Monday, March 29, 2010

Hot topic: Picking public over private

This from a reader:
Would love feedback from parents who considered private independent school but went public by choice or because they were shut out of private schools. Is public school working out for your family? Is your child being challenged academically and being nurtured? Has your child developed good friendships? Do you intend to stay in SF public schools or reapply for private school? If so, what grade?


  1. We went public. In fact, we never even applied to any private schools. We could have afforded it but my husband was very determined to send our child to public. Luckily, we got into a good school and we are very happy with the education our child is receiving. My child challenged and enjoys school. We just went in for my child's Parent/Teacher conference and it was really good. My child is learning and reading (in Kindergarten).
    We could have held off putting our child in school for a year since my child's birthday is late in the year. But we decided that if we didn't like the choices last year, we would keep our child back and try again this year. We didn't have to do that since we got a good school. It wasn't our first choice or even our second but it was a solid school with a good PTA and a good mix with the social and racial factors.
    In addition, we felt that if my child wasn't getting everything he needed from public school that one or both of us could supplement the public school education or we could hire a private tutor. So far, we don't feel the need but it wouldn't be out of the question later in time.
    Hope that helps.

  2. I love this topic. I'd also like to hear of anyone whose child has attended private for K and then switched over to public. That is something I'm contemplating, but my husband thinks I'm crazy to consider, especially in this budget climate.

  3. We just decided to leave our amazing private school to go public for kindergarten (our private school was pre-K through 8th grdae). It was an agonizing choice as we LOVE our private but we were lucky to get into our 4th choice public school. We can afford private, but obviously will benefit financially from not paying tuition. In the end, my spouse and I decided it was the right thing to do to spend our time and money supporting public education. The school is a safe, diverse, up and coming school with a strong parent community. Worst case, we can always go back to a different private school but we felt like how can we not try public? Not to sound snobby, but during a school visit I saw a list tacked up outside a classroom of classroom supplies they needed parents to donate. I know I could've bought the entire list myself with one trip to Target and plan to fully do whatever I can to help the school next year with whatever it needs.

  4. 9:55,

    That is what I do. I will buy the supplies and even things they don't ask for. I know my child's teacher gives out treats and other things. So when I see something I find is cute, I give it to her as "prizes" for the kids. That way she can give out things as rewards and she doesn't have to buy them herself.
    I don't think it is snobbish at all. It is what care parents that have the ability to help will do for their school community. Kudos for you sending your child to public. I think more parents we have the can and will help in the schools, no matter how, the better.

  5. We looked at both, applied to both, were accepted at both, and choose the best school, which was public.

  6. 10:41 a.m., which public..I think it really matters.

  7. 6 years ago, we applied to both for our son, who was wait-listed at all the privates and assigned to our 4th choice public. We thought it likely that DS was not accepted at any privates due to his age (turned 5 8/31). Since he was quite tall for his age, socially mature (probably due to significant time spent with peers in childcare settings) and already reading (started at 3 1/2) we were reluctant to hold him out of K for another year and reapply to privates. Fast-forward 6 years, he has thrived in his public ES, has made friends from all walks of life, and is doing well academically (gets mostly "outstandings" on his report card and was GATE-ident in 3rd grade). We only considered SFUSD MSs and got our 1st choice this time around. DS is looking forward to making new friends, participating in various sports teams, and taking all honors classes in MS.

  8. Can everyone, please, if possible, tell us the school your child attends? It helps to know. Otherwise, the conversation is too vague. Thank you!

  9. 9:55

    You don't think you could reapply to the private school you left when it's time for middle school?

  10. I am also interested in this topic. I hope the question that follows does not offend, but one of the big concerns we have is simply class size. Since we have the money to spend on private school, but would prefer to be a part of the public system, could we personally hire an aid who would help the teacher out in our child's classroom? I am a working mom so it is not possible for me to volunteer those hours myself. Obviously we would pursue this only with the teacher/principal's ok...but has anyone heard of this being done in the past? We would also contribute generously to the PTA so that the school as a whole has funds, but our most immediate focus is (understandably, I think) the classroom our child is in. I just cannot imagine how a kindergarten teacher can effectively work with 24+ children.

  11. (9:55) We didn't ask, but I am assuming our private would consider us for MS because I've heard MS is when they tend to have a few open spots since some of the private kids leave then. Also, we were VERY active in the community these past few years. Even when we told the director we were leaving, he congratulated us but said he was sad to see a good family go. HOWEVER, the bigger question is if for some reason we decide to reapply just next year, I don't what would happen. I've heard of one other private that took a family back after a year of going to public, but I don't know if ours would. As far as the public school, I will admit it's a desirable school and if we did not get one of our top 7, we would have stayed in private without hesitation. I wish I could say that I would've stuck it out if I got 0/7, but that's just not the case (also, over the summer we would've had to commit to the private school tuition for the year).

  12. 12:53, I think that it very generous of you to fund a teacher's aide. I'm not sure of the rules, but my guess is that the school probably wouldn't let one class have a teacher's aide unless all of them did..? Might seem unfair.. The class concerns me as well, though growing up I had more than 24 kids in my classrooms and I didn't think twice about it. I also work f/t but plan to take off one or two half days to volunteer in the class.

    Here's an interesting article I found on parents funding teacher salaries:,8599,1914598,00.html

  13. we're going public after a year of private K... though I can't talk about how its going to go at public!

    Just want to say thanks for the topic.

    About going back, I'm fairly certain that if we 'had' to go back, my son would be significantly behind his now classmates. (the school prides its self on being academically challenging) That said, we don't plan on going back. The school just wasn't a great fit for my son.

    Worst case (I hope we'll stay public, but who knows which schools will be functional five years from now with NO funding), we'll go private at 6th and there are plenty of parochials out there that will have space.

  14. I am a private school parent. I have to answer the parent who asked about switching their kid from a private K to a public school. Maybe I am missing something here, but it seems that a lot of people are fooling themselves. It really depends on the private, but I can honestly say that the top privates are truly worth it. And for me, watching the change in grade K ('real' school) was astonishing, and I can not imagine someone switching their child from their school at that critical age. Another thing to note is that elite private elementary/middle schools end up sending their kids to top private schools. It is really something that should be considered when talking about specific private school selection - not all privates are created equal .. and not all of them are worth it.

  15. "It is really something that should be considered when talking about specific private school selection - not all privates are created equal .. and not all of them are worth it."

    Would you care to list which schools are worth it and which ones are not?

  16. 6:04 a.m. you mean on to private high schools? Don't the exmissions speak for themselves. Take a school like Hillwood, who's exmissions include SI, Sacred Heart Schools, Drew and University. Not to mention there are public school students who also attend these schools. Do you mean the bells and whistles at some private schools are worth it, like their own gyms and art rooms?

  17. Remember that even private high schools (and definitely colleges) want diversity, and that includes a mix of kids from public and private middle schools/high schools. Also, I know it's been discussed before, but are the private schools (in general) honestly "better" at teaching academics or do they just have such a homogeneous population that it's easier to teach to those kids?

  18. New Traditions has a very nice art room, but it sounds like they're going to somehow combine it with the library (also a nice space) so they can add more students, not this year, but in the coming years. What an odd logistical mix. Maybe I was projecting my own anxiety, but the art teacher and other teachers looked so stressed when I toured last week. Some seemed to be making a valiant effort for the students, others seemed burned out. They've made such an effort to improve the school and build a community. The PTA obviously works hard, but it's not a power fundraiser, and if they qualify for Star money, they did not say so. The budget crisis is pulling the rug out from under them. It was shocking to hear that an arts-focused school only has art class once a week (though they do integrate art into other projects), and to hear the 1st grade teacher say that he spends so much time completing required assessments of the students that he does not have as much time as he'd like to teach them. Do all public schools have these struggles? If yes, that makes it harder to decide to pull a kid out of a fully funded private school where the teachers are not burdened by NCLB.

  19. "but are the private schools (in general) honestly "better" at teaching academics or do they just have such a homogeneous population that it's easier to teach to those kids?"

    Everything works better when you have a group of people dedicated to the same curricular, pedagogical, and philosophical goals. Teachers teach better, students learn better, and families are invested in the process. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor or black or white or paying at Burkes or going free to KIPP Academy.

  20. 9:24 here. 6:04am I appreciate your comment about the top privates truly being worth it. I think we are at a top private and the advances, engagement, and love of school that we see in our child *are* astonishing, BUT if one were in a top public elementary would you not see that as well? If there are parents out there who have EXPERIENCED both sides - public and private - I would really love to hear their perspective. As a parent who only has experienced the private school side, I have no idea of what the differences really are among the top public vs private schools, and vice versa for a parent who has only experienced the public side.

    I know lack of socioeconomic diversity, no required state testing, and the ability to compose a class are some of the distinctions on the private side, but what else?

  21. I am interested in this topic. My question is how do you know which school (both public & private) is better. I know there are test scores for public, is there test score that will compare public and private together?

  22. No, the private schools administer a different test than the public ones and also typically do not release test scores. And "better" is a subjective calculation depending on the particular needs of your child/family.

  23. Well, I do think a family's experience is subjective. I think the post's questions are fair - is your child in public school, after considering private, being challenged academically? nurtured? developing good friendships?

  24. Son was in a private PreK-8 for two years. Loved the school, but didn't like the price tag. We are now in public, and am happier than ever. Our son loves going to school everyday and the community is like an extended family, so many fun school events, play dates, and activities. State cut-backs and all, we're in for good!

  25. Alvarado has LOTS of families in the Spanish-immersion program with older kids in top privates. Typically, the first kid didn't get into Alvarado, but a younger sibling does. These parents tell us the education is comparable, but the idea of being equally strong in other subjects AND bilingual AND able to have friends of all socioeconomic classes really tipped the scales for them. THere are families with older siblings who have attended SF Day, Live Oak, and Friends.

  26. My K-daughter went to a private pre-school (and older daughter went to a pricey Montessori pre-school) and they are both in the same SFUSD "hidden gem" level school with plenty of Title I and English Language Learning children. I am very pleased with their level of development, academics, nuturing, and friednships. The K is reading up a storm and the older one is somewhat dyslexic and slow to read and received amazing resources to get her up to spead. All of the teachers have worked with us to make sure the girls are happy and learning. The free SFUSD Kindergarten is better than either of the private pre-K schools at $1,300 a month.

  27. We switched my son to public in 2nd grade also because of the price tag of private, though we did love our private school and it was a hard decision to make. But after being at our current school for almost a year now, I can honestly say I don't miss private at all. The families are nice and down to earth and as much as we liked the private school families, we feel a closer connection to this community. Who knows, perhaps it's because the parents feel the need to be more involved due to the fundraising needs, budget issues, etc. Our son is thriving, has made good friends from various backgrounds, and is doing great academically. I'm just bummed that we'll have to go through the whole lottery process again for MS--at that point we may apply to private again as well, in case we don't get a great MS.

  28. Independent private schools tend to send kids to private high schools. Just look at their web sites and literature, if you haven't you will probably be quite surprised.

  29. Private high schools run $40,000/year!

  30. Went public. Had 2 acceptances from solid parochial schools. (We toured a few independent privates but really didn't see what we were getting for big payout, except spiffier facilities and a wealthier peer group.)

    We got our #2 choice in the lottery, an immersion program. We did not think for moment of going private after that.

    Now, you could not drag our family out of our school if you waved a voucher for 6 years for free elementary tuition for any SF private school and a free new luxury car in front of us. The district's model of 90% immersion in the early years works better, IMHO, than the 50% model you see in most of the private immersion schools. (Except maybe CAIS, who seem to do a good job with 50% immersion. I've heard a lot of complaints about FAIS, though.)

    "And for me, watching the change in grade K ('real' school) was astonishing, and I can not imagine someone switching their child from their school at that critical age."

    Yes, but for almost all kids, there's a big change and maturing when they shift from a small preschool to kindergarten. You see it in a couple of weeks. It's natural development, and not necessarily a function of the school.

    "Another thing to note is that elite private elementary/middle schools end up sending their kids to top private schools."

    And it's often easier to get into privates at the 6th grade than at the Kinder level. So save yourself 6 years of tuition.

    BTW, I know one of kid from Cesar Chavez Elementary won a scholarship to University High and then to Columbia. His friends included gang members in prison, and children of billionaires. His background sure made for more interesting entrance essays when he applied to Columbia.

  31. 3:35 a.m., I don't think anyone is surprised that kids who go to prvate K-8, also go to private high school. The disconnect then becomes college, where kids who go to private and public school go on to all sorts of different types of colleges. That $400K of after tax money spent on private does not guarantee your child a spot in an Ivy League or even a top UC.

  32. We switched from private French immersion to public in third grade. It has been difficult for my daughter to adjust. The work in her very dedicated, 800-scoring public school is easier than at her private school - lots of dittos - and she says she is bored. It may be because immersion is just more challenging than English-only school. The class size was 16 in private, so she may also just be feeling the lack of individual attention she used to get. It has not been easy, but we're giving it a go. We're considering moving to a top-rated school district like Piedmont or Mill Valley for MS.

  33. 10:31 a.m., thanks for the honesty. I hope it works out for your family.

  34. "Independent private schools tend to send kids to private high schools. Just look at their web sites and literature, if you haven't you will probably be quite surprised."

    It is not the result of academics. Rather, private high schools, ES, MS, universities all cost an arm and a leg, so it is not surprising private ES kids go to private HS, simply because their parents are generally richer.

    It is not a cause-and-effect relationship.

  35. "And it's often easier to get into privates at the 6th grade than at the Kinder level. So save yourself 6 years of tuition."

    Is that true? I would imagine there are way less spots for 6th graders to begin with and many families apply to privates for middle school.

  36. There are very few independent privates that add additional seats at the middle school level.

  37. I can tell you for sure that placement at some of the top independents is not simply because parents 'can afford it' - all of the kids pretty much end up getting their first choices. And 95% of the kids usually go to private high schools. The University Highs, Bransons, Marin Academy's, etc of the world do know who these schools are and what kind of kids they produce. It makes a difference. I guarantee you it is not simply because of affording to send their kids - that still doesn't explain why they nearly all get their top choices.

  38. Please let's stay on topic. I really like hearing from parents who considered both options and either chose or were forced to choose public, or who have moved from private to public, and the details about why they are satisfied, disappointed, or somewhere in between. Also, it's helpful to know the general types of schools you're comparing. For example, highly competitive private with mid-range public? Open-enrollment private with trophy public? Parochial with trophy public? Parochial with mid-range public? Immersion private with single-language public? English-only private with immersion public? I don't think specific school names are necessary unless parents want to share them.

    It's interesting but not terribly helpful on this thread for a person who's been in private only to say "top privates are truly worth it" or for someone who has always been public and never even applied to any private schools to say that their public school is great. I am not challenging the merit or sincerity of either opinion. It's just that it's more helpful to this discussion to hear from people who have actual experience in both environments. Comments like 9:31 last night and 10:31 this morning are very illuminating.

  39. Also, please in comparing public to private, please share recent experiences. I've been guilty myself of saying, "back when I was in middle school in the 1970s, it was a night and day contrast" but I think today's environment is quite different.

  40. tomorrow's won't be, though!

  41. March 30, 2010 9:21 PM

    Remember that the system changes next year. Your childs elementary school will feed into a Middle School. All his friends will go on the same Middle School if they want. It may not be one you like now (when your child is in 2nd grade), but if all the kids from your current school go there for the next 2-3 years, it will probably start to have results similar to your elementary school.

  42. "Is that true?"

    Direct quote from the AD of Live Oak, last year: she told me it was easier to get in at 6th grade than kinder.

    Yeah, I know it's counterintuitive.

  43. Live Oak has more spots because they expand the class size. They only have one class from K-5 and then they go to 1.5 or more in middle school level. There is probably some attrition as well. we toured Live Oak with a friend who was looking at the possibility for their kid (recently moved to the bay area) and she said the same thing and really encouraged them to apply. Other privates may be different.

  44. We know kids at University HIgh who failed the Lowell admissions test.

  45. Private school kids get their top choices in high school because if they are losers, their guidance counselor talks them into thinking Drew and Bay are their top choice.
    They are not the top schools, but there you go...

    Lick-Wilmerding sets aside a third of its high school spots for public school kids and is one of the city's top schools.

  46. "Losers"?
    I bet you are one of those people who still remembers the SAT score of every one of your friends from 20+ years ago.

  47. 12:39- If you think attending private school means admittance to the university of your choice, you are sorely mistaken. It has a lot to do with finances and how HS counselors guide students to a top pick. One graduating class with 250 students may represent 150 colleges across the country. They aren't all going to Columbia.

  48. I too heard that some or all of the private schools that expand their classes in middle school are having trouble filling their classes (with full tuition students, presumably). I heard that Live Oak is one of them, maybe SFSchool (which apparently did not offer a lot of aid this year) and a couple others (does CDS expand?). You also used to see class sizes shrink as grades move toward 8 (somewhere there was a website that listed how many kids each private school has in each grade - I forgot where). It's fairly well known that even the most tough-to-get-into so-called "elite" private schools have several spots that open each year as families move away or encounter tuition fatique.

    Some say that private middle schools have a tough time filling their spots with full tuition kids because once families become comfortable with public schools, they don't necessarily feel the urge to move to private. It will be interesting to see how the increasing budget cuts will impact this, however.

    Oh, as to our family, we chose private over public. We never received a public school from our list, despite the 3 rounds and wait pool, and by then we were happily enrolled in the private school that was our first choice (a religious school mentioned occasionally here). We are very happy with our choice, but then again, it's easy to be because our school is more than just 'private' -- it also is our religion and provides certain classes we seek that are just not available in public schools. There are valid reasons to select public over private, and private over public, and it seems to me that you just have to find what is best for your family and feel good about it.

  49. 12:01, what grade is your son in? It would be worth it to at least check out the public middle schools when the time comes--i.e., don't dismiss without a look. My daughter loved Aptos so much that my son also went there--and his best friend went with him, despite the friend's older brother going to one of the privates--he would have had sibling preference. No regrets from us, or as far as I know, from the friend's family either.

    With public middle, you can save even more money for private high school (Lick Wilmerding seems to love Aptos grads) or even just for college (lots of Aptos kids go onto Lowell, Lincoln, Balboa, Washington). The honors program at Aptos is rigorous, and there is great school spirit.

  50. our two options were a very famous language program in the city (private) vs a immersion program public.
    We decided to give a chance first to the free option before spending on private (that was not our first choice due to personal preferences, but was still an obvious, and somehow necessary choice to consider)
    And touring all the spanish immersion schools (as close as possible to "mimic" the said private school), we fell in love with a STAR school.
    So not only did we choose public over private, but we were strong on getting into that STAR school at any cost.

    little to say that we have been outcasts in our circle of friends and a few people will never accept to talk school with us, thinking we are crazy and sacrificing our children in the name of whatever, refusing to consider that we are sane after all.

    after a few years that what I can say about our current school:
    - the ratio native/bilingual/english only is better in the STAR school than in private
    - the actual diplomas from the teachers are more "advanced" in public than in private (teachers are BLACD whatever name something + additional credentials, vs regular credential in private)
    - class size is about the same / no impact on our choice.
    - cafeteria and aftercare is better in public than private
    - said private school is off the "regular" calendar, with about 30days less of instruction a year. It creates endless scheduling problems... we have been happy with the current SFUSD calendar, and I'm delighted to try the new one in 2010-11.
    - homework in different, but has been very efficient and effective. so for us, it's a winner
    - PTA PITA. In our STAR school, you give a $20, you volunteer a few hours and they say thank you. In the private school, they stalk you, in person, mail and on the phone and it's mandatory to give at least a (high) fixed amount. And they don't let go until they believe you gave what you can afford. I'm not even sure they thank you (not the business B*S*, but a heartfelt thnk you)
    - paraprofessionals. of course it might change, but so far, we have been blessed with amazing parateachers, such as a nurse, a social worker, speech therapists etc... my children have used the resources effectively, and it made a difference for them.
    - general safety. I knew Sacred Heart very well, and it FREAKED me to see the absence of gate, door, door check etc.. (or stuart kids crossing Broadway to go to another classroom) I wouldn't tolerate to send my children to a school without a minimum of control, and an enclosed yard. Sending my children to a STAR school helps with some decent security around the building, and most public schools are safe in that sense. ((and what are the chances to have you child kidnapped for ransom in a poor public school, vs in a private school with loaded parents? ;-) ))
    - parking, traffic. Unless you are blessed with a nanny dropping and picking up your children, you'll experience some traffic around your child school. Being able to volunteer a lot at my children school (includes moving supplies or bulky items), I NEED, I REQUIRE to be able to park at a decent distance without worrying of being towed or ticketed weekly. PacHeights schools are not an option for me, and our school has an amazing parking facility. The private school in question is known for its traffic nightmare in a not so accessible neighborhood.

  51. (second part, sorry)

    last. academics and performances.
    my children are HAPPY, thriving, progressing full speed, daily challenged. Moreover, I find them very adjusted and maturing into real people in a real world. Teachers are extremely aware of injustice and inequalities, and they learn to talk about it - at their level. Nothing appropriate, but quite the opposite. Normal question for their age that they learn to address by just looking around them. I even found that the teachers are much more conservative than I would be, and many times, I found the teachers shelter the children like a good mother hen, with love and compassion... teaching them exactly that: love and compassion and respect.

    So the super low performing, 70% free/reduced lunch, full of latino (and yes, some illegal immigrant) school has not only lived up to our expectations, but we believe, provides a world class education to our children who, if we can help, will aim at Lowell and big names uni.

  52. @ 6:45pm

    I'm glad you like your school, but has your child ever attended the private school you are comparing your child's STAR school to? If not, how do you know so much about what it's really like in the private school -- from taking the tour? from friends whose children go there? Those are valid ways to get some perspective on a school, but it's definitely not the same as being there.

    And re: " give a $20, you volunteer a few hours and they say thank you. In the private school, they stalk you, in person, mail and on the phone and it's mandatory to give at least a (high) fixed amount. And they don't let go until they believe you gave what you can afford. I'm not even sure they thank you (not the business B*S*, but a heartfelt thnk you)"

    You are absolutely correct that private schools are always in fundraising mode, they kind of have to be to sustain themselves and their high level of resources. In our experience as a middle class family at one of the top private schools, there has never been an expectation that we give "a high (fixed)" amount and it's certainly not mandatory, though highly encouraged. I'm sure it's different for those with real means to give. We give and volunteer as much as we can because we love our school, because the school has given our child such a wonderful education, and because the school has been so good to us as a family. The thanks we get is most certainly sincere and expressed in multiple, meaningful ways by people at different levels within the school.

    We have good friends whose children go to Clarendon and it sounds like its PTA's fundraising efforts are comparable to many privates. And it certainly seems to work for that school. It's an unfortunate fact that all schools - public and private - need to fundraise A LOT to ensure the extras, the enrichment, and, in many cases, the basics, for their students. But, then again, I haven't attended any other school but my child's, so I'm only assuming that's the case. ;)

  53. Hey 6:45/46, thanks for an encouraging post! Do you think anything will change for your child for the worse with the budget cuts, or are you confident that the school will weather the storm? That's a genuine question, not a hidden snark.

  54. I'm curios about the idea that 6th grade private spots are easier to get. Would that include families who qualify for substantial financial aid?

  55. "The private schools administer a different test than the public ones and also typically do not release test scores."

    I've often wondered about this. Why the lack of transparency?

    Seeing the (standardized) test scores of the privates would be a good way to compare them.

    Why don't they disclose these scores?

  56. Standardized test scores in private schools aren't as useful, or can be misleading, because the schools don't all follow a standard curriculum. If, for example, the math curriculum for a certain grade level is structured so that a skill that's on the test isn't taught until later in the year, the students won't score well on that portion of the tests. So the math scores could be low, which would seem to indicate some problem with the teaching or the proficiency when in fact that's not the case. So, while it seems that the test scores would give useful information about the schools, they could in fact be very misleading.

    I also think that part of the reason that the private schools don't publish the test scores is that they are trying to de-emphasize standardized testing in general.

  57. 11:01

    you forgot the ultimate standardized tests of all - SAT and PSAT. The private high schools certainly don't have a problem using PSAT to judge applicants, do they?

    At the end of the year, if you are paying 20k per year, you want your kids to learn AT LEAST as much as in public schools, don't you? The tests measure what they learned, not how they were taught. Math is math, spelling is spelling, regardless teaching methods.

    Even if they don't use the standard state tests, shouldn't all private schools use some kind of standard test among themselves, so parents can know their relative performances?

    Private high schools certainly publish their graduate class SAT scores. So, at least some private schools don't mind being judged based on standardized tests.

  58. Yes, and they could at least disclose year-on-year comparisons of their own test scores. This would enable potential applicants (parents) to judge whether a school is improving.

    It baffes me that private schools are so secretive about their test data.

  59. Perhaps your missing the point when discussing private school metrics to assess student performance. Just my opinion, but I think the emphasis is not on standardized tests becuase the parent or potential parent community isnt fixated on that. Instead the metric being watched is future placement.

    For example a lot of top private elementray schools post where their graduates attend college.

    This I think is the real metric people evaluate.. Where will my child go to college? Not really what was my child's SAT or STAR test score?

  60. @ 5:09AM

    Re: "Private high schools certainly publish their graduate class SAT scores."

    Do they really? Lists of college acceptances I've seen, but SAT scores? Certainly wasn't the case where I went or for my cousins who graduated from private in the last 5 years.

  61. 11:31

    The top independent schools, like Lick, University etc, certainly did, at least four to five years ago.

    I got the data from a published SF private high school book. The scores may not be readily visible on their marketing material. However, if the author was able to get it, you should be able to get it too.

    And those schools DEFINITELY have the list of universities for the graduating class available.

    In any case, it is unthinkable that private schools want 30K/year from you, yet wouldn't want to reveal any relevant information.

  62. I've been in high-ranked public followed by private. Our kid has been in high-ranked public followed by private. My standardized test scores were 97th to 99th percentile both places. My kid's standardized test scores were 35th to 55th percentile both places. (Not the same tests, but private schools typically give Iowa Basic Skills or something similar that ranks students nationally.) There's a knack to taking standardized tests and only so much a school can do to teach it. I happened to be good at it. My kid happened not to be good at it. We both went to highly regarded colleges (she's about to graduate).

    What made private school worth the extra $5K a year for my parents and $20K a year for me was what went on in the classrooms and around the campus. An orderly environment. Teachers who were able and willing to pay attention to each student. Counselors who were on the spot if a problem came up, even if it was a non-obvious problem that you'd really need to know the student to catch. Being helped and pushed to work to capacity rather than drifting. Feeling like school presented special academic and extracurricular opportunities to be savored rather than something to be endured between waking up and watching afternoon Gilligan's Island reruns.

    Basing your public/private decision on anticipated standardized test scores misses the point. It's natural to look for measured outcomes, especially when you look at the private price tag, but the intangible benefits we found at private school, though hugely important in our opinion, can't be measured that way. People will always point out that private school students tend to come from advantaged socioeconomic groups that test well on average anyway.

    I should say that some people find in public school what our family found lacking. I also believe that the intangible differences are less apparent elementary school than they become in middle and high school.

  63. 4:08 - wow thanks for this. We're about to be paying $25k for private and sometimes wonder how to do it and what we are missing. while we know we'll be missing a lot on diversity (though who knows how this will change iwth the new SFUSD system) we are happy to hear this set of intangibles articulated so well. thank you again. (and wow! $5K seems so low now!)

  64. 4:08

    Nobody is bashing private schools for what they do offer. However, you have to look at the tangibles first before going into the intangibles.

    And I have pointed out the schools (high schools) which do give out data on tangible results (SAT scores and university data).

    The purpose is not about comparing public with private. Rather, you NEED the data to compare among private schools. You can only get so much from tours.

    That's why student/teach ratio matters (it is tangible data), as well as standardized test scores.

  65. Anyone know why Linda Talton is leaving SF Day as admissions director?

  66. STudent/teacher ratios are tangible and easy to compare, correct.

    But bear in mind that there is substantial research indicating that outside of the low performing, low socio-economic groups, smaller class sizes seem not to make an iota of difference in terms of learning.

    Counterintuitive, to be sure, but them there are the facts.

  67. Private high schools do publish the results of standardized tests. From the UHS website:
    SAT I Reasoning – Mean Scores:
    Critical Reading: 686
    Math: 690
    Writing: 700

    Also included: SAT II Subject Tests results, National Merit Scholarship Info, AP Exam results.

    Private elementary schools publish where graduates attend high school and college. They do take standardized tests, but it isn't a focus. I really don't care about standardized tests. I care much more about the richness of the curriculum and the pedagogy than on test results.

  68. @ 4:08

    Thank you for your very thoughtful, eloquent response. It was very helpful to me.

  69. I think it is hilarious when private school parents say they wouldn't send their kids to SF public schools because of the low test scores, then claim that learning matters more than test scores when evaluating the privates, who don't reveal the ERB scores that would allow us to compare them with each other.


  70. @ 9:20

    I thought most everyone agreed that learning matters more than test scores (perhaps except for advocates of No Child Left Behind). But, yes, it is kind of strange and discordant. In my case it's true that when doing the public search for my child I pored over test scores to compare schools, but when I did my private search, the idea of test scores never entered the picture - maybe because I felt the private schools I was looking at were more or less on an even footing in terms of resources, quality, support, etc., and I was instead making my decision on their approach, structure, community, etc.

  71. Obviously some parents care, some don't. So why don't they make it available. Those who do not look at scores can promptly ignore the scores. It won't hurt.

    More information never hurts.

  72. Here's what I think, for whatever it's worth: an extroverted, academically high-achieving kid with educated parents will likely do well in either private or a good public. A child who might have social difficulties may do better in a bigger school, probably public. But a shy, late-blooming, or simply average kid, or a kid having some emotional difficulties at home, is likely to do better in private, where teachers tend to talk with one another and with the principal extensively about individual children and develop plans of action. In a private, fewer kids coast along or fall through the cracks; I think 4:08 is right on target.

    This is why we're applying to both (private not being a real choice without financial aid, but it never hurts to ask). I feel I will know the best environment for my child when I see it, but I don't know if it will be public or private. The public/private battle just seems ridiculous when it comes to individual kids and their needs, though I understand the politics of it all.

  73. "Basing your public/private decision on anticipated standardized test scores misses the point. It's natural to look for measured outcomes, especially when you look at the private price tag, but the intangible benefits we found at private school, though hugely important in our opinion, can't be measured that way."

    And you don't think there's similiar intangibles at a public?

    I just find it frustrating: I can go to Greatschools or the CA dept of education website and slice and dice the data for each grade in a public, have 5+ years of demand and waitpool data, have demographic and socioeconomic data, and have academics for each subgroup, tardiness, number of suspensions and expulsions, etc. A data nerd's dream.

    But for the privates...well, there's the playground & dinner party rumors and anecdotes about my friend's sister's cousins' nephew's kid. There's an extreme lack of transparency, compared to the publics.

    Intangibles are great, yes, but they can also be part of a narrative I tell myself to justify past decisions.

  74. 7:52AM,
    I agree entirely. Parents place to much blame (or give to much credit) to the schools their children attend for the quality of their education.

    A child well equipped with educational values will succeed anywhere. A public school may afford better diversity, and a private school better boutiqueish "intangibles", but the outcome will be the same.

    Also, transparency never hurts. Schools should air their laundry (test scores, etc) to the public.

  75. "There is substantial research indicating that outside of the low performing, low socio-economic groups, smaller class sizes seem not to make an iota of difference in terms of learning."

    Wondering: How is the learning measured in the research? Standardized test scores? Writing samples? Evaluation of projects?

  76. I think the data on smaller class sizes is comparing a class size of 20 with a class size of 16 or 17. That's not what we in California mean by "reduced class size"--we're talking about a class size of 20 versus a class size of 30 or 32.

  77. 10:59

    No, the research measured classes of 22-25 versus 17-20 versus 13-14. There was a significant effect for low-income kids when in the smallest classroom size. The effect was not really significant at higher sizes or for higher-income kids. It is of course nice for everyone to have lower class sizes, but the research does not bear out the idea that it is as effective an intervention as other strategies.

    Who knows what the future will bring, but let's be accurate: class size increases are projected to 25 for the lower grades in SF this year. That is still lower than many parochials and is not the 30 to 32 you say. It is true that the upper grades may go up though.

    Meanwhile, a few QEIA schools such as Revere will still have lower class sizes, and James Lick at the middle school level has grants to keep size well below 30 for several years.

  78. @3:02, Do you happen to know how the measuring was done? Was it based on standardized test scores or were other measures used? Thanks!

  79. Back at 3:21:

    There's more than one study. As I read the literature, the conclusions seem to be that the benefits are greatest at 13-17 kids in the class (which we never attained here in SFUSD), and that the benefit really is from small class size, not teacher/student ratio--thus 26 kids/2 teachers is not the same as 13 students/1 teacher.

    The studies also show that the greatest benefit by far is to minority and inner-city kids. Several studies showed that the impact was twice as great on black students as on white students and had a significant impact on closing the achievement gap.
    Also, that small class sizes are not determinative by themselves but work in combination with other interventions, such as teacher training.

    The studies show greater effect in early primary grades as opposed to later ones.

    And finally, yes, most of the data relates to testing in reading and math, but some other variables were studied as well. I suppose it would be difficult to construct a large-scale, longitudinal study that wasn't mainly based on standardized tests.

    As I said earlier, of course small class sizes are intuitively a good thing. The question might be asked, though, is it the best use or not of our educational dollars--whether public dollars or private. Public schools may say yes, especially for poorer and minority students in the inner city; but budget cuts are forcing cuts. And they never attained 13-17 students anyway. Maybe we should be funding schools like Paul Revere to do this! Private school parents may ask, why spend X thousands of dollars more on tuition for small class sizes, or teacher aides, when the benefit isn't so great. Again--not saying it's not nice to have! Just saying there is a cost/benefit question to be asked, and with public schools cuts that have to be made (thank you, GOP), and on the private side, enormous inflation in tuition costs that is an increasing burden to many parents, it's a question worth asking--is smaller class size worth the dollars, or not.

    I'd support very small class sizes in high-poverty schools--free/reduced lunch % over 67%, say. In those schools, reduce classes to 12-13 kids! I'm personally okay with class sizes at 24-25 in the lower grades at schools with lower free/reduced lunch %s. And if I were a private school parent, I'd be asking if we might get reduced tuition of some thousands of bucks with some higher class sizes, say 22-25, or no teachers' aides. Especially at schools like Live Oak that mainly serve the upper/middle classes and not the uber-wealthy like Hamlin.

    Food for thought, anyway! It seems this debate gets very emotional but it is good to look at outcomes.

    Some links to research surveys and recent articles:

  80. Thank you for that detailed post about class sizes. It does appear that the not-much-difference-in-outcome conclusions, especially when adjusted for SES status, are in fact reached by looking at standardized test scores. What that tells me is that if you are not low-SES, paying private school tuition won't buy you higher standardized test scores. That doesn't mean private school tuition won't buy your child a better learning experience, depending on their personality, self-motivation and other individual traits.

  81. 9:26, this is 4:30 here again.

    What you are saying, and I agree, is that private school tuition does not buy an increase in standardized test scores for not-poor, higher-SES students. And I agree! Studies show this (even though many private schools will not release their test scores). Lowell admissions also show this, to some extent. One thing I am sure of is that my children will come out as educated and ready for college as their private school peers.

    What you are also suggesting is that the "private school difference"--the reason to pay $25,000/year per child--is found in the intangibles, the stuff that can't be measured in the numbers. And I agree with that as well.

    As a public school parent, I would just suggest that there are plenty of intangible advantages to public school as well. We have loved the communities we found in the two we've been in so far, and the education in diversity and, in some sense, citizenship--commitment to something bigger than our tribe. I do recognize too that there are "intangibles" that many private schools offer that the publics don't, so I'm not saying it's cut and dried. But that goes both ways!

    Of course, another "tangible" difference is the price tag of private, which is substantial. Question is whether the "intangibles" are worth that price, which runs to well over half a million dollars for a family with 2 kids and 13 years of school.

  82. I'm 10:59 a.m.

    Thanks 3:02/4:30 for the citations and clarification on class size research. What I meant to say is that when people say "class size doesn't matter," it implies that students in a class of any size (20, 27, 30, 35?) will have the same outcomes.

    I grew up in California in the 60s and 70s, and I remember being in elementary school classes of 32 students. The class size reduction to 20 has made a huge difference--maybe not so clearly in test scores but certainly in school climate. Like you, I'm not so sure that lowering it further is the best use of public dollars, but I'd hate to see the "class size doesn't matter" mantra used to justify the return to huge classes.

  83. But remember, when we were growing up in the 60s and 70s with 30+ kids in our classes, the classes were largely homogenous. In SF we have wildly varying backgrounds -- preschool/no preschool, English speaking/ESL, socio-economic, cultural, etc. etc. etc... makes for a MUCH different classroom.

  84. Right--I'm saying that those huge class sizes were terrible, even with the homogeneous population. Reducing it to 20 was extremely beneficial for my kids and the others in their classes. So when people blithely say "class size doesn't matter," I fear that it gives politicians license to increase the numbers to 60s-era levels.

  85. 6:45/6:46 here.

    re budget cuts. I do not believe we'll be impacted worse either in private or public. Private compensates by raising fees. The particular school DOUBLES its fees every 6 years. count 19 years in the same school .. and it could very well be 80K a year per child by the time the last one graduates. (irony ... but still, there is no cap of anything). So by enrolling THREE children in private, I put them at a yearly risk of being forced to switch off for economical reasons.
    We feel more comfortable in a place of a yearly risk of being forced to switch to private - not the three kids at once, but the child who needs that year (those years) a something we couldn't find in the current public school, and once we ran out of public school options.
    So yes, we keep a very very close eye on 2 specific private schools, about twice a year - so an "emergency" switch can stay in our radar.

    re how much I know about that specific private school. Well - having 80% of our friends there, picking up children there, "tutoring" students from that school - checking/comparing homework, kids from both schools chatting up their respective days and comparing what they learned that day in my car, having friends teaching there... how much more do you need, short of sending your children?

    to 7:52,
    "Here's what I think, for whatever it's worth: an extroverted, academically high-achieving kid with educated parents will likely do well in either private or a good public. But a shy, late-blooming, or simply average kid, or a kid having some emotional difficulties at home, is likely to do better in private, where teachers tend to talk with one another and with the principal extensively about individual children and develop plans of action. "

    I have one of each. they do both great in the STAR school because the first one is challenged thru differentiated education, and the second one bloomed when everybody was ready to give up, because the set up of a star school is to help and welcome and nurture, not one but a bunch of shy/late blooming/no english etc kids in each class: >> Having my second child becoming the "average" child instead of the odd one in the crowd was his life saver. (and he's been catching up full speed thru differentiated education).