Public vs. private schools

No, this is not a policy question.  Rather Jenny, a loyal MR reader, asks for advice:

As an economist, I was wondering if you could provide any insights to us parents evaluating public versus private elementary schools for our kids…By comparison [with the good private school], my public school education seems shoddy. But at $21,000 for kindergarten and a younger sister that would be joining him, this is a huge financial commitment, and takes away our flexibility to do anything but grind away for the next 15  years. My son is bright and curious – how do I know that he will get that much of an incremental improvement being in private school? And despite my very non-inspiring, and at times dreadful, public education, I can’t say that I’m any worse off for it today…I’ve been really struggling with how to evaluate this. Can economics shed any light?

I faced this same choice myself as a kid and I ended up telling my mother I was happy to remain in the public school.  If nothing else I feared the commuting costs and not having friends’ homes be nearby.  Furthermore at public school I met Randall Kroszner and Daniel Klein, among other notables.  Natasha and I faced this choice again with Yana and she ended up in public high school.  I can’t really cite economics here but if your public school is halfway decent that is the side I come down on.



I would guess that an extra $10,000 (time cost) of parental involvement would wipe out any difference. I'm sure you're going to be involved anyway, but surely you will have some extra time if you don't shoulder that financial burden. Put half of that into your kids, and it's really hard for me to believe that they won't be better off than they would have been in private school.

Personal experience - I went to public school for 1-7, but my mom gave me extra "home homework", encouraged me to read books, etc. I went to a private high school, and my brother went to public school. At least in my experience (though I did go to private school in India), public schools are better at letting you take advanced/college classes than private ones (mine had IB, but that was the limit).

Tim Harford covered this question recently in 'More or Less' (a BBC Radio 4 programme). You can listen (I don't know if it's blocked outside the UK) to the programme here.

This is the description:

Can numbers tell you whether it matters what sort of school your child goes to?

News reports have claimed that middle-class children suffer no academic disadvantage if they attend a struggling state school. But is that really true?

Actually, it is a very difficult question to answer.

One factor to consider is who your children go to school with. How important is that?

Or is it the quality of teaching that really counts?

Researchers in the United States have studied 120,000 children, who were randomly assigned classmates over a period of a decade.

Tim Harford finds out the results of the study from one of the world's leading experts on the statistics of peer effects, Professor Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University.

Anecdotal evidence - a family friend's daughter was in a public school. The school called her up and said "Your daughter has a reading problem." Mum went "oh my god!" and hauled the kid out of school and off to a private school. Two years later the private school called her up and said "Your daughter has a reading problem."

Research on the educational achievement of private vs public schools does not on the whole provide evidence that private schools are better in developed countries once you control for the socio-economic conditions of the kids going there. $20,000 is an awful lot to spend without much evidence of superior results.

The ability to get a kid out of a situation where they are being bullied strikes me as the big advantage of being able to go private. On the other hand, the kid is probably about equally as likely to be bullied in a private school as a public one.

I'd say go for private schooling and after-school if necessary. is a useful resource for after-schooling issues.

Schools -- both public and private -- are pretty abusive environments, and you have no control over the types of kids your kid will be associating with there. Since peers have such a huge influence, that's pretty scary.


The main difference in the UK seems to be class sizes and teacher workload... public (state) schools often have class sizes up to double that of private run schools. And the number of classes each teacher runs can be up to double. That has to make a difference to the education the pupils receive.

As a bit of a counter to the # of AP classes at public schools, I went to a good public school, but they didn't have the calculus version of AP physics (BC), just the non-calc version (AB).

So near test time, I got excused to go to a local private school for a bit to sit in on the pre-test class-review and practice test.

On the flip side, a friend of mine at that same private school wanted to take the year long version of AP calc (BC), but it wasn't offered by his school. He didn't sit in on a class at my school (I don't know if he didn't ask, if he didn't want to, or if the school didn't allow him to), but we did exchange notes and prep together.

Short version: I don't think it can be generalized that public schools have more AP classes than private schools.

We moved 4 times while my daughter was in elementary school and chose private schooling 3 times. While academics were important to us, ultimately, I think that the decision was a social one for us. We liked the families that attended the schools, and the private schools made socializing easier in a new community. Academics standards are always a crap shoot, but I must admit that the private schools were able to fire incompetent teachers. It might be that private schools tend to provide a better safety net.

I'd recommend Montessori school ( for elementary school-- forget whether it's public or private, it is how your kids are taught. Unlike traditional US education, Montessori education helps develop a well-rounded, self-directed child. I have been impressed with the maturity of children I've seen there.

I'm not a shill for the Montessori system, just a late 20-something hoping to save enough money to send my kids to a good school, and regretting the fact that we don't have a school voucher system.

I have to agree that the question is highly context-dependent. Many public school systems, even in suburban areas, are deeply flawed. Still, the best public school systems are better than many private schools.

If this is an issue of real concern, then I would STRONGLY recommend home schooling. The socialization of schooling--segregation by age, cliques, status hierarchies--is positively toxic. If you want to avoid some truly pernicious tendencies, school at home and enter the kid into many extracurricular activities, chosen with care.

I agree with many of the comments here: increase "investment" in the amount of time spent as a parent on academic assistance and guidance rather than investing in a private school financially.

Are there studies that look at school performance relative to parental assistance in academic/studying activities in the home? I imagine there are schools that do all of the "right things" but under-perform because of a lack of parental interest/involvement in their child's academic life.

Costs may be nearly prohibitive, and thus not worth it, but I am strongly (character-wise, but also intellectually) the product of many years of Montessori and Quaker private education, and I do think that the best incarnations of both of those approaches are fairly special. There may be financial aid available, you might be surprised--and the other thing I strongly believe is that actually elementary school is the place to sink the cash if you are only going to go private for part of the child's education. There tend to be magnet-type options for public middle and high school, but the kind of stuff (including, especially, dedicated and experienced teachers with extraordinary resources from the school) the best private elementary schools can do for kids is really something. Private for K-5 or 6 and then moving into the best part of the public school system is often a good compromise.

Btw, Tyler is right that it's not a policy question. I'm a huge advocate of separation of school and state. But it's not the parents', teachers' or kids' fault that the state subsidizes possibly inferior schools to the point that the personal finance decision is often a no-brainer.

Homeschooling or unschooling are the massively superior "none of the above" option here. Also, consider one of these schools as an intermediate between homeschooling and private school

Finally, a few states do have a few public schools that are actually good. If you can get your kid into one, that might be best. Florida has several for elementary school kids and up, New York has three for high school, etc.

My daughter has been to both private and public schools. Last move was after 10th grade to our local public school (TC Williams in Alexandria, VA, "Home of the Titans").

Moving her depended, a lot, on having faith in her good judgment about activities, friends, behavior, etc., and the availability of classes and teachers and classmates that would challenge her.

In her first year at TC (11th grade) she had opportunities that never would have been available to her if she had stayed in private school. That's on top of her saving 1 hour each day in the car (1/2 hour each way), and the savings on tuition ($15k annually) and gas.

It depends on the child and the schools available, in addition to the parents' financial resources. My daughter, like Yana, had good options all around.

I'm confused wintercow20 - what is the moral argument against public schooling?

I came up via public school, though in Australia not the US. The only exception was my kinder year where I went to Motessori - though that definitely worked for me. It was also more of a melting pot than a private school would have been.

The thing I find disagreeable is the notion of one's parents "assisting" with academic work. My parents "assisted" by talking like intelligent adults to each other and to us, by recommending reading, and so on. The idea that they'd have sat down with us to interfere with our homework is chilling. What an awful idea.

Einstein opposed compulsory schooling. Student motivation is critical. Conventional schools kill student motivation. Compulsory, unpaid labor is slavery, black or white, male or female, young or old. Schools give to many children no reason to do what schools require. Gandhi opposed compulsory schooling.

It does not take 12 years at $10,000 per student year to teach a normal child to read and compute. Most vocational training occurs more effectively on the job. State (government, generally) provision of civics instruction is an much a threat to demotacy as State operation of newspapers would be (is, in totalitarian States).

I second Jacqueline's recommendation, with a twist; after age 6 or so, find five other families in your situation and hire someone to provide daycare to age 18. You'd be looking for a neighbor's daughter with a recent B.S. in Biology, Econ., or Physics (science majors can teach History and literature, but History and English majors cannot teach Algebra).

Second best option: parochial school.

I think it's important for gifted children to enter school systems with other gifted children. Growing up in an academic community allows for a greater number of positive externalities. This is why MBAs and graduate students try to enter better programs.

I went to public elementary school, private middle and high school. My sister stayed public for her secondary schooling.

My education was exemplary, while hers was more than lacking. Though clearly this is anecdotal, she would often regale us with tales of her teachers popping up in videos completely unrelated to the subject material at hand: for instance, in her economics class they watched ALL of Planet Earth.

While I'm jealous that she got to watch Planet Earth, I'm not jealous that her education was inferior to mine. That being said, I was lucky enough to go to a very good private school. Like public schools, private schools aren't created equal either, but I suppose that at a cost of $21,000 a year the school being considered isn't an absolute joke.

My advice: The value of school choice almost entirely depends on the friends that a kid will make. If you live near a good public school the network your kid will be brought into may even be better than a rich private school. For instance, in the LA area, the private schools (even as early as middle school) are marred by the gross number of kids that do cocaine. Find a public school with a good magnet/advanced ed program (if you think your kid would do well to be in one of those programs) if you're worried about the cost.

I think one of the economic issues here is that to 'get in' to a public school, you need to live near it, and so the good public schools - e.g. Mission San Jose, Gunn, Lynbrook, Monta Vista, etc. in the Bay Area - are in areas with ridiculously high property values. So, in effect you pay 'tuition' via buying/renting your house for an elevated price. On the other hand, for a private school you can live in a cheaper neighborhood and commute, but you pay tuition. If you see your house as an asset, it is probably a better long-term decision to move near a public school since the 'tuition' you pay may appreciate in your favor - whereas in the case of the private school, it is lost.

The thing I find disagreeable is the notion of one's parents "assisting" with academic work. My parents "assisted" by talking like intelligent adults to each other and to us, by recommending reading, and so on. The idea that they'd have sat down with us to interfere with our homework is chilling. What an awful idea.

Why? Plenty of people have been taught by their parents down through the centuries. Why do you think that parents inteferring with homework is chilling and awful?

Parents doing homework for their kids is not a good idea, barring extreme circumstances. But if you have a school that's a bit shoddy about teaching, interferring with your kids' homework in the sense of making sure your kids thoroughly learn the basics and/or extending their horizons makes sense to me.

By the way, financial aid guidelines are much more flexible than people realize; although individual schools do not have to follow National Association of Independent Schools guidelines for financial aid, many do, which means that families making up to almost $200K are, under some circumstances, eligible for aid. In addition, many private schools would *love* to have more middle-income families; they can attract the wealthy easily enough, and they have a smattering of very poor kids through various philanthropic programs, but in between they have...the teachers' kids? They'd love to be more balanced. So don't rule out anything on financial grounds if you haven't applied and seen your aid package. As with college, the sticker price is not necessarily what you pay.

My advice comes from my own experience: Send the child to public school and see how it goes. If, after a few years, it seems like he is doing well in school and scoring well on standardized tests, and the environment seems safe, then leave him in the system. If not, pull him out and send him to private school.

I was in public school from kindergarten through 3rd grade. I scored very highly on all the standardized tests, but did not receive good grades because, at the time, I was disinterested and a bit of a discipline problem. This prompted my parents to send me to private school where I had a smaller class size. By the time I was choosing a high school, my parents left it up to me to decide between private and public. I visited several schools, and in the end decided to go private. My high school was a very good one, and I think I received unique learning opportunities and met some very intelligent people, both among my classmates and faculty. However, my friends who went to the public school near by did very well in getting into colleges as well, so it's hard for me to claim that I did any better by choosing the private high school.

I should also add that, even though I'm not sure my private high school made me better off for college admissions, I did often feel that I was in a more challenging environment than my friends in public school. But private schools can vary greatly in this regard.

I think people overestimate the impact of schools in general. Really the two most importance factors for a successful student are:

1. Have rich parents.
2. Be very intelligent.

If you adjust for those two factors then I suspect there is minimal difference between various schools. On the other hand, private schools are great at selecting for people with #1, and any schools with admissions criteria (public or private) do an ok job at selecting for #2.

It is true that private schools can get rid of the bad teachers, but a potentially important benefit is that they can get rid of the bad students too. One major problem in the public school I went to was the large number of students who had no interest whatsoever in actually learning anything. It would have been a Pareto improvement for the student body if the uninterested students got expelled. Obviously, this would conflict with the voting public's "No Child Left Behind" sensibilities. Also, their parents might have held some forlorn hope of their children getting an education, but the free daycare function of public schools seems often overlooked.

Does anyone read comments this far down?

"Buying a peer group," as someone put it, is a two-way street. When my son was at a private school, his peer group was very difficult to deal with: cliquish, impulse-challenged, and entitled. (This was a parent-participation school, which means I say what I do after having spent many mornings with them.)

His experience in a public charter school (also using a parent participation model) has mostly been a lot better.

I highly recommend parent participation for some of its many advantages:

- The student body self-selects for parents who have a level of commitment to education;

- The parent's visible involvement send a powerful message about that commitment;

- The presence of the extra adults effectively lowers the student-teacher ratio to a level that other types of schools can't match;

- Parents have real relationships with the child's teacher and peer group.

As for test scores: before you base any decisions on them, I strongly urge you to read _Measuring_Up_ by Daniel Koretz.

I would say that it really depends on your local public schools. I attended an excellent public high school in suburban North Jersey (not magnet, not charter, in fact the only high school in my school district). The classes were small (my graduating class was around 170 students), the teachers excellent, resources ample and over 95% of the graduating students would go on to attend a four-year college. From what I've read, most of the benefits coming from private school attendance appear to be largely from self-selection, mainly that the private schools are filled largely with the children of the kind of people who would send their kids to private school. Also, private schools benefit from the fact that they can easily remove discipline problems and that they don't even have to admit the real meatheads in the first place.

Is it worth the money? You need to know what you're getting. If the private school is going to teach your kid using the same methods as the public school and you don't value the peer group at the school (the other kids for your kid and the other parents for you) it doesn't seem to me that it would be worth the extra money.

In our case, we chose to send our daughter to private school (K-8) because we love the philosophy (progressive education and no homework v. lots of homework and teaching towards No Child Left Behind) and we love the community. The school, teachers and community are tremendously different than the alternatives. But there are many other private schools around that would be better than the public ones, but probably not enough to justify the additional cost.

It seems like many on this thread are over-estimating the effect that parents have on their children, and under-estimating the effect that a child's peer group has on the child (see Judith Harris' "The Nurture Assumption"). If you live in a wealthy neighborhood, who are the children who go to the public school? Probably the less talented and the kids who come from families that don't emphasize education and/or achievement. If you live in a middle-class or worse neighborhood, you really have to worry about your child's peer group.

Also, as someone mentioned, you are likely to make friends with the parents of your child's classmates. Would you rather befriend successful, wealthy people who can likely do favors for you later, or the less successful parents at the public school? Of course, the best private schools are quite expensive, prohibitively so for most, but as mentioned, financial aid does exist. Also, you can choose to live in a less expensive neighborhood if you send your children to private schools, recouping some of the cost.

(ps, I saw that someone suggested one's house is an "asset" and argued that one should buy as much house as they can afford and send the kids to the local public school. Haven't recent events dampened the "house as asset" craziness a little in this country? It is great if it turns out to be an asset, but so long as you have to live in it, calling it an asset is a stretch).

Jenny: the "good enough" problem is one that fills me with paranoia, too. I know the school I teach at is good enough because...I taught there for five years. I also know many things about it I would never learn from web sites or visits or talking with people, and that scares me -- I'll be sending my daughter someday to a school I have not researched this thoroughly, and there will be important things I don't know.

That said, I think the visit is crucial. I plan to look at test scores, but only to make sure they're not abject -- once they're minimally acceptable I think other things matter more, and moreover I don't think test scores address the value added problem without a lot more data than I'm likely to have. Here are things I'd be looking for on a visit...

Are kids in the classroom happy and engaged?

How do adults treat kids, and each other? And how do kids treat adults, and each other?

What sort of vibe do I get? (I am looking for "academically serious yet personally warm".)

How open are the people you talk to to your concerns, whatever they may be? When you talk about your kid, are they excited about kids? When you talk about your kid's needs, do they react like they've had experience dealing with things like that? (Note that admins in achievement-oriented areas, public and private, are used to dealing with psychotic parents who think their kids are geniuses regardless of the evidence, and if you come across as one of these you may get a brushoff...this is tricky if your kid actually *is* a be aware of your self-presentation here. You want to be involved, but aware of your kid's strengths and weaknesses. And, you know, not crazy.)

On the web site, I look for test scores for public schools (privates may not test and are not required to disclose, so you won't find them). I look for math and language curricula for middle and high schools (not because there's anything special about those, but because as a Latin teacher I can gauge the rigor of Latin programs easily, and because math is fairly standardized so it's easy to see how ambitious the school is -- how early do they teach algebra I?). For elementary schools, it's harder, because the curricula are fuzzier (lots of the important things being taught are social skills and processes and skills, not content), but if there's an associated school with upper grades, I assume the elementary school is aiming to prepare its students for use those upper grades' curricula. (So, eg, in a private K-8 or K-12 school, use the middle & upper schools to determine the rigor of the lower school; in public schools, use the district's middle and high schools to estimate the ambition of the elementary schools. Not a great assumption as curricula can be startlingly unaligned, but it's what I've got.) Anyway, in your case, look at whatever subjects you value most and/or know the most about and see how their offerings and expectations strike you.

It's a tough question to answer, though, because "good enough" is so based in your values, so the answer is different for different people. So really, I'd start with examining your values closely. What are you looking for in terms of curriculum (pace, degree of tracking, progressive vs. traditional vs. radical structures, class sizes, flexibility in progressing through the curriculum, elective/art/music/language/etc. offerings)? What are you looking for in terms of school culture (traditional<-->progressive, orderly<-->creative, etc.)? What are you looking for in terms of peer group (racial/economic/cultural/intellectual diversity, safety concerns)? What do you want in terms of extracurricular opportunities (sports, drama, clubs, etc.)? And, if you're up against the wall, which of these values will you sacrifice for which others?

I am only a casual reader of MR so I don't know if this will get me flamed. But here goes. A fair amount of the book Freakonomics deals with this question. As I recall their big take away is that Parents who are involved in their childrens education matterd more than the quality of the school.

The best option is balance the economics of moving and going private. Classes that move at an appropriate pace for your child are important him or her being able to enjoy school, learning etc. I'd chose the school that assigns less homework, that gives you more time in the evening to teach your child what you know.

That parents would like their children to go to well-managed schools with good teachers and good students is somehow unspeakable? I didn't know that!

As The Atlantic Monthly's Sandra Tsing Loh writes on her own website, at the hilltop "independent" school where her Prius-driving screenwriter friend who couldn't get his kids into a magnet spends $38,000 annually to educate his six-year-old twins, they "honor diversity among the foliage". And yet†¦

"To judge by the student population there, L.A. 'diversity' looks like 14 white kids and Savion Glover. 10 white kids and 5 brown kids is 'urban,' 5 white kids and 10 brown kids looks, well, not safe."

The Chicano Studies Research Center sociologists did find some good news on education. The 12 percent of the 700 Baby Boomers in their sample who started high school in Catholic or other private schools averaged 1.7 more years of schooling than the public school kids. Even after adjusting statistically for their higher average parental status, the Catholic school kids averaged an extra year of education.

Unfortunately, Hispanics don't seem to be making much of an effort to enroll their children in Catholic schools. Although Latinos now make up 24 percent of preschoolers (up sharply from 19 percent in 2000), Catholic school enrollment is dropping. USA Today reported recently:

"As Pope Benedict XVI prepares to visit the USA next week, a report released today by a Washington education think tank finds that more than 1,300 Catholic schools, most of them in big cities, have closed since 1990. †¦ Overall, Catholic school enrollment now stands at about 2.3 million, down from the peak of 5.2 million in the early 1960s."[Catholic School Enrollment Dwindling by Greg Toppo]

For more detail on the important book "Generations of Exclusion," see

There are plenty of public schools that your children can attend and get a good education. If you don't like your local public school, check to see if there is a charter school in your area that you can apply to, or if your school district has a magnet school program.

I've taught high school for five years (four public, one private international) and been a teacher educator for fifteen years. Based upon personal experience, extensive reading, and numerous school visits, I believe the "you get what you pay for" assumption is wrong in this case of private schooling. We sent our daughters to a public elementary that was outstanding not because it was an all-star faculty, but because of exceptional family involvement. Then, following our daughters' desires, we sent them to a private middle school. Now, they attend the public high school. The private, "academically talented" (I think the school's sign should read "financially talented") experience was great because less time was wasted with classroom management challenges. Most importantly though, their peers cared about doing well in school. Tough to put a price on late night phone calls about projects they're deeply engaged in. To me, the opportunity cost of attending a private school is not less purchasing power, but a relative lack of exposure to cultural/academic diversity. I wish the eventual return to a public high school compensated for that, but given tracking, it doesn't. Since our daughters will mostly be in Advanced Placement classes, in effect, they attend a school-within-a-school, one that's much more homogeneous than the school more generally. Lastly, students are in school for six hours times 180 days which represents about 22-23% of the time they are awake during the year. As a result, parents spend too little time thinking about the effects of the societal curriculum. . . television programming, extracurricular activities, family activities, etc.

PS And I have to say my two public high school boys are straight A students and are 3 sport athletes.

I went to private schools all my life. This has been an experience. When I was in grammar school, we had 8 grades, two administrators and a janitor. 40-50 kids in a room. How did we ever learn anything? Of course, we had discipline. Our parents would beat the hell out of us if we didn't behave.

Schooling is a complicated consumer purchase choice because it's hard to get clear information on schools and how they will interact with children. For example, Sandra Tsing Loh has been writing a fine series of articles for the Atlantic on her experiences as a parent with choosing schools in the San Fernando Valley, but there are wrinkles even she hasn't figured out yet. For example, we sent our kids for several years to the school she calls "Luther Hall," a mid-priced private school.

It took us years to figure out what was wrong with grades 6-8 there. See, lots of middle class people in LA are comfortable sending their children to the local public school for grades 1-5. But with puberty looming, they try hard to get their scions into more exclusive public school programs for grades 6-8, ones that often require testing high to get into. If their kids aren't that bright, however, and don't qualify for an exclusive public school program, then they pull them out of public school and send them to private schools like "Luther Hall." So, the mid-priced private schools end up full of very nice children from very nice families, but they're there because they aren't very bright, so the academic load isn't much.

So, for our younger son, we made sure to get him into the top-flight Science Academy at the local public middle school, under an energetic, charismatic superstar teacher who'd come very close to making it as an action movie star (at the end of the climactic fight in "Stargate," Kurt Russell chops his head off and then blows it up with a nuclear bomb). And our son wound up getting a 5 on the AP Biology exam in 7th grade.

So, we saved $20k and our kid got a better education. But ... you can mostly only find this stuff out by knowing people, so it's important to socialize with ambitious parents other than at your kid's current school who can clue you in. We found out how some of the exclusive programs in the LAUSD worked from other parents on our kid's baseball team at the park.

After 4 (one disabled, one a slacker, one highly competitive, and one socially and artistically motivated) children in a variety of public and private schools, and moving more than desirable, I learned to rely on the attitude of the office staff as an indicator of a good school.

Attitude flows downhill and the attitude of the principal and other administrators always correlated with the attitude of the office staff and teachers.

If the office staff is surly, the teachers will be also. And you can bet that the principal is a jerk.

Homeschool. It's worked great for our children. My daughter, now in grad school, got her tenth 4.0 semester in a row.

Repeat after me:

No matter how smart or dull your child, how much they learn during their school years will have precious little to do with the quality of instruction at the schools they attend.

As a smart child who survived 13 years in Denver Public Schools, my advice to parents of smart children is to let the school system do its worst, and take care of the meta-education at home. Make sure your child's eyes are open to the real lessons school teaches, e.g. about bureaucracy, institutional rigidity, rent-seeking, social dynamics, and so on. And if they want to pursue something, be it computers or music or outdoors activities or whatever, support their passion. Lastly, if they choose to resist the system, breaking rules that are unjust or cutting classes that serve no purpose, back them up.

If we're talking kindergarten, put them in the school with the best teachers and smallest classes. Then move them after 3rd grade (so the financial commitment is not as lengthy or large if private schools are the best match) since your kids don't really have "friends" yet and the difference between public and private from grade 4 to graduate school essentially disappears as long as you are not comparing two drastically different schools. (i.e. Private Catholic elementary versus the most dangerous inner-city public school) I'm not saying that private is better than public at any grade range, each school is different and at each stage of your child's education, you need to find what works best.

K-3, lots of personal attention and sound curriculum
4-7, solid curriculum, good peers, competent teachers, parental reinforcement of learning at home
8-12, diverse interaction with peers, incompetent teachers can be replaced with self-learning as long as a good curriculum and self-discipline is followed, lots of extra-curricular activities and exposure to different disciplines

Depends on the private school, but private is the way to go. I agree with the above poster about "prep" schools. Most of them still teach Latin and Greek, which is the only foundation for a sound liberal arts (old sense) education.

They also, through peer interaction, teach children how to behave and socialize. It's contrary to "popular opinion," but my private school peers were much more tolerant, sweet, kind, open to difference, and interesting than my public school ones. Friends the same in both, of course, but the general quality of people was much, much higher in the private school.

Elementary might not be that valuable, but parents, if you can afford it, by middle or at least high school, do your children a favor and look into them. "Catching up" by going to a good college or even for some, waiting until grad school to get a solid education, makes things much harder.

I've tutored really bright middle school children who could run circles around the college-educated working professionals I taught who were preparing to go to business school. These years matter.

Just noticed some of the blab about tuition. AND the idiotic fantasy of public schools not being able to fire poor teachers. They are able to do so.

Jeb Bush's girls went to Gulliver in Miami which had a tuition at that time about $24,000. Saint Andrew's, Pinecrest, Benjamin, and Ransom-Everglades are priced just below $20,000. In Florida, these schools are grouped within an hour's drive of each other. There are hundreds of private schools in the state that takes seven hours to drive from top to bottom, but they are basically not any better than the public high school my son went to in Delray Beach.

So-called Christian schools have worse math and science scores than public schools when adjusted for student's family income.

Masses of anecdotal evidence won't get you anywhere Tyler.

Bob Calder wrote: "Education is what you make of it.

Blame the victim, huh? Like analyses which attribute success in school to "culture" or family characterstics, throwing responsibility onto the student ("you") doesn't explain large and statistically significant relations between school variables (school size, district size, teachers certification requirements, etc.), on the one hand, and measures of student performance, positive and negative, on the other.

Bob Calder wrote: "So-called Christian schools have worse math and science scores than public schools when adjusted for student's family income."

Caroline Hoxby contends that this generalization depends on comparing nation-wide aggregates, and that it fails when one compares State (government, generally)-operated schools and parochial schools in the same locality. Andrew Coulson contends that the generalization (from an NCES study) depends on faulty determination of "family income" in parochial schools, since NCES used participation in the free and reduced price lunch program as the surrogate for "low-income". Since some parochial schools do not participate in the free and reduced price lunch program, they will record zero students in the program, giving the appearance that all the students in such a school are middle-class or above.

Beyond the US, many studies find an advantage in independent schools.

Gerard Lassibile and Lucia Navarro Gomez
"Organization and Efficiency of Educational Systems: some empirical findings", pg. 16,
Comparative Education , Vol. 36 #1, 2000, Feb.
"Furthermore, the regression results indicate that countries where private education is more widespread perform significantly better than countries where it is more limited. The result showing the private sector to be more efficient is similar to those found in other contexts with individual data (see, for example, Psucharopoulos, 1987; Jiminez, et. al, 1991).
This finding should convince countries to reconsider policies that reduce the role of the private sector in the field of education".

See also
Joshua Angrist,
"Randomized Trials and Quasi-Experiments in Education Research"
NBER Reporter, summer, 2003.

See also Herman Brutsaert's comparison of parochial and government schools in Belgium (which subsidizes parent choice of school). Standardized test scores were higher in parochial schools and the correlation between parent SES and test scores was lower (State schools exacerbate inequality).

You are buying a peer group, I was educated in poor conditions in Mississippi, but my peer group was always curious and active. You get what you pay for, but if you already live in an elitist neighborhood you have already paid for the peer group you are seeking by putting people in private schools. Why pay twice? Choose the margin which is most economic.

At private school you get (1) other children whose parents' paid $20K+/year to send them there; (2) children are groomed for college, getting a resume of extracurricular activities that look good to college admissions committees.

It depends on the school as to which is better.

I am just getting out of high school in a couple of months and just wanted to give you some advice on letting your child go to public school. One of my friends I have at church is homeschooled and yes she is graduating a year early but is also graduating behind me two years in math and has not taken a college course ahead of time. She is also pretty socially awkward. I am excelling in my senior year of high school with a 3.8 GPA overall and am in a college prep course called Advanced Composition, and an AP course of Psychology. And yes, my year is tough with PreCalc, Multi-cultural Literature, Biology. The great thing about my school though is you choose almost all of your classes junior and senior year and we have a mod scheduling just like colleges. Altogether, your children's social skills will be advanced with public, and they will learn to make the right choices when it comes to drugs, alcohol, etc....Everyone says "Oh everyone's doing it...referring to sex, drugs etc...Well to tell you the truth...It's not happening as much as people like to say it is. Parenting will play a nice role in the long run also. Try a trick that worked with me....My parents let me choose my curfew my senior year, but I also have to get up early for school. So it is my choice overall when I come home, but I have to tell them when I will be home and where I will be. One time they break your trust in anything, even as little as getting up late for school as a result from staying up too late the night before, take away the car for a week, the cell phone, or their social life. Trust me it works because now after learning to be responsible in my actions, and making right choices I don't have to lose anything. Losing that stuff may seem like nothing, but when you have to walk to work, try to get rides, and even borrow another student's cell phone to call mom and dad for a week, U LEARN YOUR LESSON!!! Public school is the way to go!

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There are many world-renowned high schools for boys IN USA that are providing superior quality of education to students. Students of these high schools are highly benefited by the well defined and diverse academic curriculum of these schools.

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I believe that private school. Would be a great option if A you don't' live in the greatest environment, or B The school has great qualities that the public school doesn't offer your child. My daughter was enrolled in a private school because she had some serious substance abuse problems, I had to find a school that helped with troubled teens. I think it all depends on the needs you and your child.

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