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Is Private School Worth It?

{ 44 comments }

Is private school worth it?Time really flies when you have a kid. It seems like yesterday that RB40jr was born and I was still working at Intel. It’s been a very busy four and a half years and I can’t believe how fast he has grown. This is his last year at his preschool so we need to figure out where he will go next year. I know it seems a little early to start worrying about kindergarten now, but the timeline can creep up on you very quickly. The schools here usually hold an open house in February and you’ll have to submit an application very soon after. Now is probably the best time to start looking at our options because soon we’ll be busy with Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the Holiday season. There won’t be much time to research after New Year. We need to figure out if we should consider private schools, public schools, or other options.

Joe’s schooling

I like the public school system. Mrs. RB40 and I went to our local public schools and met at the  University of California, Santa Barbara. We were pretty smart kids and our public schools mostly prepared us adequately for our years in college. While Mrs. RB40 did well in public school, she struggled a bit in college. She also worked as much as she could while taking a full course load in order to lessen the financial impact on her parents.

Actually, let’s rewind a bit. I grew up in Chiang Mai, Thailand and went to school there until I finished 6th grade. I attended Montfort College primary school, one of the few private primary schools in Chiang Mai. Back then, the private schools were much better than the local public schools. My parents weren’t rich, but they value education highly and were college educated. I’m sure they had to make some sacrifices to send me to an expensive private school.

When we moved to the US, my parents had to start over from scratch and they couldn’t afford private schools. The public schools here are held to a higher standard and you can get a good education in most schools. Of course, it’s highly dependent on your local school district, but generally I think the public schools in the US are acceptable.

School Choices

We live in downtown Portland and our public school, Chapman elementary, is not too bad. This district is kind of unusual because it encompasses downtown and a wide swath of NW Portland. The NW Portland area is pretty well-to-do and the school had great test scores for many years. In recent years, downtown has grown and this resulted in a more crowded school along with more diversity. More diversity means more disadvantaged students as well. This is okay with me because I want RB40jr to meet people from different backgrounds and make friends with wide variety of kids. Test scores took a big dip in 2009 and have been slowly coming back. The school still ranks pretty well from what I read online. I would be fine with sending RB40jr to Chapman, but let’s explore all the other options while we’re at it.

  • Another public school – There is a better rated public school in SW Portland, Ainsworth elementary. It’s actually closer to our home than Chapman. This school is located in one of the wealthiest areas in Portland and the kids’ test scores reflect that. We can send an application here and should have a moderate chance of getting in. I’m undecided about this school.
  • Bilingual programs – Portland has several bilingual programs in their public schools – Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Russian, and Vietnamese. A spot in these programs are highly coveted and the space is very limited. We will put our name in the lottery for the Chinese program, but the chance of getting in is very low. There are just 60 spots in the kindergarten program for the whole city of Portland.
  • Charter school – Emerson elementary is a small charter school nearby that has an excellent rating. Again, the space is extremely limited. In the 2015 school year, there were 14 openings and 10 were filled by incoming siblings of current students. There were just 4 openings for over 200 applicants. We’ll put our names in the hat and try our luck here too.
  • Private school – There are quite a few private schools in our area. The International School is just a few blocks away, but it’s pretty darn expensive at around $16,000 per year. This would be our last option. The price seems absurd to me because we have relative good public schools in our area.

Whew, I think that’s all the options I’ve found so far. I plan to send in an application for the Chinese bilingual program and Emerson, but I doubt we’ll get in. We’ll most likely go with our local public elementary school because it’s a decent program. If it’s not the right fit for our kid, then we’ll consider private school.

I don’t really like private school because the cost is just too high for my taste. I’d rather save the money for college. We could also use the money to expose our son to wider experiences like international travel, music lessons, and kung fu classes. I plan to stay involved with his education so I don’t think he’ll have much trouble with formal education. RB40jr is a really bright kid. He learns new things very quickly, but he has no grit. He gives up too quickly if he doesn’t succeed right away. He’s only 4 so I guess we’ll have to work on that.

Anyway, if our public school is dismal, then I would consider private school more seriously. Or we could just move a few miles south to Lake Oswego…

What do you think about private school? Do you think it’s worth the money at the primary or secondary level?

Image Credit: by W.D. Vanlue

{ 44 comments… add one }
  • Ernie Zelinski September 16, 2015, 12:39 am

    I agree with you. The private school is way too expensive. The $16,000 to send RB40jr to private school can be spent much more wisely on the things that you mentioned.

    Here is some food for thought as it relates to education:

    “I am inclined to think that one’s education has been in vain if one fails to learn that most schoolmasters are idiots.”
    — Hesketh Pearson

    “Education is helping the child realize his potentialities.”
    — Erich Fromm

    “Education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten.”
    — B. F. Skinner

    “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”
    — Oscar Wilde

    “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune. ”
    — Jim Rohn

    “The aim of all education is, or should be, to teach people to educate themselves.”
    — Arnold Toynbee

    “How is it that little children are so intelligent and men so stupid. It must be education that does it.”
    — Alexandre Dumas

    “Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.”
    — Thomas H. Huxley

    “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
    — Mark Twain

    As for me, I may have over-educated myself in way too many things that I shouldn’t know at all.

    • retirebyforty September 16, 2015, 9:58 am

      Great quotes!

  • Kenny September 16, 2015, 12:47 am

    Private Schooling in an area where public schools have ACT Score averages above 20-23 is a waste of money. If the scores are below, then move since it will be cheaper, again, unless the local real estate taxes of the current home are so much more lower. It is a financial equation and not an education equation of location of home, private school and public schools.

    • retirebyforty September 16, 2015, 9:59 am

      Our neighborhood high school is one of the best in the city. Hopefully, it will stay that way for 8 more years.

  • Kristi September 16, 2015, 4:42 am

    I agree with you. The private schools in our area cost $12,000 a year. I can’t imagine spending that much money on elementary education. We won’t be sending our kids to public school though. Where we live is very rural and has many low income families, and our actually has the lowest school ratings in the entire state. For now, our only real option for quality education is homeschooling. That may change if we decide to move, but for now, I know without a doubt that I will be giving my kids a better education than the public schools would.

    • retirebyforty September 16, 2015, 10:01 am

      Really? I’d go for homeschooling as our last option. I’m not a good teacher because I’m impatient. I’m sure you’d do a great job, though.

  • Simply Financially Free September 16, 2015, 5:21 am

    I don’t have kids so no personal experience but I don’t believe private schools are worth it. We have relatives whose kids chose the private schools instead of public and they actually wish they had just sent them to the public schools instead. I have no data to back this up but with private schools as there is usually more money when it comes to high school years there seems to be more access to drugs and alcohol, more hard partying, an entitlement attitude, and the kids seem to grow up a little bit faster. If I did have kids, even if I had the extra money, I would send them to public schools and save the money.

    • retirebyforty September 16, 2015, 10:02 am

      Thanks for your input. That’s what I’m afraid of too. Private school kids seem more entitled. I didn’t know about the drug and alcohol issue. I’ll keep that in mind.

  • DP @ Someday Extraordinary September 16, 2015, 6:16 am

    I’m an advocate of public schools, if the right public school can be found. I know in some areas it just isn’t the right choice. Most of my relatives went to private schools, but my siblings and I went to public. While our formal education may not have been as good (subjective? Maybe not as much discipline, not as good of teachers, who knows?), I feel that we had more real-world experience when we came out. We’ve all done fine.

    As far as RB40jr’s lack of grit., have you read “Mindset” by Carol Dweck or looked into some of her studies? Or, “Bounce” by Matthew Syed? Both discuss at length the “growth mindset” vs. the “fixed mindset” with children. May be able to find some good strategies in their!

    Good luck!

    -DP

    • retirebyforty September 16, 2015, 10:04 am

      I like our public school too. It’s a good system for most people. Thanks for the tips. I just added them to my reserve list at the library.

  • Money Beagle September 16, 2015, 6:52 am

    Our school district is pretty widespread and our elementary school has very good ratings and reputation, but others in the district do not, and this affects the middle school and high school, which converge down the line. For now, we’re very happy, but after elementary school we’ll likely do some further evaluation on how things look. That’s still four years away, so we have time!

    • retirebyforty September 16, 2015, 10:06 am

      Our middle school has mediocre rating for some reason. However, our high school is one of the best high school in the city. It’s a bit strange.

  • Justin @ Root of Good September 16, 2015, 7:37 am

    Wow, time to seriously start thinking about elementary school, huh? We’re about to start researching middle schools for our 5th grader. Time flies!

    I’d vote for one of the free options definitely. $16,000/yr isn’t worth it for private unless your free public/charter options are unbelievably bad OR you are a mega-millionaire. Much better to save the $100k you would spend on k-5 and invest it and let it double a few times and pay for Jr’s entire college education including grad school and probably have enough left over to gift a six figure lump of cash to buy a house, start a business or whatever.

    We are fortunate to have 10-15 different schools to choose from in our local area between public schools (including a number of magnet schools with different themes) and free charter schools. We ended up choosing the worst school in the district at the time because it was in our neighborhood and we could walk to it.

    If you haven’t seen my post on it, it’s worth a read: http://rootofgood.com/bad-schools-are-okay/ Basically, your kid will be okay, even at a mediocre school. 🙂 If you can dig into the test scores at your local school, you’ll probably see high scores for kids with backgrounds similar to your kid’s (Asian, high parental education, not low income, English proficient). That was the case at our “worst school in the district” at least.

    The upside of choosing the worst school is that we have tons of resources like low student to teacher ratio, lots of supplemental help (for academically gifted kids like mine and those needing remedial help, also like one of mine in a certain area of reading).

    My kids have also befriended an enormously diverse group of kids from every continent in the world (except Australia and Antartica!). It’s a great lesson in the diversity of the US population that you won’t get in most private schools or in a rich suburban school with a homogeneous student body.

    Best of luck in whatever you end up choosing!

    • retirebyforty September 16, 2015, 10:09 am

      Yeah, time really flies when you have kids. Thanks for the link. It’s a great read. Our neighborhood school is middling so I don’t think they get any extra resources. The teacher to student ratio is pretty bad in all school. I think it’s around 21:1. Our neighborhood school is more diverse, but not that diverse. We’re still in the somewhat wealthy neighborhood. East Portland is much more diverse than where we live.

  • bob September 16, 2015, 9:08 am

    Being a stay-at-home dad, you really ought to look into home schooling your little guy. Though it often carries a “too religious” or “too conservative” label, it need not be so. My wife educated our three kids though fifth grade, at which point their reading levels were astounding, their math skills were rock solid, and (more to the point) their ability to teach themselves had become a solid foundation of learning. It doesn’t take experience on your part (I mean, you’re a good dad and you didn’t have experience at that either). All it takes is your burning desire for your kid to become one of the smartest in all of Portland. And he can be, because no one else will invest in him like YOU will.

    • retirebyforty September 16, 2015, 10:10 am

      I don’t know if I can home school. I find that I get very frustrated with Jr when I spend a lot of time with him. He listens to his teachers much more than me. I’ll help out with his homework and go over the subjects, but I don’t think I can plan a curriculum.

    • Anne D. September 16, 2015, 11:33 am

      Speaking as someone who has homeschooled four kids (one all the way through high school) who all went on to college … I wouldn’t recommend home schooling an only child; so much of what kids learn in school is beyond academics. A lot of it you wish they wouldn’t learn, and it really hurts when bad attitudes and bad choices, coming from their friends, have a negative effect; but this is the world they will live in. Learning to negotiate situation where you need to say, “no”, learning to handle bullies, etc., are difficult lessons to learn later on.

  • Pennypincher September 16, 2015, 9:44 am

    Looks like you have some excellent options there. Do leave out applying to Ainsworth. A few points here… Parents send their kids to privates for all sorts of reasons. But most times, it’s the publicly funded schools that have the best/most resources. Best technology, teaching, books, extras, etc. We have such great public schools, I don’t understand why parents insist on the pricey privates.
    Colleges don’t look at grades until students enter High School, so that’s important to remember. A school principle once told me, the secret is motivation. The student must be motivated. That comes w/maturity, for some kids it’s inborn. Most kids take a while to “get” that concept. A school superintendent told me this- If the majority of students in the school are achievers, the rest of the student population will rise to that standard too.
    As parents, we just looked at the pricey private school’s tuitions and said-we’re too worried about what college will cost, we need good public schools. Enough said.

    • retirebyforty September 16, 2015, 2:38 pm

      The only reason I’m thinking about Ainsworth is because some of RB40jr’s friends are going there. Thanks for the tips. It’s hard to keep really smart kids motivated. I’m pretty sure he’ll do well because we will stay involved.

      • Pennypincher September 16, 2015, 4:38 pm

        Oops! Typo on my comment regarding Ainsworth. Meant to say -don’t- leave out applying to Ainsworth. Do apply! It sounds like a great option and a great education. Please apply and keep your fingers crossed if it’s a possibility. Have a plan “B”. Good luck!

  • David Michael September 16, 2015, 9:59 am

    Joe, I agree with you about the Portland City public schools. However, I would invest the savings for one or two years in an International High School outside of the USA … Thailand, perhaps. Thus, a language immersion school at the elementary level makes a lot of sense. Here in Eugene we have four of them and many of the students spend their summers in the host country to improve their language skills and experience the culture firsthand.

    For my junior year in high school I went to an International High School in a suburb of Athens, Greece. It was the highlight of my entire academic career (three advanced degrees) with small classes (15 students average), local field trips to ancient ruins on the weekends, studying the Greek culture and language, and most importantly, mixing with students from several countries, and participating in sports teams like soccor and basketball where every student was needed to make the sport’s program viable. Most American high schools are just too large, impersonal and competitive. Small classes make all the difference!

    That one year changed my life and I have been travelling and working internationally for the past 60 years.

    • retirebyforty September 16, 2015, 2:41 pm

      That’s a great idea! I never thought of that. We can afford one year. It would be a great adventure. Greece sounds great. I’ll see what Mrs. RB40 thinks about this. I don’t know if I’d pick Thailand, though. The system there stress academia too much. The students are just studying all the time. That’s my impression anyway.

  • Seb Brantigan September 16, 2015, 11:09 am

    Interesting post, I don’t have a kid yet but this does occasionally play on my mind a little every now and then…in the UK you don’t actually need a degree to home school nor follow any curriculum so I am probably more likely to opt for that, but good to have some options in front of you. Awesome debate on this blog though, a great read 🙂

  • Virginia September 16, 2015, 4:53 pm

    This is something I have been thinking about a lot… for years…and my daughter isn’t even two yet. I live in an area and have met a lot of people who went to the number one high school in america, Thomas Jefferson and I am wondering if I should try to get my daughter into that school. A lot of the people I knew were kind of jerks and it seems like the pressure can make some of them go crazy. Check out this article about a girl lying to the South Korean press. She went to TJ.

    http://usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/06/21/student-lies-about-getting-into-harvard/29066971/

    But, the people I know who went there seem to be doing well in life, they all went to good colleges and got good jobs.

    • retirebyforty September 16, 2015, 9:55 pm

      From what I read. The biggest advantage to private school is the pipeline to private colleges. The kids will be much better prepared. If you don’t plan to send your kid to Ivy league colleges, then it’s probably not a big deal. Good luck! 🙂

  • Jessica September 16, 2015, 5:13 pm

    Hi, this is a great article, thank you. And your site has lots of good information. I just want to say that I hope you won’t label your son as not having grit. In my opinion, I don’t think a parent can really see what a person is capable of at such a young age. The concerning part for me is that placing a label on someone can start an identification process in them, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy based on ‘what Dad said about me’. I think this is especially so when it involves a small child, as children are like sponges – particularly before the age of 7. Just a thought for you. A friend of mine’s father often told her she wasn’t smart. I think she ‘bought into’ that label/definition. I don’t think she really WASN’T smart but her life seemed to unfold based on that assumption. Good luck with everything, and a big hug to your little boy:)

    • retirebyforty September 16, 2015, 9:57 pm

      Thank you for your comment. I try not to put any label on him at all. I learned that when he went through his shy phase. 🙂
      I’m sure he’ll learn to have more grit. I just need to find out how to encourage that growth. I’ll give him a hug right now.

  • nicoleandmaggie September 16, 2015, 6:38 pm

    We sent our son to private school until 4th grade. He’s currently in 5th grade in public while we’re in a different state on leave from my regular job. It has been well worth it for us.

    Why?
    He was able to enter kindergarten early, he’s had small classes, he’s been continuously challenged, all the kids are really nice, it’s only 8K/year which at this point is only a small fraction of our income, they are allowed to teach things like *evolution* and *history* without the state board of education censoring things that go against the religious extremists on the board. He also got Spanish and French and art and music without having to pay extra or go to after school classes (this year he’s getting Spanish that we pay for extra after school~$500/year, but not French because that’s not available on our campus– it would be 1K, and he’s getting music that is funded by “requested donations” of $500/kid/year, but not art. Also robotics is $200/semester here but is a free after school program at the private school.). On top of that our zoned elementary school has changed and gotten worse every 5 years or so.

    I’m not sure if we’ll send him back to private when we get back or not. Public school middle school in our small town starts having more options for smart kids than elementary. I’m also not sure if we’ll send DC2 to private or not– her birthday is shifted such that she will be one of the youngest which means she’ll be less likely to need a skip, and her personality is such that she may do better with a larger class size. It is hard to tell. We’re playing everything by ear each year.

    But yes, we’ve done private school and it has been well worth it for our situation.

    • retirebyforty September 16, 2015, 10:01 pm

      Thank you for your comment. It’s nice to hear from a parent who sent their kid to private school. The program sounds great and it’s not too expensive. I’m very happy it works for you.

  • J.B. September 17, 2015, 5:55 am

    It’s a personal choice. We sent oldest kid to a (well thought of) public school for kindergarten and switched to private for first grade. Our situation was set up by challenges the school didn’t handle well, and continued starvation of school budgets in the state which won’t help.

    It has been a pretty easy transition (lots of after cutoff kids go to private k so there were plenty of first grade spots available plus they’ve done this a few times before!) It is very much worth trying out public kindergarten and seeing if the school is right for you. Plus if you have time and inclination to volunteer schools love to have dads come in and it gives a good feeling for the day to day. Good luck!

    • retirebyforty September 17, 2015, 11:09 pm

      That sounds like a difficult choice to make. We’ll start out with public school and see how it goes. I’ll sign up to volunteer. RB40jr is a bit out of control when I’m in class, though. Thanks for your input.

  • Vivianne September 17, 2015, 10:49 am

    I grew up having to take entrance exams to get into the public school. If the kids who can’t pass the exams will get sent to private schools (which poor families like ourselves wouldn’t be able to afford). The stigma was private school is for dumb rich kids.

    We are lucky here in America that we don’t have the same stigma. The resources are readily available if you want to home school. mr money mustache seems to do a great job with his son teaching physic when he looks like he only 8-12 years old. I started learning physics in 6 grades also. It’s kind of hard to get into physics in public schools unless you really fight for your child to take advance courses.

    The truth is kids just want to have fun. Parents just want kids to stay healthy. Most public school are okay. The world is run by C students. No matter what happens, it will be ok.

    • retirebyforty September 17, 2015, 11:13 pm

      That’s very interesting. I have never heard of a system like that. What if the poor kids can’t pass the entrance exam? No school? I talked to Pete last year and his kid is going back to public school. I think he said it’s to help develop his social skill or something like that. Sure, I can probably try to teach him Newton Physic. Beyond that is way too difficult for me. Fluid dynamic, electromagnetism, and such…

  • Wilson September 17, 2015, 11:31 am

    A lottery system is basically going to determine whether our 4 yo starts at public or private kindergarten next year. I’m not sure we have a local public elementary school that is not a charter for which we have to apply. If we do it’s so atrocious it’s not even an option. But the extremely close by charter, which just started its 4th or 5th year, is getting rave reviews so it’s now our first choice. Unfortunately, it’s seeing its applications rise drastically as parents are slowly starting to look at the local public schools instead or reflexively going straight to private schools. It will also be eliminating neighborhood preference soon, but hopefully not for two more years, so odds are its more likely than not she gets in. If not, looks like private school for a year and we play the lottery game every year we can until one of the few acceptable schools hopefully come up. Such are the joys of living in a gigantic school education experiment.

    • retirebyforty September 17, 2015, 11:16 pm

      Good luck with the charter school. The number of opening is just so small compare to the application. We have to be really lucky to get in. I guess that what happens when you get rave reviews.

  • Mysticaltyger September 17, 2015, 12:52 pm

    I know this is easy for me to say because I don’t have kids, but I think most public schools in America suck. I would home school my kids if I had any.

  • Steve Miller September 17, 2015, 1:05 pm

    With the quality of schools in most cities and even rural areas of America, it baffles me how someone can justify $12k+ per year in private schools. I think it is more of a status symbol than anything.

  • Dave September 17, 2015, 8:19 pm

    Education is so important. If I had a kid, I probably wouldn’t want to pay for a private school, but I’d make sure kid is going to a really good public school. If he puts his mind to it in the public school, it’s just as good as the private school. The private school probably starts a whole chain reaction of meeting rich parents and keeping up with the Jones’ going to the Harvards and Stanfords of the world.

    Another thing is early retirement gives you flexibility down the road if you decide you need to move to where the schools are better. You won’t be tied down by a job.

    • retirebyforty September 17, 2015, 11:23 pm

      That’s what I’m afraid of if I send him to the public school in the wealthy area. All the kids will be rich and it would be hard to keep up with the Jones. I wouldn’t be comfortable if I was middle class in a rich school.

  • Faye September 20, 2015, 5:02 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more! I feel that private schooling is such a waste of money. Beyond that, there is something elitist about it that bothers me – like a true segregation of the “haves” who can afford it and the “have nots” who cannot. The real world simply doesn’t work that way. There are no “private” office environments, and I think it is good for kids to learn how to operate in a public system. Ultimately I think the education is as good as the child and the parent anyway – yes, a good school definitely helps, but the child’s self-motivation and that of the parents is much much more important in determining ultimate academic success.

  • Alexa @ thespottedbulldog September 21, 2015, 6:12 am

    This is a question I have always wondered about. I have a hard time coming to terms that I would be paying for private schooling when my tax dollars go to paying for the public school system. We also pay for daycare (since she was 3.5 months old) and I will look forward to having that cost disappear when she enters public school at the age of 4.

    I went to a public school and so did my husband and we received great educations and both went on to get college degrees in engineering. I think she will be fine in public school! 🙂

    • retirebyforty September 21, 2015, 8:49 am

      Yes, I’d hate to pay so much when the public school is acceptable. We got okay education from our public school, I wouldn’t say great. It would have been better if my parents were more involved. That the real key.

  • nicoleandmaggie September 23, 2015, 7:58 am

    This idea that private schools are for the elite/Joneses/haves is pretty misguided. That may be true for a subset of private schools (the ones that cost 40K or more per year), but most private schools are much less expensive, often subsidized by a church, and are a combination of kids whose parents care a lot about education and kids whose parents care about religion. There are a lot of kids whose parents are scrimping and saving (even with scholarships) to send their kids to the private school where my son went. The same is true of the Catholic school where my sister went to high school– there were a lot of lower income Hispanic girls who took the train in from dangerous school districts in the city every morning.

    The cars in the private school parking lot are a lot less nice than the ones the high schoolers park at the public school on my way to work. Of course, it’s easier to afford a car for your 16 year old when you haven’t been paying for private school for years. They’re different priorities, and consumerism doesn’t necessarily go with the private school kids.

    • Tiffany October 13, 2015, 8:44 am

      I agree with nicoleandmaggie that private schools have entitled and elitist families is an unfounded assumption. I have had 2 children in private school since kindergarten. It’s a small Lutheran school that has a very middle class population (of which we are one of them). Of course, there are a few very wealthy families but they are more than balanced out by many families on scholarship. It is a financial sacrifice but we purposely chose the school for many reasons: small class size (15-20 students), the extracurriculars (Spanish, art, music), and religious and character development. We aren’t against public school, this school is just a better fit for our family at this time.

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