Switching from Private to Public School

Parent Q&A

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  • Hi all. Our family feels really strongly about sending our two kids to public school and have heard great things about the schools in our area (El Cerrito). In the context of COVID and also the fact that both parents work full-time, we are considering applying to and sending our daughter to a private kindergarten for fall 2021. It seems that private schools have more ability to have the kids at school and a more robust system in place for learning from home. 

    Has anyone sent their kiddo to private school for the first year (or few years of schooling) and then transitioned them to public school? I'm worried we will become engrained into the community, our kiddo will make friends, or maybe even the comparison of private to public school academics, would make us stay. That wouldn't be the worst thing in the world but I do think there are plenty of things a public school offers that private cannot (namely diversity, going to school with kids specifically from our neighborhood, etc). 

    Has anyone made this transition? Or started in private with the intention to go public but stayed? Thanks!

    I think what's more common, and what we have just done ourselves, is public for the early years and private for upper grades/middle school, then a toss-up for high school. Many people feel like they don't want to pay $25K+ for "ABCs" and choose private later when academics become more serious. We are also in El Cerrito and - to make a long story short - have observed that for anyone who's not a natural extrovert, it is difficult to make friends in a new school, whatever grade level. It is eased when you're at a natural entry point, such as K or 5th/6th grade (when middle school starts, depending on the school). I personally wouldn't plan to start private and then switch at some point, for all the reasons you describe. Our midpoint switch was also eased by our introverted child being old enough to maintain neighborhood friendships on their own without parents coordinating everything. Nobody knows what fall 2021 will look like but there are private (or city run) childcare options to provide coverage that corresponds to the public schools. You are 100% right though, our private school is about 10% of the diversity of our public school. If that!

    Throwing out another option... There are preschools who offer a Kindergarten curriculum (Keystone Montessori in El Cerrito) so if for sure in-person school is the main draw, you could go that route.  My understanding is Kindergarten is technically optional as is.  We are currently at Keystone and very happy there and if things continue, we'd definitely keep our child at Keystone for in-person Kindergarten learning and then transfer to public school (for ideally 1st grade).

    My older kid went to private school for K through 2nd grade and then we switched to our local public school in El Cerrito for 3rd grade. For many reasons, it was a really good decision and the switch for both my kid and our family was easy. I do feel I missed out a little on making the kind of connections with other parents you often make in kindergarten, but I imagine changing schools earlier would make things easier. And then I made a bunch of new connections when my younger kid entered K. There is a lot of switching in those first few years, and changing schools after K or 1st grade seems really common to me. I actually wish we'd started with our public school in K, but there wasn't a pandemic then. Best of luck.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Transferring to public from an academic private school

March 2014

Did you transfer your child from an academic private school such as Bentley, Head Royce or Redwood Day to public school? How did it go? Was your child so far ahead as to be bored? Do you feel that the time your child spent in private school was 'worth it' or not? I would appreciate any feedback, including what age you made the transfer, and what age you would suggest transferring to public. What did you get out of the private school experience?

My daughter came from a public elementary school to one of the schools you mentioned and her twin brother is attending the other school you mentioned. They both chose their schools in the sixth grade. In both schools we found that the public school was VERY far ahead in math and science - one to one and a half grades ahead.

However, their public schools were about two to three years behind in writing, a year behind in comprehension and about a year behind in critical thinking skills.

So if your child is coming from one of those schools back to public school you may need a tutor for math and science, but your child will be well prepare for writing the common core math and next generation science standards reports.

I don't think your child will be bored. The big difference is you REALLY need to manage and stay on top of the public school experience in a way that you do not have to do in the private school experience. Mom of Twins with their own identities


Switching to Public from Private in 1st/2nd grade

Sept 2013


Hi BPN parents, My first and second grade children are currently happy at a small private school. My husband and I would like them to transition to public school but are grappling with when to make this transition. I can see the value of sticking it out at their current private school until middle school in order to maintain the community and friends we've developed. Also, this would be better in terms of less trauma/change. On the other hand, I can also see the benefit to switching as soon as possible in order to establish a new set of friends while they are still young. This plan also would save us money, and would give us an opportunity to try public schooling before middle school. We could then save our money for private middle or high school depending on how things go. I'd be appreciative on any input on when to make the switch. anonymous

We just made the switch this year, and so far, so good. We attended private last year for kindergarten and loved the school, the program, the community. Our situation changed and we decided to enroll in public this year for first grade and our child has adapted well, making new friends, learning the new rules. It was an adjustment, dealing with a bigger student body during recess, loss of some enrichment programs and such, but we're doing well so far. Happy with Public


Changing to public middle school from private

May 2009


Hi, My daughter will be transferring from a private school to King Middle School next year. She will be going into the 8th grade. I was wondering if the transition would be easier if she got to know some 7th graders who have been attending King and/or will be going into King next year. She does not want to leave her school, but we cannot afford private schools any longer. Thanks, A worried 7th grade mom

I think it will definitely help your daughter to have a few friends going into the school year. I switched schools for 8th grade too and knew no one. (we moved to another state.) It was not that hard because I was considered 'the new kid' and got a lot of positive attention. I want to gently remind you that your daughter will be following your cues---so even though you are nervous for her, try to stay focused and positive. Good luck. She will be fine... mom of two teens

We are in the same boat as my daughter is switching to King for 8th next year as well. She is deeply concerned about walking in on that first day. I know girls sometimes don't take well to being introduced via their moms, but I'd be happy to connect. wg

Dear 7th grade mom, My daughter was at a small private school for K-7th grade. She switched to MLK middle school in Berk. for 8th, and is now a freshman at BHS. She LOVED King. It REALLY helped that she had friends already going there. She was the one who decided to go to public school. I was initially against it. I said it didn't make any sence to switch to a 3 year school for the 3rd year. Why not wait a year, and start at BHS? I was wrong. She met lots of new friends who are all with her at BHS. I think the transition was easier in 8th than it would have been in 9th. I strongly urge you to have her meet some of her new peers in advance. In my daughter's case it turned out that there were kids she knew from summer camp, and pre-school who she reconected with as soon as she started school. Good luck. 9th grade mom


Leaving private school for public

Oct 2008


I would be interested in hearing from parents who have left private schools in Oakland and Berkeley/El Cerrito for public school. I have heard from several families that with the California standards being fairly accelerated, when they left private school to go into public they actually needed tutoring to catch up. Private school provided an environment that was culturally more protected but not academically more advanced than public schools. We are currently in private school and I do see that my child's friends who are in public school seem to be getting more in the way of math strategies, spelling, etc -- the benefit for us of private seems to be the smaller, more intimate environment. I'd be grateful if people who have moved from private to public school would be willing to share -- if you can specify which schools you've moved among that would be very helpful. I'm especially curious about the move from a private school that embraces progressive education and diversity to public school. Do people find that their kids are having to play catch up a bit -- and in the end, does it matter if they are ''behind''? thanks!

My answer may not quite be what you are looking for, but I can share our experience of moving our kid from the private K-8 school in El Cerrito to a public school in Lafayette (so we moved too for the school.)

My boy is a very easy going, cheerful, and happy kid, who unfortunately had to go through cancer treatment since K through the end of the 3rd year. He had to miss lots of school during that time. We did not move him to the public school during his treatment for social reason, to maintain the same environment for him. However, when he was ending the 3rd grade, we decided to move him to the public school, thinking he would do well there too.

I can say,,, the way they learn is very different from the private school to the public school he entered. Now it is more text-base, and more straight-forward learning , while at the private school it was more project based, requiring more research time and filled with activities related to subjects. Had my son been able to attend the private school every day, I thought he could have been able to benefit more from such a way of learning, but since he missed the school so much, we felt that he could not develop the learning skill which is necessary to have for project-based learning. We sought for more basic, solid learning skill from the public school system, and for us, it is working wonderfully. He is less frustrated, and he also said that he can learn better that way.

Prior to starting the school, we requested meetings with the principal and his new teacher, expressed our concerns to them, etc. We were happy to be assured that they have many resources (learning specialist, occupational therapist, psychologist, reading specialist, etc) to support him (for free!!) Luckily, so far he has not needed much of anything, and he is a happy, average kid. His homework load at his school is not too heavy, so it is easy for him still to manage. However, that should depend on which school your child is moving to.

Before deciding whether to move him to a public school, I asked other friends whose children are in the public school to borrow and see what kind of homework they were doing. That gave me some sense of whether or not he would need some tutoring prior to moving. I also advice you to go to some school events in the public school (where you would like your kid to go to.) Ask your friend in that school to invite them, or take them, to the school fair, parties, or if allowed, PTA meetings. This way you can learn about the public school community a lot. If you contact PTA, they can also give you some contact informations of other parents who are willing to talk to you about the school.

Good luck with your decision. E-mail me if you have more questions. mika

Hi-- we left private elementary for public this year. It was a highly regarded private school, but the Oakland public school we're at is amazing. While the public school academics are stronger than at the private school (a big surprise to us!), I am also impressed with a program they call Second Step, which integrates academics with social and emotional learning, something we didn't have at the private school and which was sorely needed in our ''culturally more protected'' setting!

Yes...our child was a bit behind in some subjects after being at the ''academically advanced'' private school, but is quickly catching up with the help of a great teacher as well as some work with us at home. It is hard to know if the students all end up at the same level when they graduate to middle school, and the schools are simply taking different approaches to get there, or if the public school is really more advanced. In that way, it's challenging to answer your question about worrying if they're being left behind.

I wish you the best in your decision, if only we didn't have to think and worry so much about these issues! --happy public school parent

Yes, yes, yes. We took our children out of a very exclusive private school and decided to try our local public school (which is NOT one of the best around, by any means!). We found the following to be true:

1. Academics in public school are solid, and the teachers are very well educated, informed, and truly know how to differentiate instruction. There are children in our kids' classes who are several years above grade level, and several children who are one or more years below grade level. All of these children are given an outstanding education, no matter where they fall on the continuum.

2. Public schools have community support--programs that include Art, Science, Ecology, Music, Theater, and so on. In our school, there are several local centers that come in weekly to do things with the kids.

3. The kids are NICE. We have found there is much less bullying, exclusion, and so on in the public school. I think in part because of the lack of funding and support state and nation wide for public education, teachers, parents, and kids really fight for a sense of belonging and there is a real all-inclusive feeling at the school.

4. Parents in the private school have a fear of ''the test,'' and feel that they are giving their kids a better education that is not ''test driven,'' but we have found that there is little to no mention of testing in the public school, and there is no more attention paid to the STAR test than there is to the ERB test in the private school.

5. All of our children were behind academically when the moved to the public school, in every subject. The difference in the public school, however, was that the teachers made a huge effort to catch our kids up, whereas our friends' kids in private school who are in need of help are told to get a tutor.

6. If I could do it over, I would never send my kids to a private school without first trying the public school. If it did not work, then I could send them to a private school. But moving the other direction (private to public) had my kids at a disadvantage all around. Happy in Public!

We were at the most reputable private school in Oakland for six years...(rather not name it). Yes, private schools offer a culturally more protected environment- but is being privileged and 'intimate' a positive benefit in the real world today? It should be more about acceptance and inclusion of diversity - race, socioeconomic status, gender, class.... Private schools don't do that. We lost our house and were forced to go to public schools and were pretty much ostracized by most of the families (some who we considered good friends) and also the school itself. It refused us financial aid even though we qualified for 50%. Forget about the many years of fundraising for them, co-chairing top committees, room parenting, running faires and volunteering our time on a regular basis. No dollar? No way! (It was mentioned to us that we didn't belong there anymore). Appealing was futile as we no longer had the 'bucks' to stand on. And our children were incredibly gifted (99th % on standard exams). But that isn't what private schools care about - it's about your money and also your reputation and social standing. Definitely keep that in mind, too. And yes public schools most definitely do a much better job of teaching academics (I'm a teacher) very very true. I was happily surprised and sad that it took our fall from financial well being for us to realize this fact. A private school's reputation is just that - a reputation - it isn't a reality. While our children haven't had to do 'catch up', remember that if your child is behind, your public school will include them, find a place for them, help them, and nurture them - free of cost! You can check out the California state standards on-line to see if your public school adheres to them - just ask! I'll bet they'd love to share that information with you. I have to say that there is absolutely no comparison between the two. I cannot tell you how amazing it is to educate your children alongside your neighbors. Everyone is supportive, friendly, and accepting. Our children are making friends with neighbors rather than having to be driven for up to half an hour for a playdate! This is a positive way of drawing communities closer together for the good of all. So, public schools will always offer you equal access, fairness and equitable education. Private schools are completely subjective and you cannot count on them. It is the parents that make a school a 'top school' - that's a well-known fact. And if parents stop leaving the public school system, all of our public schools would be simply amazing!! I say go public and get involved. You won't regret it. -ecstatic with our neighborhood and community of our public school

Hi - our son moved from a private school to a local public school here in Berkeley this year. He is in the 4th grade. To everyone considering such a move, I'd like to say -- go for it! I think you'll be surprised at how much the local public schools have to offer. Sure, many things are different. That doesn't mean that they are inferior, though. My child is thriving and getting a great education. I'm thrilled that he is in school closer to home and that we're saving tons of money. anon

There have already been many informative replies advocating the switch from private to public school, and I concur with the central themes of strong academics and well-trained teachers, but wanted to say that I don't think it's the easiest switch to make and not for the faint-hearted. Having said this, if I could do it all over again, I would start in the Berkeley public schools from kindergarten. We made the switch right after kindergarten for personal and financial reasons. We loved our daughter's private school - and I have to admit that our first landing in the Berkeley Unified District took some adjusting to. We had given up our lottery spot at one of the ''best'' schools in our corridor, and ended up in our last choice. Still, we applied for a transfer and received it (after much nail-biting). As a first grader, my daughter was already a little ''behind'' in mathematics but is bright and quickly moved to the accelerated group in her class. I want to add that the school we transferred from had a lot to recommend it, but wasn't a good fit for our daughter. In her second school in the district, our daughter is flourishing, adores her teacher, and has many of the enrichment classes that we used to pay for (plus a creek to play in and redwoods to run amongst) . I'm an educator and former private school administrator, and I can tell you that in my opinion, public school teachers are receiving impressive training in differentiation, Lucy Caulkins' writer's workshop, social well-being, etc. I have not seen this level of training and coordination in the independent schools that I've been exposed to (many). My daughter's teacher is the best I've encountered in both school systems. we're amazed at how well things turned out. We can afford it, our daughter is thriving, I LOVE the parent community at her school, she has a diverse group of friends, the after school programs are great, and we don't have to drive to play dates or school. But it WAS an adjustment: there is a wide range of learners in the room, and not all learning time can be spent in small groups. Still, when I speak to middle school students who have gone on to private schools in the area - and believe me, I search them out - they have had no problem AT ALL adjusting to academics. They feel well-prepared and are enjoying what private schools have to offer. Our goal is to keep our daughter in public school and then carefully check out the middle school options. Good luck whatever you decide. Sarah

We just transfered from a private school to Kaiser Elementary in Oakland because it is one of the smaller public schools, rated high academically, and has a very active PTA. Our son just entered 4th grade after 2 years in private. He is an English learner so he needs tutoring, but even if he were a native speaker, he would still need tutoring because the English and math requirements in public are so different. The public schools adhere to a specific curriculum based on raising test scores (No Child Left Behind). We hope this is going to change in the next year. But I have to say that om our case, the structure actually works for our son and oneous of teaching and drilling in math and reading is no longer mainly on us. The school is doing a very good job of covering those bases as well as teaching music, which we also missed in private. You should attend open houses for the public schools you are considering before making your choice. We learned a lot sitting in on classes and talking to teachers and principals. Oakland also has a school fair (check dates on OUSD site) that allows you to meet staff from all the schools at one forum. Good luck. Angela