Friday, October 12, 2007

San Francisco magazine on private schools

The new October issue of San Francisco magazine includes a hefty feature on private schools, "Schools Gone Wild." Have you read it?

Writer Diana Kapp, who lives in San Francisco and sends both her kids to private schools, delves "inside a new world of hyer-frentic building campaigns, over-the-top curricula, and relentlessly well-meaning parents at the mercy of market forces no one seems able (or willing) to control." She asks the question, "Is money ruining private schools?" It's a juicy read loaded with food for thought:

"San Francisco leads major U.S. cities in the percentage of kids in private school—a whopping 29.3 percent in 2005, or nearly twice the national (and almost four times the statewide) average."

"Marin Academy and Branson parents will pony up almost $30,000 per kid this year—just a shade under what they would spend on tuition at Harvard. The average Bay Area first-grade tuition is $18,080, second only to the New York metro area; parents of 12th-graders pay an average of $27,355, the highest in the nation. By contrast, the San Francisco Unified School District had $8,900 per kid to work with last year."

"The cost of attending Bay Area private schools has jumped 70 percent in a decade, twice the U.S. rate. High school tuition now tops $27,000 a year—surpassing even New York."

For more, pick up a copy of the magazine.


  1. I read the article and found it disengenius. Diana Kapp, the author, mentions that she has 2 children already enrolled in private school with a "third heading there in a couple years." Her portrayal of the amount of money that the schools spend on facilities and enrichment sounded a bit like bragging, even gloating. She outright dismisses public schools as gutted and underfunded. She is only half-heartedly critical of the privates, and particularly uncritical of the one where her children attend, referring to it as "one private school" instead of by its name.

    The article actually left me quite interested in looking at public schools! We are looking at both private and public so it was an interesting piece for us.

  2. What's missing here is the fact that the best of the private schools simply give you a better education. For example, the SAT scores at University High school are over 100 points higher than those at Lowell, which may be the best public high school in the state. All that money buys you facilities, small class sizes, high quality extracurriculars, high quality teachers with low turnover, exemption from the dreaded No Child Left behind law, lots of scholarship money, and a safe and nurturing environment. And all these schools are eager for under-represented children of color. It isn't fair, but money makes a difference.

  3. That's actually not so clear. A recent article pointed out that private schools do no better than public schools when you control for variables like socio-economic factors. I believe it.

    Also, if you talk to most private high schools, they are all looking for students from public schools. Going to a private K-8 doesn't necessarily improve changes of getting into one's high school of choice.

    Finally, the only thing that REALLY matters is where a person goes to college, and the most elite universities always accept children from public high schools.

    So, unless you have the extra money lying around and won't feel the $20/per child per year, it's worth really thinking about whether you can be doing something else with that money.

  4. I actually thought Diana Kapp was really gutsy in her honesty about the way private schools serve to widen the gap between rich and poor. That's not going to win her a lot of friends in her school community. And I can see why she wouldn't name it -- her kids' privacy is at stake too.

    We have friends whose kids attended private school (one K-8, the other K-5) and then transferred to public. They tell me the pressure is immense never to leave private -- the view that public schools are dangerous and pathetic is pervasive. They only dared because they were close enough to our family to see that my kids were getting just as good an education in SFUSD schools as theirs were for $20,000 a year. This family has a good income but had been renting a home since they moved to San Francisco when their kids were preschool-age. They were able to buy a (beautiful) home when they didn't have to pay tuition anymore.

    But presumably Diana Kapp was feeling the same pressure never to "dare" try public school.

    It's pretty amazing, though, that offered the same basic product (a K-12 education), free vs. $20,000 a year, with rather unclear benefits from paying the $20,000 a year, many families don't even consider public. That doesn't seem like the world's most rational consumer behavior.

  5. This article is now online.

  6. Re: second comment

    While it may be true that University has better average SAT scores than Lowell, you must remember that Lowell has many low-income students who cannot afford those expensive SAT prep classes. It's not only what University has to offer to its students but where the students come from.

  7. Part of the reason why we left San Francisco. Although Hawaii's schools are around $15,000.

  8. October issue of San Francisco magazine contains large amount of information about Private high schools. There is several kind of private schools. And any one can take the information from this magazine. This magazine also helps a lot to search the right private school.

  9. I just read the Jan. article. For those of us in this city whose children are grown but had the same dilemmas years ago, it was inspiring to read about the way the internet was used to bring parents back to public schools. I'm wondering why Diane Kapp thinks Miraloma is in Noe Valley?

  10. I loved this comment in the article from the former head of Burk:

    "Private schools in the Bay area have edifice complexes."

    Tuition is up 80% at the elite privates over the past 10 years and only the rich (or the Trust Fund Babies counting on their parents) can afford them.