Site Meter Elsie's Space: Quandary
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Location: New England, United States

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Quandary

I've always been a proponent of public schools. After all, education is the great equalizer, right? So here we are with a son who is blessed with brain power. And here we are with one of the best private high schools in the country, probably the best in New England, right in our own back yard. And here we are, confronted with what's "right" and what's "right for our son." The advantages of sending our little boy (he's still only 12) to the private school seem endless. The facility alone is amazing, nothing like public school. That 98 percent of the school's graduates go on to college, that 80 percent of them get into the first school of their choice, that 50 percent of them receive scholarships far exceeding the amount paid for tuition at the high school and that a class of 220 received over $7 million in scholarships last year only adds to our confusion.

We moved into our current home when our son was in kindergarten. We chose a neighborhood where the elementary school was known as one of the best in the city. We felt bad about doing even that, because there are many families who probably could not afford to move into our neighborhood. But we did it anyway, in the best interests of our children. So, is that what we do now? Do we send our boy to the private school because we know it is best for him? What about the families who do not have the resources to send their child to this school? Education the great equalizer? Sure. But unless you're able and willing to spend mega money (or if your child is one of the 12 students each year to get a scholarship to this school), your child will not receive the same education as the children who attend this private school. I won't even get started on public schools' "no child left behind" thing because I've seen first hand that it's also the "no bright child" will be pushed initiative. Education is now geared toward teaching to the "middle of the pack." Great, if your child is in the middle, but if he is advanced.... he's screwed. And I can feel the screw turning tighter and tighter.

We've been talking about this a lot, husband and I. He thinks that our son will do fine and get into a good college no matter which school he attends. I think that he has a far better chance to get into the college of his choice if he attends the private school. Husband thinks that we might be smarter to take the money we would spend on high school and invest it for college. I think that spending it on high school will be a better investment in our son's future because he'll most likely be able to get into an even better college coming from the private school. Husband thinks that we pay outrageous taxes to live in our neighborhood and to support public education. I suppose I'd have to agree with that one.

In the end, I know that husband will probably leave the final decision to me. Frankly, he's never been overly involved in the education of either of our kids. Just ask him the name of any of our children's teachers and you'll see how clueless he is. He is, however, educated. He's got degrees upon degrees, and he is very successful in his career. I value his opinion, but I think he's wrong about this. So now what to do?

How big a hypocrite am I if I send my child to private school? And what about daughter? She will have to pay a price, too. If we send son to private school, she can probably kiss any exciting vacations and adventures goodbye. There won't be money for that.

Lots and lots to consider. I love my children and want what's best for them. Now to figure out what is best. Private or public? Public or private? My wish for my children is for them to thrive in school and out. I want my children to get ahead; not being left behind simply isn't good enough.

7 Comments:

Blogger MaryB said...

Well, Elsie, you're going to have to make your own decision on this one. Nevertheless, here's my two-cents' worth: I'm a huge supporter of public schools. My Kate went all the way through Atlanta Public Schools; by the time she reached North Atlanta High School, she was way in the minorty - only about 15% of the kids were white. Still, the school offered one of the first IB programs in the South, AP courses, and an outstanding Performing Arts magnet. Through the school, she was sent to France for 4 months as a Sophomore through the APS French program - no cost to me (her single mom).

As for getting into a good college, public school kids have a huge advantage over private school kids. Ivy League, etc., schools recruit good public school students but allow only a small percentage (per region/per city/per school) from private schools. Think about it. Say, 15 kids from the private school want to go to Harvard or University of Virginia - those schools will only pull 2- 4 (if that many) from each school. But things are wide open for public school students. A good public school kid is golden to these colleges. Kids from Kate's class ended up at almost all of the Ivy Leagues and top-tiers.

As for playing to the middle, well, yeah. But if you've got a smart kid (which I assume you do!), he'll go after the IB or AP classes to challenge him. Also, I'm convinced my public school kid had unsurpassed experiences (both good and bad) in the way the real world works that her private school friends (and she has many) didn't have.

The question is: where would your child be happier? Where will his friends be? Where will he be most comfortable? Does he feel unsafe at the public school?

Just some things to think about. And I wholeheartedly support whatever decision you make!

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Winston said...

I could vigorously argue both sides of this one. But I won't. I read MaryB's well informed comment and she pretty much said it all. A bright kid with good grades, SATs, and extra-curricular leadership activities will get the scholarships regardless of public or private school system. And one that is inclined to get in trouble and hang with the wrong crowd will do those things regardless of school system.

You probably could not go too far wrong with either decision. If forced to vote, and if the public school really is top notch, then I would vote with hubby on this one, but would not think you wrong for going your way.

Man, that sounds like some kind of copout...

9:56 PM  
Blogger Elsie said...

Mary, I really appreciate your comments, particularly your second paragraph, something I had not considered. I'm not concerned that son make it to the Ivy League, only that he get a first-class education. I think I will give a call to the guidance office at the public school to see what they have to say. Now about the AP classes (I'm not sure what IB is -- could you explain) -- son was recently dropped from the honors program because he got a "c" in Spanish (which isn't even an honors subject). It's all or nothing here -- all honors classes or none. How ridiculous is that?

Then there's the issue of teacher contracts. The teachers' union here --- arrgh! I can't stand it -- can make things extremely difficult. For three of the past four years the teachers were working without a contract. The teachers continued to work, but "worked to rule" which meant that there were no after school activities, etc., The teachers did only what their contracts specifically spelled out. I have two friends whose kids were not able to get recommendations from their teachers for college because of "work to rule." Even the teachers who wanted to help (and there were many of them) were afraid to do so!! So.... these two children each got one recommendation -- from their guidance counselor because it was part of her contract. Fortunately, each of these children were able to get into good schools, but they were forced to address this issue in their application essays or their interviews. My children suffered minimally. Poor daughter never went on a field trip until last year (not part of the contract). Of course, being the snitty mom I can be, I took them on a couple of field trips of my own and made sure that the principal knew they were out of school on a field trip with me!

Son is a pretty easy-going guy, just like his dad. He seems pretty happy most of the time, makes friends easily, and is a bright boy. He will do fine no matter what we decide.

I wish you could see the private school. I've never seen anything like it. And I appreciate that they don't put up with any crap from any kid, unlike public school. There is no detention hall! You feel a completely different vibe when you visit.

I will continue to weigh the pros and cons for a while before deciding anything, but you knew that, didn't you?

Winston, I believe that son will be more motivated at the private school. I think that he'll probably end up with better grades and higher SAT scores attending the private school. Certainly, I could be wrong, but I've known several young men who graduated from said school, and they are all amazing. Did I mention that it's an all male school? And part of their mission is to turn young boys into responsible, giving, caring, well-educated young men. Son isn't thrilled at the prospect of no girls, but that's been his only concern. And did you know that there's tons of research out there indicating that children do better in school, score better on standardized tests, and generally feel more confident in a single-sex setting?

Much to consider. Again, thank you both for your thoughts and kind words. Does this parenting thing ever get easier?

6:30 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Me too, I'm all for public school, and I think that learning how to get what you want is very important - that being given an advantage isn't as valuable as earning an advantage. I find myself agreeing with your husband: your son will do well no matter where he learns.

I also kind of think that.. well, that education is more useful for the skills it teaches you than the hard knowledge: for me it was most valuable in developing an analytical mind and independent motivation. Perhaps children at public schools have to work harder to get past the distractions of the opposite sex; perhaps they have to work harder to attract a scholarship; perhaps one year their maths teacher isn't quite so enthusiastic, and they have to work harder to achieve results; but perhaps that's better than getting an easy ride because of a name on your CV.

Of course, weighing up all the pros and cons makes no difference at all to what your heart says - and you will always want to give your children every advantage you can afford to give them, so I think if I were in the same position I would be struggling just as much as you are! Hm, not very helpful, this!

7:23 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

I struggle with this dilemma - well, no, I don't because it didn't arise for me! - but I would struggle. I tend to be anti-private school (all the posh pay-a-lot-of-money schools here are all called public schools) on the grounds that money ought not to be a factor in getting an education but I know I live in a dream world and that's not the case.

A while ago Tony Blair was criticised for sending his son to private school; another governemnet minister sent her special needs son to a private school. I'm inclined to think I'd do the same if it was my child who was losing out or could benefit greatly.

Having said that, Mary's arguments are very well made and her second paragraph is interesting. I don't think it's the same here. Oxford university, for example, only has about 50% state school children. Although that doesn't negate Mary's argument.

It would be a tremendous commitment from everybody. Oh gosh, a difficult decision. Good luck!

7:35 AM  
Blogger MaryB said...

elsie - IB is the International Baccalaureate. The curriculum comes out of Switzerland (I think) and the tests along the way are IB standard throughout the world. It's a very tough curriculum.

And I agree with Anna - education isn't all "book-learning." High school is a time to learn to cope with stress, the opposite sex, unreasonable adults, reasonable adults with whom you disagree, jerks, po' folks, rich folks, good folks, and bad. I haven't seen a private school (and Atlanta's chock-full of top-rated ones) that offers good "street" education. ;-)

Again, this is your family's decision. You'll make the right one.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Elsie said...

Mary, it's interesting that husband is now leaning toward private school. He spoke recently to a public school teacher who said, "Things are different today. Kids rule the schools. If you have the means to send him to a private school, do it." Remember when we were in school? I knew if I got into trouble at school, I'd be in even more trouble at home. It's not like that now. Kids do what they want, and the parents back them up. A child at my son's school recently punched the vice principal in the face...son was shaken by the incident. There's graffiti everywhere. Two or three kids are suspended weekly. No wonder our children are learning less and less (testing worse and worse) each year. There are too many distractions and too much chaos. You can see where I'm leaning.

In the perfect world, he would go on through the public school system. I guess it boils down to one thing -- I think he deserves better. We don't have to make a decision until February, so there's still plenty of time to decide.

Thanks for your input. I truly appreciate it. BTW, I can't find anyone here who knows about IB programs -- does that tell you anything?

7:03 AM  

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