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Ask Dave

Private School Doesn't Equal Success

Nina and her husband have have two kids in private school. Nina would rather use the money for college than pay for private high school and private grade school. Dave gives Nina three questions to ask herself.

QUESTION: Nina in Texas and her husband have been married 21 years. They have two kids in private school. Nina would rather use the money for college than pay for private high school and private grade school. They’re spending $35,000 a year in tuition fees now. Dave gives Nina three questions to ask herself.

ANSWER: There are three possible reasons when your kids are in K–12 to be in a private school. One is that public schools in your area have a safety issue, and you just don’t want your kids in the middle of that. Two is you’re looking for some academic excellence that you can’t get at some level in your local public schools. Three is people do this on a religious basis where they’re trying to put children aside, for instance, in a Christian school.

The purpose of the student-teacher ratio is to make the social thing a little bit smoother, but mainly it would be to increase the quality of their teaching. They can get more attention and thereby learn more. That would be the main reason to do that.

I think the question you’ve got to ask yourself is then on those three fronts, are your kids safe, can you handle their spiritual walk, and then be involved in a public school? Is the public school an acceptable level of academic excellence? If the answer is yes, then there’s not any real correlation between kids becoming doctors and lawyers and private K–12. There’s almost none, as a matter of fact. If you were to add in other variables, then you could make the mistake of thinking that private education is what caused that, but there are other variables involved. The parents are the biggest variable, as you’ve stated.

There are two questions on the table. The Catholic education, meaning influence of your Catholic faith in the process, and the second question on the table is the level of success. That’s what you’ve got to gauge here. I’m okay if you want to spend the money if that’s what you want to spend it on. You’ve got the money apparently. I think you’re going to be hard-pressed to any actual research that proves that the private Catholic education has a higher doctor or lawyer turnout or whatever as a result of that, and that’s not to run down Catholic education. I just don’t think there’s any research to back that up. I think that’s mythology.

I’m not trying to say you’re not getting your money’s worth. What does it mean when your husband says he wants his kids to have a Catholic education? Does that mean that they’re going to be steeped in the faith, that they’re going to be taught in the faith, and is that actually occurring? Do you see spiritual growth in their Catholic faith as a result of their attending this school? That will vary, as you know, from school to school. Some are much better about teaching the spiritual aspects, and some have “Catholic” over the door and it’s just a private school. I’ve seen both. There are no perfect kids or perfect environments. We know that, so we’re not under any illusion that there’s a cocoon here and it’ll all be okay because of that.

I’m not against private school. I’m not a proponent of public school. You’ve just got to look at what you’re getting for what you’re spending in these cases. Sometimes it makes sense to do it; sometimes it doesn’t. We chose to run our children through public school, but we’ve got excellent public schools. Our kids all went straight to college with no problems. They’ve all done very well academically. They’ve done great spiritually, but that’s because of their parents, and their church involvement and those kinds of things. It wasn’t because of the school. We made the choice to impact that and be proactive in that and do that. Part of that was a financial decision. Part of it was we’re good with that. In our county, there’s not a real logical reason to do it in our minds, or obviously we would have done it.

I just always want to look at what I’m getting for what I’m spending. Am I getting increased safety? Am I getting an increased spiritual environment that’s substantially different? Am I getting an academic environment that’s substantially different? If I’m going to pay substantially more, I want to see what I’m getting for my money. You’re not going to put your kids in an environment where they don’t run up against the crap that’s out there in this world. You’ve got to equip them as parents either way. You’re not going to escape the process of parenting by your school choice. Look at what you’re getting for what you’re spending. It’s called a cost benefit analysis.