Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Public vs. private schools

I have never attended an American public school. I went to a small, private Quaker school from kindergarten through 11th grade. Then I spent 12th grade studying abroad in France, where I did attend a public school. The school was reasonable, though not fantastic, and it was also a small country school, which eased the transition for me.

I'm glad I went to the school I did, though I had some issues with it, both at the time and in retrospect. I think the single biggest issue I had with the school was its tiny size. My graduating class had 39 people in it. Half of them, at least, I had known since we were little. And that's tough. People remember what you were like when you were eight. It doesn't give you much room to grow and change and have people understand that.

And, with a school of that size, there end up only being a few groups. There's one popular group and then a few fringe groups, and if you don't fit into any of those groups, you're pretty much just screwed, socially speaking. Even if you like the individual people in a certain group, you may not fit with their group dynamic, and then you're stuck.

The first time I ever had a real, strong group of friends was when I attended Governor's School the summer after junior year, before I went to France. I still look back at that time as one of the best experiences of my life, and the time that started an intense, multi-year period of change and maturing for me. I had spent so long at my school not having a group that I had started to believe that I wasn't capable of fitting into a group, ever, of finding a group of people I really clicked with.

But my school also had a lot of great things about it. The secularized Quaker values were great, and very well applied. The classes were small and the teachers were dedicated. There was a great understanding of different types of learning styles, and we were all taught to value all sorts of people. Plus, the school focused not just on teaching us information, but also on teaching us how to learn, think, and analyze--all skills that have served me incredibly well since.

And, one big thing--we didn't have standardized tests. Yes, we took the SAT, but that was for college, not high school. We didn't have AP classes or tests. We didn't have end-of-year, state-mandated exams. We didn't even get grades--we got narrative evaluations.

And I really don't like standardized tests. Personally, I tend to do well on them, but I don't believe that they are a good or accurate reflection of a person, or even of a person's academic or intellectual abilities. And I absolutely hate that state-mandated standardized tests create such limitations for teachers in the classroom, and prevent creativity and tailoring of lessons to the needs of the particular students.

But, you know, I know a lot of people who went to public school and they are just as likely to be smart, analytical, thoughtful people as anyone I went to school with. I don't have anything against public school, per se. It's just not something I have personal experience with.

Of course, we don't have kids yet and this debate, for us, is not yet really an issue. But we did look into the Denver school system when we bought our house. Apparently, the elementary school in our district is the best in the Denver Public Schools system. It has a student-teacher ratio of 19 to 1, which isn't bad. I haven't visited it, obviously, but I imagine we'd feel relatively comfortable sending our kids there.

Plus, private school is freaking expensive. We did some research into secular private schools in the area, and the tuition seems to range from $14,000 to $20,000 annually. That's bad enough, but if you have two kids? How can anyone afford that?

Obviously we won't make a choice about this until we have kids, but my concerns about public schools aren't for the most mainstream students. If we have a kid who thrives in any learning environment, who is motivated and interested, then yes, public school would probably be fine for them, although I still have concerns about standardized testing.

But if we have a kid with special learning needs? How accommodating would a public school be for that? And especially if the child falls somewhere in the gray area, not requiring special education classes or an aide or assistive device, but just some individualized attention and creative teaching methods? Even the best public schools seem to fall short in this area.

What about you? Did you attend public or private school? What did you or would you choose for your own school?


  1. Great post, Jess. Very thoughtfully written. I attended public schools throughout my life. Inner-city public schools for the first half of my life. Lily white, upper middle class suburban public schools for the latter half. And both of those types of school systems had their merits. Inner-city ... TONS of diversity and non-classroom learning. Lily-white suburban ... one of the best recognized public school systems in the area. My big thing about schools is that it's more than getting your child into a good school. As a parent, you have to commit to educating your child. That includes supporting him/her through academics, exposing them to culture and teaching them real-world skills outside the classroom. I think, too often, the extra-curricular learning is overlooked and outright ignored.

  2. I attended public school, and I hated it. It doesn't help that I saw kids having the S-E-X in the bathroom when I was in 9th grade. I also regularly had about 20ish students in my classes (most of the time more) and my graduating class had over 600. My private college had 600 total.

    Right now, I teach at a private Christian school. While it's very small and new, the teacher student ratio is so much better, and much more emphasis can be given to the individual student's needs.

    I used to debate whether or not I'd like to homeschool my kids, but I think I'm past that now. I want to send my kids to a private school, and maybe I'd be willing to teach there so that the tuition costs wouldn't be so bad ;)

  3. I think it just really depends on the public school. I went to public school in Northern Virginia and therefore some of the best public schools in the country. In the end, if the money is not a HUGE consideration, I think, more than anything, you should think about the quality of the education.

  4. I went to public school my whole life, kind of a rougher neighbourhood, but I appreciated the diversity in my classes. Our kids are in public school now and I feel really strongly about people who imply that they are getting a lesser education (not that you did at all in your post, it was very reasonable and sane!).

    I think if you choose public school, you have to be prepared to be VERY involved in your kids' education. You can't just send them off to school and say, they'll take care of everything. As a parent you have to be helping them with their homework, exposing them to new trips/ideas/concepts that they might not be getting in school, and you have to be very aware of how they are doing so you can get external help if need be. The more you are involved with the kids' school as a volunteer (like, on the PTA or as a teacher's aide), the more you'll know about your kids' education and, sad to say, the better they'll be treated (like, getting good teachers, getting sent on special trips, etc).

    That was a lot of ranting, I'm not sure what my point was :). I guess it's this -- I like public school, I'm pro public-school, but I know that it requires some at-home assistance, too.

  5. I went to a mediocre public school in a very poor district. We lived so far from any decent private school that it was kind of the only option for me. I wish I had gone to a better, private school and feel as though I would have been so much better prepared and could have gone to a better college, grad school, etc. I really think that when it comes to your kids, two things are worth the money: orthodontia and education. They will both more than pay for themselves in the long run and everyone can tell if you've had good orthodontia and a good education.

  6. I went to public school. my high school in particular went downhill my senior year.

    the area where we live has one of the best school systems in our state. however, if we could, we would like to send our daughter to a local private school because we think it would be a good experience for her. it is quite pricey, though, so it might not happen.

  7. I went to a huge public school (graduated with 524 students), and I never felt like I fit into any group either. I've since realized that it was my own insecurities and misdirected expectations that caused this, and that I could have fit into a group if I had let myself. So I don't think that's necessarily linked to a small versus big school at all - it's the individual.

    Re: special needs in public schools, it really depends on the school and administration. However, there are a LOT of legal things in place to protect special needs kids in public education, and if the parent is aggressively involved, it is definitely possible to get a great outcome from public schools. In fact, that just goes for ANY kid in public school, or any school IMHO - parents need to be aware of what's going on in the classroom, and if you have reasonable problems, talk to the teachers and administration as appropriate. And of course, before that, you would have been talking to your kid to hopefully deal with any issues that way.

    I went to public schools K-12, and my mom has taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade English for over 30 years. I'm not against private schools or anything, and I know that public schools can vary widely in quality (I bought the house I did partly because it was in my favorite local school district), but if you live in a decent district, I believe that public education is the way to go. Why would I pay tens of thousands of dollars for what I can get for free, plus a little extra effort on my part as a parent? My ideal is to suplement public education with extra curricular activities that they might be missing, youth orchestras and the like. I feel like being there in public schools along with everyone else is going to do much better at preparing them for the real world than being secreted away with a handful of other "privileged" kids for 12 years.

    That said, probably the most valuable time for me growing up was attending summer camp by myself for a week or two each summer starting when I was about 10, and that was more along the lines of a private school experience, I imagine. And that was the only place I ever really felt like I fit in.

    So I guess my conclusion is that I'd choose public school, hands down, as long as I'm living in an area with a good system (which I am), but supplement it with more private-school-esque activities so they get more opportunities and meet kids other than those they go to school with. Seems like a pretty good balance to me.

    Also I think once I have a kid who is expressing his or her likes and dislikes, that I'll put that together with what Paul and I feel is best, and that will really guide what we decide to do in terms of extra-curricular activities.

  8. My husband and I both attended public schools. There were no private options. I felt that we got a good education, and DH went on to be a rocket scientist, so it must not have been too bad.
    Then again, a lot of higher education is what you put into it, imo.

    We are on the verge of having 4 kids, all under 5 years old. We would LOVE to send them to private school but then again, they'd probably like to eat. Private PreK is over $2000 a year, and that's only half days, 3 days a week. IT's insane.

    Because of the cost, homeschool or public are our only feasible options. We plan to re-evaluate when the kids get older.

  9. I'm not really answering your question here but I wanted to chime in on a point you raised about public schools being able to provide for kids with special needs.

    Public schools are required to provide an equal quality of education for kids with special needs--even if that means hiring someone who works with only one child. It's unfortunate that many times, parents of kids with special needs aren't aware of their rights and feel pressured or bullied to provide sign an IEP that doesn't best serve their children. Of course, all schools are not created equal and parents may have to jump through more hoops in some school districts than in others--and of course some ultimately decide that a school district can't provide for their child the way he or she needs.

    It makes me sad when I hear about kids with special needs not receiving the services they require and allow them to flourish, and I just couldn't pass up an opportunity to let your readers (and you, maybe, but you seem to be well-versed in education issues) know that their children are entitled to an equal education--the district works for them and not the other way around.

    Thanks for listening.

  10. I did private through 7th grade, then public until I graduated. I'm mostly concerned about safety for my future kids at school - that and them finding friends and being happy there.

    I'm not too worried about great vs terrible school districts because I feel the biggest influential factor of future success/thriving as an adult is the home life a kid grows up in and not the school. Mainly I feel this way b/c both my husband and I went to supposedly terrible public systems and we're doing a ok.

    Of course - all opinions subject to change once I get some real live kids of my own! :)

  11. I attended private school until 6th grade, and while I loved the kids in my class (there was an average of 16 of us) I also felt restricted in many areas. It was a Christian school so those values were applied to all lessons, and I also felt like I wasn't able to explore different social avenues that may have been available in public school. But then I switched to public school in 6th grade and felt overwhelmed. I quickly found a small group of friends, but was definitely known as shy/smart girl. I don't think it hindered my educational experience, but I often wished I knew more people starting out in 6th grade. It seemed like everyone already knew everyone else and I was left on the sidelines. I think either option can be great though, it just depends on the school and on the child.

  12. My parents were teachers in the public system, I went to public school and so do my kids. I do believe in public education over private. My only issue with private school is the lack of diversity. You either have a group of kids who are all the same religion, or have parents in a certain (high) income bracket. It's not very representative of the real world.

    Teachers here are well-compensated and those at my kids' school are very involved and dedicated. I think a lot depends on your school district and even the individual school.

  13. Um, hello MINDREADER. I have too many thoughts for a comment, but I think the biggest factor is how involved YOU are with your kid's education, no matter what school they go to. I have friends who hated the private school experience, and I'm from a family of kick ass public elementary school teachers who are always (ALWAYS) bemoaning the state of teaching and colleagues they think should have been fired yesterday. I kind of know what I want to do, but J is only 2 and there are a lot of variables.

    Oh, and I also went to very small schools (50 in my grad class) but since I went to so MANY of them, I didn't get the trapped feeling. Just the "I hate these people, I can't wait to go to college" feeling. Fun times!

  14. I think parents have a huge influence on how well a child does at school, whether public or private.

    That being said, I went to public school and loved it. I would never pay for private schooling unless absolutely necessary.

    But I completely understand how some people feel private schooling is better for their situation.

  15. I went to public school for first through fourth grade, private school for fifth through eighth grade, and public school for ninth through twelfth grade. What I learned from this is that I don't have to make one single decision about schools, or even the same decision for all my kids: we can play this by ear.

  16. I went to public for 10 of 13 years. My husband went to private for all 13. He's really big on the private school issue. Me--my public school wasn't the best in the world, and I wasn't always the best student, but even then I knew that the school was what you made of it. If I'd studied more instead of goofing off with my friends, I would have had FABULOUS grades instead of so-so grades. I fit in pretty OK with a variety of groups and am even now surprised at the eclectic group of friends I gathered while there.

    (And the only issue my parents ever had with the public schools was indeed an issue with a particular TEACHER--who was a very, very bad teacher.)

    Meanwhile, my husband, the private school kid, ended up skipping as much school as he could physically skip without getting kicked out his Junior and Senior years because he was "bored"--well, honey, THAT was well worth the tuition your folks put up for you!

    Hubby definitely wants to send our kids to private schools. The cost is just not feasible. It's just not going to happen. So we bought a house in a district with a pretty good system--and we're pretty happy with it so far. We are involved and keep tabs with their homework and the teachers.

    I think we will work hard to make the best of what is available to us. I think that's the best we--or anyone--can do for our/their kids.

  17. I went to public school in GA and upstate NY. When I was in school in GA, my schools were always very good. I excelled and took honors classes. My high school in NY was also a really good school, and a lot of students were on the AP/honors track (more so than in my GA high school). I feel I received a strong education, and I did better than some people I know who went to private schools. I always received high grades and made honor rolls.

    I think it depends on where you go to school to some degree, but I think a lot of it is up to the child. If he/she wants to learn, they can succeed wherever they end up.

    I will more than likely send my kids to public schools, unless the school system is horrendous. I have a hard time justifying paying college-like prices for private schools!

  18. A few thoughts here:

    I attended public school my whole life - the first private school I went to was for my Master's. My parents were both teachers and then administrators in public school, and for special education at that.

    I grew up in Brooklyn, as you know, and moved to New Jersey for high school. My high school sucked, but I was lucky enough they had a program for students who were higher up on the intellectual craving scale.

    When it comes to special needs, public schools HAVE to meet those needs. That's why my parents have their jobs - they're there to enforce the needs of their students, explain to parents how to get involved and what's best, evaluate what kids need, etc. Private schools are far less concerning, and can say, "We choose not to meet this child's needs, as there are no laws governing us to do so."

    Of course, my parents were huge advocates for my sister and I, and that led to me being a huge advocate for myself. Public schools can actually be great.

  19. This is a great post and there are a lot of interesting comments.

    I personally went to public school except for 4th-6th grade when I was in a Magnet program (gifted school). I think the standards for public school are seriously slipping, especially here in IL. School never got any harder than 6th grade (including high school). I had an easy time in public college as well.

    I think the quality of the teachers that a child has is detrimental to his or her success. The best way to judge that is to be active in your child's education from the get-go. I don't think I'll be able to afford sending my kids to private school, but I will be as active as possible in their education.

  20. Great post, great comments.

    I like to say I attended one of the poorest and most stressed public schools in my state, which is not really true (but felt like it, some days)--and when I went away to college, I was better prepared and better read than many of my private-school-educated friends.

    Like many commenters have said here more eloquently than I can is that the quality of education you receive is based on many factors, only some of which come from things that have to do with the quality of the school--class size, educational resources, education-valuing peers. Other factors come from parents, from teachers (even the worst schools I went to had some great teachers, and even the best schools had some poor teachers), from friends, from internal motivators. And I think this mix is probably true for every child, no matter what their needs. Our next-door neighbors have a wheelchair-bound son in the public schools, and some of the projects he has worked on sound so fantastic I wish I could do them myself, and make me excited for when my own kids get to middle school (he has his own website! on which he interviews kids and grownups from around the area on various topics! it sounds so awesomely cool, and makes me jealous of his technological abilities).

  21. Great post, Jess! This is definitely a hot topic these days, even if you don't have kids yet. I attended public school my whole life, but in a very upper class district with a lot of money. My high school at the time was one of the best in the country. So we had a lot of advantages over other districts in the area, for which I'm thankful.

    I think public school is great for most kids, but it is definitely not as accomodating for kids with special needs or even those with very minor learning disabilities. My younger brother is absolutely brilliant, but the public school curriculum and teaching style did not work for him because he was bored out of his mind. He scored in the top percentile on all standardized tests, and yet dropped out of high school, got his GED and joined the military because he couldn't make the grades. He is one of the smartest people I've ever met, and yet doesn't have a high school diploma. So for him, public school was a big fat fail. It all depends on the child, and the parents as well. I think raising your children in a nurturing household that promotes all matters of learning and education is key.

    Again, great post!

  22. great post! i went to public schools K-4th then private schools 5th all the way through college. all of them being catholic although im not a catholic, odd.

    i enjoyed my time at them and foresee myself sending my children to a private school as well.

  23. I've been a reader here for a while, but I'm not sure if I've commented before. I always enjoy your thoughtful posts.

    I agree with what most people have said here. What matters most is how involved the parents are in the education of their child, whether it be in public or private school. If you, as a parent are there, encouraging them and being aware of what's going on, you have the opportunity (even responsibility) to change the situation if you don't like what's going on.

    I was actually homeschooled all the way through high school, although I did take some classes at the public high school and community college and play sports and music before I graduated. I loved it, and in two years I should have a PhD in engineering, so I like to think I've turned out pretty good so far... I would definitely say it's not for everybody though.

  24. Hi Jess! Great topic. I attended a mix of private and public and loved it.

    I went to the elementary school you're speaking of for Kindergarten, then it closed down for the remainder of my elementary education and became a private school (not enough kids in that neighborhood attending public school to keep it open). I went to a private catholic school down the road from 1st - 8th grade. I got such a great foundation - especially for writing - there. And I do think that I was more prepared in writing and English than my public school counterparts for high school. I went to a public school (in the Cherry Creek district) for high school and am so glad I did. I had the foundation from K - 8 private, but the real world exposure of high school. Plus, the extracurricular opportunities in public schools are superior. If we can afford it, I'd love to do the private primary education for our kids with the public high school.

    When I was in 9th grade they reopened your Elementary school as a charter school, and it is FABULOUS. I babysat for the woman who was instrumental in reopening the school, they did an awesome job. If you have the chance to send your kids there, I'd let them go to the public elementary for K - 5, then consider private for Middle and High school since the DPS 6 - 12 schools have seen better days. Here's hoping that changes by the time you have a 12 year old though!

  25. I attended private and feel strongly that Madeline should attend private as well. It's more focused, it has smaller ratios... and like you said, it's what I know, so I'm more comfortable with it.

    That said, I do worry about the clique stuff... I think it's probably worse in private schools, but inevitable whereever she goes... So hard to make these decisions for your kids!

  26. I went to public school in a county that is rated one of the highest in the nation for the quality of education. Were I to have kids, they'd be going to public school unless I lived in Hawaii, Louisiana, etc. (Places where the public school system is...lacking. No offense intended to anyone who lives or teaches or went to school in any of those places.)

  27. I mostly attended private school except for a very brief stint in public high school for one quarter. I am so grateful for the education I received at the private school. I am especially glad that I went to an all girls high school. It really gave me the freedom to come into my own without the pressures of being surrounded by hormonal boys all damn day.

  28. I went to public school in a small town that also happens to have one of the most prestigious private schools in the region relatively nearby. I had friends who went to both, and the only difference between the two of them was that the kids in the private school were doing a lot more cocaine and other club drugs. The people I know who got larger scholarships for university all went to the public school. Private schools teach the same things public schools do for the most part, so you're really just paying to be able to brag that you're sending your kids to private school, presumably to keep them from associating with the teenage version of me. What you get out of education, regardless of where you go, is a direct function of what you put into it.

    Which is something that bothers me about modern educational practices. One of your previous commenters said, "My younger brother is absolutely brilliant, but the public school curriculum and teaching style did not work for him because he was bored out of his mind. He scored in the top percentile on all standardized tests, and yet dropped out of high school, got his GED and joined the military because he couldn't make the grades. He is one of the smartest people I've ever met, and yet doesn't have a high school diploma. So for him, public school was a big fat fail."

    It seems to me that the failure here is the commenter's brother, not the school system. Everybody is bored in high school. That's what happens when you cram a bunch of hormonal adolescents into a room and force them to learn trigonometry, and it's worse when you force the smarter than average students to wait for the slower kids on their individualized education plans. This concept that it's somehow the school's responsibility to force students to do the work necessary to graduate is ridiculous. Laziness is not a learning disability.

    The point is that if your kid is willing to do the time and put the work in, he or she is going to flourish wherever they are.

  29. This is so interesting to me, because I'm in Ontario, Canada and I just finished teacher's college. We don't seem to grapple here with the Public vs Private debate as much as this. Your kids go to the school in your neighbourhood (public or catholic board)... and if you DO send your kids to private school? You're usually very wealthy, or you're an immigrant family who is very wealthy (many Asian-Canadian children attend private schools near me).

    Our public school system is not perfect, but it's pretty damn good. We're held accountable for ensuring that each child who comes through our doors receives a high-quality, fair education designed with their individual learning needs in mind.

    It's actually very difficult to get a job as a teacher in Ontario because we have so many highly qualified teacher's coming out of Teacher's College every year, fighting for positions in the public school boards. Every single teacher works incredibly hard, and most do continued professional development training througout their careers.

    I'd never bat an eyelash before sending my kids to my local public school.

  30. I attended public schools all my school career. In highschool, when I became pregnant with my oldest son, I went to an "alternative" school which was my saving grace. I worked at my own pace, the teacher to student ratio was maybe 10 to 1 and I just generally felt like the teachers wanted to be there. After that I realized that main stream school isn't for everyone and I wish there were other options for people who can't afford to shell out tons of money. I almost considered asking if my teenage son could go to the alternative school in my area because I think he would do much better.

  31. Don't get me started. If you haven't heard about the "crisis" over here in Stapleton you might browse into that one - schools face overcrowding in the K-6 department by 2011, just the year my daughter starts. Yay for me.

    Denver has great some great options, like you can bus your kid to just about anywhere you'd like them to go. So long as there are openings. This is what we're looking at as an alternative if E doesn't get into her neighborhood elementary.

    High schools are a different matter entirely. For reasons too long-winded to go into, we're looking toward private high school for both kids. It's a lotta tuition, I know. Crazy thing is that the annual tuition isn't much more than daycare tuition. nuts!

  32. I graduated in a class of 49 I think. We all were in kindergarten together. I liked it that way.

  33. I went to a private junior/middle school until high school. I graduated with 49 other kids. It was too small and I didn't have any great friends. I loved going to my public high school b/c it meant better sports competition.

  34. I went to public school and so did my brother. I think it would depend on the funding and reputation of public schools where I live to help me make my decision. Private school would likely be a secondary choice because I don't think it's necessary.

  35. Wow, what a response! I went to Catholic school until 3rd grade when it was time for the 5th child to start school and needless to say the tuition for five became an issue.

    My graduating class was over 700 and my three boys have gone to schools in the same district. I think it is very important, as others have said, that being totally involved in your child's education, whether private or public, is VERY important.

    Now standardized testing, don't EVEN get me started on that one...

  36. I went to public school, and my kids are going to public school, no question. No question at all.

    I believe strongly in parental and community support for public schools. I BELIEVE in public schools, and the right to a quality education, and I believe that is is my job as a parent and as a citizen to support public schools, and that includes putting my money where my mouth is by sending my kids there. And I plan to be as involved as possible in my kids' education, both by supporting them, and by offering extra-curricular programs outside of what's offered at the school, if necessary.

    For me, the decision is about so much more than my child's education -- it's about hers above all else, certainly, but it's about something bigger than her, too.

  37. I am a K-JD public school graduate of biggggggggggg schools (as in, loads of people) and extremely proud of it. I went to a crappy public school in Quebec for elementary and was on the verge of being shipped out to boarding school in Montreal when my dad was transferred to Boston. Thereafter, I went to school in one of MA's best public school systems (it's a very well recognized public high school).

    And for the record, we didn't have class rank, valedictorian, AP classes (all Honours classes were taught at the AP level and we signed up for them independently and our counselours offered no opinions either way). About the only thing we had was finals and grades-no standardised state testing at all. Then again, this was a very well known public school where the kids were so incredibly competitive they eliminated these things for the public good!

    I'm happy they maintained the grades and testing, though.

    I think in the end most of this comes down to your philosophy on life and how much the parents are involved-my sister and I would be equally successful had my parents not sent us to high strung Nerd HS. But Nerd HS had loads of programs or kids like me (I was a national debater and travelled all over the country, for instance). But ultimately my parents are typical Asian, overinvolved parents. They are competitive high achievers. My sister and I have turned into competitive high achievers. It's not exactly rocket science.

    However, brother-in-law went to Phillips Andover and I'll admit that it really is an amazing school. I'm sure we would have had even more opportunities there.

  38. I had a really hard time in public school - I don't think creative thinking is handled well in public school situations, and I spent a lot of time feeling dumb. I had great friends and a few good teachers, but also had some teachers who systematically tore me down. I have certainly come a long way in my life, but I even at 32, I still feel some pain from that. If we ever do have kids, I will either 1. be on my kids teachers in the nicest way possibly like nobody's business or 2. look into private school. And I am so against standardized testing.

  39. I considered going off to boarding school (which would have been a financial hardship for my parents) and am so glad I didn't. When I got to college (small, private liberal arts college in New England) it seemed that all of the boarding school kids had dealt with drugs and booze and eating disorders and academic pressure on a level I'd never known. AND I suddenly learned that there was such a thing as "old money" and that it was somehow better than "new money." Never knew that before Wellesley.

  40. Public school the whole time. There was really no feasible alternative in my small town, but even if there had been, my mother was a teacher in that public school system, so there's no way we would have gone anywhere else. (She was my elementary school reading teacher, and may I just say she was fabulous.)

    I had a graduating class of 250 or so, and still many of your descriptions would apply to MY class. Maybe all high schools are more alike than they are different? ;)

    I think the single biggest influence parents can have over their childrens' education is to be involved. If they're not, it doesn't matter whether it's public or private, expensive or free.

  41. Secular private schools tend to be (in my limited experience) more expensive than religious ones. My Catholic high school was in the $5,500 range, whereas the secular-ish one nearby was about $14,000. Big difference. Though my school is now closer to $8,000/year, that's still way cheaper. And if you poke around, you could find a religious school that's not particularly religious, if that makes sense.

    But in a lot of districts, the public schools are also great options. Sounds like yours is one of those!

  42. I went to a private school for the first 10 years of my education, then switched to public school for grades 10-12 (the private school only went up to grade 9 at the time). I liked both experiences equally. The private school had super small classroom sizes, good curriculum and lots of space. Not to mention that I loved being with the some of the same people from Kindergarten all the way through grade 9.
    Public school was good because I went to the smallest of three in our city and got in with a good crowd right from the beginning.
    We're torn now that we have kids though - even though we won't have to decide for another 2 1/2 years. The private schools around here are all very fundamentalist, skirt-only-wearing schools and we are SO not cool with that.
    The public elementary schools here are both very good. But then, we really value religious education for our kids, particularly in those early formative years.
    The only other option, then, is homeschooling and just the thought of it makes me break out into a cold sweat!
    Good thing we all have time to make these big decisions!