Education from a Parent's Perspective... Part Three: The Private School Dilemma

Further exploration of one family's educational journey, this time looking choices around private schools.

As a child, my parent held education with as much high regard as I do.  So I went to a combination of schools growing up, some public, some private, some where my dad taught in a posh public school system, Catholic High School.  From Kindergarten through 12th grade I went to six schools, seven if you count the public summer school I took enrichment classes and math at.  I never really thought about it till now, that averages out to changing schools every two years.  There was only one transition that was really rough out of all of them, and frankly, these experiences may be why I enjoy transitions so much now.

Here’s my point.  My parents modeled making the extra effort for something that’s worth it.  By researching in the age before the internet, making visits, scrimping and saving to afford it, my parents make it clear that education was important.  We worked hard to show we understood by doing our best (most of the time) with our school work.  The message was never less than crystal clear.  Education is an important value in my family.

When my spouse and I realized we were coming to some choices and issues, we did our homework as parents as well.  There was a very well-regarded preschool we looked into, though.  It was clean, the kids were learning with manipulatives and programs I was familiar with (I have a cousin who’s a master Montessori teacher and had studied a bit on Waldorf education in college, and had already begun amassing learning toys to the point where my mom suggested opening a home day care).  The staff were friendly.  I was thinking, “hey, maybe we could do this...”  Then they gave me the information and registration packet to look over and we said goodbyes.  

Private schools are known for having several advantages.  Smaller class sizes, better ratios of teachers to students, more flexibility with curriculum.  All of which are intended to add up to a better learning environment, and it often works this way.  Even school uniforms have been studied and shown to be helpful in keeping the focus on academics.  If you’re lucky and can get the uniform on the cheap, you’ll even save some cash on clothing.  Not to mention it makes for quicker decisions in the morning rush of getting ready for school.

The downside, for us, was what we heard and witnessed of the school-equivelent of “corporate culture.”  Microaggressions and even overt insults thrown towards students who don’t fit the default example of Private School Student (white, middle-class, parents heterosexual, and married, and well-educated, etc.), insufficient afterschool program supervision leading to serious misconduct between students, religious intolerance (and there are no faith-based schools around here of our faith, so that was a biggie).  

This was heavy stuff.  I started asking questions about the quality of the education and the responses I heard were startling to me.  Parents at three different area private schools told me that most of the learning was happening at home.  I don’t mean homework.  I mean parents teaching their kids with resources they obtain outside of the schools their kids attend.  There is a name for this.  Homeschooling.

These two factors (school culture, and insufficent academic instruction) made us feel better about the third one.  Money.  We make too much to qualify for tuition assistance and too little for tuition to be added as a line item without it meaning we’re not going to see my brother and our five nieces and nephews in Florida for the next several years, oh and, you know pay the mortgage and eat and stuff like that.  Especially not if we keep our eyes on the prize:  College.

We want our kids to go to college.  If they try it and it is a struggle, we know about campus resources.  It it still isn’t working, we’ll try again after they work full-time for a couple years.  But we are determined to get the kids into those fancy wrought-iron gates with hopes they’ll come out with their degrees in hand.  It will not be easy.  Tuition increases annually at most colleges and universities.  We talked about this after realizing we couldn’t pay for PreK out of pocket.  And after some quick math, we decided that we’re not going to pay the $6-10k a year that local private schools require.  We decided that if we were going to pay these huge sums of money to educate our kids, we wanted that money to be paying for college.  We set up CHET accounts.

So, for us, the private school dilemma was pretty quickly resolved.  We didn’t have the money for the programs we really liked, the ones that were so-so were still expensive and didn’t even get the kids the superior education we were looking for, and none of this would help us with the seven-hour-too-late-for-the-kindergarten-cut-off issue we had with our eldest child anyway.  The local schools were all on the same page with that at the time we looked into it.  The advantage of a school that could possibly meet our goal of having the kids reach their personal potentials, not an arbitrary standard looked like it might be out of our grasp.  

And then we decided to check out two additional possibilities.  Stay tuned to find out what they are!

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