If You Could Only Pay for Private School for One School Level Which Would It Be?

Updated on August 28, 2011
T.B. asks from Atlanta, GA
28 answers

We are still a couple of years from our oldest going to school, but have been having this conversation with a few people and I wanted to get others thoughts. We both grew up in public school and believe there are many great things about it. That being said though, we both grew up low income and private school was no where on our families radar. We are in a better position financially and can at least have the conversation. The public schools in our area are ok, not great, but not awful either (in my opinion). And I also firmly believe that parental involvement is key to the success of a child regardless of where they go. But I also believe depending on the child, the influences of other children can play a larger or smaller role. So if you had to choose, would you try to provide a private school foundation at the elementary level or do public elementary and move to private at the middle or high school level and why?
EDIT: I think my title is a little confusing if you don't read the entire question...I meant education level, not grade level.

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So What Happened?

Thanks for the responses. It seems pretty split which one people would do. All of the educators that we have asked have said elementary hands down so it's interesting to hear the thoughts for middle/high school and all are valid reasons. Technically, if our financial situation remains the same we could pay all the way through, but we don't know if we would even want to do that. We also wonder where that would leave us as far as college. Plus now that we have surprise number 3 on the way, it may not be as much of a given that we can afford it as we once thought (which is what prompted the which education level is better question). But it is something we will continue to discuss over the next couple of years.

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answers from San Antonio on

Middle school! That is a very icky time, especially for girls.

4 of my neighbors have all pulled their daughters from 5th or 6th grade (public) recently and scrimped and saved to get them to private school for middle school. None of them have any regrets.

We stopped private school in 8th grade and sent them to public high school (taking all Honors or AP classes helps) so that we could save thru high school for college.
If you keep sending them to private school 9 -12, I would think the $$$ for college would be tough to come by.

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answers from Denver on

I went to a private, Catholic school my whole life--grade school through college. It was a great experience, and I plan on sending my little ones to a private school also. That being said, if you send them for elementary school, they are going to want to stay with their peers/friends and continue on to the private high school. If I had to choose I would switch them in middle school and have them continue on with the private high school.

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answers from Minneapolis on

If I had the money for private school, I would save it for college. But then, we have great school options here in MN. My oldest two went to a magnet high school (no charge) for their junior and senior year that was the best prep for college ever.

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answers from St. Louis on

If I could choose, I would do both middle school AND high school.

The reason being: friendships can be fully-entrenched by middle school. To pick middle school only....can create a social hardship for your child. In my opinion, too much back/forth with those friendships can create emotional trauma. Pre-teens need stability, a secure friendship base to help them succeed!

In our school district, middle school is Grade 6-8 (my sister's school district is 7-9). I know that my children had firm friendships well before middle school. With my older son, those friendships are still present at age 24. My younger son is 15, & I find it interesting that the bulk of his friendships are also still in place. The only friends he's dropped are the ones who do not participate actively in clubs, sports, or activities!

To pick just H.S. means that your child has to give up part of his foundation, to some extent is cut adrift & that does not always work well. The beginning of H.S. is a critical time period & to enter it without that friend base....can really create problems.

Kudos to you for your comment about parental involvement! Dead-on right!

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answers from Jacksonville on

Their values and social mores are formed when they are young. And private schools tend to have smaller classes and the teachers are stricter with higher expectations. They have a very close eye kept on them, and if your child is not getting something, they are less likely to fall between the cracks. There is a LOT of communication between parents and teachers in private school. Especially in elementary grades.

If you set the foundation of high expectations when they are young, they will continue to think that way. If they learn at 6 years old that they can "get by" and no one at school will notice or care, that is what they will carry with them.
I don't know if you are considering a Christian private school or not, but there is a verse about teach your children when they are young and when they are old they will not depart from it. And I think it's pretty true. (not to say they won't stray---but they will come back to the core values they have learned).
Anyway. We had ours in private until our son was about to start middle school. Couldn't afford to continue at that point, so they both went to public at that point (6th and 3rd grades). They received a far superior education in private than what they were getting in public. Not that they COULDN't have gotten a better one in public, but the teachers are required to look more to what is required by the state (the State Standards and standardized testing that must be passed) and have less time to actually help the kids gain real knowledge, understanding or insight into a subject. They history especially. Everything was taught in context... not individual points that are likely to show up on the next CRCT.

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answers from Bloomington on

I only read your question and the "So what happened." As an elementary teacher (now SAHM), I say elementary. That is where the core foundation is built. Math skills and concepts, reading skills and comprehension, and the skills to study. Everything down the road is just an extension of that. If a kid can't read well in 8th grade, he isn't going to be able to keep up in the other subjects. He doesn't know his fractions and multiplication facts? Algebra will be a nightmare.

I think class size is more important than any other component to education (that you can regulate...ie; type of school). I've seen private schools that do a poor job of hands-on activities and adjusting to learning styles of the students (mostly just worksheets....lots of them). I've also seen too many kids in a fantastic teacher's classroom in the public sector and they can't possibly have their needs met. You can have the most awesome technology, but if there are too many kids, it makes it difficult to teach affectively.

Know your child, his/her learning style, and what interests him/her. Make the changes as you go if you have to. Do your research! A lot of charter schools are better than the private schools and are FREE!

Just my 15 cents. Thanks for putting education as a priority for your children. :)

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answers from St. Louis on

You have to know your area. I grew up in St Louis and still live here so I can say, here, you are best to send your kids to public grade school and private high school. We have an amazing system of private high schools that very few public schools can top. On the grade school level our private schools just don't have the funding to do all the bells and whistles that the public do.

Really though if you want pure learning you cannot beat the private schools. Because all the parents have skin in the game they tend to stay on junior about learning and homework. You will never see a parent of a private school kid complaining that they don't get enough homework.

My older two went all private but because of special needs my younger two are doing the public elementary route.

Oh the comment about private grade schools having smaller classes is inaccurate. They tend to have larger classes but a higher level of discipline. A private grade school is educating your child for the $4,000 you are paying them, the public school on average spend around $16,000 a student.

Oh around here the high schools are single sex. There is nothing worse than trying to learn in a coed environment when you are in high school. You are more concerned with is Bobby or Julie looking at you than what the teacher is saying.

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answers from Colorado Springs on

My children all attended an excellent Christian school. When one of mine reached sixth grade, old enough to move on to junior high (are there junior high schools any more?), students and parents were invited to tour that building, meet some of the teachers, and have a question and answer session. The principal at that time always told the parents, "If you afford a private school for only a little while, do it for the junior high years. It's such a time of transition for your child - physically, emotionally, and socially - that this might be the place for him or her to go through it and be more ready for the high school years."

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answers from San Francisco on

I went to public elementary/middle school, then private for high school. I think private may be more valuable in high school as the rigors of study better prepare the students for college. But overall I think it depends on your school system. There are places I can think of that have very strong public high schools with competitive, rigorous entry (my 6th grade niece in Chicago is already thinking about where she will apply for public high school), in which case perhaps private school for elementary, where the student-teacher ratio means a child is started on a great path of learning and independence is more valuable. In my area, a lot of people choose the Catholic school that runs K-8, so they can avoid the junior high, which is a notorious breeding ground for trouble. I would suggest learning as much as you can about your particular school system -- what are the known trouble spots, and what's missing in the public school for each area? Make your decision there.

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answers from Providence on

I agree with Cheryl O. Middle School-hands down.

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answers from Atlanta on

We are in the metro area too -in the city. I am well-acquainted with Smyrna area schools, so I know what you're saying. We actually have some decent public elementary schools around us, and I think you do too. If things don't DRASTICALLY change (and a group of us are striving for that) in our area, we will probably transition to private somewhere between 4th and 6th grade. Right now there isn't a high school anywhere near us I would even consider sending my kids too, and very few middle schools. I think if you're going to spend the money on private school, and it's not an option the whole way through, then high school is most important followed by middle school. I think it's really helpful if the kids can get into the private school for middle school for the best experience and the best opportunity to make friends, develop a social circle, etc. We are actively saving for those years now, while using the decent elementary schools, so we won't feel quite such a pinch over the 5 years both of our kids will probably be in private at the same time!

Remember, colleges do look at where you went to high school, and high school culture is an important part of most kid's lives, so you want yours in either a very diverse mix or a group that you primarily approve of. To me, it's not a monetary issue, but a cultural one. The middle and high schools around us now are filled with kids who think it's cool to be parents and have sex starting at age 12 or 13, and they do a lot of drugs with a lot of non-involved parents. I'm not sending my kids into that! I'm WELL aware that private school kids do plenty of screwing around, drugs and other problem behaviors -I went to a private school -but there's a different mindset and ultimately the kids HAVE to behave while at school and in class or they're kicked out, which isn't the case in public school. I taught at a public high school for 4 years that was like a zoo. You'll get far more bang for your buck by supplementing their elementary education at home and using private in middle and/or high school.

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answers from Kansas City on

Our son is going to a Private Christian Pre-School starting in 1 week.

I went to Private Catholic School K-12. I will not have it any other way for my kids. My husband went to public school K-12. He also wants our kids to go to Private School. We have both a Private Christian School that is K-8 and a Private Catholic School that is PreK-8. They both filter into the public High School. Now that we are pregnant with number 3, that might not be an option for all 3 to go. But we are sure going to try to make it happen.

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answers from Atlanta on

My husband & I have had this same conversation and concluded the following. Anything you build, NEEDS a good foundation (house, career, education). Therefore, we resolve to provide the best foundation possible by sending our child to a private elementary school and later ( not sure which level) send him to public school. We too are products of the public school system ( neither of us are originally from GA).

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answers from Los Angeles on

education is really important....our schools here in Lancaster are OKAY..and that's giving some credit...

private school for all years...

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answers from Seattle on


And that is what we are actually doing.

My kiddo was reading at 2nd grade level by April. And starting times tables.

The quality needs to be amazing to catch their interest in learning young. So they have that spark to learn forever.

I think having a strong kindergarten year is a must to build that foundation.

I know public schools offer a great deal, and are a great social thing....That is why they will be there first through twelve!

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answers from Kansas City on

We live in an area where our public schools are some of the best in the country. But for a variety of reasons, moved our kids to private and never looked back.

Here's a little different perspective. When we put our children in a private school our son was starting 6th grade and our daughter 1st. I wish over and over, we would have done it sooner so he would have had the same foundation she's had. One of the other posters pointed out how generally, private schools teach 1-2 grade levels above public. That is true in our case as well. Our son did have a little catching up to do, but did fine. When we met with his English teacher that first year and asked about getting a tutor, she said he was catching up just fine. And that she was teaching this 6th grade class what she used to each in 8th grade in one of the local public systems. That was English.
When our daughter hit 6th grade several years later, we found out the science was advanced as well. She had a little boy in her class who's mother taught 8th grade science in a different local public system. She was teaching her 8th grade students the same thing her 6th grader was learning.

Yes, my husband and I did just fine in the public schools. But I will tell you that I wish now I would have had the education they are getting. And yes, we are very fortunate that we are able to provide the private education.

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answers from Phoenix on

I went to private christian schools my whole life, including a christian college. I just want to point out there are good and bad in both and good and bad kids as well. My kids are currently in public elementary but I plan on sending them to private high school because there is a *better* chance that they will be around the kids that I want them to hang out with. Just my opinion. Good luck.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

My experience with private school then going to public is this:

My friends kids went to private school for a couple of years. The oldest was 2 years ahead of the younger one. The older one stayed through 2nd grade, the youngest one through Kindergarten. Then they decided to put them in public school.

At the private school the younger one, a girl, learned to read in Pre-K, she learned some basic math and other higher knowledge. The boy in 2nd was almost a straight A student and average with the other students.

Once they changed to a public school the boy found he was over a whole grade higher than kids his age in what he had learned. He was extremely bored in school and had a super hard time making friends with his classmates. He is now a D student on his best days. He hates school and it is a battle every day to get him to go.

The younger one was so much higher than her classmates in 1st grade that she just sat and colored most of the year. She would read books to her friends just to pass the time, none of them had been exposed to learning to read until Kindergarten and most didn't even read yet in 1st grade.

My point is: Why just do private school 1 year. If you are committed to education and your schools are not so great then think about moving to a better school district or start saving now, get on waiting lists, and plan for private school all the way.

If you truly can only do one year then do kindergarten, there will be no great loss of information by changing them at this stage to public schools.

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answers from Washington DC on

well, this is a good question...

my husband and I have debated the private school thing - our schools here in Fairfax County are probably some of the best - but by whose standards?

We have not sent our kids to private school because our tax dollars are already paying for their education and I am not one to double pay....

that being said - most likely middle school - as the transition from being a "kid" to becoming an adult is there while there is peer pressure in elementary school, I think it's worse in middle school now....so it would be great if they were in a strict environment to help them deal with it.....and for me? it would be a Christian-based school...

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answers from Detroit on

As a high school teacher in a public school, I have found all of the responses utterly fascinating. When I applied for my job years ago, one of the interview questions was, "What would you tell a family who is considering private school rather than public school?"

My answer then was that public schools in the state had gotten the curriculum set up well, and that the kids were learning their subject matter at a higher level than I had been exposed to as a student.

Given the current trend to dismantle public schools by introducing charter schools and vouchers, forcing higher class sizes by state funding cuts, lambasting teachers, and forcing unattainable goals like 100% proficiency by 2014, I do not know what I will do with my daughter. This concern has only erupted in my life within the past three years, for I was confident in the schools before that.

Sending your children will only help dismantle public school education more. Soon, everyone will be required to pay for schooling, because the public school system will be gone.

I'm going to send my daughter to public school, as I had spent the extra money to buy a home in a school district that is to be envied, and I will review her curriculum and supplement it as needed to ensure she continues to have a passion for learning that she has right now.

Oh, and this: spoil your private school teachers rotten with gifts. They do not get paid enough. Well, that's true for all teachers in the U.S.



answers from San Francisco on

I think 8th grade. Eighth grade in when they enter the teenage phase. You can literally see them physically go from little kids at the beginning of the year, to teenager by the end of it.

If they are going to go off the rails, it starts in 9th grade. And I've seen this with dozens of teens.

So middle school (7th, 8th) is the time to intervene.


answers from Kansas City on

I think this is a really great question, and it makes you really wonder. I have a hard time answering because it is kind of a split thing. In elementary would be great to learn those really good skills, manners, etc. But then in the middle or high school years when there are so many temptations it would be great to get them out of the public. Dont get me wrong, I know there are temptations and "bad" kids no matter where you go, but I think it would be lesser in the private school arena, especially a christian school, imo. I wish we could send all 3 of our boys to private schools when they get into the school ages, but unless the lottery comes our way or we invent the next new thing, it looks like public for us.



answers from Boston on

HIgh school. My private elementary school was a waste of time and money but my private high school was worth every penny (I can say that honestly as I paid 1/3 of my tuition in HS). Girls entered my HS at all academic levels (except SPED) and all graduated with a top-notch college prep education.



answers from Tulsa on

elementary 1-3 so that PHONICS and solid reading skills would be taught.



answers from Minneapolis on

I would consider doing public education all of the way through in order not to be changing schools, then use the money you would have spent on private school for enrichment classes. Why not special science classes, art classes, etc. That way you could tailor them to fit each child's interest.



answers from Seattle on

middle school for sure...elementary kids can stay pretty innocent, middle school is a hard age for security, self-confidence, and is the start of puberty usually, which can lead to issues itself. I went to private school, then one year of private high school before switching back to public school, and it just seems like the kids from private school were allowed to grow up a little slower paced, maintaining some innocence. I have yet to have a friend from public middle school or whose kids went to public middle school that had problems a private schooler or K-8 schooler didn't have.


answers from Austin on

I went to public schools though 8th grade. There were more activities available such as band, sports, and gifted or special ed classes at the larger public school, and all my friends and neighbors were there too. Then my Great Aunt left me money for education. I'm sure she intended it to be used in college, but my parents spent it on private high school. I think this was a great decision on their part. The private school didn't have as many extracurricular activities. There was no band, no football, no cheerleaders, no prom. But it made up for that with small classes and an individualized education. I was challenged a lot more and couldn't get away with slacking. I had night classes and some of my classes had only 2 or 3 kids. We really got to know the teachers and foreign students. It definitely prepared me for college and increased my independence. And it helped me compete for college scholarships.

Socially, I preferred the private school. At the public school, I was probably more well off than the other kids both economically and in having parents who valued education. But I was lost in a giant crowd of people and had trouble finding the right clique. At the private school with around 50 kids per grade it was easier to get to know everyone. I was one of the poorer kids at the private school but I still fit in better because geekiness was more accepted.



answers from Atlanta on

Hands down middle school - starting in 6th grade for all the obvious reasons.

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