Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Public vs. Private

As faithful readers of the StopHomework blog know, I pulled my older daughter out of public school after she became severely depressed in the 5th grade. I now send both of my kids to private schools.

In a recent post, I described how full inclusion, as practiced by the public schools, is a disservice to above-average kids. By way of contrast, in a private school, any child with serious learning or behavior problems will either not be admitted in the first place, or will be "counseled out" later. What this means in practice is that the floor is higher. The least able child in my daughter's private-school class would have been in the middle of the pack in her public-school class.

Then, the class sizes are smaller. My daughter went from a home-room class of 25 kids with one teacher to an entire grade of 18 kids, with two teachers. This meant it was possible for her to receive much more individual attention.

The big surprise for me was the difference in the way parent complaints are handled. In her second week of private school, my daughter was held out of recess because she forgot part of her homework. I went in to the school and blew a gasket (being held out of recess for trivial mistakes was how dd's depression had started at the public school.) Within a week, the teacher announced to the class that there was a change of policy and she wouldn't be holding kids out of recess anymore for unfinished homework. Similarly, after I complained about a reading log, we never saw a reading log again. Can you imagine getting responses like this from a public school? I can't.

At a private school, parents are the customer, and it's in the school's interest to keep the parents happy. At a public school, parents are the very bottom of the totem pole, and get treated accordingly.

Obviously, private schools are not the answer for everyone. The cost is prohibitive for most American families, although there is some financial aid available. Not everyone lives near a private school that would suit them, either.

But for our family, private school is the solution, at least so far (stay tuned!). I often think of the old joke about divorce: "Why is divorce so expensive? Because it's worth it." That's how I feel about private school.


  1. Hmmm...from PsychMom.....not the same experience for me in our private school. We have the small class sizes, but we have a very dedicated, long standing, powerful faculty who tend to stand their ground. Sometimes when the response of "well, this is the way most parents want it" comes, I feel like that's the answer they give so that they don't need to change anything. They couldn't possibily change something for everyone for just one parent. Majority rules.

    It wouldn't be so exasperating if they just stood their ground based on something tangible, that has verifiable proof. But to stand on tradition and a belief about what parents want, even if it conflicts with sound research and school philosphy, just doesn't make sense to me.

  2. There's enormous variability for all these issues. Private schools are swimming in the same educational sea as public schools, and are affected by the same fads.

    Sometimes when the response of "well, this is the way most parents want it" comes, I feel like that's the answer they give so that they don't need to change anything.

    Of course it is. The fact is, schools don't know how most parents feel because it's only a tiny fraction of parents who speak up. The vast majority of parents just go with the flow, fake the homework if they need to, and let the school do what it does. These are called "good parents", in the same way that conformist students are called "good students".

    Have you tried threatening to pull your child, and applying to other schools? From bitter experience, this is where I start.

  3. PsychMom says.....my main issue is homework, and I know that I won't find traction in any other private school because the rest are even more "rigorous and striving for excellence"

    Some of my issue surrounds the sense that nothing can be parent driven in our school. A teacher must be the driver of every committee, every school club, everything...it's a control issue. I want all parents to be much more involved...not just the handful of Moms who end up doing cleanup. But when you constantly face the wall of teachers, you get fed up with waiting, and playing "Mother May I?"

  4. PsychMom, it might be worth it to take a look around. My public school principal told me the same thing, "but all the schools around here are rigorous!"

    It's a shame that StopHomework is now defunct. But if you'd like to post here, just let me know!

    Can you get some parents organized? Sometimes there's power in numbers (even small numbers).

  5. I agree completely. Not every private school is the same -- which is exactly the advantage they have over public schools, which, in the age of NCLB, are more and more alike (and not in good ways).

    I know that many progressive parents have a strong attachment to the idea of public schools, but unfortunately it really is just an idea, not reality. The reality is that public education is our society's biggest propagator of illiberal and authoritarian values.

    I live in an area where there are very few options other than the public schools, and none that are very different. If there were a genuinely humane, kid-centered private option nearby, I'd leap at it.