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One more little rant about the public/private school issue…

November 17, 2011

OK, first, you’re right. If you pay your property taxes, but you choose to send your children to kids to private schools, you’re paying for something you’re not getting. Guess what? My last kid graduated in 1999. I’m still paying my property taxes, too. You knew when you bought your house where those taxes would go. You made a choice to spend the money to go someplace else for your education.

Most government-subsidized services (sewer, water, roads, etc.) don’t have private alternatives. In our area we just barely got alternatives in buying electric power in the last year or two – and we still pay ComEd for the infrastructure, of course.  Since education isn’t used by everyone, and there are private alternatives, it becomes a focus.

I live in a pretty affluent area. People like the fact that their property values are higher because of the perceived excellence of the public schools in the area. That’s even true of a lot of the folks in the area who don’t send their kids to those schools, some of whom say they derive little to no benefit from the publish schools.

A couple of years ago, when the recession hit, the school I used to teach in suddenly added a bunch of new students because it became too expensive for their parents to keep them in private schools. I wonder if they decided after a year or so that the public school was all that bad…

I’d love to go back in time and debate whether we should have offered free public education in the first place in the US. Unfortunately, we can’t unring that bell, now. Today it’s practically considered a “right,” like so many other things that aren’t really rights.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: more affluent school districts can hire better teachers because they can offer more money. They also have already selected for a generally more intelligent student body, because in general their parents couldn’t live in the district if they were not smart enough, and ambitious enough, to earn enough money to buy a home there. In a way, that means those schools work much like selective private schools. Those schools select for the students they want. In the case of schools in affluent public school districts, the economics of the district do it for them.

Even then, I would wager that most public schools, even in the most affluent districts, have a wider range of student abilities and backgrounds than most private schools. I know of a private school nearby that requires testing for entry, like many of them do. The only other way to get in is as a legacy student – in one case, an older sister had been a student there.

I don’t have any data on how many private schools are not academically selective. Again, most are selective to a degree just because the parents care enough, and can afford enough, to send their children there. That skews comparison with a local public school. The parents might not be rich, but they definitely are more motivated for their children’s success.

I still keep hearing the same arguments about the cost of public education and private education that I heard ten years ago. No one ever brings up the “third rail” of public education: special ed. How many private schools are equipped to handle students with special needs? Are any required to do so? If your child requires a full-time aide as determined by her IEP, will a private school provide that person? The public school is required to by law.

In the school from which I recently retired, the largest department by number of staff was Special Education. I don’t have data in front of me, but I’m pretty sure it served the smallest number of kids. That’s a huge expense private schools don’t have to bear.

Please understand I am not saying that providing these services is bad – just that it is far more expensive than providing an education to the “average” student. If you are going to compare private and public schools, take the things out of the equation that private schools don’t provide, then run the numbers. Then let’s see how the students gain entry into the private schools. Then we’ll talk.

Disclaimer: As with all my posts, the above only reflects only my own opinion, and should in no way reflect on any institutions, public or private, with which I may or may not have been affilliated.

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