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Private School Fallacy

A classic from 2013 about sending your kids to Private Schools. My son attends one, but that is because he is on the spectrum. If a private school offers the best option for your child and you can afford it, why not send them?

On the weekend Garth Turner railed about a parent he met who was sending his child to a private school. This even though the parent could not afford it. Was this child gifted or learning disabled, was not clear. Garth went on about how Public Schools are perfectly good. Mr. Turner you were a fool if you send your child to a private school. His reasoning was if you are paying taxes for the Public school system, you are double paying for education.

Let me state my opinions on this (leaving Garth’s odd commentary aside for now). The public school system is set up for the middle 80% of

This is not very cheap
This is not very cheap

children, in terms of “intelligence” and such, that is a fiscal truth (unfortunately). Depending on the school and teachers, most kids will thrive in the public school system. If your child is in the upper 10% (i.e. gifted) or the bottom 10% (learning disabled, or other issues) there are few programs in the public school system in Ontario. Yes there are “gifted” programs and there are programs for kids who need more help. I can attest that these programs are woefully underfunded and very hard to find.

For those about to leap into the “you are generalizing, I know of a kid…”, I am not. I have been blessed with 4 wonderful kids, two which went through the “gifted” program in the public system. My son is on the Autism spectrum who is in a private school. The “gifted” programs are being cut, due to budget issues, and the “rules”  for placement in a gifted program are getting tighter and tighter (so they really only serve the top 3% ).

As for the Public Board’s Autism program, it is set up for the kids much more disabled than my son. This means he ends up “between” the two programs, and why he is in a Private School program. This may change, as he matures.

Different people have different reasons for putting their kids into Private Schools, but if you cannot afford to put your kid into a Private School, and you are only doing it for “prestige” and not a specific educational reason, maybe you should review that. If your child does need a special program at a Private School, investigate if there is help you can get for in the public system.

Feel Free to Comment

  1. One of the reasons I’ll be sending my children to private schools is the networking opportunity. I went to a public school and my best friend went to a private school, he has been able to leverage the contacts (friends) he made in high school to his advantage where as people in my school are mostly doing low level jobs.

    It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

  2. I get the feeling the private school is more common in Ontario than Alberta. I’ve only known a few people who went to private school here. The public options were plentiful, especially by high school. I saw the benefit of private school for some when severe learning disabilities were an issue, otherwise I don’t think private schools had a net advantage over public. Maybe I just hang out in the wrong crowds 🙂

    1. From what I have heard about the Alberta schools, your diagnosis is about right (i.e. well-funded), however here in Ontario the Public Schools are underfunded and in dire need of more money for specialized programs.

  3. I have been a student of both. I had some awful years in the public system about 2 hours north of Toronto in the 1980s. I felt discouraged to achieve by the other students, it was very uncool to be academically inclined. Lots of smoking, drinking and teenage pregnancy. Aside from one or two great teachers, I wasn’t inspired and had math and science teachers who totally turned me off the subjects and left me convinced I couldn’t “get” math or science. Art class in high school involved markers and Manila paper. I felt very disillusioned and uninspired and grew depressed, I was miserable and couldn’t see life being any other way. Fortunately my parents were able to send me to a private school in the city and it changed my world. I was surrounded by achievers, classes were much more challenging, interesting and rewarding, and I was able to see that the world was full of possibility. It was an amazing gift. Art class was full of materials I’d never had a chance to try and I developed a passion for art history. It gave me a lot more confidence and inspiring new friends who lifted me up instead of dragging me down to dubious ways of killing time. Students in the years ahead of me were applying to Ivy League schools, students participated in extracurricular activities I’d never heard of like debating and the Duke of Edinburgh awards. I hope to have children soon and I really hope that my city’s public schools are good enough as I don’t know how I’d ever afford anything like that year I had. Perhaps some of my issues were related to being in a rural area. I plan to start with the public system and hope it can deliver better than I had.

  4. I agree with you that only children who are not being properly educated need to consider attending private schools. Unfortunately, you are also right that public schools are often not properly set up to handle children needing IEPs and extra help. It does vary WIDELY. A friend’s son is dyslexic and by transferring back and forth to various schools within the same board, he has managed to get some of what he needs. But transfers take a toll too.

    At my children’s school, they are piloting an ASD class now in its fourth year. The students on the AS integrate for the parts of the curriculum that they can handle without extra assistance but have their own classes for other parts. The problem I can see with that is that it is called a “spectrum” for a reason. Some of the children in that class are having to deal with other students in their ASD class who are less able to handle formal schooling than they are. I think that is difficult for them.

    Overall though there are good things about the program including the fact that so many children like mine are seeing and interacting with the ASD children every day. Now they have a broader definition of “normal” than some students at other schools. For example, they understand better why a behaviour that would get them punished may not be punished for someone who is incapable of suppressing the behaviour.

    Some of the parents of the non-AS-students, however, need a good slap upside the head! (I’ve given a few verbally.)

    I’m not so sure academically-“gifted” kids need private schools. As someone whose children have been flagged as candidates, I’ve refused to even do the testing to go down that path. It’s my job (our job with my husband) to give them the extra education that can benefit from. It’s my children’s job to learn how to function in “the real world” where most people are not gifted. They need to know how to deal with boredom and develop useful, productive, rewarding strategies for coping with it. (I speak from personal experience.)

    I went through school with someone who was off to MIT on a scholarship at 15. He had no problem with the lack of special classes in the public school system because he put his school time to good use through mentoring others etc and studying ahead with some teachers who enjoyed having a challenge and by continuing his education on his own time.

    Frankly, I dislike the “old boys network” so I don’t consider that a good reason to use private schools. Having a few friends who were sexually abused in those schools also makes me paranoid.

    We have a large immigrant population in our public schools. I have found out, from chatting with parents while watching the endless wall ball and manhunt games, that some people are enrolling their children in private schools based on the expectations where they last lived. For example, I’ve been told that in China the quality of school you get to attend is dependent on your marks on the equivalent to provincial exams. This isn’t just for uni, but for middle and high school. They often consider private schools because they still feel that pressure from the past.

    Sorry to ramble on so long. It’s a “hot” topic for me.

  5. I think your article fails to point out that much of the reaon for sending kids to private schools is the connections they make. It’s not all about the education. Private schools offer the same advantages as ivy league univesities. (Or at least will argue that they do)

  6. Totally agree on the top 10%/bottom10%. We would’ve like to put our kids in private school back then, but the dollars weren’t there.

    Our experience was that you’ll be better supported in the bottom 10% than the top 10% in the public school system though. Our kids qualified for gifted, but got basically no additional push. That leads to bored kids, or as one principal assured me, “they all tend to level out at about grade 5”. Really? dragged down to the lowest common denominator. Yikes!

    1. Agreed, somewhat. Even the bottom 10% programs are getting hacked by budget cuts. As for “Bored is Bad” that is very true, I know many Really Smart kids (not being sarcastic) that just got bored at school and gave up/dropped out/got in trouble. If you think your kid is gifted, keep them challenged in some fashion, because if they get bored, they are smart enough to find some SERIOUS trouble.

    2. I think the troubles extend a bit further, perhaps the top and bottom 20%, but I basically agree with your points. Similar to Glenn’s experience, I was once told by a teacher that all kids are basically at the same level by grade 3. This is utter nonsense, of course.

      1. The arithmetic may be off, but depending on the Standard Deviation the public school system serves the peak of the normal curve and if you kid is outside of the standard deviation, good luck!

      2. I think the issue is much more skewed than that: the “bottom” ~20% need a lot of help, to the point where they may need a dedicated program (i.e. private school). But the top 10% are still well-served by the regular stream (indeed, my experience is the gifted program is as much about different learning styles as it is about intelligence — most of the smartest, best-performing kids at my school were in the regular stream, myself included). Does your kid need an entirely separate school or program just because they’re smart? I think that there are enough supplements for that part of the spectrum (science camp, computer club, etc. etc.) that the answer is not an expensive private school.

        1. I think that some of the gifted kids can be served by the exiting gifted programs, the problem is they are being slashed in Ontario (to the bone). Your kid might need a separate school if the school doesn’t think they are smart, so the kid gets bored and ends up finding interesting ways to fill their time.

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