        Reply
    2. iam1percent

      I think the study you read is from Malcolm Gladwells book “Outliers”. Its a great read and yes, it talks about how most children, during the summer, forget a lot of what they learned in school.

      Reply
      1. Shape

        I have read most of his stuff, so that is probably where I heard it. I read so much I forget where I find hear stuff. Used books stores are to me like a candy shop is to a 5 year old. I like digital books, but that technology isn’t to the point that it replaces a good hardcopy for me, especially when you want to take notes and flip around to different sections a lot (such as in non-fiction or textbooks). I do have an ereader for reading all the free books you can get online though.

        If you like Gladwell, then he has all the articles he wrote for the New Yorker on his webpage for download in the New Yorker Archive section. http://gladwell.com/archive.html

        Reply
  8. Shaped

    BTW, would love to see an article from you about the process of finding new job opportunities and analyzing if a new job offer is the right one to take vs your current one from the perspectives of financial, work environment, career advancement potential, and work-life balance.

    Reply
    1. iam1percent

      Yes, I will do that though I believe everyone’s decision is personal as priorities differ amongst people.

      Reply
      1. Shape

        It would be nice to see others perspectives on the job situation. I once took a higher paying job, but the tedious office work, late nights, and getting to and leaving the office in the dark was not worth it. I would rather make a little less and keep the face paced, never bored job working in manufacturing. After that horrid job, even the 2am phone calls I get now when the plant is going to hell don’t bother me even though I have to head to work with only a few hours sleep.

        I was also thinking I’d love to see some articles on your time management. How do you maintain your job, family life, and blog. My life has been so busy that I have been considering a maid a good option. When you think about it, cooking takes even more time. Maybe private chef is a better option. A dinner takes an hour to prep and then you add clean-up (we try to eat fresh food, not frozen stuff unless there is something going on).

        Reply
  9. Philly area

    High school sudents from higher income areas will almost universally begin college right after graduation. 95% or 100% doesn’t really show much of a difference, particularly since the public school will have the mentally handicapped among its graduates. These days, many families (even the wealthy ones) are choosing to follow the cheapest but still respectable route into state school or merit award giving institutions like St. Joe’s and Drexel Universities in Philadelphia. However, the kids who get the merit money are getting into the Ivies, they’re just choosing not to attend. I think the list of colleges to which the kids are accepted is actually the best barometer of how good a high school actually is.

    Our kids go to private and parochial schools. They go to the parish school when they’re young primarily for religious reasons. However, there are other benefits like the school is within walking distance of our home, superior sports programs, and a more finacially diverse student body. Public schools, particularly in the primary grades, tend to be homogenous racially and financially. But Catholic parish elementary schools these days will pull from 20 minutes in all directions which makes for a nice mix. Also, Catholic grade school is not a financial drain for higher income families.

    In high school we send our kids to private schools for the superior education and the single sex environments. Our oldest is an excellent student and certainly would’ve excelled in the public school. However, she is in the best place for her and it’s hard to put a price on a happy, well adjusted teenager . Our son will start high school in September. I know if he were in the public school he would fade into the woodwork. He will not be allowed to do that in the private, all boys high school he’ll be attending.

    One thing worth mentioning is something I noticed tonight when I was dropping my daughter off at a sweet 16 party for one of her grade school friends. We arrived at the same time as a half dozen other girls. Private, Catholic diocesan, and public schools were all represented. I could absolutely tell which schools the girls went to by the subtle differences in how they were dressed. Teens tend to walk in lockstep with their friends. I don’t think it matters too much where you send your kids to grade school. But high school? When it comes time, visit the different schools and figure out which vibe best suits your child and your expectations for your child.

    Reply
  10. Philly area

    Just a few more words about college prep and acceptances. I think things will be quite a bit different by the time your kids are ready for college. And the most highly regarded schools, like Princeton, Yale, and even Boston College and Notre Dame do NOT award merit scholarships, only need based ones. Right now, anyone earning over $150k can forget about financial aid for college.

    We know many families who are paying $20k to $30k for high school for their kids and I can tell you the days of those folks paying 60 grand per year for college are O-V-E-R (except for the really, really rich). The people who are earning up to $600k are following the ever shrinking merit money or they’re going to state school. Not seeing the return on their investment, the upper middle class is pretty much gone from the highly regarded private schools.

    Schools are being forced to spend down their endowments without the upper middle class subsidizing the tuitions of the lower income kids. I don’t know when or how things are going to change, but I know they will. And so, I think you should do what’s best for your children and your family NOW, because tomorrow will likely look a good bit different.

    Reply
    1. PK

      That’s not entirely the case – both Notre Dame and Boston College do award merit scholarships. It’s the Ivys that don’t award scholarships, but they also tend to have large enough endowments to offer more financial aid (of course, many of the students that are accepted are from wealthy families which won’t receive any).

      Reply
  11. Philly area

    No, they don’t award merit scholarships. They award financially (and athletic obviously) based scholarships. If two accepted kids from families with $100k incomes are applying for aid and one kid gets a combined 2100 on the SATs and the other gets 1800, one kid’s aid package might read scholarship and the other kid’s aid package might read grant. But if the kid with the perfect SATs from a $400k home applied for aid, he’d get nothing.

    http://www.bc.edu/content/bc/offices/stserv/financial/finaid/undergrad/types_of_aid/grants_scholarships.html

    http://admissions.nd.edu/financial-aid/

    Reply
    1. PK

      I know Presidential Scholars (http://www.bc.edu/centers/psp/) from Boston College. One of my cowriters went to Notre Dame (Cameron, you can email him from my site) and he can tell you all about the Scholars Program scholarships (http://admissions.nd.edu/financial-aid/programs/scholarships/), and the non-full-tuition scholarships… which exist at ND.

      You don’t consider the Presidential Scholarship at BC a merit scholarship?

      Reply
  12. Philly area

    No, they don’t offer merit scholarships. Both schools offer athletic scholarships. Both BC and Notre Dame, do however, offer presidential scholar programs. Notre Dame’s is 10 students and BC’s is 20. True, those very few kids will get full tuition but they are programs separate from the general college, and even separate from the Honors colleges within the schools. The students are expected to stay at school for the bulk of their summers and participate in program led activities and service projects. For regular admission students – including the honors programs – there are no merit scholarships.

    The most qualified college applicants come from the best high schools which are filled with kids from the upper middle class and lower upper class. There is actually talk at BC of changing their no merit aid policy to award merit aid to all students accepted into their Honors College, precisely because of the upper middle class bleed. It is being discussed as there is some hope that many of the families of the ultra qualified will actually support the school through donations if they are not paying tuition. I have no connections with Notre Dame so I have idea if similar talks are in the works at ND, but I suspect they are or they soon will be if BC initiates merit aid – the two schools pull from a similar applicant pool, although ND is generally considered slightly more competitive. But as it stands right now, there is no merit aid to the general colleges at BC and ND.

    Reply
  13. The Tortoise Banker

    I 100% believe that public school is the better choice k-12. College may be a good time to invest in a private education, assuming the financial aid works out favorably, otherwise an in-state public university is fine.

    I feel that public schools, as long as its in a good district with good teachers, is the best for kids as they are forced to find a way to relate to those that are different then they are. Often times private schools have kids from similar backgrounds.

    Reply
  14. Mac @ financecareservices.com

    This is an age old debate that comes up time and again. Parents always are in a dilemma for giving their kids the best. Those who are well to do always prefer private schools for better facilities and quality education over public schools! However in my personal opinion public schools do offer better education and a diverse atmosphere for the students.

    Reply

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