It may be unlikely that seven-year-old Barron Trump will be walking down the halls of a public school any time soon, but many one-percenters sending their kids off to school every day are not following the Trumps’ example. A significant number of well-heeled New Yorkers are starting to re-think the benefits of private versus public school and not just because of their price tags.
An astonishing $40,000 annual tuition is the new normal for many of NYC’s privates. It’s a given that private schools typically offer great teacher-to-child ratios and a multitude of perks, but many parents able to afford them are starting to question the necessity of having a multi-choice, gourmet, macrobiotic cafeteria or Zen dancing in their child’s school. Of course, most New Yorkers simply can’t shell out the cash needed to pay for private school year after year and many go around feeling guilty because of it. Recent studies, however, show that this guilt might be misplaced. What do New York’s wealthiest parents know about those expensive private schools that you don’t?
Lack of Diversity – This one is a given. Good public schools afford kids the opportunity to interface and connect with kids and educators of every stripe. Diversity is the hallmark of well-functioning public schools and a place where ethnic, economic and cultural differences, as well as varying value systems, are represented both in the student body and curriculum. What makes this particular public school characteristic significant to many parents is not only the opportunity it affords their children to learn about other cultures and the ability to acquire tolerance, but also the edge that early, multi-cultural exposure provides to those wishing to compete successfully in a global economy as adults.
No Real-World Smarts – The vast array of you-can-have-it-all perks that pepper many private schools provide educational enrichment and a rich learning environment but might also stand to rob children of the need to make choices or learn how to compromise, both much-needed life skills that support the ability to lead well and climb the corporate ladder. Of course, a child’s value system is formed primarily in the home, but the school environment can either solidify or dismantle not only their self-confidence, but also their feelings of entitlement. The public school experience has been shown to help kids acquire real-world street smarts, negotiating skills and the type of character that can lead to both personal and professional success throughout their lifetimes.
Lack of Over-all Achievement – For parents who have their eyes on the Ivy League prize, high test scores are the holy grail of private school. However, several studies reported in a new book, ”The Public School Advantage,” challenge the long-held belief that private schools trump public schools not only in overall education but also in performance, when adjusted for demographics, even in subjects like math. Among the wide range of reasons cited for this phenomenon is the quality of public school teachers, many of whom seek certification and opt to pursue ongoing training throughout their careers. Another is the simple number of days kids are required to attend public school versus private school, which sometimes have an abbreviated calendar.
Private schools, independently run and funded, live or die by their funding but have the ability to create a wide and rich variety of curricula. Public schools, funded by local and federal government, are shaped by a number of rules, some of which work and some of which don’t. Both models have built-in pluses and minuses and both are capable of either helping or hindering children to be all they can be. One thing both have in common, however, is the power of parents. The public school system today is uneven, with some schools performing much better than others. Those best able to produce high achievers typically have a hands-on, committed army of parents, willing to steward the ship and do what it takes. No school, public or private, nor the kids who attend them can thrive without that.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.