Private vs Public?

June 12, 2008 at 11:24 pm 8 comments

One of the big questions that weighed on my mind during our Kindergarten decision was the benefit of private school over public.  Our situation was a bit different because our private school experience would also combine the Montessori method, making it hard to isolate the private vs public factors but I felt I needed to figure out whether the benefits of paying almost $11K in tuition would get us something worthwhile.

The obvious benefit of private school in Chicago is the class size.  You can’t really argue with having 20 or fewer kids with 1-2 teachers compared to CPS who allow up to 30 with 1 teacher.  I know (I KNOW!) that “a good teacher can handle a big class.”  But let’s face it – the union situation with the CPS teachers ain’t exactly breeding the best of the best.  If I were guaranteed of getting one of those good teachers, I’d be in for sure.  To alleviate my fears, several people have told me that during the Baby-Boom era, elementary classes could easily have had 40 – 50 kids.  “And they turned out fine.”  Well, they turned out fine because the Boomers’ sheer mass has allowed them to dominate U.S. culture and policy for a while now.  And BTW, don’t I want my kid, my child with UNLIMITED potential to be more than “fine”?! Of course I do! That’s why I’m sitting here writing this blog instead of watching Swingtime on TV.

I suspect that the teachers in private schools are somehow better because if they aren’t, they can be fired – unlike in CPS.  On the other hand, I believe that private schools probably pay their teacher less than in CPS or the top suburbs so maybe the teachers AREN’T better.  Or maybe they are better because they are doing for the love of the job, not the pay.  Argh! I guess it’s impossible to say which are better.  Subjectively, I’d go with private.  I know (I KNOW!) there are fantastic teachers in CPS.  But as my neighbor told me (who has a daughter in high school,) “She has had some fabulous teachers and others who… well, lets just say that if some of them were found dead in the parking lot with a drill in the head, it would probably be my doing.”  This from a woman who I’d say is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.  Yikes.

Certainly the smaller student body in private schools allows the staff and administration to really know each child and give them the personal attention they need.  OK.. good.  On the other hand, if your child is outside the norm in a private school (slow learner, ADHD kid) there are not typically the resources available to help them.  OK… doesn’t matter since my kid will be perfect in school (ha.)

Let’s move to the important topic weighing on the mind of every parent of a 5-year-old.  High school.  According to a 2006 Chicago Magazine article, 14-18% of the kids in the selective high schools come from private/parochial school.  Seems fair.  However 30% of the kids at Northside College Prep (the high school with the top scores in the whole state) come from private/parochial.  That seems pretty impressive, I gotta say.

The downsides of private school, in my opinion, are the small student bodies (can you really get an 8th grade crush on a kid you’ve been in class with since Kindergarten?), lack of diversity (both ethnic and socio-economic) and of course the freakishly high price tag that could be redirected into a college fund.  Or a new kitchen.

On to CPS.  The advantages often include bigger student bodies (more options for friends and activities,) definitely more diversity, its free!, and importantly, the chance to work with your community to build a great local school.

But the downside, CPS can make a mother break into a cold sweat.  Bureaucracy.  Budget cuts.  Teachers union.  Big classes.  Yucky bathrooms.  A general sense of chaos.  Weird-smelling hot lunches.  And worst of all, just today my son asked me if there would be bullies at his new school.  At his private Montessori I could have given an unqualified “No!” (private schools can get rid of the trouble-makers.)  Unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same about CPS.  It’s a scarier environment with lots of big kids running around, parents who are less-involved, and ultimately the school must take the neighborhood kids whether they’re angels or bullies.

In the end, my personal conclusion was that private schools probably have more a personal and academic focus (they better for that price!!)  I’m just not sure if the benefits are worth paying thousands and thousands of dollars for over a decade.  I have to believe that if we make education a priority in our household that our son can learn nearly as much in CPS.  If we work with the school and work along with other parents to push for progressive education and engaging classroom activities, we can get pretty close to what we’d get at a private school.  I don’t think it can happen unless parents get involved.  But I’m hopeful that if we all demand it, we can get it.

Entry filed under: CPS, private school. Tags: , , .

Kindergarten Craziness Black Market Box Tops

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. JC  |  April 6, 2010 at 10:29 am

    Wow – It amazes me how people view public schools. At my school, Andrew Jackson Language Academy, there are unequivically no bullies with 0 tolerance for such activities, large class size with the occasional student teacher assistant, small sized language classes (5 language options), an over abundance of parental envolvement (parents are turned down in the lower grades due to excessive supply of help). My ADHD child has the benefit of a special needs department and resource room. They have a rigorus program – science fair, history fair, algebra, gifted science. An excellent teaching staff that challanges and brings up every student. Out of all the teachers that we’ve had, there has probably been only one that I personally didn’t feel was as stellar as the rest of the bunch but I don’t think that I would have taken a drill to her head – maybe. They were ranked 12th in the State by the Tribune last year. Approximately 50% of the graduating class last year were accepted by the top 4 selective enrollment schools. Unless, of course, they turned it down to attend boarding schools or IB programs. Admittance is a by a lottery system so they are bound to accept any students that apply (there is no testing). I could go on and on. They may not be the typical public school but I’m sure they are not alone. Question to you – I know people attending private schools in the price range that you mention trying to get into public schools because of (1) value for what you get and (2) safety! Yes, even private school kids get jumped after school. Seems like the private schools are options for parents with money looking to place their problem children.

  • 2. chimama8899  |  September 30, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    JC,I just wanted to say that not all private or public schools are equal. So it is very difficult to generalize one way or the other. The quality of a particular school really depends on its administration staff. So you can have a real bad or real good public or private school. Good for you that your child attends Andrea Jackson. My friend’s daughter is now is 5th grade in the same school and is doing very well.

    I believe some of the conception or misconception of CPS were based on personal experience. I had the misfortune of attending a CPS elementary myself about 20 years ago which was extremely poorly run. They had to keep their academic standard so low to accumulate all the kids in the neighborhood. I remember I was bored to my tear in 7th grade when many of the kids were still struggling with how to add fractions. The scariest part of my school were the kids in the school which was so wild and behaved extremely badly and the school was afraid to confront those kids, let alone their parents.

    Because of my poor experience with CPS, I put my
    daughter in a private school. So far, she is absolutely loving it. The personal attention and care she gets from her two teachers is like no other. The ratio of teacher to student is 1 to 8 as there are always two teachers in a classroom from K to 5. The school have zero tolerance for any bulling acts. They are also very big on character eduction which is something not always available in public schools. Of course, there will be always be spoiled brats and bullies but that is true in any other schols, public or private. Another advantage I see iin private schools is that I would have the peace of mind and not having to worry about big government budget cuts, teachers’ union, growing classsize and all the work that are involved in pushing the school’s admin to do things right.

  • 3. SharieA  |  May 13, 2011 at 12:59 am

    I am considering putting my 5 year old son in a private school. One of them that is on the list of privates schools of interest is Emmanuel Christian School. I also though on the other hand am considering whether or not to put him in a Charter school such as LEARN or CICS if I get a call as he is on the waiting list. Is there a place I can go to where I can get present day reviews from other parents on those 2 charter schools as well as some of the good private schools around here. I live on the south side of Chicago. I appreciate any suggestions or feedback.

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