Wednesday, January 6, 2010

USA Today: Recession fuels shift from private to public schools

An excerpt from a USA Today story:
When the family budget started feeling the recession's pinch last year, Angela Allyn and her photographer husband, Matt Dinnerstein, pulled their three kids out of Chicago-area private schools and enrolled them in Evanston, Ill., public schools.

It has been a challenging transition: Maya, 16, now a high school sophomore, "doesn't like crowds — and her high school is as big as a small college," her mother says. Though Maya is learning a lot in the "amazing" science program, she's also hoping to leave the crowds behind by doubling up on coursework, graduating by the end of junior year "and then going and doing interesting things," Allyn says. Her younger children face their own challenges, from bullying to sheer boredom.

The transition also has been an education for Maya's parents, who say they had "no choice" in the struggling economy but to switch to public schools.

They're saving about $20,000 a year in tuition, but like many former private-school families, they're coming face-to-face with larger class sizes and the public school bureaucracy as they push to get services for their children.

"We ask a lot of questions — we follow up on things," says Allyn, a former professional dancer who's the cultural arts coordinator for the city of Evanston. "We contact the school board. ... We'll challenge teachers, we'll challenge coordinators. My kids are mortified because they don't want to be singled out."

It's too early to tell whether the recession has had a profound effect on public schools' educational mission. But parents and educators across the nation say it's already bringing subtle changes to the culture of many public schools as some families seek the personal attention they received from private schools.

Private-school parents typically find that the structure of public schools takes some getting used to. In most states, funding for public schools is calculated on a per-student basis, based on average student counts during the first few weeks of the school year. If a student drops out after 40 days, the funding that student generated stays with the school — even if he or she does not return to that campus.

Private schools, on the other hand, risk losing tuition payments once a student leaves.

Read the full story


  1. Maybe this will get more voters involved in creating higher expectations for public education (I say this as an avid public school advocate and parent of two kids in SFUSD.)

    We are the leaders we are looking for - if the system isn't working, get active to make it work.

  2. I'm mortified for her kids too.

  3. My kids are in public too. The thing I hear though from many either without kids in school or with kids in private is an absolute disgust (informed or based on impressions or even misinformation)with the way the school district/school administrators, etc manage money. They see money mismanagement as the huge problem, and so don't see any reason to pay any more taxes. They don't want to "throw money at a problem." Maybe greater transparency about how money is spent, and candor about where money has been spent in the past and will be spent in the future (on the nitty gritty level) would inspire some more confidence among skeptics. Then maybe they'll get more directly involved -- with something they can understand and believe in.

  4. Smarter school board members and better staff would inspire more confidence. Everyone involved in approving $3.2 mil for a professional development contract needs to rethink his/her priorities or leave his/her position.

  5. What a narrow-minded article! There is no reason to think that public school parents know less about education than private school parents. As for private school parents who switch to public and then bombard teachers, principals and district personnel with a million complaints, I don't see how anyone would find that beneficial.

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  7. 5:24 PM,
    I am 100% with you.

  8. As a San Francisco private school parent, I do not know anyone who begrudges paying taxes to support public education whether they partake of it or not. Also, I don't see any reason why the childless or non-publicly educated would have any more or less correct or incorrect impressions than the publicly educated regarding how the government manages or mismanages money.

  9. Now that San Francisco public schools have improved considerably, many middle and upper-middle class parents who formerly went private are enrolling their children in public schools.

    And, inevitably, since they want the best for their kids, they are not afraid to ask questions and demand greater transparency.

    What's wrong with that?

    Granted, some parents have the "entitlement complex", which is truly abhorrent to witness. But I believe that such parents are a small minority.

  10. The problem is that private schools spend more than double what public schools do on their students. You can't get blood from a turnip...

  11. Really 3:35pm? I think it's absolutely fair to say that on a general level, the more a school can afford to pay per student, the more resources can be afforded that student - and from that you might extract some argument that more resources equals better education. But in public, you may have parents supplementing what the school is paying per student (fundraising, PTA efforts, etc.) The fundraising does not need to go to endowments or to subsidize scholarship spots, as it would in private. And of course, I realize in private, the fundraising totals are much higher...just pointing out where some of that money goes.

    Also, as someone who takes a lot of extra classes in various things and whose kids do as well, you come to notice that teachers/instructors, particularly in non-core specialties, the arts, for example, tend to freelance, and work a lot of places. You can find the same person teaching in different venues for different sums. So the same teacher adding some enrichment programming just might be working at a public as well. And the funding for that position likely varies from venue to venue as well. So you might be surprised at what you actually can pull out of a turnip if you just look around a bit.

  12. "The problem is that private schools spend more than double what public schools do on their students. You can't get blood from a turnip..."

    Yeah, but you're paying full whack for the school's overhead, and probably also depreciation and interest on that spiffy new building. And the salaries of private school principals in SF have went through the roof in the past decade. There's economies of scale the publics and parochial system has that the independents don't, such as centralising some overhead tasks and en bloc bargaining with the textbook suppliers.

    Parochials spend less per pupil than either the independent privates or the . That's partly because of larger classes, but it's also because their physical plant is paid off and they have lower overhead because some management tasks are done by the Archdiocese.

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