Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hot topic: First choice public vs. first choice private

An SF K Files visitor suggested a forum topic:

First choice public vs. first choice private: If you were to get both assignments from the get-go, how would go about making the final decision?


  1. I didn't get both choices initially. But I got in off the waitlist of my number one private school quite early, like in March. Then I got into my number one public off the waitpool in Ocotber.

    October! I had to wait till October!! I hate you SFUSD! I love you SFUSD! Whatever.

    We went to the private for six weeks, then pulled the kid out and enrolled in public. We were blessed, in a backhanded way, of getting to try out the private before the public. Few people get this opportunity. We loved the private. But after a while I did wonder if it was worth the money. I thought the public couldn't be THAT much worse. So in this bad economy, I did the conservative thing and decided to save money for the next five years, until the middle school stage. I have two kids, and a third on the way, so this was a real money saver.

    And as it happens, the public is better.

    I hope if I'd had both choices initially, I would have gone public anyway. And these are my reasons:

    1. Public schools need us. Need everybody in the community. Rich. Poor. All colors, english speaking, non. Public school opens the kid up to the greater world, and it does that better than any private. Private schools can offer some diversity, but at $8,000 to $30,000 a pop, there isn't enough room for true diversity. For real. I toured those schools, and you never got anything near an actual depiction of what San Francisco looks like.

    I know from experience, growing up in the just-then-desegregated South of the late 60s/early 70s. There is a window where you can shape a kid's view of other races, and it's from the age of five to 10. Expose them then, allow them to befriend all kinds of kids, and you're in good shape for the rest of your life.

    2. Class size is often smaller at public schools. Private schools will easily go 22 to 25 kids per classroom, and the parochial schools go 30 to 35. They need in the income. Public schools keep the class size at 18 to 20, because it's the law. Ask any teacher, and she'll tell you this is the number one important issue for kids, especially the youngest kids.

    3. Speaking of the youngest kids... Kids ages 5 to 10 will be fine in a public school, even if it's not an ideal school. These years are not hard academics; they are socialization and love of learning years. Spending $40,000 to $100,000 or more for one child during these years is a dubious use of money.

    4. Save your money. Use the money saved by attending public schools to go to Europe, get a native speaker of a foreign language to babysit your kids, or whatever. Health care. Buy a house. Anything.

    5. The facilities tend to be better in Public school. Sure, yeah, you have to join the PTA and fund-raise to get the same services. But the average private school often lacks a lot of basic things that a public school has, like athletic fields, playgrounds, bus service, etc. Some privates are better, but not most of the time.

    Hey. I toured about 15 privates, and about 15 publics, and that's what I saw.

    6. There are more reasons, but I have to get back to work. I just want to say that the public schools in this City are so much BETTER than I thought they'd be. There are about 10 or 12 schools I'd send my children to, without hesitation. If I had all the money in the world, I'd still send them to public. (With an exception only for a French immersion, which the publics don't have. The spanish and chinese are just as good as the privates, I think. We would love an Italian or French immersion program in the publics, and I think there are enough teachers/kids to support it.)

    7. Did I mention money?


    Dollar for dollar, in the early years at least, I just can't see spending the money IF you get into a good public school. There are enough public schools to go around, about 65% or 70% of folks get a great one, and they will get better if we keep plugging away and expanding the quality of parental involvement.

    I was sold on privates. Then I found this list, found friends who loved publics, then I enrolled my oldest kid. I have changed.

  2. Oh! I forgot one of the main reasons!

    I checked it out, and the teachers in public schools are better educated, better paid, and usually more credentialed than in privates. This varies. But in *most* cases, you are getting career professionals in public, really dedicated life long advocates.

    Some of the privates can pay tons of bucks to funky fresh cool intellectuals, and that's fine. But in general, they don't see the job as a career. In the publics, they have Masters Degrees or PhDs in education, and teaching is their life. That's where the rubber meets the road.

    Just what I've seen.

  3. Anon, I love your posts! Any chance I could repost them (anonymously is fine, but I do want your permission) on www.examiner.com?

  4. Hm... seems a bit odd that you thought 10-12 public schools were absolutely great and everything about public school is better than private, and yet you chose a private school over a public school. Presumably you did not just wake up one morning and figure all this out.

  5. I took third choice public over first choice private, so I guess that answers that. Very happy, too.

  6. 11:40, I didn't chose private over public. I went 0/15.

  7. But 11:40, I was very happy at the private. I just couldn't bring myself to say "no" once I got offered my waitpool choice.

    And also, I started out this process never in a million years thinking I would inflict public schools on my precious little ones. My kids were gonna get the best.


    Then I got on the sf k files list. Then my kids' older preschool friends went public. Then I entered the lottery. Then I got nothing, then I went to private school. Then I had doubts that it was worth the money. Then I got the letter giving me my public school (not Clarendon, not Rooftop). Then I enrolled my kid. Then I found out, golly, this is actually better than the private school.

    In that order.

  8. The better known privates attract and retain some of the best teachers in the city, most with master's degrees, almost all career teachers. At my child's private school the class size will NEVER be above 24 students per class with two teachers (a head teacher and an assistant). In the lower grades the classes are smaller.

    We could debate this topic endlessly. Many good things about many privates and many public schools. It just depends which ones. And which grades.

    Please tour the schools, ask good questions, talk to families with children enrolled and make a decision based on fact. If your strategy is to go public for elementary school and then switch for middle school, find out how many spots are typically available at the middle school level and how many applicants there are per spot. Some schools add classes and some do not. And ask when middle school begins - in some schools it's 6th grade and in others it's 5th.

    SF Parent who chose first choice private over decent public and has no regrets at all

  9. Having had kids in both public and private schools, given that choice, I would choose private. The basic reason for that has to do with the effects of No Child Left Behind on the public school curriculum, but that's part of a larger issue that tilts me toward private school - namely, the vulnerability of public schools to decisions that are made by the district or at the various level of government. There is just too much uncertainty for public school to be an approach that I feel is the best one for my kids' education.

    I'm sure my point of view will be heavily challenged, so I want to add the following:

    1) we're lucky enough that paying private school tuition does not involve major tradeoffs in lifestyle. We're talking luxuries that we're giving up, not necessities. If that were not the case, then I would have a very different perspective on this decision.

    2) I would feel the same about public school in the suburbs as I do about public schools in SF. I'm not saying the SF public schools aren't good enough. I think there are many very good ones where kids get a great education. Which leads me to my third point...

    3) I understand that private school does not automatically lead to kids attending better colleges, getting better jobs, etc. For me it's about the process of education, not the outcome.

  10. I want to add to 12:40's comment that the presence of a head and an assitant teacher makes a huge difference, as opposed to having just one teacher in the classroom. It changes the entire dynamic when there are two teachers, each of whom can focus on a different aspect of the dynamic in the classroom at any given time.

    When my son attended K in public school I was surprised at how much time was spent on learning to sit still, keep hands to self, and disciplinary action. It's so easy for things to spiral out of hand when there's just one teacher. This is not all bad, IMO - I think kids in private school can get away with worse behavior because the teachers don't have to be so on top of every disruption. But it's something to be aware of as parents weigh the choices.

  11. I think in many cases the private facilities are much better than the public--so I'm disagreeing with anon who said otherwise above. But I wonder if kids really need super fancy facilities? Also, I do think in some cases private school teachers are paid better than public. Marin Country Day School teachers are some of the best paid in the country, I believe. Also, MCDS teachers stick around. But I think that's an exception. At some privates the teachers are paid less.

  12. I think kids in private school can get away with worse behavior because the teachers don't have to be so on top of every disruption.

    This statement makes no sense at all. There are fewer disruptions because there are more hands on deck to forestall them.

  13. Yes, but they don't take steps to avoid the behavior in the first place, in my experience. If there's only one teacher in the room the entire class gets disrupted, so they take steps to avoid the bad behavior and/or try to deal with it swiftly. They can be more passive about it when there's an assistant teacher to step in and sideline the kid who is acting out.

  14. Last year we got our first choice public and the only private we applied to.

    We didn't hold out much hope for the private school because we didn't play the games everybody talks about. The public is our local school and a really good one, but not one many put down as number one. As excited as we were about the public school, we ended up going the private route simply because we thought it was the best place for our kid.

  15. 10:01 great post.

    I came to the public first opinion just as you did, only at the get go. I didn't want to exert all my energies exploring both public and private paths if i could make a decision to go one way at the outset.

    I spent a lot of time combing through research and doing a lot of exploration on my own, most notably, talking to every family i could find with kids in privates.

    my decision to go public came down to two factors. first, my two neighbors who had gone the private route (hamlin and town) told me the same thing separately: if they had to do it all over again, they would go public, especially in elementary. "you don't even really know what kind of student your child is going to be at 5/6 years", they admitted. "save your money, travel instead and take the kids. you can enroll in all kinds of extracurricular classess -- this is sf for chrissakes."

    and 2) try as i did, i could not find any real evidence at all that could GUARANTEE that if i paid upwards of $150,000. for a private elementary school education, my child would gain a superior education. none. there was a lot of personal "perception", but no real hard evidence.

    so i chose public. and i've never looked back.

  16. First poster, what private school did you leave?

  17. We started our kid in public, and have no regrets. Had it worked out, we'd be perfectly happy to have a thriving public school kid. Since it didn't work out, she is now in a private. So instead we have a thriving private school kid. We never considered private until it became clear our kid was very unhappy after 6+ months of K. I don't advocate for privates, though I do advise parents to look at some to get a feel for their choices.

    I really do agree with 12:42 who says it's about the process not the outcome. If our kid doesn't end up at a "top-tier" college, or even high school, that doesn't make our choice a mistake. She is happy and excited about school. She wasn't before. For us, it really is that simple.

  18. I appreciate the posters view on their experience, but I do not agree with all the points made. We have a child in private (MCDS), and I have to say that privates are so different from school to school it is really hard to even have a public vs private debate in all fairness. To the posters points:

    1. My child being multi-racial, I have found that the class is quite diverse. Not as diverse as a public San Francisco school, but certainly much moreso than in Marin. I am actually happy in this regards with this particular school.

    2. No, no, no! Class size is not smaller at publics. If you look at teacher to student ratios at good privates they are usually 9:1 or lower. This is one of the primary reasons we decided on private. I believe they might be higher in some religious privates, but then again, they are much less expensive as well. What private was your child at?

    3. This is your pure personal opinion and nothing more. We feel that as a family, this school is a perfect fit for us.

    4. See #3. Yes, it is expensive, but it is our choice, and the right one for us.

    5. I am not sure what privates and publics you have toured, but this is surprising to me, as most of the privates we toured had fantastic facilities. This is one of the things that impressed us most about a few of the privates. I would be interested to know of which privates and publics you speak of.

    6. Great for you. It's your personal opinion though. Just how I wouldn't care to send my children to an immersion program, so we obviously value different things in an education.

    7. It sounds like much of your opinion is based on economics, which is a valid point, and I agree with you .. it is a high price to pay. It is for our family - but our choice was clear from day one, so we never had that moment of realization that you did.

    Your additional comment on the teachers - again, this depends on the school you are looking at. I again will ask you what private school you had chosen. I find the teachers at MCDS to be absolutely stellar - and thinking that I wish I had them as a child myself. This point could turn into debates that lead down many paths so I will stop here on this.

    And one last thing, and it may matter to some. The top indepedent private school students typically attend private independent high schools. This is one of the things that the private elementary / middle schools really focus on, which really makes sense. For whatever reason, this is typical of all the top privates that we looked at.

  19. The only problem I see in choosing a public school in San Francisco is that if you're unhappy, you are sort of stuck.

    We ended up very happy at our neighborhood public school, Yick Wo. Our neighbors weren't happy with their public, Lillienthal, of all places--a discipline problem kid in the class made life miserable--and they couldn't find another school with space. So they went private, to Sts Peter & Paul, where their kids are very happy.

    I suppose if we'd been unhappy with Yick Wo, we would have had to go private. But we were exceptionally happy.

    I think it's hard to move around from private to private, but in public it is nearly impossible.

  20. We started out with private and switched to public after the 10-day count. We were sad to leave private because beyond the school walls are the friends made from the classroom/school.

    The private families seemed to have similar interests and playdates were easier to have whereas the public families are more to themselves. But it turns out that the public families are more humble and laugh and enjoy life more versus spending air-time talking about their cars, trips or dysfunctional family members.

    Public is very humbling for all the best outcomes.

  21. There's not really a clear-cut process for it -- a "click here to apply to transfer to another school" -- but I know lots of kids who have transferred from one SFUSD school to another, for whatever reason. In fact, I would wonder whether it's that easy to transfer from one private school to another, since wouldn't the destination school (which of course has total say in the matter, based on judging the student) be looking pretty sharply at why the previous school wasn't a good fit for the student, or vice versa?

  22. SFUSD doesn't make it any easier for you to move even when it's a case like that? (issues with other children that aren't being addressed satisfactorily)

  23. Another Yick Wo parent here. We love our public school. My older child required speech therapy and we were paying $1,000 per month for a top therapist. We don't have to pay this amount any more because we get the exact same therapy for free in the public schools.

    I was concerned years ago about the speech issue, and thought that a private school would be better. It didn't take long before I learned that public is better, if your kid has a learning issue. Privates don't seem to want to allocate those resources.

    But where did this rumor get started that the public schools in San Francisco are no good? Does anybody know?

    It's weird to me when people in the East Bay or Marin pull back in shock when I tell them I send my kids to public school. We could afford private, but as I tell them, it just never occurred to me that the schools were bad. I went through them years ago. I went to Cal and did ok. None of my friends have had a bad experience. But everybody outside the city thinks they are bad.

    How did they get this impression?

    Many of my neighbors have gone the Yick Wo-Presidio-Lowell route. The only reason I would not ship mykids off to Lowell is if 1) my kids don't get in, 2) my daughter gets into SCOTA, or 3) they feel they really want to go to Lick Wilmberding. I love L-W and what that high school represents, and if they want it and can get in, I'll send them.

    My husband went the catholic school route. He thinks the religious atmosphere is a good thing, but we live walking distance to church and that's good enough for us.

    Outside of a specialized need, like immersion or something, I think the local public schools do a good job. Especially if your kid gets in the GATE program, which my younger one did.

  24. Publics do a good job at immersion. I meant to do immersion for all your years, like at CAIS or FAIS.

  25. The teacher comment caught my eye. I am sure that at certain schools charging $25,000 and more for tuition, like Marin Country Day and Burke and Hamlin, maybe they do have fantastic top paid teachers. But at most of the private schools, they do not. It's just a fact. Many teachers get started in private, then move on to public once they get the credential or the Masters.

  26. I'm sure there were plenty of good reasons that SFUSD got a bad reputation. I think there are a lot of reasons now for them to still have one in some respects. I do think there are good schools, but from the tours I've been on so far, there are a lot of things that disappoint me in the curriculum offered. (There are things are really like about the schools, too.) Also, outside of the schools themselves, I feel the board, the city, and the state cannot be trusted to do what's best for the schools and kids. I don't think the origin of the bad reputation is a big mystery.

  27. 3:43 PM

    Are you serious? 'dysfunctional' family members are everywhere! This certainly has nothing to do with public / private - I'm sure every family out their has their share of dysfunctional!!!

  28. It was odd - I heard a lot about dysfunctional family members, a lot more from private school friends than public school friends. Hot topic with people who have nothing to talk about because their private schools are so damn perfect? Go figure. Or maybe giving justification as to why they chose a private route so theirs kids go astray? Go figure.

  29. I think so many people here seem to be weirded out by people with money. It's not that big a deal. Most people I know with a LOT of money are totally chill about it. There will always be name droppers and label conscious folks out there, but so what? I couldn't care less if someone makes more or less money than I do. I can see parental concern over how kids might act about it, but give your kid some confidence and self-respect and they'll do fine dealing with that kind of petty crap. I guess all I'm saying is don't be turned off by privates because you feel intimidated by that factor.

  30. To answer the question in the post, if I get my first choice public AND my first choice private I will most likely take the public. Number one, I'm only applying to the best public schools (my opinion of course), even if that means I don't have a good chance of getting in. I want what I want, and the public schools I choose will have those things or I won't apply. Number two, yes, of course, I'd rather not pay out the nose for private, especially for elementary school. However, we can swing it if we must, and we will,, gladly to give our kid the education we'd like him to have.

  31. Oh, please! In my conversations with the parents of my child's new private school classmates not once has the topic of cars or dysfunctional family members come up. Trips, yes. I'm sure public school parents take them, too!

    We are far more likely to find ourselves talking about our kids, or The Daily Show, or what we think of the school so far, and how glad we are that we are not going through the search process again this year. Fairly typical stuff.

    While each school going to have a different culture (public or private), it is just silly to generalize about "private school parents" and "public school parents" don't you think?

  32. I am a public school parent who could have afforded private school. We're thrilled with our public school. But yeah, I'm sensitive to the fact that public school is not a choice for many families, but a necessity.

    I find I do have to remember not to take casually some certain facts about our family. Like the fact that we own our home, that it is a big home, or that I have other real estate in the City. Or that I got hammered last week in the stock market. My white face gave it away last week when we were standing around waiting for the kids to come out. I just mentioned it and the other parents hadn't even known about it. Other parents were saying "serves em right" and I was thinking about "how can you not have heard about the crash" when I stopped myself. Poor poor me.

    Or when I make driving arrangements, I have to remember that many of my child's classmates do not own a car. Or that we go to Europe every summer to visit the kids' Dad's side of the family, or that we just got back from Hawaii or something. It's distancing when you mention that stuff. I also have to remember not to prattle on about gay rights or hating McCain, because many conservative families at my school would be offended. Yes, even in dear San Francisco. Some Chinese families at our school have McCain signs in their windows, which explained the look on the Mom's face when I dropped my kid off at the playdate with the Obama t shirt. I laughed. She didn't.

    This is my problem, not theirs. I laugh at myself. I worked for what I have, and I find myself having more in common with working people than I do the rich folks to which I have access.

    I feel I'm more relaxed around the public school kids than I am around my friends' private school gathering. I've always thought that the biggest difference between the haves ad the havenots is the ability to laugh at themselves. Havenots are better at that.

  33. "Kate" said that she would blog about her decision process, but I don't recall seeing that entry. I would be interested to read about how they decided to turn down MCDS for a newish public school immersion program.

    I imagine for many people it comes down to money. We ranked our choices according to schools we felt good about, lumping public and private together to create the list. Ultimately our decision was guided by a feeling that public schools were being destroyed by budget uncertainties and curriculum constraints, which is sad. We feel much more confident in the consistency of our child's private school curriculum, and feel lucky that we had a choice and could afford to chose private.

  34. 7:05 PM

    That's exactly how I feel. Consistency is a big issue. Trust.

  35. It's nice that you're excited about getting into your number one public, and great that it's better than your number one private. But please, can we cut out the broad strokes generalizing about privates vs. publics?

    I'm a private school parent. In particular, I would challenge these comments:

    --Class size is smaller in publics.-- Well, no. At our school K is 25 students and 3 teachers (8:1 ratio) and every other year is capped at 20, with a teaching assistant in each class. Most years class size is between 13-18 students, including through middle school. Apparently some other privates have larger classes. But don't many publics increase class size significantly in 4th grade?

    --Facilities are better in the publics.-- Again, not my experience.

    --Teachers in public schools are better educated, better paid, and usually more credentialed.-- At our school there is a teacher retention plan to hang on to talented teachers. Pay is competitive. All teachers are credentialed at a minimum, and many have advanced degrees or honors. In our 8 years at the school, the teachers have all had enthusiasm and talent for teaching, and an obvious appreciation of the culture of the school. Thus they tend to stay put.

    --Immersion programs are better in the publics.-- Now this comment is particularly curious. Just how would you even make a comparison between, say, a private French immersion program and a public Cantonese immersion program? Between a public Spanish immersion program and a private Mandarin immersion program? Most people are drawn to immersion programs because of an affinity for a particular language and that will usually determine whether they are going to seek out private or public, since there are no private Spanish or Cantonese programs nor are there any public French programs. Until very recently there was no public Mandarin option either, and I would certainly not take up the argument that the 2 year old public Mandarin immersion program is "better" than the highly regarded 27 year old private one.

    I think some of your arguments are very compelling, namely that the publics need middle class families and that private school tuition can be prohibitively expensive. But they're weakened by throwing out careless generalizations that are based on limited experience or knowledge. You can compare specific schools with each other, but you can't credibly compare "all privates" with "all publics".

  36. The topic was to walk through the thought process private or public given you had your #1 for either.

    Each person is entitled to their opinion about how they would go about it.

    My number one factor was that my child tested high on an IQ test appropriate for her age (administered by a professional service) and all the research I looked into pointed to a general curriculum that exposes her to many things and lets her gravitate toward her own interests.

    I also had talks with both private and public educators and they all suggested that putting her in a general program, vs. same-sex schools, immersion, etc would allow her her strengthen her social skills across the board. As not to be a geeky stand-out.

    We went with public and she is doing better than we could ever imagine. She's not an awkward brainy student - instead she's a healthy happy student with many different kinds of friends.

    And when GATE comes into the picture, it is then that we feel that public is even more the right choice. She will be able to maneuver different people and situations on top of being challenged academically.

    I don't think it's a generalization to say that privates tend to be less diverse than publics. So to have a public experience in the City of San Francisco will raise her to be "street" smart, but also still have the launching pad for private (if it's right) come jr high or high school when the time comes.

  37. Oh the suspense! Please list the schools that you ultimately picked (that you love). Whether it be public or private, if you have something positive to say, then list the school too (like the proud Yick Wo families on this thread). Would love to ask poster número uno 10:01 AM...which public school? Ah yes, the thrill of the lottery!

  38. So someone asked for more info on why Kate made the decision that she did. I remembered something that Kate did on SFGate that's pretty revealing about why she went with the public Mandarin option. I tried to find a way to display it here but kind of hard. Anyway, go to this link and scroll down to the bottom and you'll find part I of this series she did. It goes through Part IV. But she's pretty clear that she felt some social responsibility to go to public. Did she ever share that with the group here? Must be because we're a tough group to take. Anyway, here's the link: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfmoms/category?blogid=46&cat=1591

  39. 8:20, I think those original comments were full of "most of" and "some of", not broad strokes. The parent who said those things said she toured a lot of privates and a lot of publics, so she's entitled to her opinion.

    I do think that most families in SF tour and apply to the same five or seven privates, and their facilities are outstanding. Most of the other 30+ private and parochial schools struggle.

    I agree that I have been very surprised that the public schools are good in San Francisco, too. I think the perception comes from a strange dynamic where renters want to buy a house, but they have to leave the city for affordability issues. Often, they rationalize their choice by saying that the public schools are so good in the new place. And few real estate agents every pump up the school district issue in SF because face it, we don't have school districts within the city.

    The lottery is such a nightmare, and so user unfriendly, it would make anybody trash talk the schools.

    Still, it's great to hear parents express shock that their public school is better than a top private. Many of them are.

    And again, this is a list visited mostly by elementary parents. It would be really interesting to read posts from parents of high school age kids.

  40. We have 2 kids in 'top' privates in SF (girl and boy's schools). We really like one and not the other so much. We have a third child on the way and are torn whether to just go the safe private route or try something different and look into public. The thought of ethnic and economic diversity is appealing although we as parents have made some great friends in our private schools and are not sure if we will be so lucky in the public schools. Money is not the issue and we did not apply to any public schools for our first 2 kids. We might apply to just a few schools in the SFUSD and let fate decide.

  41. 11:45, fate will get you nowhere. I had that attitude, and named only five schools. I got nothing.

    The next year, I was downright broke, and named seven. I got a good school.

    Name seven schools. Don't just put Rooftop & Clarendon. Go through both rounds. Be serious, and you will get a school.

    I am the parent who posted that I went through "top" privates, then after a divorce and money issues, switched to public. My kids were happy, and my youngest kid who never saw the light of day in a private, has actually done the best academically so far.

    Politically incorrect of me to say this, but it's true: If the parents read a lot at home and are college educated and smart, so shall the kids be. And in this school district, smart reading kids get the GATE program. And that's a better education than money can buy anywhere.

    I don't believe for a minute that all three of my kids are gifted and talented. But in this school district, if you read and are smart and well behaved and clever and have parents who push you a little, then poof! You are gifted and talented!

    I really do think that the publics are over-all a better place, especially for young kids.

    I have a child at Lowell now, one at Persidio who will make the choice next year (I'm pretty sure she'll get Lowell, but we might go private for her) and a young one in Yick Wo Elementary school. We are happy and would not go back to Burke or Town, even though now we could afford it.

    But I must say, I fought like hell to maneuver into the good public schools. Your number might come up, 11:45, if you do nothing. But if you are serious, you should throw down and name seven schools, go through both rounds, and make the effort.

  42. Anon 9:40,

    Could you provide a bit of detail why you feel GATE is so much better than Burkes? I have a daughter in Burkes and I am very curious about feedback on this school in particular. From my experience the school is very impressive from teachers, to cirriculum, and the grounds/programs..

    I have a real hard time believing that classrooms at Burkes have discipline issues like those of public schools...

    Anyway really interested in candid opinions...


  43. A thoughtful note about private vs public...

    My educator friends have all talked with me about how play, protecting the natural sense of wonder, discovery, and learning thru experience (not seeing it on TV or reading about it in books, or being told about it by parent/teacher) are important building blocks of learning. (see Bev Bos)

    If this is true, then private CAN make a difference in early education over public. Our public school system is strapped. You can't not admit that. Under funded, over worked, and the core curriculum isn't what is best for the kids, because our current public school system could never offer enough variety for all the different kids coming in.

    I see in public schools worksheets and homework and a continued push towards early academics. My closest friends are all thrilled that their little one is already reading, etc. It's exciting--the learning, the community, the growing up. BUT...is it developmentally the best thing for our kids? Do public schools create color by number people in the long run? Or encourage it?
    I think public and private are competitive with each other--pretty close in a variety of ways. But private schools have one advantage over public (that they don't often use to their advantage)--they can chose how to teach the kids.

    We accidentally fell into KMS because we went 0/15 in public. But what I'm learning is that our daughter is in a terrific place for a 5 year old. She gets 2 more hours of play/discovery/outdoor time than public.
    There is no set homework or worksheets ever. We research things together, the kids make up stories, and create whatever they want to--for homework. This is one example.
    If there is a chance that the kinder class at KMS may be getting an advantage for their self esteem, creativity, and to their basic building blocks for later learning, then it's worth a little research.

    I've read this blog obsessively for 2 years now. We all have opinions--but few of us are discussing how a little brain develops, and how learning styles help/hinder that development.
    For example: the more academically rigid school seem to really push for assimilation (french american, and the less funded public who are forced to bring test scores up.)
    Have we lost our sense of the importance of play in our schools??

  44. I have to add that ethnic and socio-econmic diversity is important to me.

    I found most of the private schools to be at least 65% white (but can't say about socio-economic, although scholarships were always used up by families.)

    Our particular private KMS is iso perfectly diverse that it must be a fluke. Black, white, asian, hispanic/latino. We have diversity within the diversity, meaning middle east, native american, western european....

    lucky i guess.

    i think if you work with a private to do outreach, you can help change the "color" of the school pretty quickly and easily.

  45. Kortney, thanks for your posts. You bring up important points, and it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I don't want watered down academics, but I do want my son to have a sense of joy and pleasure about school and learning. I'm looking at publics and privates, but KMS was off my radar. I know you found it late in the game. Do you truly recommend it? Are there academics at a reasonable level, especially in the upper grades?


  46. Trips, yes. I'm sure public school parents take them, too!

    Way more than private school parents -- Based on this blog, they're using all the money saved by going public on trips...

  47. hehehe. Okay, that was funny.

  48. We loved Burke's a lot. Much more than Hamlin. We experienced both. Burke's is a great school in most every sense of the word.

    The downside: It costs well over $20,000 per year, especially after you fund raise, pay for extras, etc., it's closer to $30k. Take a kid through 5th grade and that's $180,000. They are ok with financial aid, but it's a crapshot each year, and many families I knew went through hell each year worrying, "Do I have to pull my kid out this year??" There are very few girls of color. The diversity decreases further along in the grades. There are only maybe five or six kids in the class whose families are not considered very well off, or actually quite rich. (Not "We drive a Range Rover" rich, but "We own a private jet" rich.) That gets old.

    When we pulled my daughter years ago, she really missed her friends at first. The community there is pretty good. But she, and I, found the community at public school to be better. And certainly more diverse. She became closer friends with fewer kids, which I worried about at first. But closer is good. Plus, she has a coupl'a friends who are really really different from her, which she didn't experience at Burke's.

    The GATE programs bring in specialists, interesting people, they take field trips, have extra attention, homework, and all that brings it to the level of the tough academics that Hamlin, for example, is known for. Without the severe emotional pressure at Hamlin. (Sorry, but there are at least ten therapists who make a full time living off that school.) GATE is fun for the kids, and they hang tight together.

    And maybe this is weird, but my kids felt a closer camaraderie with their mates because they all know they are lucky to be in GATE. It's not a case of privilege or entitlement. They have to work for it, and everybody has a shot. Maybe that's my projection.

    Finally, there is time enough in life to go crazy about academics. I think the public schools make learning funner and more creative. They have to, because some of the kids aren't naturally inclined. And it's good for bright kids to be around these kids too, as they will be in life.

    And as for discipline, I have heard that problem, but my kids don't have issues in their school. The GATE kids get tracked, which might have something to do with it.

    But again, it's important for kids to see the real world, and having a rude kid to deal with, is part of life. I do not think by any stretch it's a problem. And if it is a problem, that kid might go into a different track in school, especially in middle and high school. The bright kids don't take the same classes that the problem kids take. The bright GATE kids are all off in AP classes and calculus.

    The teachers at Burke's are great, but I ended up liking the public teachers better. So did my children. I don't know why. Maybe it was just a personality match.

    There is a sort of distance I saw, with the teachers at Burke's and the kids who attend. Maybe it's socio-economic? I just found the public teachers to be bigger cheerleaders for their kids. The Burke's and Hamlin teachers expect the kids to do well. It's a given. The public teachers work harder at it, maybe because they have to.

    This is my experience, and I don't pretend to speak for any other private/public parent. It's just what I saw.

    I acknowledge that the public schools might seem a little wild wild west to some private school families. But inside the classrooms, they are the same. Six of one, and a half dozen of the other. ESPECIALLY in the elementary years.

  49. Hi ann,

    You may want to consider MCDS (which is where our children are at). They have the best of both worlds. The setting is not urban - it's actually on 35 acres in a country setting nestled into Ring Mountain, bordering the estuary. The environment is stressed and used in their education.

    The atmosphere is relaxed and non-competitive and the emphasis is definitely on the whole child, and not pure academics. The school community is great and there is lot's of parent involvement, from school functions, to mom's and dad's nights out, to overnight camping trips (these are all outside of school functions).

    The academics are definitely there at MCDS, your child will not be lacking in this area - this is one area I am least worried about at MCDS. He/she will get an excellent education. I really do believe that academics are just a piece of a puzzle when it comes to true education, and this is coming from someone who has an advanced degree (and so does the spouse).

    If I could describe some of the traits our children possess that reflect MCDS kids they would be: caring, happy, intelligent, well-adjusted, and well-rounded. This is not a school which just stresses academics ..

  50. But inside the classrooms, they are the same. Six of one, and a half dozen of the other. ESPECIALLY in the elementary years.

    You went to a lot of trouble to say how different they are and then summed it up with that?

  51. The bright kids don't take the same classes that the problem kids take.

    I'll give you the benefit of the doubt that you don't believe that troublemaking and brightness are mutually exclusive...

  52. 11:12

    Thank you for the response. MCDS does sound absolutely lovely, and I have considered applying there but I always quibble over the commute. And now I'm having another little argument with myself over this issue. It would be a wonderful environment for my son, no doubt. We should at least tour the school so I can be even more torn when I love it. :)

    After agonizing for the past year I thought I'd have more equanimity when I dealt with this now. No such luck. I think I will add it to my tour list, though. Thanks, again!

  53. The bus is not as big an issue as you may think. There is a bus which takes kids to/from San Francisco to Marin - it really is not a big deal. I think roughly 40-50% of the kids actually take the bus in from San Francisco every day.

    As far as visiting the school - please do so. It is one thing to hear about it, but we completely fell in love when we actually toured the school. It is a school that any adult would wish they could have gone to when they were a child. And the environment will be very different from any school (private or public) that you will see in San Francisco.

    I know I sound like I work at MCDS, maybe I actually do .. being an MCDS parent, I am probably just as big an advocate!

  54. 10/15 Burkes' parent:

    The parent who switched from Burkes/Town to Yick Wo was comparing Burkes vs a good public. Not all publics have discipline issues. (And obviously, some publics do have disclipline problems, but most parents on this blog are seeking out the publics without discipline problems).

    My child's public 1st gr. class (and school, as far as I can tell) has no discipline problems at all. We have families who turned down or left FAIS, Hamlin, Presidio Hill, MCDS and Burke's for our public school.

  55. Since we're all anonymous I'm going to do take a really crazy position on this board. I'm going to stick up for Hamlin. Pressure-cooker, all-white, rich-kid Hamlin.

    My daughter is in Kindergarten. And while I cannot speak for the upper grades I can tell you that our class is very diverse in every way I can think of, including ethnic origin, family structure, neighborhood and socio-economic background. Another poster mentioned that the diversity at Hamlin leaves after the first few years - if that happened there wouldn't be very many students left (us included). The parent community has been really great.

    Also while my daughter's only been in school for just a few weeks I've literally never seen her happier. Ever. Her emotional and social growth has astonished me. Her teachers are flat out amazing. Maybe the upper grades are wretched, but these few weeks have really opened my eyes as to what is possible for my kid.

    I'm not discounting the negative stories here at all. I am very mindful of Hamlin's pressure-cooker reputation, and will be keeping a close tabs to make sure it continues to be a good fit for my kid. However I will add I have heard similar pressure-cooker stories of other top-tier privates (I will not trash places my kids don't attend). And it's also clear to me that our new head (who is really amazing) wants to address this issue.

    I attended a low-testing public school and I would generally agree that good kids do good wherever they go. I would also agree that almost any public would be fine academically in the lower grades. I do think some shy, sensitive kids do benefit from private -- not academically, but socially and emotionally. More boisterous confident kids may not need the handholding.

  56. "Finally, there is time enough in life to go crazy about academics. I think the public schools make learning funner and more creative."

    I have to disagree with this comment from 11:01. Private schools have the ability to be much more creative than public schools. One of my major issues with the public school that my son used to attend was that the curriculum does nothing to encourage a love of learning in the kids. The curriculum is so rigid in public school that it provides few opportunities for creativity and exploration.

  57. 11:31

    Well, I broke down and set up an appointment at MCDS. I hope you're happy. :)

  58. 12:33, we had a different experience. Our son is in a Spanish immersion, and his creative, passionate teachers provide an amazing environment.

    I don't think you can say more or less. But I do think the pressure is less in public school. Which may be an important factor for some people, pro or con.

  59. What date are you signed up for? Funny thing is, last night I asked my daughter (first grade) if there were adults stopping in to the room and she said yes. The tours are going on weekly right now, I believe. I explained to her that these were folks interested in sending their kids to the school. Be sure to keep an eye out for Kindergarten teacher Doug Zesiger - he is absolutely fantastic!

  60. The poster at 11:18 made a good point, because I did misstate the final verdict.

    I suppose I should have said that I as a parent experience the same levels of happiness and satisfaction with what happens inside the classroms. Sure, there are different factors at work, public vs private.

    And my children have the same level of satisfaction and happiness, with all the other factors being different.

  61. Thanks for the tip on the teacher. We're signed up for 11/12. The tours are all full before then.

  62. I was driving some jazz band kids last night, including a senior at elite private Urban (he's a scholarship kid from the Oakland ghetto). He was talking about his high-powered, ambitious classmates and cracked me up with this quote: "It's fine if they want to go to Harvard, but they don't have to be a dick about it."

  63. Caroline, what possible purpose is that story supposed to serve?

  64. Caroline, are you saying that there are no ambitious kids who act like dicks in public school? Surely that can't be your point, as it would be preposterous. So then, what is your point?

  65. I would have taken my first-choice private (not that I got it) over my first-choice public because I wanted French, at least exposure and preferably immersion. Don't tell me it's not as "useful" as Spanish or Mandarin or that I'm Eurotrash, I have my reasons. No public in San Francisco offers that. I've never heard of an after-school program associated with SF public schools that offers that. If almost any San Francisco public offered French instruction, that would have been my first choice and I would have taken it, even if I had to be a pioneer on that track in a previously under-performing school. Tant pis pour moi. My son is happy and enthused about learning where he is. Could be worse.

  66. His amusing quote aside, the boy was quite emphatic that his school is full of hard-driving, overly (in his view) ambitious students. To me, that's relevant to the discussion.

  67. Very amusing. Funny how everyone else managed to impart their opinions without throwing in something so snide.

  68. So, Caroline, let's talk about the differences between SOTA and Lowell, vis-à-vis hard driving, overly ambitious students.

    When we're done with that, let's talk about the definition of "elite" as it applies to selectivity in high school admissions.

  69. If there's even a slight chance that other posters might be interested in my remark, why bully me? Is that the behavior you private-school advocates model for your own students when someone makes a comment that makes them uncomfortable?

  70. Hi ann,

    One thing to note about the school - don't let the construction scare you. Right now they are renovating the lower school grounds (should be done by the time your little one enters), and the one thing I have noticed is that there is constant improvements. This is a great thing about the school, I think there was a discussion about facilities somewhere on this thread - at MCDS they are top-notch.

    The things you might think are missing will probably be the ones being renovated, so not to worry. I believe the library, lower school playground, and learning center are among those that are being renovated at the moment.

    Here is a link to some of the recent construction:


    Note the green roof, like at the new museum of arts and sciences - I thought that was pretty cool.

    They really do teach kids about environmental sustainability, I was embarrased when at the sink one night my daughter scolded me and said to turn off the water when I left it on when brushing! They also have boxes of fruit all over the school (which I take advantage of while volunteering :) ), and compost bins all over the campus.

    They also have gardens which I know the kindergarteners are active in maintaining - some of the fruit on campus comes from this garden.

  71. 10:57

    trips? KMS goes on one semi monthly (and we took our daughter out of school for 10 days to go to Hawaii.)

    Academics in the upper grades? KMS is (in my opinion) perfect for 4-5 or even 6 year olds. However, it's very small in the upper grades and a little too loosey goosey for us. We're not considering it for elementary and will be back in the lottery for 1st grade, as well as exploring private schools.

    look it KMS, however. Could be a good back up if you don't like what SFUSD throws at you. And they are month to month (no annual financial commitments.) Did i mention they make hot, organic lunches for the kids daily?

  72. I have to comment on the idea that good kids will do well in any school environment.

    Perhaps, to some degree, this is true. However, doesn't this also then speak to the fact that whole communities suffer because they don't have the resources that other communities have?

    I believe that I, for one, would be more "successful" if i had liked school even one iota.

    I want my daughter to have a chance to love learning.

  73. Caroline, i found your comment funny. I think there is no black and white--it's all gray. Like the front of my hair.

  74. are we qualifying the question with "if money were no object?" I mean come on... there's a big difference between free and $20,000/year (before you factor-in summer and aftercare). so my advice is to take a hard and honest look at your finances. go from there. we looked at public and private schools. over time, the cost of private schools started to make us queasy. the absurd admissions process was also nauseating. i frequently recall a comment of a friend of ours, whose son ended up at Miraloma this year. she never looked at private schools and her comment on them was "oh gosh! i don't want to be able to afford that!" meaning, there is a point where the amount of money for Kindergarten seems rather obscene. this may not apply to wealthy families, or families who qualify for significant financial aid, but something to think about if you're somewhere in the middle/upper-middle classes and facing a potentially serious and length economic downturn/recession.

  75. Caroline, the point is: there are hard-driving public and private schools, and there are elitist public and private schools. People do need to know this. You presented only one side. Also I fail to see how pointing this out is bullying you.

  76. there's a big difference between free and $20,000/year... there is a point where the amount of money for Kindergarten seems rather obscene.

    There IS a big difference between "free" to you and $20,000 out of your pocket. However education, whether private or public, does cost money. The SFUSD has about $9000 per student to work with. And clearly that is not enough. So $20,000 does not seem the least bit obscene for funding an education.

  77. I do not want to seem like an @ss, as I know there are a lot of public school advocates here. But from my view, I don't think it right that people sending their kids to public should be so judgemental on those who opt private.

    After all, we are all paying the very taxes that fund the public school education that public school kids are receiving.

  78. Remember, a lot of people are already spending a lot on preschool and it works with their budgets. It's just maintaining the status quo in those cases.

  79. I don't know about obscene, but for most parents $20,000 is simply unaffordable. I paid something for preschool but never $20,000 and never for two at a time. For two kids that is $40,000 (and climbing). Not counting the extras. For those families like mine who are at the $70,000 median income for SF, that is over half of our income.

    I realize that most on this list probably make more than the median, and some here who find this figure quite affordable are probably in the top 5% of income (over $150,000). Though in today's economy one might wonder about the riskiness of assuming that one will continue to be in that bracket, but that is something every family needs to look at and plan for individually.

    Where I come down is that we need to get past the model of every one for himself, in which core services such as education are privatized. I do think that individual families bear much responsibility for raising their kids, providing a good example in terms of behavior and habits, eating good food, reading every day, etc. But I also think that society bears responsbility for providing an education for our kids, all our kids. It's a partnership. We will not be a great country/society/democracy if we do not invest in education.

    There have always been private schools for rich kids. Short of banning them altogether, there always will be. It's the flight of middle class families to private that has had a detrimental effect on public schools in the last generation. There are lots of reasons for it, but it has meant the loss of political, fundraising, volunteer muscle, the loss of a presence. It's really hard to run a successful system for only poor kids. It may not seem like an individual choice to go private over public makes a difference, but it does. It is enormously beneficial when middle class families return to public schools.

    I'm not trying to make a simplistic argument that one "should always" pick public over private for moral or community reasons. I understand that concerns about school quality and "fit" have to be a part of the equation. What I'm saying is that I hope community impact will on the kitchen table, so to speak, in making this decision.

    Regarding school quality, the great thing is that parents in many districts around the country, including San Francisco, have begun to come back to the public schools, in an intentional way, to help build the schools back up. A demonstrable difference has been made in San Francisco. Despite the comment about $9,000 "clearly" not being enough, there really are many, many schools in the district that do a great and creative job of educating our kids. They should have more to work with, but they do a fine job. They may not have the wealth, and the bells and whistles, of some of the private schools, but they have very dedicated teachers, active parent volunteers, true diversity, and a LOT of heart. Talk about education.

    I want to be really clear about this: I do not advocate sending kids to schools that are unacceptable. I would not do it myself. But there are dozens of really good public schools in SF. I understand the lottery issues, which rival the stress of private school applications. If you can't get one of those dozens of good schools, private backup makes sense. It's not easy, going through any of this process. But most families eventually do get an acceptable choice, so let's not rehash the straw man argument about private vs. some lousy, sad public school.

    My point is this. If the choice is, as originally posed on this thread, between your top private and your #1 public, then I hope that in addition to the factor of cost, not to mention risk, to your own family of committing to private--which in the current economy I would argue would be quite high for most families--I really do hope that families will also consider the community benefit of supporting the public schools by sending your kid to one.

    Yes, it makes a difference. Yes, your kid will do great in your #1 (or #2-#7) pick. Are there problems to solve in the public schools?--yes, and I do wish we had that $20,000 to spend instead of it going to a misguided war in Iraq. But your kid will learn well, and you will be buildling up the schools for the 97% of our families that can't fathom private school prices, and building a better community thereby--and your kids will be participating in, and learning from, this diverse community too. This last is something money (or mastercard) can't buy.

    Anyway, when we went through it we did apply to parochial as backup and sweated through various rounds until we got the public pick we wanted, and this was why we sweated it out. Well, and the cost. We are putting the difference in retirement, college funds (no, haven't checked the balance on those this month, ugh!) and extras like music lessons and some travel. Kids are doing great--curious learners, big readers, love the outdoors, lots of friends from all walks--NO regrets there. We parents also love the friends we have made at our kids' schools.

  80. Public school advocates are not being @sses by pushing back on privatization of education. It's an ideological fight and a very important one that goes to the heart of what kind of society do we want to be. Public school advocates have to be pushy, because the attacks on public schools have been legion and fierce. Finally, people are pushing back on the policy level and also in encouraging the community to double down on the schools by participating in them and not believing the line--which is very much put out there by the right wing, as a specific strategy for defunding the schools--that the public schools are a mess and you shouldn't send your kids there. Some are, some aren't; we can make them better; in San Francisco there are some wonderful schools and many improving ones, your kid will not suffer but will thrive.

    Warren Buffet has famously said that the best way to improve public schools would be to ban all private schools. I don't see that happening, but the point is, the degree to which we allow privatization to happen is detrimental to the commons. And I would argue that quality education for ALL our kids is fundamental to our societal well-being. Many parts of our economy should be privatized--restaurants, for example. But not our schools. It's too fundamental. Part of how we make them better is by funding them. The other part is by joining the public school community and helping to make them better. There are wonderful people already doing that. Come and join these good folks!

  81. If it were only that simple. I'd love to join if I can get a public school that gives me everything I want. There aren't an unlimited supply. I'll give it a shot, but sorry, for my kid I'll go private if need be.

  82. "I'd love to join if I can get a public school that gives me everything I want. There aren't an unlimited supply."

    Having been there, I encourage you to expand your views. We only applied to Rooftop, Clarendon & Lilienthal, and planned to go private otherwise. We did not get one of those 3. But we did subsequent rounds and got an excellent public school(Sherman). In hindsight, there were more public schools that would have met my discriminating standards but I didn't know it, because most of my friends do private and we assumed we would do the same.

  83. Spring Valley sounds intriguing, yet I've never heard it spoken of here. It's a science-focused magnet school and seems like it could be on par with the academic privates. Anyone have any gossip about it?

  84. Regarding FRENCH IMMERSION in public schools (Marlowe's mom and others)--

    I believe that we can get this done, and quickly; possibly by next semester. Let's do it!

    I teach at a private French immersion preschool, and my four year old attends another. I had been nursing the probability of continuing to stretch our means to cover one of the French privates until yesterday, when I toured two of the SF publics. LSS, I was blown away by Grattan and can see great potential in Miraloma. Both of these schools (and probably many others) have enrichment programs in place and enthusiastic staff, but no real options for language study.

    I'm hoping we could integrate maybe 40 minutes of French into the school day twice a week and expand the program into an additional few hours of after-school enrichment up to four or five days a week. This would work great at a school that runs on a 7:50-1:50 schedule, as we'd have all that additional afternoon time.

    Please! I have the resources and connections to do this, and would love to have the program established before my child starts next fall. The registration option for SFKfiles doesn't seem to be working tonight, but I will be posting here under the name Llamaschool. Email me at kimchilla@sbcglobal.net

  85. I am not sure if anyone watched the debate. I am voting Obama, but there is one issue that I really agreed with in McCain.

    America spends more on education than ANY OTHER COUNTRY IN THE WORLD. Yes, it's true public school advocates! Do you know that Catholic privates can be less money than the so-called paltry $9-$10 thousand dollars spent on each student.

    I don't think the problem is money at all - I think there needs to be reform.

  86. Immersion programs are great, even French ones! My impression is that the district generally targets underenrolled schools for immersion programs though. It might be a good idea to find an underenrolled school with potential for growth?

  87. Maybe you should ask Kate to start this as a new topic?
    Also, Argonne just started their Russian enrichment program, they may be able to help out also with pitfalls to avoid, etc.
    Good luck. I think there is definitely a need for more language enrichment/exposure in elementary school but so little options available for a majority of kids.

  88. 7:44 -- the District will never, NEVER start a French immersion program. It does not fit in with the ESL program, which is what the District sees as the primary justification for creating immersion programs. The whole issue is way too political for any person with common sense to bear.

    If parents want to set up enrichment, or schools want to set up FLES programs, great. Or a charter school.

    A OW French immersion program may work also, since two-way would require native French speaking ESL kids.

    Someone mentioned the usefulness of French -- in actuality, there are many countries in Africa that use French as their second or official language (without getting into imperialism, etc). So there is still some "usefulness" for French, in that it serves as a bridge to other nations.

  89. Llamaschool here again, in response to 7:44 and 7:49. I want to convey that I am open to a French enrichment program in any public school, it's just that at this point I've only toured Grattan and Miraloma.

    I'm assuming that SFUSD would have little reason to support a full immersion day program for French, except that the school district loses about 200 kindergarteners a year to the three local French schools. But if it were an after-school enrichment program organized by a PTA, and if the format could be used to support other under-represented language programs... Vietnamese? Tagalog? More Russian? I can't see any reason to oppose it. Again, I encourage any interested parties to get in touch with me at kimchilla@sbcglobal.net

  90. I would think you could offer any language parents were willing to pay for as after school enrichment, assuming there was space and interest at the school.

  91. SFUSD seems to have supported mostly two-way immersion in the past, and in languages spoken by a large percentage of residents in our city.*

    But I would place at least a small bet that there might be a sea change in attitude looming and that a push for a big expansion of language programs might pan out. If it promised to bring a lot more families into the district -- stemming the enrollment drop and resulting in more funds -- even better. It seems evident that the minute SFUSD opens a new immersion program, no matter where it is, it immediately fills up -- talk about win-win.

    An effective expansion would include: not just languages spoken by a lot of residents here; not just languages spoken largely by people of color; not just two-way immersion (but also one-way immersion as needed and regular non-immersion instruction).

    Then those new families could continue the push to expand language programs, and those programs would continue to attract more families to SFUSD schools, and you get the idea.

    (My 9th-grader is taking Russian at SOTA and loves it -- though that's because the teacher is fantastic; his students would love any subject he taught.)

    *Except for Korean. A former school board member (Dan Kelly) once explained to me why there's a Korean program: He said the South Korean government sponsored a junket and then-supe Bill Rojas came back so enthralled that he started the Korean immersion at Lilienthal. Dan joked that Bill wanted to rename all the schools after South Korean leaders.

  92. 3:21, I KNOW! I want French too. I send my kids to NDV because of the French language/culture instruction, although it's far from immersion.

    Since there are two French schools in this town, and I know tons of ex pats, we should band together and start a public French immersion. There is the population to teach, and I know there is a population of parents who learned as kids and want to share that with the family.

    I love immersion schools, but yes, I am turned off by Spanish for some reason (maybe I have two blocks in my head, English and French, and there aren't any more blocks) and we didn't get into Mandarin. I learned French, travelled there and lived there. I wish I could share it with my kids.

    Also, French is great in Africa, if you like traveling there.

    Of course, as a public school parent, I can afford the lessons for my child now.

  93. 5:29, I love you. Your words echo my thoughts.

    So, let's get back to the question: if you got into your top public pick AND your top private pick, which would you chose.

    If that is the only criterion, then I emphatically say you SHOULD send your kid to public school.

    Hey, you got your top choice! You got Rooftop! You got Alice Fong Yu! You got Yick Wo! You got Miraloma! Grattan, Lafayette, whatever. You got Flynn! You got the Golden Ticket!

    And if there is anything in the mix you think is lacking, you have all the money to fill it in.

    Which leads to my final point, and question. If you would chose private, why? Is anybody honest enough to say why?

    And because I was there, was in that position, and made a decision for myself, I will offer a very biased opinion, because think the only reasons imaginable are these, off the top of my head:

    1) you live super close to the school and life would be a breeze;

    2) you got a full scholarship, and a guarantee that it will be that way for the next eight years;

    3) your grandparents' trust is paying for all the grandkids' education, so what the hell;


    4) you want your kid to be surrounded by kids who look like him and are from the same economic class, and honestly, you'd rather him not be in a minority.

    This last one is the biggest reason, from what my friends say, and they value education so it's not the only reason, but it's really the biggest reason. I hear it all the time: diversity yes, minority, no way.

    PLEASE prove me wrong and let me in on your reasoning.

  94. Wow, I'm sorry, but seriously that is a pretty condescending view. #4 is definitely not my reason AT ALL for considering private. I can't speak for anyone else, but that is a big reason why I have qualms about private--because I don't want it to be like that. I don't want people to think that inside or outside the school because it's not true. I want my kid safe and happy and challenged and nurtured and fulfilled. I want to trust that this will be the case throughout his education. SFUSD makes me very leery. I frankly do want to support the public schools, but I don't want to short change my kid. I know he could get a decent education in SFUSD, but could he get an amazing one in private? Maybe he could get an amazing one in public, too. I'd like to think so, but it is a risk and where he ends up is luck of the draw.

  95. Re: (8:27) "Spanish turns me off for some reason"

    I don't feel this way, and I would be thrilled if my kids eventually fell in love with Spanish, Cantonese or Japanese, for example. But I don't speak Spanish, Cantonese or Japanese. Nor do many of the SF parents who ultimately choose privates over publics. I speak French, and I want to perpetuate my love of that language and its history.
    SFUSD has made a name for itself with second language programs, and it will only benefit from supporting enrichment programs that would entice upper middle class locals who are otherwise willing to spill 15,000-25,000 a year for French exposure. Due to the tech subculture and its links to French engineering, pharmaceutical and business industries we have a large number of locals with French connections. France's PUBLIC school system is its pride and joy. We need their money, and we need their enthusiasm, and they do have a place in the SF language education scene.

  96. 8:47, a lot of parents on this thread have posted reasons that they would choose private over public. Several of them have to do with the curriculum constraints imposed by No Child Left Behind. Those who would choose public school have different priorities in making their choices - but the parents who favor private school for this and other reasons have still voiced a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with being racist or not wanting their kids to be in the minority.

  97. What about people like me who wanted public (despite no child left behind) but couldn't get in!!!

    I agree with Warren Buffet to a degree--but it isn't just parent participation that saves a school--the government has to allow for more creative learning to happen, too.

    Still...I tried! I tried to be a public school parent! Now my diverse family gets called racist & elitest because I walk my child thru the projects to her ethnically diverse groovy kinder.

    Go figure.

    Also, if it is true we spend more money on education in this country (fact check...) it is because our property fees (for schools to be physically present) are higher, our cost of living is higher, and perhaps there is an extra layer of admin here. But don't fool yourself--money is part of the issue--and McCain wants to both keep No Child Left Behind (he said it last night) AND not increase spending (which means keeping the program with out funding it.)


  98. kortney,

    I'm sorry to say that I disagree with you. Other countries are more expensive to live than in the US - I guarantee you that. I lived abroad in Europe and can tell you that Americans have it much easier than we think in comparison.

    The problem is not the money, there is enough of it. It is not for no reason that some of these programs are not working. There needs to be reform - throwing money at the problem is not the answer. Money needs to be directed properly.

    Keep in mind - that when I am talking about this I am not talking San Francisco schools specifically. If you truely are a public school advocate then you must look at ALL schools, not just the ones local to you.

  99. President Obama will fix No Child Left Behind. So that issue doesn't bother me with my children. We all know that program has failed, and my kindergartner won't ever have to deal with it. My faith, at least.

  100. 7:49, don't get me started. Other countries might be more expensive on the surface, but when you dig deep, these other countries (Western Europe and parts of Asia) have health security, bankruptcy protections, and often six weeks paid vacation and six months maternity leave. They have free excellent education and don't graduate with crippling education loans.

    They give people a lot of bang for the buck. So don't go telling me they are more expensive. If you get nothing for your money, you are worse off than the person who gets something for theirs.

  101. I have lived abroad - I speak from EXPERIENCE. They are NOT more expensive on the surface. They are more expensive PERIOD. Try living in the UK or Ireland, then tell me how much less it costs here.

    It's a fact, live with it. Even New York city is less expensive to live than Dublin. You think stuff likie food and gas cost a lot here .. well, you are in for a very big surprise when you see how much even the basic staples cost overseas.

    Before you go on about something you know very little about, THINK. It is for this reason that the rest of the world thinks Americans so ignorant (and most are) - this is coming from someone who has served in the military, and lived (not in the military, but actually moved) abroad.

    I hate to hammer this point, but it really fumes me when people make a misinformed post like the last one!

  102. I think both 11:33 and 11:22 are correct. At least Europe is HUGELY more expensive for everything -- housing, food, transportation, and taxes. Just going out for dinner seems to be about quadruple the price. However, you get more bang for your buck. Good schools, amazing public pools and facilities, adequate healthcare, retirement, and real vacations. It's a trade-off for the well off, but for the less well off there is much less worry.

  103. I visited The San Francisco Friends Schools today, and I have to say, I fell a little bit in love.

  104. I think there are so many apple/orange situations comparing U.S. public education to other countries that it's impossible to be clear on the situation.

    For example. Many/most other countries track really seriously, so that kids on the academic track and kids on the vocational track never set eyes on each other from a fairly early grade. The U.S., by contrast, has this notion that all students should be given a college prep education and we're failing if they all don't GO to college.

    The U.S. gets bashed for the highest dropout rate. Yet my friends from the Netherlands tell me that in their home country, students on the vocational track are finished with school after the equivalent of our 10th grade (around age 16) -- they are considered graduates, with a diploma. Naturally a U.S. kid who leaves school after 10th grade is a dropout, a failure. So much for that comparison of dropout rates! You'd have to have an enormous amount of detailed information to make any kind of multinational comparison there.

    In U.S. public schools, children with disabilities are taught in regular schools; they're supposed to be mainstreamed into regular classes whenever possible, etc. etc. etc. Here it's considered barbaric to dump disabled kids into special schools. Yet it's the norm to have disabled kids in special schools in, for example, France. My friends who live in Paris and have kids in public school there say "disabled students are invisible" in the regular school and in society.

    Those are just a couple of areas where the differences blow any effort to compare the cost-effectiveness of different nations' school systems out of the water.

    By the way, it's against the rules for parents to volunteer in OR EVEN TO ENTER their kids' schools in France, my friends tell me. I was present for school pickup in an early grade -- parents and preschool sibs milling around on the sidewalk because they're not allowed inside the door. An American mom who lived in Spain told me the same thing is true there.

    My French friends' son (my daughter's age, 9th grade) attended school through 3rd grade in the U.S. One obvious difference to him is that fighting and bullying are not allowed in U.S. schools (his experience was in Rockville, MD) and are considered perfectly normal and acceptable in his Paris school. He cheerfully said he had gotten punched in the mouth that very day (we were visiting them in Paris).

  105. There are no guarantees that spending 150K+/- over the course of K-6 will guarantee a child to grow up into a successful adult. Neither will spending zero money.

    FACT: I was a free-meal child in elementary. Public schools throughout high school. State school for college. But present day, my salary EQUALS my neighbor who did do private throughout elementary, high school and college!

    And now our kids play together no problems or issues.

    People see these school issues for the NOW, project a little further ahead and be aware that our kids will turn choose their own paths.

    Save your money. Hope for the best in the lottery. And bank some of that cash for your child's first home when they grow up. They're not suffering now - but ask them when they're adults trying to buy their first car, come up with a down payment on a house, or even to say they need extra help for grad school.I would think the majority would opt for the cash later.

  106. Re whether to choose #1 public versus #1 private. Assuming then that the issue here is not going 0/15 and needing a decent backup option, per the situation with Kortney.

    I myself spent time in both inner city public schools and a country day private school as a scholarship kid. I was sent to the CDS because the public school was so beyond-lousy. Nothing like my kids' public schools here in SF. Nothing like anyone's #1 public choice would be here. Really bad. I can't fault that decision of my parents to seek scholarship money for me, as it stepped up my academics from close-to-zero to great for the middle school years, though I later returned to a more acceptable public situation for high school.

    But the experience does leave me with these concerns. They are hard to say and I fear they will set off a defensive reaction. I don't know people's individual situations, and I am aware there are not perfect choices out there and that the lottery process and private school apps are all really hard. I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad. But this was my experience, and I think the issue is real, and I hope prospective parents will take it into account.

    The issue I have with private education is that the kids are necessarily set apart and come to feel that they are more "special" than everyone else. This is true even given the fine intentions of wonderful parents and staff and administrators to teach compassion and care at some of these fine schools. But it is hard to avoid it when the kids are swimming in a little pond of privilege. And that is simply what you get when you charge $20,000 or more per year, even when you give out some scholarships to mitigate the issue. It's what $20,000 per year, per child, necessarily implies.

    My concern is what happens is the privilege becomes part of the water that the kids take in, along with the oxygen. It is a toxic byproduct of all the other great stuff.

    I know about the social learning and the community service projects. They are good. That is still a different experience than the fact that most public schools ARE the community service project and WE are the community, not some "other" less-fortunate group out there that needs our help. I mean, we do community service projects at public school too (raise money for Katrina victims, food bank donations, "greening" work, etc.) but it feels different. A lot less like noblesse oblige, which is how it felt when my CDS classmates would do stuff that pertained to the "poor folks" in my neighborhood!

    Look, my kids know that they are very, very special to me. I love them more than breathing, and I would do anything to give them what they need to thrive. I also want them to know that every other kid--every single one--is just as special. My kids have no market corner on the market of specialness, except of course to their own family and friends.

    I think it is hard for private school kids to avoid a feeling of "specialness." It is just hard not to feel that you have been set apart and fed the royal jelly when you go to a school that costs so much and has evidently so much more shiny stuff than the schlubs have at Shoestring-And-Scotch-Tape public school down the street. The kindergarten kids may not know the price tag at first, but believe me, by the upper grades and into middle school, the kids will know.

    And the scholarship kids like me will know too, and know that they don't really belong in that world and are there on sufferance. I was grateful, believe me, but I never fit in with the country club set of kids. Not really. I had a foot back in my ghetto neighborhood, my roots that I was also scared of losing.

    I'm trying to think how to say this in a way that makes sense. I'm not talking about a measurable something, like test scores or how many library books there are or how much is spent per child. But it is *real*. If one of the byproducts of private education is a feeling of "specialness" that you have something that other kids don't get, then the danger is that it seeps inside you and makes you think that you really are special like that, i.e., deserving in a way that other kids are not.

    It may be different for parochial schools, btw. There the set-apart feeling includes belonging to a religious group, so it probably plays out differently--plus they tend to be more accessible financially.

    But in terms of public school, it really is different. No public school is perfect, for sure, but the air is different there. There are many differences in background, and that creates its own issues, but the basic assumption is that every child deserves to be there and to get the services, and it's not based on how much your parents make or where they went to school, and it doesn't say anything about their or your character. You get the education because every kid does, and should. It feels more....democratic. And so what seeps inside is that feeling that we all belong, and we all have needs and different gifts, and we have to figure out how to make it work together.

    To be clear, my own kids are privileged in many ways. We travel some, they get some extracurricular lessons. We have a computer at home. This is more than many of their classmates. Yet, at school, which is the biggest part of their day and a huge part of their social formation, the playing field is leveled.

    I just think it is important for them to know, even with the inequality around them that they can plainly see, that there are some avenues that we as a society value giving all kids, as a means for growth and reaching for potential. It's a message that all kids matter, and none more than another (even while, of course, my kids matter the most to me). As much as the reading and writing and math and science and arts, this seems as important an educational piece to me, that every kid deserves what they are getting.

    Just one more thing, someone wrote up a list on another thread of about 50 schools that have been named in some way on this blog as "acceptable" in middle class terms. I saw the list. I might take off one or two, and some would not work for me logistically, but I would agree that the list was a pretty good one. I would happily send my kid to most of them, and expect them to thrive. The schools that are most the victims of the No Child Left Behind worksheet-and-testing mentality are not on this list. They are the most challenged ones who have been "failing" in testing terms for too many years. That's not what we are talking about here in terms of #1 public versus #1 private. Yes, there is a chance that you'll go 0/15 in the lottery. But if you go all the way through the process there is a very good chance you'll get something you like (even, *sigh*, in October). If you don't, then by all means, it is good to have a private or parochial backup. But the odds aren't that bad of getting something quite decent, though it will really suck going through the process (this is true for public and private).

  107. I really think that some just don't "get it". They have an idea in their head about why someone would consider sending kids to private. They get hung up on the money or other things. There isn't just one reason. People are vastly different and do things for different reasons. So, first of all, try not to lump everyone into the same group. They're really not the same. Second, money is probably never the most important issue. We have enough money to pay for private, though we're not super rich. Certainly it's not pocket change to us, but because we can do it that becomes much lower down on the scale of importance for us. Our "real" issues lie elsewhere--pros and cons. Third, we're not just sending kids to school thinking of some distant future, we're thinking of the now, too. I want my kid to have a wonderful now. I'll consider everything to try and achieve that for them. Hope that makes sense.

  108. Last poster here, I really do appreciate and agree with what you've said 12:49, and my post wasn't directed at yours.

  109. 11:33, why do you think I don't know what I'm talking about? I am the 11:22 poster. I have lived abroad, for 10 years. First in France, again in Italy. I speak from my experience too. The UK is more expensive, I agree, but the societies outside America have infrastructure, a social cohesion, and education systems far more stable. They pay in, they get something. We don't, and we don't.

    At the end of the day, we're paying. Not just economics, but in the past five years, with the blood of hundreds of thousands on our hands.

    I love America. I love my country. I served in the air force after college for four years, to pay for college, and I loved serving my country. I hate to see what "they" have done to us over the past 25 years. I would only live in SF, NYC, New Orleans, or some such wild liberal urban European style place.

    I know from living abroad. You are free to disagree.

  110. Another issue in comparing US schools to schools in, say, Europe or Asia, is that Americans, as a broad generalization, does not value education and intellectual life as much as people in many other cultures. I lived in VERY rural Ireland in the mid-1980s, back before the "Celtic Tiger" days when there was much poverty and little opportunity. People there from what we would call the backwoods with the equivalent of 8th grade educations were able to engage in far more sophisticated discussions of politics and history than many US college graduates I had encountered. Many Americans still love the illiterate millionaire myth. The way Obama has had to dumb down his public presentation of himself to avoid appearing too elite and have a shot at winning the election is a prime example.

    The tracking Caroline points out, prevalent in Europe (and I assume Asia) but contrary to our notions of class mobility and current everyone-to-college expectations, is an interesting issue. My French friends have decried the lack of second chances there. If you blow the academic track as a kid, there's no equivalent to the American community college system where you can change course when you become more mature. At the same time, not everybody is necessarily suited to higher-level academics. Even in the days of outsourcing, there are many honorable and essential occupations that do not, when you're on the ground, require even a high-school diploma. Devoting extensive resources to attempting to provide more than a basic education to kids who don't have the interest or aptitude to go there, and creating a sense that they have failed for being different, may not necessarily be a good thing either and may add to the stress on our public educational system, particularly at the secondary level. My French friends have also told me that the vocational/apprenticeship track education works out rather well for kids who are oriented that way. I don't have tons of French friends so the perspective is no doubt limited. I have, however, met lots of different people in France, from carpenters to lawyers, and they all seemed very articulate and sophisticated in their conversation. People who went off the university track in childhood were literate, numerate, and well-read on many topics. This suggests to me that the combination of culture and academics manages to accomplish a more in significantly less time and therefore the model may be worth further exploration.

    It's too much to ask of our schools to change our culture, or really our many different cultures (Code of the Street, pointed out by Caroline, for example). Until there is cultural change beyond the schools, I don't know how we can avoid continuing to have too many children fail within our schools, particularly if we define failure as not staying on the college track. It might be an improvement in many ways (sense of achievement for kids, devoting public resources in a way that will be most beneficial, future diversification of the labor force come to mind) to have more in the way of vocational and apprenticeship programs and steer kids who don't like or don't do well in school toward them. You don't need to have studied calculus or read Tolstoy to be a great plumber or a great musician. Devote the college-prep instruction to kids who have demonstrated the aptitude and interest for higher-level academics. We DO have the community college system for people who change their minds later (at least for now; that's a whole 'nother funding and social priority topic). Of course we would have to sell parents on the idea that neither they nor their children are failures just because they are less successful at academic subjects.

  111. Look. My family pays $12,000 per year for health insurance plus copayments. I am saving about $120,000 for college, for two kids. That's $240,000. I get two weeks paid vacation, not six. I lost my job when I had my second child, because I didn't want to go back to work after six weeks. It was crushing. That cost me a lot of money.

    THINK of all the things we have to pay for here, that you don't there.

    My husband was out of work a few years ago with testicular cancer. He's fine now, but we lost our health care and considered bankruptcy because the health costs were so high. We dodged it, we refinanced, our house appreciated sky high (lucky) and paid all the bills--it was well over $400,000--but all that wouldn't have happened in over 30 countries around the world. Losing your house because you got cnacer? Are you kidding me? It happens here every day.

    I love America, too, but I agree that we don't get much for our tax dollars. If I didn't have to pay for all this stuff, or had to pay less, or at least had more security, I'd be better off.

    And while we're at it, their schools are better too! So if I end up in private school, it's costing me even more.

    Do I sound like an Obama ad?

    But it's true. It's hardly "less expensive here". While I've never lived there, I have traveled. I agree with the original poster, that paying more for something is a good idea, if you are getting something in return. We don't get enough here. That's a fact.

  112. 12:39, Yours is the best post I've read on this subject. I'm the original 10:01 writer, and you said it better than I did. THANK YOU!!!

  113. 1) Don't kid yourself that your child will be fluent in French on just 60 minutes a day. Some privates offer daily Spanish starting in elementary school and their graduates only place in Spanish 2 or 3 in high school.

    2) SFUSD does *not* lose 200-300 kindergarteners to the French immersion schools. First of all, French citizens can get a virtually free education in those SF-based schools. So don't count on them coming on board. Second, most FAIS and Lycee parents want *bilingual* children, not just kids who are familiar with the culture. Third, FRench academic standards are much higher and their high school graduates often enter college as sophomores. If you get into those schools in kinder or pre-K, you are set through 12th grade.

  114. My child's former preschool classmate is an early reader at one of the top public schools and is bored to tears. The teachers keep him busy by giving him extra worksheets designed to help his classmates learn the sounds each letter makes, when this particular kid is just about ready for chapter books.

    He'd be better off in either a more rigorous private program with other early readers, or in a more progressive (and creative) academic environment that was less worksheet driven and more project oriented. Hell, he'd probably be better off in a play-based program where he could hone his social skills and just play with other kids. Not sure how piling on the worksheets serves him at all.

  115. which top public? need to know if that's really how it is. please specify.

  116. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems public schools have stronger music programs.

    Although most of the privates have Orff/Kodaly-based programs and promote music appreciation, instruction in an instrument costs extra and takes place after school.

    In contrast, it seems all public school students are taught an instrument in 4th grade.

    Is that true? Anyone have more info?

  117. Not sure what school you are referring to, but every kindergarten teacher has to deal with the reality of many different levels of preparedness--different ages developmentally, different aptitudes, family backgrounds, everything. They should be able to handle it. Sounds to me like the parent needs to have a chat with the teacher about how bored the kid is, and make a plan for addressing it. Talk to the principal, too, if that doesn't work. There are a few non-creative teachers out there, though that hasn't been the norm for us (happened once).

    My daughter's K teachers (yes, public school) found creative ways to address my early reader in kindergarten. She got to pick books to read and was given some different projects--crafts and "journaling" to work on while other kids were learning the alphabet. There was a group of about three kids in this situation, and the teacher handled it well. The kids all sang the alphabet song together though (in English and Spanish, this being an immersion class). Singing songs together on the class carpet is the quintessential kindergarten thing to do, don't you think?

    On the other hand, my daughter had some socialization issues that put her in some ways "behind" the other kids (how to make friends, join a group for play, etc.), and the teacher worked with her on that too, plus of course there are games and activities aimed at fostering this kind of thing at the K level. No kid entering K is without "issues," I'm sure.

  118. I don't know about private school, but all 4th and 5th graders in public schools have access to instrumental instruction. This is how most kids get started on an instrument before middle school. They can take pretty much anything, but popular instruments include: violin, trumpet, flute, clarinet. I've seen sax, trombone, guitar, piano as well.

    District-paid instruction continues into the middle schools--Giannini's full orchestra is amazing, plus there is band and chorus; Hoover has an excellent music program too and also Aptos, which in addition to schooltime offerings of daily orchestra and band also has a jazz band offering before school. This is daily instruction, people. Presidio offers orchestra before school, I believe. On a different track, James Lick offers the rock band class as part of a larger arts rotation. At the middle school level, kids can certainly get daily music instruction for free if they want it!

    Then at the high school level there is SOTA for gifted musicians, and many of the other high schools have standard high school music programs with band, orchestra, etc.

    I was pleased to hear recently that at least several elementary schools are using Prop H funds to bring in district-certified music instructors for the lower grades (K-3) as well. Not sure if this is universal or just at a few, but hopefully it will free up PTA funds that had been providing this, and allow schools without large PTA funding access to music in the lower grades. Another cheer, please, for Prop H and Tom Ammiano its major sponsor, and for the good voters of San Francisco. An example of more funding making a difference.

  119. Okay, first off:


    I lived abroad - very recently. My wife is European, and my kids have dual citizenship. I also served in the military - though not abroad, and thank god not recently (I wouldn't serve in Iraq, right or wrong which is another discussion).

    I have dual citizenship myself. I am as nationalistic a person as you will ever see, which is why I think it's so important to be so brutally honest.

    Americans have a very insular view of the world - and it's not their fault. Until you live abroad, it is very hard to understand this, so I am not trying to offend anyone here. Do not let your love of your country blind you, the rest of the world has a very open mind in comparison to Americans. Just watching the daily news abroad might shock many Americans - and I am talking in the UK and Ireland, probably our closest allies. Irish news often depicts the US very unfavorably, and understandably so.

    These countries would probably be the most similar to us as well, so I think they are a valid point of reference if any. I will continue, but ..

    marlowes mom:

    Ireland is a great point of reference. The school system there is excellent, and its free, as in the US. I don't want to offend people, but it's true: culturally, education is viewed very differently there. Standards are higher, yet they don't spend nearly as much on school as in the US - but most (probably all) Irish public schools rival or are better than private schools in the US.

    I do not want to go into the 'whys' as I am not familiar enough with their educational system, but I can tell you that it certainly is not due to the amount of spending put into it.

    I am not attacking fellow Americans, so please don't be offended. If Ireland can do it, so can America - it IS true that America spends more on education than any other country in the world. I don't believe that throwing money at the problem is the right answer! Which was my earlier point.

    That being said, what tends to level things out with America is that we also have the highest college attendance in all of the world, by numbers. Education is widely available, and that's great. It does give everyone opportunities, regardless of how they do in their earlier education.

    Finally, 1:55 pm:

    I fail to see how you feel that your predicament would be different elsewhere. Sh!t happens to people EVERYWHERE. My heart goes out to you, but these things are not constrained to American society. For example, when you buy a house in Ireland, not only do you have to put money down, but you must also pay 'stamp duty' UP-FRONT equivalent to 9% of the purchase price! And when you pay for things there .. something that costs $4 here will probably cost 4 EUROS there! I am not kidding, and the UK is WORSE - it is VERY expensive in Ireland and the UK!

  120. I've seen way too many worksheets at the publics I've visited. Very depressing.

    I also think that those schools with lower overall test scores are under a lot more pressure to stick to worksheets and other by-the-book approaches. Thank you No Child Left Behind.

  121. Ireland is an interesting example since up until quite recently, they didn't have any "ELLs".

    NOw they have lots of Polish and African kids. I wonder if that has changed the dynamics in classrooms (though I understandn most of the Polish kids have educated and literate parents).

  122. 3:31 PM:

    Many of those recent immigrants have recently left the country. The eastern europeans would definitely have changed the dynamics there!

    There have been many debates about whether it was wise for Ireland to join the EU, but overall I think people view it as being good for Ireland - unlike England who has been saying they will join for years, but have never lifted a finger.

    You still have all of the Chinese who came over illegally, and still remain though. Should be a good thing for Irish society.

    The word 'diversity' was a foreign word up to the 80's there ;)

  123. Friends has an incredible music program.

  124. When do Friends' kids learn to play an instrument? Do they learn during the school day, or is it afterschool enrichment for extra $$$?

  125. A corrected detail on the SFUSD music program in grades 4 and 5: All students in every SFUSD school (don't know about charters; sorry) can choose to take weekly musical instrument instruction (not all do). The choices at that level are clarinet, flute, trumpet or violin.

    When they move on to middle school, at schools that have band/orchestra programs (Aptos, Hoover, Giannini, Presidio and others), students can expand or switch to another instrument, and students who didn't take an instrument in grades 4-5 can choose to begin. The schools have free loaner instruments (dating back to the days when California funded its schools decently). My now-9th-grader started on trumpet in 4-5 and switched to trombone over winter break of her 6th-grade year -- Aptos band teacher Allen Goodrich gave her a loaner trombone and a beginning book to take home over the break to try out, and now she's a trombone student at SOTA. One veteran music teacher (Paul Yonemura at Hoover Middle School) told her that her trombone is a "scholarship machine" -- we'll see later if that's true.

    I have never heard of this level of instrumental music (including the loaner instruments) at any private school; correct me if anyone knows otherwise. The SFUSD music program and resources, as I said, are a holdover from the days when our public schools were adequately funded, and SFUSD has struggled successfully to keep them.

  126. Hey, in defense of worksheets: a little bit of that can be a useful tool. The best teachers use a variety of approaches to learning in order to meet different kids' needs and levels. Worksheets, used judiciously in conjunction with creative techniques, songs, stories, physical movement games, use of manipulatives and so forth, can be a good tool for reinforcement the shape of a letter and what sound it makes (connecting it to words that start with that letter). While I do agree that the poorest schools may be doing too much of this, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Better to ask current parents what they think the balance is of creative and playful versus repetitive work, rather than judge a kindergarten class by a moment you have seen on tour.

    I would also argue that some stuff in elementary school just has to be learned by rote, like multiplication tables in the third grade. You can learn about Pascual's triangle that year too, and do lots of fun math games, and learn the underlying concept of things, but at some point it would just be so helpful if you can say without stopping to think that 8 x 7 = 56.

  127. A bit more on SFUSD music, by the way. Because my kids are in jazz ensembles outside school, I can attest that the top musicians in the community teen ensembles are almost entirely public school students, too. The most elite ensembles are the SFJazz High School All-Stars and the Jazzschool (Berkeley) Studio Bands, with members coming from around the Bay Area and beyond (Davis, Santa Cruz, Stockton). Almost all are from public high schools, including the San Francisco members (with the current exception of an excellent trombonist from Urban). I can't speak for the classical ensembles, since my kids don't do those outside school.

  128. Caroline, quick clarification--while I am sure you are right that the standard instruments are flute, clarinet, violin, and trumpet, it may be possible to branch out a bit if your school music teacher has the expertise to handle it and is willing. I have seen trombones, sax, guitar and piano on the list of instruments being taken this year at my kid's school. There may not be loaner instruments for these, though, so you'd have to rent. Union Music on Market has a decent rent-to-buy deal.

    And yeah, trombone, french horn, bassoon, oboe--all scholarship instruments! Worth a shot if your kid has an aptitude for music.

  129. Entirely agree with 3:58. Some things you just have to learn. Like the sounds "ough" makes. Through, though, tough, cough, bough. Have I missed any?

  130. I still don't see any reason to have 4 and year olds do worksheets... even if they do prove useful in later grades (maybe)...

  131. Kids in Finland aren't taught to read until they are 7 and they outscore other developed nations across the board in language arts and numeracy.

    So it is hard to justify making 5 years olds sit still and do worksheets .. though it is much easier on the teacher.

  132. Students at Friends can take after-school lessons (for more $) in a variety of instruments. They learn recorder and percussion instruments in music class. Students have music 2x/week from kindergarten on, and starting in 5th grade all students participate in an ensemble whether they take outside lessons or not.

    To the parent who loved Friends - there is a lot to love! It's a wonderful school and my kids are very happy there.

  133. Friends also develops every students vocal abilities--to at least a decent singing voice.

  134. Rosa Parks offers guitar and provides the instruments.

  135. 4:12

    The basic tenets at Friends are so appealing, and they really seem to walk the talk. I think that is mainly what differentiates them from a lot of other schools.

  136. What is their family income & race/ethnicity diversity like?

  137. Yick Wo offers Orff very early on. I'm not sure, but it might be as early as 1st or 2nd grade, especially in the aftercare program. We have musicians coming to give lessons all the time.

  138. 4:50

    To be honest, I didn't see a lot of non-white faces. That was the one thing I wished was different. I did see only a few of visibly Asian, Latino, and African American faces among the students in the classes we visited. They say that they have about 30% people of color, but they have a lot of "invisible" diversity through LGBT, socio-economic, etc. They also said about 1/3 of the families there receive financial aid. I will say I did see some decent diversity on staff and with the teachers. The touring parent group was very white. I wonder if the Quaker association has anything to with the non-diverse population. I do think they are open to people from all backgrounds, maybe they just need to do better recruiting. I don't know. Maybe a parent there now can speak to that better. I think they also accept kids who might have learning needs out of the normal. They say they have a lot of differentiated learning in the classes.

  139. Most of the privates offer instrument instruction AFTER SCHOOL for an EXTRA FEE.

    That is not unique to Friends.

    Public schools provide FREE weekly instruction and FREE loaner intruments, starting in 4th.

    It is a much better deal.

  140. I was just saying that Friends has a pretty cool music program within the daily curriculum, too. Like I said, voice is definitely cultivated for everyone, and they do some instrument instruction in class, too. Yes, dedicated lessons in your instrument of choice are extra-curricular and cost money.

  141. Outside Waldorf schools, I think it would be a hard sell to convince Americans to not teach reading until age 7. I'm not disputing it works well in Finland (which has got to have one of the most homogeneous populations on the planet) but I don't see it happening here. Kids start taking spelling tests in first grade or sooner. Worksheets to help them learn the shapes of the letters in kindergarten don't seem like a bad idea, if they're fun (our kid's have a coloring component) and not used to excess. I remember our kid coming home last year all excited, "Look, Mommy, it's letter L and I colored a picture of a lion."

  142. Also, regarding Friends, keep in mind they founded in 2002. They're still growing and hopefully they will be able to pull in a more diverse population as they do. They say they want that and they seem to mean it. We'll see.

  143. I'm Mexican born and bred and have light green eyes and fair skin... if you saw me (or my child) in a classroom you would never label us as "diverse"...

  144. Yes, that's why I said "visibly". I realize you can't ever tell for sure, and maybe the people I thought were visibly something in fact weren't. I was trying to answer the question asked, though, to the best of my ability. I apologize if the way I worded my response was offensive to you.

  145. We've visited several privates that don't push reading in Kindergarten... and don't push worksheets to the extent the public schools do (MCDS, Nueva, Live Oak, Presidio Hill, Synergy, SF Day, and I"m sure there are others)...

    In fact, we haven't visited a single private school that gives kindergarteners homework. Not even French American.

  146. My kids are at Friends and yes, there are a lot of white faces there. I do find the community relatively varied with regard to income, family structure, etc. The school puts a lot of effort into making people of all incomes and backgrounds feel comfortable and able to participate.

    One thing I like very much about the faculty at Friends is that there are a large number of male teachers there. I'm really pleased that both my daughter and my son have had them as teachers and role models. On the whole, I think the faculty at Friends is excellent and a huge asset of the school - faculty hiring is one of Cathy Hunter's many outstanding attributes.

    As for "walking the walk", there is truly a lot of commitment there to the Quaker tenets. All individuals are respected and valued.

    I have been very pleased with the way the school has handled the situation with my son, who has a condition that has resulted in facial differences. He is treated exactly the same as every other child, and held to exactly the same expectations as every other student.

    If you tour Friends you might notice that every classroom has a speaker system to amlify the teachers' voices. The reason they installed these systems is that, when children with attention or other issues starting wearing amplifying headsets, they tried them with other kids in the class and found that they benefitted all the kids. In other words, they found a way to improve all students' educational experience. My son wears hearing aids; I was very heartened when I heard of this decision, as it says to me that they found a way to turn kids' "liabilities" into assets for the entire class.

  147. I've seen amplification used at Grattan, too...

  148. CAIS doesn't have homework in KG, either, although there is optional monthly Chinese pronunciation practice... with a cassette going back and forth for the teacher to give feedback. (No written homework, optional or otherwise.) Also... the English half of the KG day is Montessori.

  149. "If you tour Friends you might notice that every classroom has a speaker system to amplify the teachers' voices. The reason they installed these systems is that, when children with attention or other issues started wearing amplifying headsets, they tried them with other kids in the class and found that they benefitted all the kids. In other words, they found a way to improve all students' educational experience."

    That's fantastic! What a great idea! I hadn't realized that system was being used for any other reasons than hearing loss. I could really see that helping my son... at school and at home!

    I'm so glad Friends has provided your son (and family) with such a positive experience. I'm sure it is a huge relief after the previous school's response.

  150. Last year Friends had (practically) no girl spots due to siblings.

    What about this year?

  151. They said that they'd have almost equal spots for boys and girls, around 20 or so total. (excluding siblings, I think)

  152. Will SF private schools have any financial aid available for incoming kindergartners next year?

    Their stock portfolios are likely to be down and first they have to take care of current aid recipients, followed by current families whose financial situation has changed. Will there be any money left for new kinder families?

  153. Do financial aid packages include after care? Enrichment?

    I heard at FAIS that they'll subsidize the cost of overseas fieldtrips/exchanges for financial aid families, but perhaps that was just in richer times...

  154. So many comments! My older children attended private schools my younger ones are at Creative Arts Charter.They have small classes, great teachers, an Orff music program, visual art and dance classes for every child starting in kindergarten. Between private and public I would counsel save your money for high school. Twenty thousand dollars a year buys a lot of enrichment. When your child is ready for high school is the time to check out private schools. And if you do settle in at a public school you love remember how much tuition you're saving and be generous at annual fund time !

  155. "4) you want your kid to be surrounded by kids who look like him and are from the same economic class, and honestly, you'd rather him not be in a minority.

    This last one is the biggest reason, from what my friends say, and they value education so it's not the only reason, but it's really the biggest reason. I hear it all the time: diversity yes, minority, no way.

    PLEASE prove me wrong and let me in on your reasoning."

    That may be true for many of the people who read this site (and many of them have said it on here), but it is not true for me and my family. It's not an issue of REASONING, it's just the truth.

    We are a caucasian/Jewish family, and we decided to send our daughter to private (after a year in an SF very racially diverse public school) b/c we felt that her social and emotional needs would be better met there. That's probably the main reason, though there are other reasons, including the fact that we got into an excellent private school.

    Our daughter is extremely obedient, did fine academically - but consistently fell below the radar of her teacher, mostly b/c she was dealing with 3-4 other students who had behavioral issues. When my daughter was dealing with some social issues at school I didn't even bother trying to talk to her teacher about it b/c after trying the first time it was so obvious she was completely overwhelmed and simply could not pay attention to this kind of detail. My partner was very sick last fall and was hospitalized - this had a HUGE impact on our family - I didn't even bother telling the teacher AGAIN b/c she was so distracted and overwhelmed she wouldn't have done anything helpful with the information. During the last parent-teacher conference of the year, she told us we didn't have to meet b/c my daughter was doing "fine".

    In the first weeks of my daughter's new (private) school we met with the teachers (yes, 2 teachers in the classroom) for a "hopes and dreams" conference. The teachers actually took the time to meet with us and hear our concerns/hopes/wishes for our daughter's year. They spend time creating a classroom community with an emphasis on communication, teaching the kids how to identify and communicate their emotions, teaching mutual respect, etc. They are not simply stating the words, as in "Use an I message" but they are integrating it into the curriculum.

    Don't get me wrong, I think public school is fine and I am sure some would be better than where we were, or maybe we just had a bad year - BUT I think that for US the priority was addressing these emotional issues, along with the socialization and academics that we will get down the road. I don't think private is a BETTER choice, but I do think it was for US.

    It bothers me when people make that assumption that all people choose private for race/class/etc reasons. I felt way more comfortable among the families I met in public school, but this feels like the right decision (for now) for our family and our daughter.

  156. Our child's preschool teacher suggested we consider Nueva, so we had the kid do the requisite IQ test. The score was surprisingly high and now we are torn. We loved Nueva but it is way too expensive and we hate the idea of such a long daily commute. On the other hand, we don't know of any SF schools that do well with kids that are *that* gifted. We just started educating ourselves and have learned the following:
    1) Private schools prefer not to admit those that are *that* gifted because it is too much work trying to keep them challenged.
    2) Girls, in particular,learn to hide their intelligence at a very young age because they don't want people to reject them for being smart.
    3) Public school GATE programs are very inconsistently applied and don't kick in until third grade, anyway. Unlike, say NYC, there are no special programs with educators trained to motivate and work with the profoundly gifted.
    4) These kids often have learning differences on top of the giftedness or need extra help on the social/emotional side, which they are unlikely to get enough of at most schools.

    Not sure what to do...

  157. what do you consider a high score?

  158. We're looking at FAIS precisely because its student population is more international than any other public or private school. We want more diversity, not less... and we want a world class education, too.

  159. 7:54 -- 142 on the Wechsler PP. (Nueva's cut off is 130, which is 98th percentile)

  160. 142 is in the perfect range (moderately gifted) for Nueva. Our son is also in this range and has done fine at his SFUSD ES.

  161. I think the issues for gifted girls are different than for gifted boys. Gifted girls go underground as early as first or second grade, pretending to be less-than-smart in order to fit in.

  162. We know a family of a gifted kid who used to attend Clarendon. The child was really bored, but the teacher said not to worry as long as she scored well on testing. The family pulled the child out and homeschooled instead.

  163. different mama: which public were you at? did you try getting the principal's help on your child's teacher's unhelpfulness?

  164. Spare thoughts on race.

    I don't think there is anything wrong with wanting your child to be around kids like him. If you're Catholic, or Jewish, or gay, or liberal, or non-religious, etc., you might want him to feel at home. Every tribe has a right be be a tribe.

    Ours is the only gay parented family at our public school. Hard to believe in SF, but true. But also, there are lots of white families, a bit less than half. And I have to admit I like that diversity. It would take a very special school for my partner and I to send our son, if he was the only white kid or two.

    I remember looking at Harvey Milk, where there were lots of gay parents and I thought, this place would be pretty cool for my child. But then I wondered if he'd get a warped view of the world.

    Our family could have afforded private school. We actually got into Hamlin for our older daughter. My partner and I decided against it, however, because we knew we'd never fit in there. There were two or three other gay families, but it was just too too white and too too straight for me.

    I'm just sharing these spare thoughts, because taking race into consideration or identity, or just wanting to be with your own kind--I think it's legitimate.

    And I think that it's no accident that most of the private schools in this town are mostly white. People should be more honest about that. I think you really lose something when you have your white kid be in an all white classroom. But I think many people want a classroom with mostly white kids, and only a few children of color. I think they would judge the school as inferior, if by some fluke, less than half the kids were white. Otherwise, how can you explain why all the top private schools are as white as they are?? Certainly, there is a tons of money in this town in other non-white communities.

    To be fair, I think the administrators try like hell to diversify, but it's still white white white. Like I said, people need to be more honest.

    We decided on public because of feelings of civic duty, plus we got lucky and got a one in a million phone call on the first waitpool run back in the Summer. And finally, we'll spend it on high school. Why? Conversely, considering what I've said, I think as great as Lowell is, unless it becomes more diverse in 7 years when our oldest starts, I'm not going to send her there.

    I predict that this whole school system in this town is going to look a LOT more diverse in another five to seven years, because people are staying in the city, they want public schools, and I just can't believe how many more white kids are in my son's kindergarten than were in my daughter's class just a few years ago.

  165. 9:17, those are some interesting thoughts. Thanks, food for thought.

    Regarding emotional and social education, some schools are better than others and some teachers are too. My kid's SFUSD school does Tribes and he got an intensive, intentional dose of it in the 2nd grade due to the teacher being well-trained and highly committed to it, so it permeated the classroom. It was a good year, developmentally speaking, for it too. We also have a free sandtray program at the school that lots of kids get referred to for dealing with emotional issues.

    But this is something to look for in terms of variance among the schools, I would say among both public and private. Do they have an intentional approach to social/emotional development and what is it?

    The poster whose kid's teacher was overwhelmed sounds like an outlier to me, and I am so sorry that you all went through that. My kid is generally doing well both socially and academically but I have NEVER had a teacher say we shouldn't come in for a PT conference even so. And if you had a major illness in your family, then the teacher should very much have known that. When I went through a divorce the teachers and the principal were totally aware of it and stayed on top of how my kid was doing emotionally.

  166. "...how can you explain why all the top private schools are as white as they are?? Certainly, there is a tons of money in this town in other non-white communities."

    As a native San Franciscan of Chinese descent, I can offer anecdotal reasoning behind this. We tend to go to parochial schools, if we do go private. But my extended family all send their children to public schools, and they fight very hard to chose the right one. It is the focus of every conversation at gatherings, where there are parents with school age kids.

    I think my cousins and uncles and aunts have a long history of being wise with money. Very frugal. It would never even occur to many of them to pay for something you can get for free, especially since sf schools are good. If they got into their first choice public, they'd have a huge party to celebrate and a private school would be off the table.

    There isn't the same angst in the Chinese community about the schools, in my opinion, as much as there is about making sure the kids master the material and get good grades.

    Public school is a good value, and getting a good value is a cornerstone of what my parents taught me. To have sent me to a private school when a first choice public was available, would have been setting a very bad example.

  167. For the most part, private schools were founded by white families for white families. It is only in the last few decades that they have tried to diversify and they are *still* not the most comfortable place for people of other races, ethnicities or income groups. Finally, the previous poster hit the nail on the head when they mentioned the popularity of parochial schools among immigrant populations. There is a long history of Catholic schooling in both the countries of origin and here.

  168. 12:58 thanks for a very enlightening post. Seems like such a commonsense approach!

  169. Five years ago, my son was assigned to KG at Clarendon GE… and he was also accepted at CAIS (Chinese American). Clarendon and CAIS are both excellent schools, so the decision was not an easy one. Clarendon families seemed much more similar to our (white, middle class) family racially and economically…. and the school is a lot closer to our house... with a better start time (late!)… plus we had a slot in the (excellent and inexpensive) afterschool program. (There was even a bus that stopped at our “neighborhood” school, Commodore Sloat at 9:00 on its way to Clarendon!) Everything about it would have been easier , more “familiar” …. and certainly much less of a burden financially. (We qualified for financial aid at CAIS, but it would still be a struggle.) After much soul searching, we realized that even though we had listed Clarendon GE as one of our five top schools, we really only wanted AFY (or maybe, West Portal), because once we learned about immersion, we were hooked. (One of my biggest regrets is that I never became proficient in another language…..and I know “world citizens” is a cliché, but that’s what we want our children to be.) Given our specific family situation, we wanted Chinese. We had adopted our Asian daughter… into our previously all Caucasian family… earlier in the year, and so had become an Asian-American family, but still needed to learn how to be an Asian-American family, culturally speaking. We also wanted our daughter to go to a school with lots of Asian classmates and teachers.

    If we were going to stay within our initial “comfort zone,” we would have gone with Clarendon GE. Mind you, my older daughter had gone to Giannini… and though she attended when there were still ethnic limits in place, it had a plurality of Chinese students even then, and probably a majority of Asians, in general. It is different though, when the whole school environment is (by design) largely focused on a culture that is not familiar to you. (When my daughter was at Giannini, I don’t even remember much recognition of Lunar New Year, though that’s a big holiday in all the schools, now.) At CAIS, most of the Chinese teachers were raised (and first became teachers) in China… so there can be language and cultural barriers, in addition to classroom expectations that can be different from our previous experiences. Also, many of the parents were also raised in China or other Asian countries. (Not that that is unusual in lots of SF schools.) At any rate, we had never been to China (except a layover in Taiwan on our way to Vietnam to adopt our daughter), and knew very little about the culture. (Beyond what had seeped in, living in SF.) And this may seem hard to believe now, but the idea of non-Asian kids enrolled in a Mandarin immersion school was still considered somewhat novel five years ago.

    So, we struggled with that decision (and others… like whether to redshirt our son, with his late August birthday, if we went private)… and finally decided we needed to take a leap of faith, and go beyond our comfort zone.. to grow as individuals and as a family- for our daughter, for our son… and for ourselves. So, our long-haired, 5th grade Caucasian son (often mistaken for a FAIS student in the first couple of years!) speaks Mandarin (I wrote in an earlier thread about my exciting experience witnessing his ability to communicate in China) and loves school…. and our long-haired, first grade Asian daughter loves it, too. He helps her with her homework… and they often speak and sing in Chinese together at home. (Their own secret language…) There have been a couple of years when my son was the only white boy in his class (though there were also biracial kids), but I noticed in last year’s class photo that my daughter was the only fully Asian girl in her KG class! (Kinda funny how that worked out…) The educational experience and the CAIS community (teachers, other staff and families) have been amazing, and our lives have been immeasurably enriched by expanding our cultural horizons in this way. It is hard (now) to understand why the decision (to attend the school) was such an agonizing one. (Oh yeah, except for the money thing. Definitely remains the biggest downside…)

  170. 1:17

    but we live in sf where gays and asians are everywhere!? i hear that CAIS is too one-sided in teaching strictly chinese. where the school even practices very strict conduct on the kids where they can talk during lunch?! does your older one need extra help beyond school hours with mandarin?

    i appreciate your experience with the agony of picking a school. i guess my point is that unless language is all that to you, getting exposure to a certain culture nowadays is fairly simple. and chinese new year is plastered all over the city!

    ...and doesn't have to cost you 20 thousand.

  171. We chose a private school over the "#1" public school because it's extremely important to us that the school and its teachers have a progressive, whole-child educational outlook that matches our own, as well as the freedom and means to carry it out. While some families have the time and wherewithal to fill the philosophical gaps, for us, it really does take a village. The school has our back. I had always wondered whether it was folly to spend money on elementary education rather than saving up for high school or college, or hell, just eating dinner. Now, after seeing how our middle school son is turning out, I almost think the exact opposite: spend it in their formative years! You can't get back that time to lay a foundation for the joy of learning. If we run out of money by the time he reaches high school or college, so be it -- he'll have what it takes to flourish wherever he winds up.

  172. "takes a village" brings up a good point. We have no family here. If we can a school that provides a family-like community, well, that's important to us, too--a nurturing place. I think some of the privates may be better equipped to provide that.

  173. "Community" was the number one factor in my decision to send my child to a certain private school. I was extremely happy with that school, NDV, as it had an amazing community. I think it was the number one selling point, and as a single mom, I needed that.

    But then later on, when we switched to public, I was scared of losing this community. It's pretty hard to get a good feel for the community before you join a school. You sort of have to know someone who goes there. Just showing up for events isn't good enough.

    As it happens, the community at our public school is just as good, although a bit smaller. I didn't lose a thing. Just traded off one for another.

    But to address the issue of the CAIS, my question now would be, if you got into a public Mandarin immersion as your number one pick, what decision would you make then?

    I agree that a couple of the language immersion schools give you an option you can't easily find in public. Apples and oranges.

    But if it's apples and apples, then what?

  174. Which public school do your kids attend? Do you associate with the families outside of school hours?

  175. The public v private issue must be the hottest topic on this blog. I've read hundreds, if not thousands, of postings and it never seems to get old. I don't think anyone with half a brain truly believes public or private is better in absolute terms. There are great publics and bad publics, there are fantastic privates and atrocious privates. It all comes down to what works for your individual family and child. Nevertheless, I still feel compelled to air my view. I resent all the racist, classist attacks on private school families. My husband and I grew up with limited means in minority communities. Like the Obamas, we were able to rise up in the social ladder via ivy league education. We want our children to have what we didn't have when we were young - namely, first rate elementary education in a beautiful setting with a caring community of thoughtful and engaged teachers, parents, administrators and a consistent, challenging curriculum unhindered by NCLB or other gov mandates or budget crisis. We found the parents in our mostly upper-middle white private to be grounded and inclusive. I've worked for the last 7 years in a nonprofit dedicated to help low income families prepare their children for college and I would consider our work success if some of these children end up at Harvard or Yale and are able to send their children to the likes of Hamlin, Town, MCDS some years down the road if they choose. So please, hold your judgmental horses, and focus on finding the "right" school (public or private) for your children. The Picky Parents' Guide is a good place to start.


  176. These posts require me to make a decision: Avoid making waves, or repeat my statement on the social impact of private schools? I'll just post a link to my commentary for those who haven't read this before and DO want to explore it:


  177. "The public v private issue must be the hottest topic on this blog. I've read hundreds, if not thousands, of postings and it never seems to get old. I don't think anyone with half a brain truly believes public or private is better in absolute terms."

    So true, so true.

    I feel very torn about choosing private - even though my daughter is very happy, one could say "thriving", I second guess our choice for all the reasons people list on here. Sometimes I wish I thought about it in more absolute terms. I know plenty of parents who wouldn't consider public and others who wouldn't consider private - it is very clear cut for them. Less so for me.

  178. Just read through the whole thread and noticed this...

    "If there's even a slight chance that other posters might be interested in my remark, why bully me? Is that the behavior you private-school advocates model for your own students when someone makes a comment that makes them uncomfortable?"

    Those responses seemed bullying to you? How so? I am not a private school “advocate” (though my two younger kids do attend private school)… and I am not one of the posters to whom you are referring, but (imho) they were just (rightfully) pointing out that your original ("snide") remark was changing the tone of the discussion in an unnecessary (and insulting to the kids at Urban) way… which was the point, I assume?

    I also agree with one of the posters that the original “hit” is not particularly germane to the discussion, anyway, because when

    "...he was talking about his high-powered, ambitious classmates [at Urban] and cracked me up with this quote: "It's fine if they want to go to Harvard, but they don't have to be a dick about it" ...

    he could just as easily have been talking about many (most?) of the students at the public high school my (public school educated, including Cal for college) older daughter attended, Lowell. The environment was more “high powered and ambitious” than I would have preferred, but I would never call the Lowell kids “dicks.” (And Lowell is a great school.) I understand you weren't explicitly calling Urban kids "dicks," yourself... but using the words of another to make the point still resulted in gratuitous name-calling. (Is this my cue to ask if this is the type of behavior you model for your own children?)

    One thing... private school is entirely voluntary, so I guess the pros must outweigh the cons for the kid you were quoting?

  179. Yes, I think devoting a lot of time, words and energy to picking apart my comment and making it into a criticism of me is bullying. Of course bullies always scoff at the notion that they're bullying -- that's part of the package. I'm middle-aged and it doesn't have much impact on me; when kids do the same thing to a 7-year-old or a 12-year-old, they can do severe damage.

    I happened to think it was an amusing and at least somewhat revealing comment, given previous discussion about the fact that private schools can range from being academic pressure cookers to low-key warm and fuzzy.

    I would say that repeating an amusing remark that ilghtheartedly pokes fun at the culture of a school is not in the same category as targeting an individual for public criticism. In my view, role-modeling the former is not harmful, while role-modeling the latter is.

  180. While reading through all the posts, I saw this, too:

    "A former school board member (Dan Kelly) once explained to me why there's a Korean program: He said the South Korean government sponsored a junket and then-supe Bill Rojas came back so enthralled that he started the Korean immersion at Lilienthal. Dan joked that Bill wanted to rename all the schools after South Korean leaders."

    Thanks, for the info. I have been wondering how the SFUSD ended up with a Korean immersion program! I mean, Cantonese made sense (with the large Cantonese speaking population)… Spanish was a no brainer…. and Mandarin (finally), since it is the official language of more than a billion people… but Korean was a puzzle.

    I recall from looking at the CL school profile that there are a significant number of students of Korean heritage. Does anyone know if they have achieved the 50/50 split of target language/English speakers? Are the Korean heritage kids actually proficient in Korean coming into the program? And… how did they “recruit” so many Korean kids when the Korean population is not all that large in SF? Maybe a good model for recruiting Mandarin speaking kids to Starr King and Ortega? (Are there any native Mandarin speakers at those schools?)

  181. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. I think it might be good to hold up mirrors to ourselves before we speak sometimes.

  182. This comment has been removed by the author.

  183. Caroline -- When people point out, in response to your anecdote, that hard-driving, ambitious kids can be found in both public and private schools, you call them bullies. Why is that?

    (Actually, I just looked up "anecdote" in the dictionary: a brief narrative of an event, told without malice, intended to amuse. So I guess that's not quite the right word, is it? It may have amused some people, but the majority of your posts on this blog are designed to denigrate private education.)

  184. I'm one of the first posters who questioned the point of Caroline's posting about the ambitious "dicks" at the private school. I'm also a public school advocate. If you're new to this blog: please don't think that Caroline is the voice of our public schools. Overall, I appreciate many of her comments, but she sometimes sticks her foot in her mouth.

    This topic - first choice public vs first choice private - is a good one, but I'm thinking that perhaps it has run its course for now.

  185. But we always need a current public-vs-private thread to keep things interesting, don't we?

  186. If the posts had just responded to the content of my comment, I would never have called them bullying. These excerpts are responses to the content, for example:

    <<< hard-driving, ambitious kids can be found in both public and private schools >>>

    or this

    <<< he [the student I quoted] could just as easily have been talking about many (most?) of the students at the public high school my (public school educated, including Cal for college) older daughter attended, Lowell.>>>

    As those two snippets demonstrate, it's perfectly possible to rebut the comment without attacking the individual poster. That's what civil, spirited discussion is all about. When you attack ME personally for posting it, that's bullying, including the "foot in mouth" comment. And if there's actually more than one poster piling on (it's hard to tell, of course), more so. OK, I'm 54; I can handle it. But when you model that for kids, who are then likely to inflict it on their peers, that's scary. That's the reason I trouble to point it out.

  187. 4:12,

    “but we live in sf where gays and asians are everywhere!? i hear that CAIS is too one-sided in teaching strictly chinese. where the school even practices very strict conduct on the kids where they can talk during lunch?! does your older one need extra help beyond school hours with mandarin?

    i appreciate your experience with the agony of picking a school. i guess my point is that unless language is all that to you, getting exposure to a certain culture nowadays is fairly simple. and chinese new year is plastered all over the city!


    ..and doesn't have to cost you 20 thousand.”

    Not sure what gay people have to do with it, but large concentrations of Asian students and teachers are not “everywhere.” (Like, I didn’t see many Asian faces at Horace Mann MS when I did programs there last month.) Still, there are many great schools (that it might be possible to get into?) with lots of Asian students and teachers, if looking only at non-immersion, K-5 schools.

    We definitely became so attracted to language immersion that it became the deciding factor, and with a tonal language it is even more advantageous to get an early start on the language. I hoped that learning Mandarin would also help the kids with Vietnamese, another tonal language. (They went to a Vietnamese Saturday school for a while, until soccer prevailed….) We definitely would have gone with AFY because it had another characteristic that we were seeking- K thru 8. (We really didn’t like the big, comprehensive middle school situation when my older daughter was at Giannini… and had tried to get her into a K-8, but she uses a wheelchair, and those schools were not wheelchair accessible at the time.) I would have preferred Mandarin, of course, but it didn’t exist in the public schools, yet. If we had gotten into West Portal, we probably would have gone with it, even without the K-8, but I would have had to research the middle school component at Hoover. (I had heard there were some issues at the middle school level in terms of the quality of the language program for immersion students, but have no actual knowledge… and didn’t pursue it since we didn’t get WP.) Without the language focus, for a K-8 I would choose Lawton (not that I would get it!)… and if considering non- K thru 8, I have worked at both Stevenson and Ulloa… and love those schools.

    I don’t know what you mean about teaching Chinese in a one-sided way? As far as I know, CAIS is the only SF immersion program that is always 50% of the day in the target language/50% in English… until MS, when it is 35% percent Chinese. Kids have to be proficient in English coming in, and CAIS students compare favorably on the ERB (an Achievement Test that allows for comparisons between similar private schools) with students at non-immersion privates. I would imagine the environment (behavior-wise) is similar to AFY…. with somewhat “stricter” expectations for behavior than some schools (an approach many Chinese parents prefer). The English part of the day tends to be looser because the teachers are not from China. When my son was in KG, he did complain that they were not allowed to talk much at lunch. I think there is an effort made... with the little ones especially... to make sure they eat enough lunch to have energy for the rest of the day. (The school day is an hour longer than at the public schools I work in.) My daughter never mentioned it, though, and both my motor- mouthed kids have pretty full lunch boxes when I pick them up!

    Well, Lunar New Year is just a start in terms of Chinese culture … It isn’t really possible to sum up in a posting, but it has been an amazing journey for the whole family. (And as I said before, visiting China with my son, and watching him handle himself so well in another language, was extremely rewarding.) Since Vietnam’s culture and history are so closely intertwined with China’s, the major holidays and traditions are the same…with some variation, of course. (I don’t mean to imply it is all about the holidays, but we do enjoy celebrating!) We do all the Chinese New Year stuff in SF… and then add Tet in Little Saigon (SF) and San Jose. We use that approach for the Moon Festival, too. Etc. (We want our daughter to always be aware she is from Vietnam, not China.)

    It is true that quite a few kids at CAIS turn to tutoring, and we tried it for our son for the first time last year (one evening a week) because we thought it might boost his confidence in Chinese. The English subjects have always come very easily for him, and while he does well in Chinese, not as well as in English. (Understandably.) I mean, he read the JK Rowling series when he was six, but is not nearly that advanced in Chinese (imagine that), so he sometimes feels “dumb” in Chinese by comparison. I thought maybe tutoring would help him bridge the gap a bit. His Chinese teacher said he didn’t need it… and it actually appeared to have a negative effect since he seemed to rely too much on tutoring instead of figuring it out for himself… so we stopped. A better option is staying after school for “study hall,” manned by a Chinese teacher who can help with Chinese homework questions.

    Sadly, it costs us a bit more than $20,000 since we have two attending, but we do get a significant reduction through financial aid. I’m keeping an eye on Ortega (not far from our house) and Starr King (I have worked a little in the Mandarin KG classes), in case the financial burden becomes too great. Too late for my son, of course… and I’m not sure how it would be for my daughter to transfer, since (in addition to the fact that she loves CAIS), she is learning traditional characters, not simplified. I would also like a firmer idea of the proposed middle school situation. (I heard the Mandarin immersion kids might end up at Marina. Have the MS programs been successful at keeping the immersion going? I would think the K-8 environment… with all kids in immersion…would be more effective at that.)

  188. Facilities, teachers, students, all can vary greatly from school to school whether public or private. My snapshot from this week: I spent the day working in an SFUSD elementary school whose facility reminded me of the grim, doleful school buildings I've walked through in third world countries-- poor facilities, dirt and grime everywhere (the children's bathrooms were absolutely sick-making. I was literally nauseated by the sights and smells every time I had to walk into the bathroom). There was absolutely nothing on the walls-- hallways stretched out with long, empty bulletin boards. Staff seemed terse and stressed, and students were despondent, disinterested, and rebellious. Overall a depressing experience.

    Across town at the end of the day when I picked my children up at their private school, I watched the students streaming out of their classrooms. They were chatting, laughing, and engaged with each other and their teachers, all of whom were equally cheerful. Student work filled the walls inside classrooms and out in the hallways. The space was clean and filled with light. The bathrooms were clean.

    Am I relieved that my children attend the latter school? Yes. Do I feel remorse that situations such as the former school exist in our city? Absolutely.

    If you are fortunate enough to send your child to a school where all of their needs are being met, you are one of the lucky ones. But what about those children and teachers who are stuck in a sub-par school where nothing is rosy? Who's going to fight for their right to happiness, a clean bathroom, and a good education?

    I am so disheartened that people are spending their time online trying to convince each other that public is better than private, or vice versa. We should instead be out there doing everything we can to make the doleful schools of our city better. I know I am. What are you doing about it?

  189. 11:33, name the schools. Please.

  190. 11:33 Are you a teacher? What are you doing to help? What do you suggest we do to help?

  191. Caroline, you are way out in left field with this "bullying" stuff. Sounds like you're the one doing the name calling...

  192. I think we need a new thread: Do our own biases as adults get in the way of giving our children what's best for *them* instead of us?

    I was at the Burke's family fair yesterday, and I was so turned off and appalled by the lack of diversity, and all the rich investor banking dudes in ballcaps, with all their blond daughters and matching wives with the pie eyed stares, that I started swearing under my breath. I can't stand those people, and it made me angry for reasons I didn't fully understand.

    But the campus and teachers and everything else is probably about the best you can get in San Francisco. If I deny my daughters that experience, am I being unfair to them?

    But jesus, that place wreaked of white privilege. And even though it's okay, because you know, it's San Francisco, and probably 90% of them vote the same way as I do (Obama) it still made my skin scrawl.

    I'm torn today....

  193. Plus judging people by the color of their skin (or color of their hair) and clothes is probably not the best way to discern their character.

    Big school events and tour in general can be overwhelming. Sometimes it's difficult to step back and picture your child in that environment without all those stray people.

    I know I loved the idea of Creative Arts and Synergy (for myself) but my child would have done terribly at either of these schools. She needed a much quieter, more structured environment. Way more boring for me though, and I fit in better with the crunchy set. In the end I chose what was best for my daughter, but not without some feelings of ambivalence.

  194. "i hear that CAIS is too one-sided in teaching strictly chinese. where the school even practices very strict conduct on the kids where they can talk during lunch?! does your older one need extra help beyond school hours with mandarin?"

    Different CAIS parent here. The above impression seems pretty prevalent in people who don't know CAIS. I can say that, though the teaching methodology is somewhat different on the Chinese side, it is not the strict, rigid, rote learning that people commonly assume, nor is there an unreasonably strict code of behavioral conduct. There is much effort to integrate the English curriculum (50%) with the Chinese curriculum (50%) as well as American teaching practices across both curriculums. Culturally, there is a huge concession to American parents who (even those of Chinese descent) are much more demanding of the school and involved than parents in China would be. The academic standards are high, but we haven't found them to be unreasonable or rigid. More and more there is a concerted effort to develop the whole child and use of differentiated instruction. In other words, no endless hours of drilling, no punitive measures, no cookie cutter approach, no impossibly high standards. Neither of my kids needs outside assistance with Mandarin. Yes, kids can talk (and do) during lunch, at least in the lower and middle schools.

    And even though SF has a high Asian population, immersion in the CAIS community has been way more intensive, authentic, and enriching than just living in a city with Asians and going to the Chinese New Year parade. By that logic, the demographics of a school shouldn't matter at all, since the city itself is so diverse. We all know that living near diversity doesn't always mean immersing in diversity in a meaningful way.

    The question of private/public Mandarin immersion is one that I didn't have to consider, as public Mandarin immersion came several years too late for my kids. I really don't know what choice I would make today if I didn’t already have the context of 9 years at CAIS. I do know that it would be hard to consider a relatively new and undeveloped program after knowing CAIS as intimately as I do, especially with the NCLB mandate and current budge crisis in the public schools. Not sure it is apples and apples; I don’t think one immersion program is necessarily interchangeable with another.

  195. “If the posts had just responded to the content of my comment, I would never have called them bullying…

    ..Those two snippets demonstrate, it's perfectly possible to rebut the comment without attacking the individual poster. That's what civil, spirited discussion is all about. When you attack ME personally for posting it, that's bullying, including the "foot in mouth" comment. And if there's actually more than one poster piling on (it's hard to tell, of course), more so. OK, I'm 54; I can handle it. But when you model that for kids, who are then likely to inflict it on their peers, that's scary. That's the reason I trouble to point it out…

    Sorry (to anyone else still reading, including 4:47) for beating a dead horse, but my work life is spent (in mostly public school classrooms) trying to promote inclusive school environments… including countering bullying. Unwarranted accusations of bullying do not help that effort.

    Caroline, I would have to respectfully disagree that quoting someone referring to Urban kids as “dicks” constitutes “civil” discussion… or that the responses to that (not very civil) comment involved bullying. Here is the exchange in its entirety (or am I missing something?):

    "caroline said...
    I was driving some jazz band kids last night, including a senior at elite private Urban (he's a scholarship kid from the Oakland ghetto). He was talking about his high-powered, ambitious classmates and cracked me up with this quote: "It's fine if they want to go to Harvard, but they don't have to be a dick about it."
    October 15, 2008 2:35 PM

    anonymous said...
    Caroline, what possible purpose is that story supposed to serve?
    October 15, 2008 3:09 PM

    anonymous said...
    Caroline, are you saying that there are no ambitious kids who act like dicks in public school? Surely that can't be your point, as it would be preposterous. So then, what is your point?
    October 15, 2008 3:10 PM

    caroline said...
    His amusing quote aside, the boy was quite emphatic that his school is full of hard-driving, overly (in his view) ambitious students. To me, that's relevant to the discussion.
    October 15, 2008 3:25 PM

    anonymous said...
    Very amusing. Funny how everyone else managed to impart their opinions without throwing in something so snide.
    October 15, 2008 3:33 PM

    anonymous said...
    So, Caroline, let's talk about the differences between SOTA and Lowell, vis-à-vis hard driving, overly ambitious students.

 When we're done with that, let's talk about the definition of "elite" as it applies to selectivity in high school admissions.
    October 15, 2008 3:36 PM

    caroline said...
    If there's even a slight chance that other posters might be interested in my remark, why bully me? Is that the behavior you private-school advocates model for your own students when someone makes a comment that makes them uncomfortable?
    October 15, 2008 3:48 PM

    You quoted a remark that seemed to some (including me when I finally saw it) to be pretty insulting to Urban kids… and that remark (not surprisingly) generated some dissenting responses (though, just four brief and fairly mild- IMHO- responses)…then you didn’t address any of the legitimate questions raised in the responses, but instead lashed out, calling the posters “bullies,” “private school advocates,” and even threw in an insult about the responders’ parenting skills for good measure. In my opinion, they were just calling you on a name-calling comment they considered gratuitous and inappropriate. Would this have been a more acceptable response: “Yes, we agree, that’s hilarious… those Urban kids sure are dicks?” When you (rightly) refer to the importance of limiting ourselves to “civil” discussion… where does repeating a comment calling Urban kids “dicks” ft in? Couldn’t the point have been made in a less rude and inflammatory way? (Also… was it a good idea to provide so many identifying characteristics of the kid who made the original, offhanded comment?)

    Also... the “foot in mouth” comment is very recent, posted many comments AFTER you called the first posters bullies and poor parental role models (which you are taking even further now, since you say their kids will be likely to “inflict it in on their peers,” and “that’s scary” ). What I am trying to say is you attacked people who did not attack you. (They just disagreed with you and found your post offensive.) This may not always be true… but this time it is. Even the poster who (much later on) said you sometimes put your foot in your mouth also said she/he appreciates many of your comments . Considering she/he was also one of the original posters you accused of being bullies and poor role models, I think saying you sometimes put your foot in your mouth was actually pretty charitable.

  196. 11:54 Anon

    Do you feel that way because you are afraid you or your child wont be accepted?

    If you put aside your own fears and assumptions and just think about the kids; how did they look and act?

    Would your child be better off at Burkes or a top public school; if you even got in?

    what publics have you checked out? I wonder why people feel more secure sending their children to predominantly asian classrooms as opposed to white classrooms...

    Seems a bit strange that high % of white kids is a taboo. No one talks about lack of diversity when they visit west portal, lawton, alamo, AFY, or any other top school..... except for amybe rooftop and clair Liethethan...

    just strange.....

  197. Strange? Not really. Burke's has an extremely high percentage of really well-to-do white kids. Privileged white kids.

    And btw, I am white, and so are my kids. One is even blond. With a makeover, we could look like them. Without the makeover, we look like anarchists from the 1910s Greenwich Village. :-)

    At the fair, I just felt that, even though that school is great, I'd be putting them in a homogeneous box that they won't get out of. I really dislike the "sameness" of all the families there. It's why I fled the suburbs and raise my kids in an urban environment. Even in the suburbs, however, at the private school I went to in the 80s, there was a very diverse population of white folks. You had rich and poor, Republicans, Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Jews, Muslims, Liberals, Conservatives, just a wide variety.

    And sure, I wouldn't feel comfy if my kids were the only white faces in an all-asian or all-latin or whatever kind of environment, at least it would be an interesting unique kind of experience. I'm not sure many families who can afford the Burke's and Hamlins actually do send their kids to the Lawtons and Alamos. Maybe the middle or working class whites, do.

    Who knows about Burke's, it really is that good, I know. That's what my friends tell me. Maybe that's why African Amercian families subject their kids to being the token. My best friend is a single gay mom, and she bristles at being the token in these situations, too, but she's earnest about wanting what's best for her kids. She sends her kids to Clarendon.

    With the exception of a smattering of asian and latin faces, maybe two or three African Americans, that place looks like Utah. Utah with Obama stickers on the Land Rovers. I'm just stating what I saw.

    Isn't it possible for a ritzy private school to charge half the kids $28,000 and allow the other half to look like reality? Like San Francisco? I'd feel fine sending my kids to that school. I'm not sure that's feasible.

    I really believe, as one poster said, that you have a window to open your kids up to the world racially, and that's from kindergarten to maybe eighth grade. After that, bias becomes a reality.

    Just like my bias against a homogeneous environment like Burke's, that exists smack dab in the middle of a most diverse city.

    But the point is taken that people seldom complain about the diversity at the Lawtons, Alamos, Rooftops, AFY, etc. in this city. I really think that at the end of the day, the privates are full of white kids because the white families want it that way. All things being equal, I would wager that if all the sudden Hamlin or Burke's kindergarten class fell below 50% white, it would cease to be the "top tier" in demand place it is.

    I am afraid that private elementary schools are white enclaves, because that's their greatest selling point.

  198. "I am afraid that private elementary schools are white enclaves, because that's their greatest selling point."

    I disagree. For instance, we visited Rosa Parks JBBP and I really wanted to love it. I was totally fine with the mix of kids there, and I guarantee you white was way in the minority. It was missing things academically that was the problem. Other schools may be missing things in other areas. I can't help wanting it all for my kid.