Is Private School Better Than Public School?

public or private schoolIf you have children or plan on having children, one of you biggest concerns should be making sure they receive a quality education.  While we  never really considered school districts before we built our house, we later realized that the elementary school our daughter is supposed to attend is not ideal. Luckily, we have been able to enroll her in an out of district public school. We have been pretty happy with the school this far, but what if there were a better one? There is a new charter school opening next fall and I’m always curious about private schools. We don’t really have other school options unless we move, but I’m curious if private school is better than public school?

The New Montessori School

Next fall, some very determined parents have gotten a charter approved and received grant funding for a Montessori K-8 charter school. I’ve never been a huge fan of Montessori, but to be fair, we’ve never been in a program. I always wondered how the concept applies to the real world. You can’t exactly decide to do your job at your own pace and work more on the things you feel most comfortable with, but maybe they teach you how to adapt?

Anyway, we did not enter the lottery for the new school, so obviously will not be attending next year. Now I find out that many of the higher performing students or those with involved parents at my daughter’s school will be leaving for the Montessori program. Did we miss the boat or are these parents just jumping on the bandwagon?

There is no extra cost to attend the charter school, but they do place emphasis on community projects and distance learning, so I can’t imagine there won’t be more fees, at least indirectly. I also wonder what happens if  current grants don’t get renewed. I also have no idea if student achievement will be higher or if this charter will end up as a dumping ground for all the kids whose parents have a revolving door relation ship with many area schools, blaming everyone instead of themselves for a child’s lack of progress. It could also end up being the best school in Colorado where all the students get scholarships to Yale. It’s so easy to second guess parenting choices.

Public or Private School?

Unless we did boarding school, we don’t have a private school option without moving. I know many parents who have moved for better schools, either into a better district or where there were private choices. We have some teacher friends who took jobs  in South Korea at a $30,000 per year elite school so their kids could attend for free. 

While it’s very exciting to think about my kid attending a top notch school, I’m not sure it would be worth uprooting or paying out the wazoo. Jim changed schools a couple of times in elementary and then after his sophomore year of high school. All the moves were traumatic, and he thinks that’s one reason he didn’t like school or try very hard when he was younger. His high school in suburban Denver was so big that no one really missed him when he skipped out most days.

I grew up in rural Kentucky and attended a small public school. My parents really pushed me to do well academically, and I did. However, our school was not really know as an academic powerhouse. Yale was not knocking on my door, but I did get a full ride to a state school and had no problem getting into optometry school, which has provided a great career.

Does an Elite School Matter?

I really believe it doesn’t matter where you go to school as long as your parents are involved and have standards. You can succeed or fail in the most expensive high ranking school or the worst public school. What I like about our daughter’s current school is that it’s really small. I believe each graduating class has about 50 kids. They graduate 90% as opposed to 60% of our home district, and there is lots of parental involvement. I wish the rural attitudes about culture and education were a bit more positive, but all in all, I think we can show her that ourselves if she doesn’t get it from school.

I also think a state university is just fine, so if we don’t make Ivy league, that’s not something I’ll lose sleep over. I believe in high standards, but I’m not sure it’s great to push little kids all the time. Our friends in Korea say that the kids are so focused on academics and the correct extracurriculars that they have to actually make them play a game or watch TV. That’s not really something I want to strive for.

What Should Parents Do?

As parents or potential parents, I’d certainly consider the school district when deciding on a forever home. While it’s possible to succeed anywhere, if the school is more focused on discipline or keeping accreditation, that takes lots of effort that could be put into greater student achievement. 

If you decide on private school or a charter school, be able to explain why. Because it’s what the Joneses are doing is not a good reason. Going into serious debt to fund private school when public school might work just fine is not a good example to set for children at all. However, if you value a private school education and can afford it, I think that might be a great choice. If you are going to move, I’d do it as early as possible.

For now, we aren’t going to make any changes. If our school loses some students, that just means even smaller class sizes. There probably isn’t a perfect school, but I think we’re in pretty good shape for now, and I don’t think a charter or private school would be worth it.

Did you or your kids attend private school? Was it worth it? Any thoughts on Montessori?

Written By
Sydney White is a Texas-born stay at home mom who enjoys spending time with her family, bargain hunting and, hiking.


  1. “I really believe it doesn’t matter where you go to school as long as your parents are involved and have standards.” To me, this is where the rubber meets the road: parental involvement. You guys seem to set great standards for your daughter, and you love, support her and encourage her. These tactics will definitely trump the “quality” of the school she goes to, but I do think it’s great that she’s in a small school with small class sizes.

  2. I really think it’s school/location dependent. I went to a private school when I was younger, then I switched to public school. No difference. But I live in an area known for a great public school system. In other places in the country there may be a huge difference. Sometimes I wonder if paying for private schools (or ivy league colleges) is like buying a brand name product instead of a store brand – not much difference except for the name.

  3. My entire education was public, but I was lucky to have access to good public schools and universities. Nashville proper has some pretty bad public schools, and it’s something I’ve considered as I get older and think about the possibility of having a family someday. I enjoy living in the inner-city, so this would cause a problem for me.

  4. I didn’t attend private school and I don’t plan to send my children to private school either. I have friends who when to private schools and I’ve learned a bit from them. I think public school provides the valuable experience of social interaction. Unfortunately, my thoughts on private school are that by keeping children on such tight restrictions, private schools downplay creativity and lead to a poor education experience.

  5. My son is not even one yet but we’re already thinking about school districts if we buy a place. I went to public school in a neighborhood that isn’t that great. Ultimately I think good parenting has a bigger affect. Though a good school district is also important. I don’t think I want to pay for private school if the public school option works. I’ve heard a bit about Montessori, they always mention that the guys from google were taught using that method. I’m not sure i see the big deal with that method though

  6. Private school is indeed better, and I went to all public schools. It seems however, that home-schooled kids do the best.

    I would use the public schools, and do some homeschooling too. If the school has a bunch of riff-raff, then go to private schools, or a school in another district.

    1. I think home schooling depends on the parents. The ones who are serious about it do great. I also see parents who don’t ever want to admit their kid has issues and then they pull them for home schooling. Jim had a 5th grade student a couple of years ago who missed about 2 days out of every 5, never turned in work, and called the PE teacher a bitch. Her punishment was to write an essay explaining why this was wrong and not an appropriate way to deal with anger. She refused. Her mom then pulled her out of school to home school. To me, that makes a bad situation worse, but I’ve also seen it work wonders for the right parent/child combination.

  7. I’ve observed various experiences with varying results. I think that the most important part is that parents stay in tune with their children’s education.

    While attending mostly public school, I did attend 2 years of private school (5th and 6th grade only) which really transformed my life.

    The small class size and music program at private school really helped me. First, because of the smaller classes (15 vs 30 at public), I was able to get some much needed individual attention. No matter how good the teacher is at any school, one teacher can only do so much.
    Also, the music program was particularly strong at my elementary private school. I had a head start that paved the way for me to earn music scholarships that would pay in full for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees. (btw: I did not major in music)

    Some of my classmates at public school went on to Harvard and are leaders in their profession. Some of my private school classmates are collecting welfare. So I don’t think that the school is the most important factor to future success.

    One friend who attended the same elite school in Hawaii as our current president once said to me, “I don’t think that the teachers were any better(at Punahou), but the people I went to school with are influential and well connected in the community. Having those people as childhood friends can be a great asset.”

    Just some data points…

    1. That’s a really good point about making connections. You probably wouldn’t find that at most public schools. 30 kids is way too many for one teacher. At that point, it really is about putting out fires and maintaining throughout the day. One on one help or learning would not be possible. Thanks for sharing your experience. It is sad that things like music, art, and drama are getting cut right and left. Those programs are the only ones that grab some students and keep them in school.

  8. As Tonya mentioned, schools in LA generally do not have the best reputation and many parents send their kids to private schools. I’m sure some may be “keeping up” but less so than you might expect for LA. We are fortunate that our girls are able to attend public school. The elementary school is within walking distance from our home and is really great. When we moved back to LA, we didn’t have kids yet but know we wanted to so that was one of the reasons we chose the community we did.

    1. I think if you even might someday have kids, I’d look into school districts. We are literally less than a mile from the cutoff for our daughter’s school district. They take a certain amount of out of district kids who enroll early, so it’s worked out so far. If they had an influx of kids and kicked out all the out of district students, we probably would move a mile just to be in district.

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