Public School? Private School? Home School?

What to do when you worry the public schools will shortchange your child?

Posted Feb 24, 2015

Pixabay, Public Domain

Even though taxes pay for public schools, millions of parents spend a fortune to send their kids to private school or home school them. They fear the public schools will shortchange their child.

If you’re not sure what to do, this article may help.

If you haven’t already, first check out prospective schools, public and private, at GreatSchools.org. For thousands of schools, it reports everything from parent reviews to student test scores to extracurricular strengths.

Visit any possibilities, and don’t rely on the guided tour:

  • Wander the halls and peek into enough classrooms to give you an overall sense of the school. One teacher could be good or bad, but spend a few minutes in a few teachers’ classes in your child’s next few grades and you’ll get a decent sense of things. In just the first minute, you may get a sense of whether a teacher and the class seem alive and engaged or going through the motions? Bright or lackluster? Importantly, can you picture you child fitting in there. Intellectually? Socially? Values? Look at student work on the walls or in notebooks. Is the work interesting? How’s the quality of teacher feedback: Is the work corrected with more than just “B+ Good job"?
  • Wander the schoolyard during recess and/or the cafeteria during lunch. Particularly look for groups of kids who seem like your child in ability and interaction style.

To help you decide on a school, consider these questions:

1. Peers matter a lot. Are the children at one school significantly better role models than even a subset of the kids at another school? Is your child more likely to find compatible friends at one of the schools?

2. Would you and especially your child be more eager to have the teachers in one of the schools?

3. Does your child have a special need that is likely to be much better met in one of those school?. Of course it varies, but today’s public schools tend to focus on low-achievers and special ed kids. Some private schools focus on high achievers. Of course, there are many exceptions. For example, private schools for special needs kids or special public high schools for high achievers such as Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Virginia.

4. You’ve now had a chance to get a sense of the curriculum: Challenging? Interesting? Addressing a wide range of viewpoints rather than just conservative or just liberal? How pleased will you be that your child will be thus educated?

5. Is there a significant difference in ease of transporting your child to and from school? Remember that if your child attends a school different from most of his neighbors, socializing may be more difficult.

6.  Here’s the summary question: Does the best private school you’re considering offer sufficient advantages likely to permanently benefit your child to justify the cost? If you're low to moderate income, the difference better be big. If you're wealthy, even a modest difference may be enough.

No matter your income, don’t let the quality of the facility sway you much: Better good teachers and good kids in bad buildings than bad teachers and bad kids in good buildings.

Home schooling

Almost 2 million American parents have decided that it's worth the enormous effort to home school their children.

As they say, results may vary, but on average, home-schooled children do very well, including socially, at college, and in community involvement.

To ensure social relationships and development, home-schooling parents often team up with other home schoolers and, after school, make the effort to invite well- selected schooled children to play with their kids.

For more information on curriculum for home schooling, see homeschool.com and home-school.com

The takeaway

Few parents today have the time to be ongoingly and deeply involved in their children’s education. But making the one-time effort to get your child in the right school can do more good than running a passel of bake sales.