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Are Private School Parents Really “The Worst Parents Ever”?

An article in Slate last week boldly proclaimed that private school parents are bad people. “Not bad like murderer bad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid bad. So, pretty bad,” Allison Benedikt wrote.

Pretty strong words, to be sure.

This year, I’m a public school parent AND a private school parent. Our city has problems with growth. Too many people are moving in, and the government and school districts have not kept pace with building schools to meet demand. We chose a neighborhood that had easy access to a private school, but the nearest public school would be more than 3 miles away.

We chose the private school because it offered our boys french immersion for pre-school, junior kindergarten, and full day kindergarten. All things that would not be available if we chose the public system. The plan all along was to go private for 3 years and then move to public for Grade 1. That’s where we are this year.

Benedikt charges private school parents with the horrible crime of caring too much about their kids, and at the same time charging public school parent for not caring enough. If the public system is broken (and to be sure, it is), it is because there are not enough active and engaged parents on board to fix it because the active and engaged parents are over at the private school campus, she charges.

You want the best for your child, but your child doesn’t need it. If you can afford private school (even if affording means scrimping and saving, or taking out loans), chances are that your spawn will be perfectly fine at a crappy public school. She will have support at home (that’s you!) and all the advantages that go along with being a person whose family can pay for and cares about superior education—the exact kind of family that can help your crappy public school become less crappy.
[Slate]

That’s some fine link bait right there. She makes fine arguments that parents need to get involved in the school, but as far as private parents being terrible when compared to public parents? She frankly makes no sense.

Now that I have a foot in each world, I’m seeing first hand the differences between the public and private system.

Here’s what I’ve seen so far. The good, the bad, the ugly, and how, in the end, it doesn’t matter which school you go to as long as you care about your kids. And you don’t have to send your kids to a private school to care about them.

  • Those Awful Private School Parents 1 of 13
    Why Private School Parents Are Terrible People

    With one foot in each world, I've noticed some glaring differences between private and public systems.

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  • Private Schools Pick And Choose 2 of 13
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    If you're one of the lucky ones that can keep your nose clean, you're left with a "perfect" teaching environment. Problem kids are denied re-enrollment (have seen it happen at my son's private school at least twice), while kids who need help are given the resources to succeed (my son had weekly visits with an occupational therapist last year to help with his writing skills). The public system is a catch all. To that end, they program to the lowest common denominator, and sometimes offer a very generic experience to suit the middle of the population.

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  • Funding Discrepancies 3 of 13
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    Private school parents, allegedly, have the pockets and connections to make the fundraising happen. We never donated to the private school (outside tuition) but did watch other parents pay $10 000 for the privilege to park their Land Rover next to the front door all year. My son's public school was built in 1960 and his desk looks like it's been there the entire time. The private school was barely a decade old and featured the latest technology.

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  • More Funding 4 of 13
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    Funding for private schools depend on tuition rates. Funding for public schools are based on government handouts from enrollment. Our public school saw a drop in forecasted enrollment this year, which means a drop in funding. Instead of three grade 4 classrooms with 17 students each, a teacher was let go and the classrooms were merged to 2 with 26 pupils, that's a big boost.

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  • Caps On Enrollment 5 of 13
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    Private schools know how many seats they have to fill and cap their lists, picking and choosing the best students. This means teacher-student ratios stay consistently manageable, and you don't end up with the problem public schools have with some classes in the staff room (true story) or the storage closet (another true story). Public schools have to accept everyone, so they never know what will happen year to year.

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  • Union vs Non-Union 6 of 13
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    A private school engages directly with the teachers they hire, while public schools are hired by a district. It can lead to less school enthusiasm for a teacher because their job status is based on seniority, and they are not held accountable for performance. Non union staff at private schools have the same personal responsibility as free agents.

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  • Techy Teachers 7 of 13
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    My son's private school kindergarten teacher was an active Twitter pioneer. She used the medium to communicate with classrooms around the world. She has a blog, and actively participates in online chats with other educators. They used SMART boards and iPads to help in the classroom environment. My son's grade 1 teacher has tweeted 5 times, all between 2009 and 2011, and has zero online footprint.

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  • Uniforms 8 of 13
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    While it's true that some 50% of public schools have tight dress codes or uniforms, that number approaches 100% on the private side. As my two sons set off for the first day, one in uniform the other not, I sighed at the lack of uniform in public schools. When you're dressed the part, you play the part. Just look at how you stand when you're wearing yoga pants versus a pant suit. Uniforms blow out the classism of labels and help kids focus on the task at hand. That said, sometimes dress codes go too far.

    Image via Buzz Bishop

  • Government Agenda 9 of 13
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    When attending public schools, you are living with a government agenda. When you choose private, you can align more specifically with your personal goals. Perhaps they're religious, favor a subject, or style of teaching. Go public and you just might end up with gay conversion therapy - which is ridiculous.

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  • Big Box vs Boutique 10 of 13
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    You know the service you get in a boutique shop versus a big box store? That's what it's like in public vs private. The public system is saddled with bureaucracy, administrators, "rules," and "policies." The private system takes a more individual approach to service where concerns can be dealt with a sense of the situation instead of an umbrella policy 'because we said so.'

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  • Private Isn’t Always Better 11 of 13
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    I went to a small private high school, my brother went to a large public high school. My brother started out at the small school with me, but changed when the school couldn't keep up with his enrichment. We both graduated as valedictorian. I would fail out of university after 2 years, he would go on to get a degree in computer science that has seen him work for Microsoft, Google, and start his own business. I've done okay, but my brother retired before his 40th birthday, I'm still a working stiff.

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  • Don’t Forget The Charter Schools 12 of 13
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    There are also public schools that choose to have specialized programs. In my city charter schools exist with focus on leadership, arts, sciences, and other disciplines. One of the schools has a wait list of 8 000 students. The charter experience is a public school service, but operates with some of the principles of private schools. It's a model that shows there is a happy medium, should government want to find a way to give enough access.

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  • Private or Public, Parental Engagement Matters 13 of 13
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    I agree with Benedikt that the public system needs parental activism, and now that my son is in a public school, I am active. I was pretty laissez faire when it came to private. I was confident they knew what they were doing, so I backed off. Now? Not so much. The first PTA meeting is in 2 weeks, and I will be there to raise hell. Rich, poor, private, public, it doesn't matter. We all have a voice that can be heard, we just have to care enough to speak up. So, as we settle in to routine, find out when your school's Parent Association is meeting, and show up.

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