Friday, March 19, 2010
Private schools: worth the cost?
By Robyn Davis Sekula
Here where I live in Indiana, our local school district announced four elementary schools are closing, including our school, Silver Street Elementary. My immediate reaction is dismay, followed by the natural question, "What are we going to do now?"
As I see it, a parent in this situation has three choices. They can home school, go with the new school the child is assigned to, or choose a private school. Our oldest child will be in the first grade this fall, and there are two more coming along behind her.
Whenever I don't know what to do, I do research. So, since I didn't know yet what elementary school would be ours next year, I started calling private schools and Googling private options. I discovered that all three of our children can go to a local Catholic elementary school for about $8,000 or less. That's a good price. I know it's a good education.
But I hesitate for this reason: if you start with a private school in the first grade, you're likely in it for the long haul, and just because costs are reasonable this year doesn't mean they will be in the future. That would leave us possibly having to yank our kids from private school down the road if our income dips, which is entirely possible. I'm self-employed, and my father's health is failing. I anticipate that I'll have more and more trips back home to Lynchburg, Va., where he is, and that one day, I'll also be caring for my mom. That responsibility will eat into my work schedule. I really don't want the pressure of paying for private school followed by college.
I've continued to gather information. The school district released maps showing us as redistricted to Fairmont Elementary School. I had a negative impression of the school, but as I thought about it more, I couldn't tell you why. So I decided to go on a fact-finding mission, if you will, and visit for myself. The school's principal and counselor took me and my husband on a 90-minute tour. We visited classrooms and every public space in the building, and I was incredibly impressed. I don't see private school as necessary.
The tough thing about evaluating education is that there are few ways to compare other than test scores and cost. Everything else is extremely open to interpretation, and usually is evaluated in more of an emotional way than anything else. It can be of vital importance for some families to have religion mixed in with their school day. For me, that's not preferable. I'd rather the school spend its time and energy teaching my child the stuff I don't know how to teach and that's factually based - math, science, history, English, etc. - and let me teach the religion at home. Religion is extremely easy to screw up, and the most subjective subject matter there is. I attended a very religious, conservative school, and I wince at some of the things I learned there. I'd rather teach my child that myself.
The summary: private school education should be evaluated on a cost basis first. If you can't afford it, or are barely affording it, don't do it. That's your first hurdle. Too many people think private primary education is crucial, and I'm just not convinced. It's not a fundamental right, and you aren't entitled to it.
Before you dismiss your public school as not good enough for your child, visit, ask a lot of questions, and evaluate. We discovered that Fairmont has the district's English as a Second Language program, and the kids in it are mixed in with the rest of the students and speak English quite fluently for the most part, which is a big bonus to me in terms of diversity and learning about the world. We also learned that Fairmont has a terrific and active theater program, which I think my oldest child would enjoy. We learned that the principal is an advocate for the school in every fashion, and that the school has zero tolerance for bullies (which is confirmed by a parent I know).
I'd love to hear your thoughts on private versus public education. If you have children, what choice have you made?