Private School vs Homeschool: A value Proposition
This is an old post that I wrote in 2012 when I was considering homeschooling:
I was sitting around with a group of parents today and the inevitable discussion of next year’s school plans began. Here in Atlanta, school applications are due in the January to February time frame and decisions are mailed in April. Getting kids into the “right” school is HUGE. You either buy a house in the “right” school district or you pay anywhere from $10-$25 thousand per year (per child) for private school tuition.
Obviously the more elite schools are in the upper ranges. In addition to tuition, you have uniforms, fees, the expected fundraisers and donations. If both parents work, you have to add the cost of after school programs. Don’t have backup care over the summer? Add summer camps and summer camp after school for working parents. This will run you anywhere from $3-7K per child just for the summer. In short, unless you are paying a sizeable mortgage to live in the so-called good school districts, you are looking at a sizeable second mortgage payment going toward your kids’ education.
Because of the economy, many parents who would never have considered public school are having to avail themselves of the very schools they held in contempt. In my situation, we moved into a not so great school district in an area that was “coming back” during the housing boom. It was an unspoken understanding among the new families in this community that while we would live here, we would all eventually send our kids to private schools outside the area. Like so many of the mid-career, dual income couples moving in at the time, we didn’t have any kids when be bought our house so we didn’t really have an appreciation for how the school situation would really impact our family.
Turns out many couples in our area are having to consider sending their kids to these once dreaded public schools because they are so under water in their mortgages and/or are in so much debt they simply can’t afford the risk of sending vast sums of money to private schools. The general consensus now among local parents is that since so many “good” families are now sending their kids to the local public schools, the schools will miraculously become better schools.
As for my family, private school had always been the solution – until I ran the numbers. If we enrolled both our kids into an elite private school, we would be looking at between $40-$50K per year, starting in kindergarten. That’s right, kindergarten. Multiply that by twelve years and we could have purchased AND paid off 2 nice homes. If we took the cheaper, non-elite private school route, we would still be looking at around $30K per year for the two kids. After 12 years we could have paid off one nice house. So the question then became – what would we get for such an investment?
Before going into MY analysis of the investment, I will first acknowledge that such an analysis is different for every family. I draw my conclusion not in an attempt to make a judgment call on people who chose a different path, but to share where my family is on the subject. All disclaimers done, on with the show.
Looking at the positives of sending the kids to private school, I came up with: good education, good test scores, myriad extracurricular activites, “socialization” and making friends, the prestige of having gone to said private school. Ok. Great. So let’s take these one at a time.
First, what does it mean to provide a good education? I looked at the subjects that the schools teach in the elementary grades. The subjects were pretty standard. Each school has their own spin on how the courses are taught, but for K-5, its basically the same stuff. Reading, writing, vocabulary, math, science and variations of social studies/history. I found that private schools like to boast that they are 1-2 grade levels ahead of the public school. Well that’s great, too.
But on closer inspection, I found that private school kids are typically a year older than the same grade level in public school. I found this out because it was made clear that my son, who has a July birthday, was likely NOT to be considered for private school kindergarten admission despite the fact that he would be 5 before school started. Also despite the fact that he is reading, doing simple addition, skip counting, etc. No, you see, many schools do not even consider a child with a summer birthday. It seems to me that they artificially inflate the average age of their students. In that case, if my son was doing kindergarten at age 6, he very well SHOULD be doing 1st grade work in kindergarten!
Which brings me to test scores. Sure, the test scores at the private schools are higher. But considering the fact that applicants have to take and pass a test administered by a psychologist before being considered for admission, I would expect such cherry picked kids to do well. Not only are these schools dealing with an older student body but a more academically advanced student body. Again, that’s a no brainer but is it worth the money they are asking?
Next, we look at extracurriculars. I haven’t found much in the area of extracurriculars for elementary school kids. Most of the activities are those that could be purchased for substantially less at one of the many providers in the area: foreign language, art, music, instrument classes and the like. Finally, we’ll look at socialization.
As any homeschooling family knows, the big question is: does private school provide a superior level of socialization? My instinct is to think that the level of socialization would be the same to that of a public school. Except for the fact that the majority of the kids come from a more homogenous socioeconomic background. From what I have gleaned in talking to parents whose kids are at the elite private schools, they are dealing with the same issues everyone else deals with: bullying, catty girls, peer pressure. Older kids are dealing with the same issues as well: experimental sex and drugs, binge drinking. Anecdotal evidence even suggests that such problems are worse at high SES schools because these kids have the money to purchase more alcohol and the nastier experimental drugs.
Now to the negatives of sending my kids to private school. Assuming we could make due where we are and NOT sell the house, we would be absolutely destitute. We would not have any extra money to do anything. No vacations, no eating out, no family outings. The most practical move for us should we choose private school would be to sell our house. Assuming we could even do that in this economy, we may as well then move to a better school district. But, a lower mortgage payment would mean more room in the budget to accommodate tuition.
Finally, the effect on our family. Private school means that both my husband and I would we obligated to work. With two full time parents, our children would enjoy all day schooling and afterschool till closing time. Until they turn twelve. At that point after school ends and they would simply have to go home to an empty house after school. Or we could hire a nanny to watch them at home until we arrived from work. My husband and I would be able to spend 2-3 hours a day with our children during the week. We would try to create quality family time on the weekends between running errands and attending the kids’ activities. We would then collapse, exhausted, just as we always do on Sunday. Dreading the fact that we have to start all over again on Monday morning.
So, this is the analysis for our family. When I weigh the cost of private school against the benefits, I’ve had to choose not to go that route. Indeed, I can homeschool the kids for less than $7K per year (total for both kids) which includes: curriculum for each child, memberships at TEN museums and other organizations that provide homeschool programs for the kids, weekly field trips to enhance learning, attendance at select specialty camps during the summer at the elite private schools, and French, Spanish, art, karate, ballet lessons. This $7K also includes extracurriculars like baseball and soccer. Homeschooling would also give the children quality time with their mother and more time with Dad. We will still have to live frugally but the trade off is WORTH IT!