Public vs Parochial School

Updated on February 06, 2012
A.B. asks from Madison, WI
17 answers

My kids are not in school yet, but we are at the point where we are starting to decide where we want to send them once they are school-age. We are in a neighborhood where there is both a public school and parochial Catholic school (where we attend church occasionally). We are having a difficult time deciding where we want to send them. My husband and I both went grew up going to Catholic grade schools, but as adults we really struggle with the Catholic religion since there are many of the church's beliefs that we are strongly against. IN other words, we identify at liberal democrats. I wonder, is there room for liberal Democrats in a Catholic school?? On the other hand, I like the idea of a small closer knit community within the Catholic school, among some other reasons.
I could go on and on about all of my thoughts for both sides, but I am just curious if anyone has been had a similar struggle and what you ultimately decided?? Primarily I'm interested in hearing from those who identify w/ Democratic/Liberal party and also send their kids to Catholic school.

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answers from Madison on

I live in Madison as well and love the Catholic school my kids go to. We are Catholic, but not overly religious. I like the values they instill at school. The close knit school community is great. It is a very warm and friendly environment.

I tend to be more liberal. I don't think personal politics come into play at school a whole lot. There are families of different religions and backgrounds attending. Some more liberal and some more conservative. Maybe you could talk to other families who have kids attending the schools you are interested in to get a feel for the schools.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I don't know where in Madison you are but it looks like you have some other options that may fit better - you have a Waldorf school, you also have a number of Montessori schools. I personally identify as a secular humanist (and liberal democrat) and would never consider sending my son to a school where the teachers viewed some children as 'bad' and some lifestyles as wrong (we have many friends and relatives who are gay, single single and raising children or in religiously mixed marriages). It would not matter to me that my child might learn his alphabet faster there.

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answers from Boston on

I consider myself a liberal person & I usually vote Democrat, though I'm officially independent or "unenrolled." My youngest two attended an extremely conservative Catholic school (small, all girls, grades 6 - 12), with the youngest about to grauate this spring. They both atended our local public school K - 5. Like you, I find the small, close-knit community a big part of why we chose to send our girls. The academics are very strong here, as well.

Now, my kids weren't little ones just starting out when we sent them to Catholic school, so that might be different than your situation. Still, I've always told my kids that they will hear one viewpoint at home and another at school -- and that's fine with me and their dad. What I want for them is to to hear all different sides of issues and then to decide for themselves what they think and how they want to live. I'm willing to discuss what I feel, what I think and why. I don't want them to grow up thinking the way I do only because that's all they know. I want them able to think for themselves and decide their own position. I hope encouraging them to analyze & think for themselves will help with peer situations as well.

Our reasons for choosing the school we did were:
- better academics
- smaller environment with well qualified, caring instructors
- because of the small size, our girls wouldn't get lost in the crowd
- an emphasis on character development
- a better environment for developing self-confidence
- although we differ politically from many other parents at school, we share a desire for our children to grow up to be well-educated, responsible young women who think for themselves, respect others and feel obligated to act as part of a community.

Take a look at what's important to you and where your children will be best served. Good luck deciding what will owrk best for your family.

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answers from Cincinnati on

Is it a good public school? Is the area where you live relatively liberal? If we remain where we are currently, there is a good chance our children will go to Catholic school because the public schools are so terrible. I am Catholic, but I am not pleased by this because our area is extremely conservative and I feel that my children's liberal upbringing would definitely be in the minority in a Catholic school. On the other hand, they will most likely be in the minority in a public school, too.

I would attend the church associated with the school more frequently, to get a feel for what the priorities are. Some churches are very active with social justice, others are only concerned about abortion, etc. I think listening to the priest repeatedly as well as reading the announcements and seeing what activities come up frequently will tell you a bit about the priorities of the school. Good luck.

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answers from Austin on

I would visit both schools to see what the classroom environment is like. Also, ask moms in your neighborhood. Some public schools have classes so large that there is more discipline going on than teaching or some kids are not engaged and could slip through the cracks. Some Catholic schools are so rigid that there is not room for different learning styles - all desks in rows, facing forward and no deviation from lecture teaching. Are there aides in the classroom the entire day? The smaller student-to-adult ratio is conducive to more interaction with all the students.

Ask questions about how they handle bullying, theft among classmates' school supplies, fighting, inappropriate language, etc. You will get a really good idea if it goes on much and how it is handled. One junior high principal was so excited to tell me how they handled all the fighting which told me it was excessive. I didn't have a problem with how they handled it, but that it was a major concern. You will see if they encourage moral behavior or if it is not politically correct to talk about stealing being bad (as in the case of a friend's daughter's school).

I really doubt political views would be discussed in the lower grades. Instead, you will want to find which school endorses your beliefs about daily behavior among children. Are bullies allowed to rule? Does the administration dismiss behavior as "kids acting like kids" or is bad behavior given consequences like you give at home?

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answers from San Francisco on

You sound a lot like me. My husband and I teach at the community college. We live in a neighborhood that has a huge gang problem that is pretty much destroying the public schools. We could transfer out of district, but those schools are not that great either and then our kids would be the "poor kids" from the bad part of town, if that makes sense. Hard to make friends that way.

We are a Catholic family and are also liberal Catholics. We a very much committed to social justice (which is why we both left jobs at an elite Ivy League university to teach at a community college). I disagree with the church on women priests, married priest, homosexuality and birth control. I personally am against abortion, but I am pro-choice, if that makes sense. The school our kids attend is a small k-8 that is run by Salesian sisters. It is actually a convent. We can afford this school because it is Catholic and because some of the teachers are nuns. Some families are very wealthy, some are like us. There are a lot of teachers, fire fighters and police that send their kids to our school (Democrat, Irish/Italian Catholics). I have encountered a few very conservative parents, but I respect their views as long as they respect mine. (Sometimes we can even joke about it.) I often wonder about the sister's political views. Clearly they are anti-abortion, for example, but we live in an area with a large immigrant population and with many, many poor people and so I would find it difficult to believe they would vote for an anti-abortion candidate who is also all for deporting non-documented immigrants. I know some of the nuns believe that women should be able to be priests.

Academically the school is strong, although my eldest is needing more. (He is really intellectually-oriented and I struggle to figure out if this is the best place for him). Still, he has had wonderful experiences in student council and did go to the state-level science fair last year. The school is also involved in community service projects, like feeding the homeless, doing beach clean-ups and the like. The students recently did fundraising (can recycling and hot chocolate sales) and raised $1500 that will be used to purchase farm animals for families in Africa....that is amazing to me and they are learning so much, not the least of which is that they have a responsibility to do good in the world and that by working together they can actually achieve those goals....This is probably the main reason I love the school.

We have to carpool, so we have gotten to know a lot of the families well. The school hosts many family gatherings that are a lot of fun and that really work to build community. The school itself is calm, peaceful and very beautiful. The sister have four dogs that roam the campus and those dogs are so very good for the kids to have around. There is a required parent volunteer contribution and most families go over the requirement because we really love the school and work hard to make it better.

I have to say that we are very grateful for our school. I do think the investment is worth it and I say that as a parent and as someone who has taught college for almost 20 years.

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answers from San Francisco on

My experience is that unless you are a devout catholic, you may not find it to be the right fit for your family. I found the school I went to, to be very snobby and one-way thinking. I didn't see any progressive liberal-minded people there. I would go and visit the schools, take tours and speak with the potential teachers/parents. You will know whether you feel at home there or not. GL


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answers from Philadelphia on

I think it's more about the academic education than the politics. We're not Catholic at all (and, trust me, there are MANY Catholic beliefs I'm S.T.R.O.N.G.L.Y against), but I sent one of my daughters to a parochial school for K and 1st. At the time, it was the best place for her because of what they offered in terms of academics AND socialization. But she'd just come out of a Jewish pre-school (no, we're not Jewish, either), so obviously, the religious aspect didn't bother us one way or the other. And at the parochial school, I can't say I remember our political views EVER being an issue or even coming up at all. What we did get out of it was a great academic education for our daughter

We've since moved across the country. Now all my kids are in public school. That's because our school district is routinely ranked as one of the best in the state. Our local high school was ranked #1 in PA last year in some magazine (don't remember which one, but it was a pretty major magazine, TIME or something like that). So right now, it's a no brainer - they go to the awesome public school we have right in our neighborhood.

I think, when the time comes, visit both types of schools. See where you're comfortable. Speak with some of the parents and teachers at both places. Then decide what's best for your children and their education without worrying too much about your political views. You'll meet people of ALL different backgrounds and views in the years ahead, and hopefully, so will your kids - it's the best way to teach them tolerance that being different from yourself is ok.

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answers from Boston on

Just about every Catholic I know (and there are lots...I grew up in a huge Irish, Catholic family and went to Catholic school for 12 years) is a Democrat. That might be because of where I live though, where there is a long, rich history of political leaders who are both Catholic and Democrats. The Catholic church is very liberal when it comes to stewardship, being your brother's keeper, living a life of service to others, sharing what you have, taking care of the environment, etc. Other than abortion and gay rights, there is a lot of overlap between the two groups. No doubt those are huge areas, but I find that most Catholics I know are in favor of equal rights for gay people, including marriage and parenting, and ignore the Church's teachings on this. Abortion is definitely more of a 50/50 split.

Anyway...when I was in parochial school through 8th grade, we never talked about controversial issues like abortion, euthanasia, gay rights or anything like that. In high school, there was a lot of open dialogue around controversial subjects and the teachers let us debate as long as we were respectful towards each other. experience growing up was that I was and am surrounded by liberals who are also Catholic. I chose to not send my kids to parochial school mostly out of the expense. However, I was not impressed with the quality of my education through 8th grade and found that the few parochial schools in my area lack academic rigor and have no special services or things like science labs, foreign language, etc. so the public schools in my town are better quality. That said, I do wish that we could afford Catholic high school because the quality of my HS education was top notch. Good luck with your decision!

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answers from Kansas City on

Tough decision! We had the option of a brand new public school, military school (on base), or Catholic School. Our son attended the Catholic preschool for 2 years. We thought we would move (military- PCS) after he finished Kindergarten, so we decided to keep him at the Catholic School. On the first day of school he knew 13 of the 18 kids in his class--how awesome is that! He is now in 1st and we will probably move at the end of 2nd grade. The hardest part about moving will be leaving his school! The teachers are amazing, the parent involvement is second to none, and the kids are great!

I would consider myself a liberal democrat (my family is all originally from Boston and they are from the Kennedy generation). My husband and I always attended public school--we grew up in an affluent area with A+ schools. I taught in a public school before having kids. My only warning is that just because you pay for it, it's not necessarily better. I truly believe it is where we are, but I will be cautious when we move again! I will openly explore public school and Catholic school options!

**Note, my son does attend Mass with his school weekly, knows his prayers, and has religious education. There is a large mother house of sisters near the school, and they interact with them quite a bit. Families are not required to be registered at a parish, but you get a tuition break if you are registered.

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answers from Champaign on

I can most definitely identify with the Democratic/Liberal/Catholic label. I have heard some priests come dangerously close to saying that it's against Church teaching to vote for a Democrat. That is so irrisponsible. The issue they are usually talking about is abortion, but it would not be difficult to point to many issues that Republican candidates favor that are also against Church teaching. That being said, my husband and I are active in our local Catholic Church. (Our priest is usually very good about reaching all of us and taking about many topics. He's only bugged me a couple of times.)

Our parish does not have a school, so we did opt for our local public school, which is very good. I personally lived in one parish and went to school in another parish and felt like I never quite fit in. I didn't want my kids to feel like transplants. Also, we like our parish, so we didn't want to try to be dual members or try to be non-members with kids in the school.

I do kind of wish I could send my kids to a Catholic school, but it just wasn't going to be the right decision under the circumstances.

I would try not to think about the Catholic Church as a whole, but rather whether or not you're happy with your local Church. If you like your local parish, it might be something to consider. But I would also consider whether or not you would be ok trying to attend every week. It is definitely what the school will be asking of you, but it has to be what you want. Just some food for thought. I know this is not an easy decision for you. Good luck!!!!

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answers from New York on

I would recommend visiting the school and, more importantly, visiting the teacher for the first class they would attend.

I sent my child to a Catholic school last year. The school was highly recommended to me by non-denominational parents whose daughter attended a few years back. I am not Catholic, but come from a very conservative Anglican background and wanted my child to have some exposure to religious education as we're not regularly attending church at the moment. I am a single mom with Democratic views.

I had some issues with the school and, in particular, with the teacher of my son's class. I felt at the time and continue to feel that the teacher gave me a hard time because I am a single mom and was the only single mom of all the parents. I later found out that she gave similar trouble to the only divorced parents in the class as well.

I know several of the other parents just loved the school (which has since closed) and its close-knit community, but I felt very shut-out and did not connect with any of the other parents. Our experience has been so much better this year in a non-denominational school. My son has playdates galore and I get on so well with all the class parents. I sorely wish we had attended there last year.

I think if you attend the church associated with the school and aren't overly open about your views, it will probably be fine. But visit, visit, visit. I made the mistake of signing up purely on the basis of recommendation rather than observation.

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answers from Philadelphia on

I would tour both. My husband and I both went to Catholic schools for 12 years, but after we did both tours, we went with public school. There were more features for handling kids that were below or above average, more aides, more programs. When we went to the Catholic school tour, all they talked about was tuition and the uniform. I'm sure every school is different though. The only thing is that public schools are really losing state money so it looks like programs are going to start getting cut, so that is something to also consider. Good luck. Remember, you can start at one school and move if you need to...

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I would say that perhaps there are other options in your area. In my small town we have 1 Catholic, 1 Non-denominational, and 1 Lutheran private schools. Each has excellent test scores and they are equal in education.

I do like the Non-Denominational one since the adopted the Great Expectations philosophy and have become a charter school in the program. I like that the Lutheran school does not wear uniforms and that they offer scholarships and free lunches through the state food program.

The differences:

Catholic: Same price as Lutheran
Wear dark green polo's and Khaki pants or skirts.
No scholarships or free meal programs
Not familiar with much of the religion

Lutheran: Same price as Catholic
No uniform, modest dress code, better than some schools but not strict
Free lunches and breakfasts for those who qualify
Scholarships available to those who qualify
Not familiar with their specific teachings

Non-Denominational: Nearly 1/3 higher that the other two schools
Uniforms of polo shirts and Khaki's, girls can wear skirts, jumpers, or pants
No scholarships
No free or reduced lunches, breakfast not offered
Religious aspect is not drilled into the kids, it is attitude and shows in the art, crafts, songs, games, etc...

So, if I were going to send the kiddo's to one or the other, and money was no factor in that decision I would choose the non-denominational one simply because of the Great Expectations aspect to their curriculum.

Here's a link, it may give you some inspiration to think about the atmosphere in the school you choose:



answers from Minneapolis on

With the Catholic schools in my area you would definitely be welcome - in fact you would be the norm. We are a more conservative family and we actually go to public schools - along with many other conservative religious families (and a range of other families too.) We have found our local neighborhood public school to be an incredibly loving and close community with wonderful teachers and families. I would say that they are just as close knit, if not more, than the private schools in the area (and we have been enrolled in those too.) So- before you check it them out, I would encourage you to investigate before you decide that a Catholic or other private school is going to be more caring and close knit than a public school - that is definitely not the case in many areas.



answers from San Francisco on

Parochial schools will not let your children fall through the cracks, they actually care that a child succeeds if they are extremely intelligent, average or slow. A parochial school will do something that seems to be lacking in most public schools, they will teach your children morals, ethics and compassion for others.

I sent my child to a parochial school from K through 8th. He then transferred to a very well thought of public high school in Palo Alto, Ca. He was ahead of his first year class by about a year and he didn't think he needed to work very hard. He turned out to be a very nice, intelligent man, but in retrospect, I wish I had insisted that he complete his high school years in a parochial school because he would have had a much better start for college.

I wish you all the best in the decision you and dad make.



answers from St. Louis on

Things have changed a lot now days....a LOT in PS and Catholic Schools. We all know already what is taught in PS, you may want to go to the Catholic School and get an appointment, then ask exactly what the kids are taught in terms of academic and moral values, and then make your decision. It probably they will be learning exactly what you want your kids to learn or you may find things that you are not agree with. I was raised Catholic, I attended elementary and high school years at a Catholic School, I liked, I learned a lot (back then....I am 48) A couple of friends are sending their kids to a Catholic School, both are having different experiences, one loves it and the other one dislikes it a lot (different states). I home school my kids (religious-based curriculum)
Take your time and do your search.

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