Advice from Parents about Public vs. Private School

Parent Q&A

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  • I am joining the ranks of many before me and fretting about kindergarten, in particular the public vs. independent debate (I have perused some previous threads related to this on BPN).  I am seeking parents with experience sending their children to Washington Elementary's Dual Language Immersion Program in San Leandro - I would love to hear about families' experience there (info about it on BPN is dated).  I am also curious to hear from families who have done Reggio Emilia pre-school and if you chose to use your neighborhood/public school vs. an independent school for kindergarten and beyond. I'm in particular curious to learn how Reggio kids have done as they transition to public school.  I love the Reggio Emilia approach and think it has worked well for my son.  I admit that I am being allured/seduced by some of the independent schools I have toured and the idea that he could continue to learn in a manner (semi-)aligned with the Reggio Emilia approach. I am trying to determine if it is worth the financial sacrifice to go with an independent school vs. sticking with my original plan to enroll in the neighborhood school, with all its potential benefits.  Any and all thoughts welcome! Thank you.

    FWIW we are among those families who sent both our kids to our so-so neighborhood elementary school (in West Contra Costa Unified) and made a switch around middle school age to private. I went to (truly!) EVERY open house at ALL the independent schools between Richmond & Berkeley, agonizing over the "best" choice, before enrolling my eldest for K at the neighborhood public school. Was it great? No. Was it okay? Sure, and we as a family made a lot of friendly local acquaintances and friends. And I know that our family made a difference in the PTA's budget and projects. Am I glad we saved the $$$$ for middle school? Yes!  If money is no object, sure, consider private school starting at K, although it won't work for every child. But if you are just middle class like us, and you would be sacrificing something to pay for private school, it makes a lot of sense to try the public school first.

  • Public vs Private Schools in California

    (2 replies)

    Dear Parents,

    My kid is still young but i'm debating whether to send him to a public or private school. I live in tai-valley and public schools are good/ok. However, I feel like California generally doesn't have good public school system compared against east coast. Any advices based on your personal experiences? Thank you for sharing!

    Our daughter, who is now a junior in college, went to public schools in Berkeley K-12; she, and we, wouldn't trade that experience for the world. Not only did she have fantastic teachers, she learned things she would never have experienced in private school. When she arrived at college she was better prepared than a number of her new acquaintances who attended private schools. 

    Our kids are still under three, but we've also been having Big Conversations about where to send them to school. And while it's not a direct answer to your question, I highly recommend checking out the podcast Nice White Parents: (...especially in light of everything that's unfolded this year with BLM and larger conversations about real social change/equity.)

    For us, it's become a much broader conversation than just the quality of education we want our girls to receive and more about the role we're playing in shaping the society our girls are raised in - and how our decision to send them to private v. public school impacts others.

  • Why are private schools so expensive?

    (14 replies)

    I have a child that will start kindergarten next year and we are looking at Head Royce and Redwood Day school in particular.  My question is why are these schools so expensive?  The standard answer we hear is that they offer small class sizes, and lots of extra programs such as music, art, etc., and, for higher grades, a plethora of AP options, tons of extra-curricular activities, etc.  However, the high-performing public schools in places like Orinda, Palo Alto, and much of Marin have all of these things, and generally operate on per-student budgets in the range of $10-15k per year, with parent groups and fundraising contributing another $2-3k, for total budgets in the range of $12-18k per year, per student.  Why do Head Royce and Redwood Day need to charge roughly double that amount to provide what appear to be similar services  (Kindergarten at HR is about $32k per year)?  It seems like tuition at these schools is literally 100% more than it should be.  What is going on here?

    First, private schools must pay a mortgage or rent.  Think of the price of real estate in the Bay Area.  Second, private schools must pay insurance. Third, private schools pay staff to do admissions and billing.  Fourth private schools often have smaller classes, especially after grade 2, so they pay for more teachers.  

    I have served on the board of directors of a non-profit private school. They cost what it actually costs to run the school. Even compared to the districts you mention, they often have smaller class sizes, which means they need more teachers ($$$$$) for the same number of students. And they usually try to pay their teachers at least reasonably well. Often a lot of enrichment you don't get at public schools is already included in the price. And they usually offer scholarships or financial assistance which needs to be paid for by the families that can afford it. Also private schools often have to rent the building they are using, which can be crazy expensive in the Bay Area.

    Couple thoughts. Non-cynical view: I think the class size is legitimately smaller at non-parochial private schools, as in 17-18 students instead of 22-25. Even the "good" public schools you mention are well over 20 students per class. That may well make a difference in learning outcomes. Private school tuition also subsidizes scholarship funding for students who can't afford some or all of the tuition. Cynical view: I was scandalized to learn what Heads of School earn at some local private schools. I'm talking northwards of $400K-$500K a year. Is that where you want your hard-earned money to go?

    Hopefully someone with a background in public/private school financing will respond, but I'll give you my layperson's explanation.  I believe that the per-pupil spending for a public school district is the money that is spent by that district on classroom teachers and classrooms supplies.  I don't think that the per-pupil spending for public schools accounts for the facilities. Private schools meanwhile need to purchase real estate, construct facilities, and then service the debt on that investment.  If a private school leases its facility, it then must factor in the rental costs when calculating tuition.  There are also a lot of expenses involved in maintaining facilities (cleaning, repairs, landscaping, upgrades).  For public schools, I think that those expenses are funded separately from the teachers and classroom supplies, which is the bulk of the per-pupil spending.  Another factor may be that a private school may also set its "full freight" tuition on the higher side so as to be able to offer reduced tuition to needier students.  Take my comments with a grain of salt, as my kids go to public school so I have never needed to drill down into how my private school tuition is being spent.  Given the high cost of living, the need to offer competitive teacher salaries and benefits and the high land values and construction costs, however, it doesn't surprise me at all that private schools cost $30K+ per year.

    We did private K-8 for our eldest and K-5 for his younger sibling in SF, then public middle and high school (in Marin). The reason private school is so expensive, at least in our case, comes down to two things: class size and extras. In our private school, kindergarten classes were capped at 15 kids with one teacher and one full-time aide. Throughout elementary, they had lots of extras, like 3-5 day offsite field trips to the Gold Country and San Diego etc., acting classes, swimming lessons etc. The school day was also a bit longer than public school and aftercare was included until 6pm. Our school was also a language immersion school, so that was the main reason we paid for it. Public school, even in our expensive Marin district, is great but always seems cash-strapped. Big classes (34 in many high school classes this year due to budget cuts), few field trips, etc. Teachers and staff work very hard, but they have a huge number of students, usually over 150 per year, so they have little time to give one-on-one assistance. There is one counselor for 400 kids. The upside is that sports, arts, theater etc. are better than private school--and free! We didn't have $200k to send our kids to public middle and high school and are super happy to have no tuition anymore. But there is a big difference in the two environments. Good luck with your choice.

    As an experienced "former" private school parent I can tell you why it is so expensive: 1. The heads of school make as much as $500K, and there are many, many administrators at each school, all making between $150K - $300K (and some I've worked with who do very little for the school, may be the spouse of a teacher, etc.).  2. The school administrators and their boards are competitive; they look around at the other schools and say "Hey, I should be making as much/paying our heads and teachers as much as that other school. Let's increase our salaries." 3. You are paying for the connections who will give your child a leg up in college admissions, so if you are looking for good college connections, it is only worth it at the high school level. 4. Keep in mind that aftercare, music and sports, and all the extra-curricular activities at some private schools cost extra; they are not included in the $30K tuition. and 5. The school will expect you to contribute over and above the tuition, and participate in fundraisers -- all year long.

    There are some great private schools who do outstanding work, are humble, don't spend excessively, are committed to their mission, and good in delivering it (see Black Pine Circle). I suggest you strongly consider public school, though. I bought into the "I want my child to have the best education" malarky, and chose private school for K-5. More experienced parents advised me early to try public school, and I regret that I didn't; I would have saved more for college and spent that money on more enrichment and travel opportunities for my family. Public teachers are outstanding; they have the patience and experience to do wonders in the classroom, and they are committed to your child's success. Importantly, think of all the "extras" you will be able to give your child with the money you've saved.

    Here's why we left private school: Yes, class size is small, which means your child will have an ever-shrinking social pool.  In fifth grade my child finally said "Enough. I want to go to public school."  She needed the friends and experience that only public school can provide (private school is a little too sheltered).  We are happy in public school and haven't looked back.

    These days, public districts like Palo Alto or Mill Valley are spending more like $15K-$20K per student ($256M budget for 12K students in Palo Alto this year, for instance)--and that's before any parent fundraising, which is often significant in the higher-income districts. So the increase in costs across the board is certainly part of it. Public schools also charge for many extracurricular programs and PTAs or grants generally pay for enrichment, while private schools often build those into tuition and the school day. Most private schools also tier tuition based on family income, which means every student at the school isn't paying that $32K--the average is probably closer to $20-25K. 

    There is also a wide range of tuition at private schools, though. Head-Royce is the highest in the East Bay--if you're set on private, you could also look at a school like Grand Lake Montessori, for instance, which only charges $19K. Parochial schools are even less. And there are many in between. Each school publishes its budget and costs, so you can always take a look to see how the money is actually being spent, too. And I'd give a good look at public with some enrichment to fill the gaps, too. There are a lot of great public school options out there, even if they don't necessarily rate a "10" on an online metric. Those scores don't capture everything that's happening, so I'd visit both public and private with an open mind. Good luck with the search!

    I don’t know, but some of it may be going to subsidize financial aid awards. We have a kindergartner in a Berkeley public school and we have an amazing teacher, engaged parent community, gorgeous campus and school building, music, dance, gardening, and many enrichment classes. For us, there is no where near enough added value at private school to justify the exorbitant cost. 

    My guess is they need to compete with the excellent public school offerings. With housing costs astronomical in those areas, that is likely as much as the parent market is willing to bear. Only supposition though...

    Private schools don’t benefit from public funding. Public schools receive funding from State and Federal grants. The public schools still fundraise as well to cover expenses. Also, $10-15k per student is probably not enough if we as a society we’re really going to fund the true cost of education including paying our teachers a more just salary. 

    I have a partial hypothesis to contribute, and am curious, so I hope others reply with other pieces of the puzzle.  My child used to attend a small bay area private school (costing about $21K/year) that made its board minutes available, including a broad-strokes budget.  My memory is that that budget was 40-50% salaries and benefits, and 40-50% rent.  Everything else -- supplies, utilities, field trips, etc -- was the remaining 10%.  The teachers at this school were paid significantly less than public school teachers.  My hypothesis is that public school numbers do not include rent or equivalent building costs.  Head Royce is old enough that it presumably owns its grounds outright (though plenty of its buildings are newer), but Redwood Day bought its current campus in 1994 and might have a mortgage.  Many other private schools in the area rent their buildings.  I am guessing that the public school dollar figures you're mentioning don't include these kinds of property costs.  I could be wrong.

    The per-student budget breakdown of public schools rarely include expenses like capitol outlay, administrative costs, and a variety of other expenditures (each district can categorize expenses somewhat differently). Private schools typically have capitol and loan expenses (bc it's private property) and as they are not part of a larger district/system, the admin and other non-instructional personnel costs are also to be considered. There are many other factors (i.e. benefits cost more for personnel at private schools bc they don't have the bargaining power of large districts) but these are a couple biggies.

    We chose public for various reasons but have considered private schools since we could afford them and there is definitely a benefit in going there.  Private schools tend to have a closer knit community then many public schools (based on what I saw and heard from parents), smaller class size, more enrichment etc.  They might be comparable to a few schools in expensive areas but not many can afford to leave in those areas, and many many families live in areas assigned to schools that are significantly worse than private schools.  I always viewed it as supply and demand issue.  All of the private schools we have considered either had testing to get into or other application process and there was no guarantee that my kids would have been able to get in, so instead of risking having to go to our then assigned public school we moved to an area with a very good public school which my kids now attend.  So whether or not there is a reason for it (and I did wonder where all of the tuition money was going since the private schools still ask for donations just like public schools do) there are plenty of people willing to pay those prices so I don't see them going down anytime soon. 

    They are charging 100% more because they simply *can.* -- As the wealth of the East Bay continues to rise, schools like RDS and HR essentially have their pick of students and it boils down to who can pay the price.  More money means that they can afford to provide financial aid to diversify their student populations, but to also add some pretty fancy perks to those students attending.  Financial aid is generally available at both schools.  RDS offers many scholarships to kids in the neighborhood, so check it out, especially if you live in the Dimond.  My advice is to not limit yourself to these two schools.  Check out St. Paul's, Park and Black Pine Circle, too.  Additionally, a lot of parents at RDS send their child to their local public kindy or charter before starting at a private school.  It saves them a year of tuition and then they start first grade.  There is always attrition after kindergarten due to many things -- parents moving away, development or behavior issues, etc.  

  • We live in an area that is nice and safe and we like our house and backyard.  It's in the Bay Area, but doesn't feel like it. Our child just started at the local elementary school and I am not really loving it.  It's decently ranked, has strong parent involvement, and our child enjoys it.  I am really not a fan of the homework load for 5 year olds or the amount of junk food that seems ever-present or the fact that they spend a decent portion of time on the computers at least three days a week.  The real problem, though, is the school population.  We were very excited to go to this school because on paper it is very diverse.  In practice, however, almost all of the children of color seem to be in self contained special education classrooms, and most of my child's classmates are white.    

    The families at this school tend to be working class white families, and I frequently see NRA T-Shirts, Blue Lives Matter T-Shirts, and Make America Great Again hats at pickup.  I know that several households have guns, which is something I am deeply opposed to.  In addition, most of the kids seem to have smartphones by the 2nd grade or so and when we see them at the park or at school events more than half of the kids are behaving in a way that I would absolutely not want my own child to behave.  These are not evil people, they are not overtly racist or homophobic or sexist or... but their entire world view and values are in opposition to our family's and I do not want my children to be raised in the way that they are raising their children.  My child has started to make close friends with one little girl who is downright rude to adults and mean to other kids, and her mother takes pride in how "feisty" she is.  

    We have about two or three like-minded families that we have found, but I feel like we are sort of stuck between compromising our values so our children fit in to the dominant culture at their school or our kids being the weirdos who don't fit in (which was my experience being raised by a hippie family in a rich white suburb in the 80's).  We are trying to decide if we should stretch our budget to the max and try to get into Crestmont or if we should just pick up sticks and move to Berkeley, despite extortionate rents.  We could just about pull off either option, although we would have to go back to clipping coupons and not taking vacations.  I just don't know which is the right option.  Has anyone else experienced a similar dilemma? What choice did you make? How did it turn out? 

    There have been a spate of recent questions about moving to Pinole/El Sobrante/Hercules... maybe you are on the flip side of that? The culture can be different in the different corners of the East Bay, you may not make great family friends there but if the school works for your child, you might feel like you can settle in. 4 weeks is not very long to "give it a try". Of course, having differing cultural values than your kids' friends happens no matter where you are - also disliking your kids' friends! Remember whoever they glom onto in  kindergarten is not necessarily going to be their best friend for the long haul. To sum up... If my child were happy at a school, I would live with the Make America Great hats etc., just as you would expect those folks to tolerate you and your "hippie" ways. Host all the playdates; don't let your child have a playdate at a home with guns; be the parent who serves organic snacks and who bugs the district nutrition staff to improve the offerings; nag the teacher to drop the homework packets; discuss your concerns about computer time with the teacher or principal. (some of these things are WCCUSD districtwide initiatives, some have leeway at the school sites) My ananoymous-stranger-on-the-internet advice is to hang in there at least for the K year. Don't worry about getting into Crestmont, there's always space there in all the grades, as with *almost* all the local private schools. In answer to your specific question about a similar dilemma, we go to what I'm sure is a different WCCUSD school than yours (whites a minority at ours); college going is not the automatic path, English language skills aren't a given, and some of the little girls wear hijabs. Culture clash indeed. It's not always easy on a day to day basis and I can't always communicate (literally) with my kids' friends' parents. OK, so they may not be MY lifelong friends, but my kids are accepted and doing fine, and these friendships may or may not last at Korematsu and ECHS. I'm in it for the long haul of getting out of my white liberal bubble - or at least recognizing I'm in one.

    I'm guessing you're in El Sobrante or Pinole. Welcome to West County, where MAGA is part of our diversity. 

    Be the squeaky wheel where you really feel you need to, and let some other things go. If, by January, you're still unhappy, you can put in that application to Crestmont. If you're willing to drive your child to Crestmont, also consider asking for a transfer to either Mira Vista or the new West County Mandarin School, both of which are located really near Crestmont and are (obviously) tuition-free. You will likely find your tribe at either of those places. The WCCUSD transfer office isn't easy to deal with so make calls to principals and be persistent. (If the Mandarin program is like the Spanish immersion program, they take new students in first grade but not after that).

    I don't know where you are, but I assume WCCUSD.  I'd work with the transfer office and say you want to stay Public, but something about this particular place is not jiving with you and you want to move.  If they are not responsive, climb all the way to the Supt.'s office.  I think they would try to keep you.  There are some wonderful diverse schools in the WCCUSD that are trying to do real work knocking down walls.  Also, if you have a kindergartener, there is a brand-new full Mandarin Immersion school that would *LOVE* to have you. Contact them directly. I am sure you could transfer right in.  DO IT!!!!

    I personally think that a kid's early education is really important in setting the tone for future years.  If you are in West County, there is a small, comfortable private school on Tassajara that you might like.  Great community.  Not sure if they have room in your grade, but it's worth a call - next week.  510.233.3013.

Archived Q&A and Reviews





First grader says he hates school - change to private?

March 2014

I'm wondering if I could get some specific feedback from people who have travelled farther down the parenting road than I have. My dilemma, shared I know by many, is figuring out whether my son would be served better by moving from a BUSD school to a private school with smaller class sizes, more focus on the whole child, more opportunity for physical activity, and -- most of all -- a curriculum that is more engaging, hands on, inquiry-based. The two schools that probably appeal to me the most are Walden and Crestmont.

My son is in the middle of 1st grade at a school that I like, with a teacher that I like -- and his stock response to ''How is school?'' is ''I hate it.'' ''It's boring.'' ''Is there anything you like?'': ''Recess and PE, and sometimes science.'' He is a very active, athletic boy -- not particularly fidgety, but engaged primarily by physical activity. NOT very engaged intellectually (either in or out of school), very middle of the road in terms of his reading/writing/math skills. I am finding the implementation of the common core standards to be pretty depressing so far in terms of the amount of time and focus on worksheet-based learning -- tho I understand it is the first year, and can only hope that will improve in coming years.

Here is my question: for those of you who faced a similar dilemma -- how has it worked out? If you switched, did a more engaging curriculum stimulate your child and help them retain/develop a love of learning? or did your not-so-academically inclined child remain uninterested in school? For those of you who stayed public -- did the tincture of time help your child mature into a more engaged student? Or did disinterest develop into more significant issues as your child got older? And what role, in the end, do you see a particular school as having played in your child's overall development?

I don't mean to say that an engaging curriculum can't be found in the BUSD system, or to start a(nother) big discussion about the merits of public vs private in general. But when I think about my kid in particular I worry about what I have seen this year, and about what the next several years will look like as the pressure is put on teachers to meet the common core standards. Another Worried Mama

Definitely listen to what your child is telling you. My son had a wonderful experience in kindergarten in our neighborhood school (public) -- and has been hating school ever since first grade. If it is truly the wrong fit, it will probably get worse, not better, although there will be some bright spots along the way, of course. I didn't pay much attention to my son's increasing complaints because he was doing well in school and had nice friends. In fourth grade he was still complaining, and I was (finally) starting to get concerned about his attitude not just toward school, but towards learning in general. We are going to try private school for middle school, and I hope it will be a more engaging environment for him. There are a lot of great things about his public school. It is convenient, free, diverse, rigorous, and has lots of great kids with down-to-earth, highly involved families. But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of teaching and learning, meh... not much there. The state of public education should improve markedly with the Common Core, but expect a few rocky years while districts, principals, and teachers navigate the transition. Good luck!

I'm a public school mom (3 kids) and I think it comes down to the teacher. None of my 3 have ever hated school, but they have gone through various stages of liking and loving school. The kid who loved school the most and couldn't wait for the weekend to be over was the one who adored her teacher (3rd grade). But the first kid had had this same teacher and was not nearly so enamored. He liked 3rd grade but did not love it. Now in middle school, he has teachers he loves and others he's not so crazy about. If you can guarantee a perfect fit with your child and his teacher every year, you can guarantee a happy student. But honestly, that's not possible, neither at public nor private. We only have experience with public school, but know lots and lots of kids at private. What's true in both is that if the kid loves the teacher, they will love the class. Momx3

we didn't have quite the same dilemma as you have - we chose between homeschooling and school - but i did have similar concerns in terms of looking for a school that would be engaging and would keep my children's sense of curiosity alive. we liked both walden and crestmont a lot and chose crestmont. i couldn't be happier with our decision. crestmont is a wonderful school. i am always struck by how much everyone - kids and parents alike - just love it. kids want to come to school and often don't want to leave. the teachers are tuned in, the learning is project-based and collaborative, and the atmosphere is fun and lively. good luck with your decision.

[Editor Note: In response to this question, reviews were also received for Crestmont and Walden schools.]

Public elementary vs. private for average kid

Oct 2012

My son is a kindergartener at a Berkeley Public School. This school was not our first choice but we've been pleasantly surprised at how happy he is there. I've volunteered a few times and was pleased at how well behaved the kids were and that they seemed to enjoy their teacher and learning. The school is more traditional than I would like (we wanted a TWI school or arts-focused) and I'm wondering if it's worth it to transfer next year to a private, progressive, arts or language focused school.

I realize this is something I'm wanting; my son is not an art or music prodigy, but given that he is so young it seems like music and art could benefit him greatly. Berkeley's school day is short compared to private schools (and even OUSD) which is probably why they can't incorporate art, etc. every day (the once a week art class seems rushed). Yes, there are enrichment classes, but not enough room for all interested students. Outside classes are difficult to attend b/c we both work full time.

But is our dream curriculum worth $20k a year? We know people who rent tiny apartments to send their kids to private school; are we being selfish or short-sighted by not doing the same? We don't live lavishly and would have to drastically cut back on everything to do so. I realize there is no right or wrong answer but would appreciate your personal experiences and reasons for going public or private. Lastly, I've heard (second hand) that if your kid does private at any point, it should be elementary school. Is middle school too late? Confused & conflicted

I just wanted to comment on the issue of elementary years being the best time for private school - I have a different theory. I think the middle/high school years are when the kids can benefit the most from private schools - by having them in schools that fit their personalities and support them socially and academically. There is a lot more academic and social pressure at this older age, and the social issues can severely affect emotional development and academic identity in ways that will impact the rest of their adult lives. Our kids did public elementary until middle school, and then one kid chose a private school with specific academic programs, one chose public, both were happy and did well.

Academically, elementary school isn't especially demanding (and I found, by touring private schools, that the Berkeley Public Schools provide education on par with the most rigorous private schools locally). I think your point is that it's a good time to expose kids to many subjects and social situations (also private schools are not as socially diverse as public), so they can gravitate toward what they like. However, if they aren't naturally inclined to these extracurrics, then they may soon fall by the wayside. For example, I was in bilingual classes through 6th grade but it didn't stick with me.

Finally, the cost of private school can be painful, so you really have to believe that what you are doing is important for your child and for your family - and if you don't have tons of extra funds for it, this can create an expectation, pressure on your child, at least occasionally, and kids are perceptive about stuff like that. We definitely felt that there was more awareness of affluence in the private school, creating social issues for the kids since we aren't wealthy. I'd say if your child is happy, let him continue there - he will certainly be exposed to *lots* of different subjects over the course of his elementary experience, even if its not an arts or language school. Find out about the upcoming grades and what they are doing - often teachers bring in specialists and do units on all sorts of topics, including music and art. Some offsite afterschool programs have great opportunities too (I think more becomes available for older kids)- the JCC comes to mind.

You sound like a very thoughtful parent, I'm sure your child will feel supported and do well wherever you send him. Good luck! A family who has tried it all!

It sounds like your child is happy where he is. If he's not musically or artistically inclined, perhaps he's in the best place for him. You can augment his learning with weekend music lessons or art classes at MOCHA. There are also other private after school programs available (I think the JCC has one that has a van and picks up kids from all over the east bay). I realize you are the parent and must make these decisions for him. However, when you describe how much you would have to sacrifice to put him into private school, it sounds like it would be a great burden for you. We chose to go to private school because the school felt like a great fit for our child. Our local public school is highly regarded. However, I didn't feel comfortable there and knew my awkwardness would spill over to my participation in and with the school. Do we get more at a private school? I can't say. My child takes piano lessons at school (and while I'm very musical, it's not really his cup of tea... we'll finish out the year and re-visit later). He loves art and is able to take several great after school classes that fulfill that passion. I'm very happy with our school and our decision. We receive aid and it definitely makes a big difference in our ability to attend. Finally, there are differing opinions about if/when to attend private school. I believe my child needed more attention and help at the beginning of his schooling. Not sure what we'll do later, but for now, we're happy. And, no matter what you decide, you can always change course. Good luck. Happy Parent

We chose to start with public school and do our best to make it work, and if it did not work, then we would look into private. We originally did this as we both grew up in public schools that were just fine and great in some ways, so we had ''a good experience as a child''. We also wanted to save funds for travel; a form of education. And we wanted to save funds for college.

Our kids' public elementary school turned out to be great for them, as is middle school and high school. Our kids are in berkeley public schools and both benefit from the music program and the sports programs. Art varries from school to school, but also from teacher to teacher. We found that many ''regular'' teachers work good art projects into their classroom day. The math program has proved to be strong, too. We both work full time, too, and we found good offerings at after school programs on site in elementary and middle school. Regarding high school, many Berkeley families who have private school kids have their kids go to Berkeley high, and the kids seem to do well. A few kids go from public middle school to private high schools.

The nice thing is that there are good choices for most students at private or public schools and folks are generally supportive of everyones' choices. Another BUSD parent

Well as an accountant my opinion is that private schools are for two kinds of people 1) those that are rich and 2) those that are bad at math!

Seriously, it is an enormous expense over a kid's lifetime and unless you have a solid plan for retirement and getting your kids through college I would really think twice before going private. It is a HUGE expense. I know that extra classes are hard when you work full time but heck, hire someone to chauffeur them there (check out the gigs section on craigslist) and pay for the class and you'll still come out way ahead.

That said I wouldn't want my kids to be in a school that sucks so my take is start with the public schools and if they fail you then consider your options. And my opinion is definitely if they ever go private I'd save the money for later on when it could really make a difference. Unless your child is having a really negative experience in school then how far behind or ahead are they really going to get in elementary school. Where I come from private elementary schools didn't really exist (there were maybe 3 in the whole city) but a lot of people went to private high schools. hoping to go public all the way

The short school day that you mention was what started us looking a private schools back when our daughter was going into kindergarten. As a two-working-parent family, three hours of kindergarten, with most of the day spent in off-site before- and after-school programs, wasn't going to cut it for us. This was in Albany. And it looked like it wasn't going to get much better before I think 4th grade, with dismissals at 1:30 or 2:30 pm. For a kid coming from full-day preschool, this made no sense. It's not like she needed to be eased into being away from home. In private school the day was 8:20 - 2:30 for kindergarten and then until 3:30 thereafter (now in 7th grade), with an on-site after-school program. The longer school day did allow time for art, music, science lab, library, and PE, and then later in elementary school computer lab and foreign language came in as well. Tuition is steep, but our kid likes school, is getting a good education, and the parents get to keep our jobs, so it's worked for us. Good luck! School should be 9-5

I personally think you would be crazy to pay $20,000/yr when you are already enrolled in a free school that you like and where your son seems to be thriving (hey, you asked!). No matter how great a private school is, I doubt it could be $20,000 better than your Berkeley public school. Or even $15,000 better. You could use a small portion of that tuition that you don't have to pay at BUSD for one-on-one music classes and art classes and language classes. But, you do seem like you may have regrets if you don't pursue one of these specialized schools, so maybe you should check out a few. But your child is already in kindy, so next year the school day gets longer and possibly more enrichment classes will be fit into the schedule. I'm not in BUSD, but at our OUSD school they do get art, music and Spanish, even in kindy. As far as elementary school being the time to pay for private, I've heard the opposite. Most kids have their academic/social needs met in Berkeley public elementary schools...depending on your kid, this could perhaps change by middle or high school. Maybe... $20K still in my pocket

If it ain't broke, don't fix it! Your child is happy at the school. Yay! Why not save the private school option for when/if your child becomes unhappy at school?

I think private school is a great option if money is not an issue. 20k is the (approximate) tuition, but that will not be your only expense. You will be expected to contribute to the Annual Fund. You will be expected to volunteer. You will have to pay for the afterschool program. You might be expected to attend auctions or other fundraisers. Private schools expenses are simply not covered by tuition alone, and they need to offer financial assistance to some families. So, fundraising is constant.

Also, keep in mind that tuitions rise regularly. So if the private K-8 school of your dreams is 20k for first grade, it could be 25k+ by 8th grade. In public school, free remains free (though I realize ''free'' is arguable).

Also, while enrichment classes aren't as popular with kindergartners, by 2nd or 3rd grade most kids--public and private students--participate in afterschool activities--baseball, soccer, piano lessons, gymnastics, martial arts, etc. Another expense to think about. They can really add up. Activities like these are scheduled for late afternoon/early evening and weekends to accommodate working parents. Stick With Public

Public vs Private Middle & High School

March 2011

My kids are attending Portola, the public middle school in El Cerrito; my son plans to start El Cerrito High next year. My question is mainly asking for feedback from people whose kids have gone to public school (how's that turned out?) and private school (same question?). The reason I'm asking is, I have always felt that attending public schools is a way to learn valuable life lessons, such as working in a mixed society, figuring out how to get along with all sorts of people, and even gaining the ability to motivate yourself. However, Portola has been a real mixed bag for my son, and I find myself questioning if the benefits are worth the costs -- not least of which is the complete boredom of my smart son, who aces all his tests but is pulling C's because he doesn't do his ''boring'' homework. I'd love to hear the perspectives of others, especially those with older kids: am I costing my kids their future education and options by not sending them to private schools? Thanks in advance! Susan

We went the private route with our highly academic daughter after a great K-4 in public school (Oakland) and a terrible 5th grade year in the same public school. Before 5th grade she loved school, and excelled. Being in a class with a horrible teacher, that was run by disruptive, unmotivated student bullies really killed her love for school. When I explored the public middle school, I was told that about 20% of the students, at most, really wanted to be there to learn. Going to a fabulous middle school (Julia Morgan School for Girls) restored her love of school, and now she is a fully engaged sophomore in private high school. We are fortunate to receive financial aid from her private schools. I feel that for my daughter the difference has both honored her intellect, supported her emotionally, and has been essentially life changing. anonymous

I think the first question you have to ask yourself is ''Can we afford it?'' There is no guarantee that you children will do better in a private school and it might impact the amount of cash that you will be able to set aside for college savings or other family expenses. Could you get more involved and conference with the teachers and see if there is anything that you can do to enrich your child's experience? If homework is the problem, well that might just be a life lesson for all the ''boring'' yet necessary things that happen in life, like tax prep. Or perhaps you could see if it could be waived in favor of a more project oriented assignment. You could spend the money you might've spent on private schools for afterschool enrichment or summer activities. If your child really is bright then the challenge will be to motivate him to rise to the top. If he does that, than he could get into the GATE programs or take AP classes in high school. Within every setting there are smaller groups. It sounds like your son would do well to identify with the higher achieving kids in the place. Public school teachers can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of students, but they are also humans, with more required credentials than private school teachers, and will often go the extra mile for a student that shows interest. The other option you might explore is to try for a transfer to another school or district that will provide more enrichment, that is the route my family took. It had its challenges too, unfortunately there is no easy answer Good luck. been there

My ADD daughter also attended Portola and El Cerrito High. For her they were great. Neither is perfect, but she ended up with some great experiences and friends. With the money we saved vs. sending her to private schools were we able to hire tutors as necessary. If she had been one of those top students I might feel differently but I know kids like that who went to private schools who aren't doing demonstratively better in life after high school. Been There

The most important thing seems to be that your child is not thriving in his present school environment. Looking into other schools might be a solution to that problem.

As far as public vs private, I attended large, public middle and high school in California. My schools had middling API scores. I took every advanced class my schools offered, and did well at college. However, friends who went to better schools, both public and private, got a better education. I wanted that for my children, and now send them to private school. However, I also believe a motivated child can learn in any school.

The people that I know who attended private school seem to get along in mixed society as well as those who attended public school. One person's perspective

Hello Susan, Our son switched schools sophomore year of High school. He attended Albany middle and freshman year Albany high. We felt we needed to change something because he was bored all through middle school. There are good teachers in Albany high, but the classes are overcrowded. Since our son was merely underperforming, not failing, nobody called him on it. The assignments took forever to be checked, and by the time they were returned it was almost the end of grading period. He is now at Head-Royce and we really love it. The homework is checked, the assignments are meaningful and challenging, and the teachers are amazing. The kids are studying a lot, so it is not ''cool'' not to study. One of his best friends though is thriving in Albany. He takes all of the AP classes and is getting a solid education too. So a lot depends on a child. For ours public system did not work as well. The financial burden of private education is heavy, so consider your options carefully. Best of luck to you and your student. former public

You ask good questions, and I'm not sure there is only one possible answer. I can speak from the perspective of a parent whose two children (both girls) attended both Portola and ECHS. They, along with many of their friends who also attended public schools in El Cerrito, attended top tier colleges, including Cal, Brown, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, UC Davis, Penn, UCSD, and the like. They know kids who attended private schools who went to much less prestigious universities. So if that's your criteria for success, I think your children will not miss out on opportunities by attending public schools. It's important to remember, however, that being successful in a public school is, in many ways, a more difficult proposition. You need a great deal of self-motivation and inner resources, and if your children don't have those strengths, then private schools may be a better fit. Our family believes strongly in public education for many of the reasons you mentioned; hopefully you and your children will be able to navigate the sometimes challenging waters and be all the stronger for the experience. Best of luck! Public school mom

My child attended private elementary, middle and high schools in the East Bay. Without a doubt it was a financial stretch, but she was well educated. She was accepted at several well known private colleges but chose to go to a UC since she did not want to spend the money AND she liked the students much better on the UC campus. The main issue for me as a parent for the early years was small class size, and available teacher time for each student. Curriculums in private schools were more engaging and all her schools had music, art, dance and theatre classes. Students in privates schools generally do their work, it is too obvious when they do not. However money wise it is a huge stretch, and costs even more today. Scholarships are rare. Homework is probably double or triple what you would experience in a public school. Not all homework is fun.

It would also be difficult to apply to a private high school at this time of year, since applications were already due a few months ago. Spaces may open in second year, but likely your son would need to apply and redo the freshman year. IF he is not already an exceptional student, he might not find a spot.

I would suggest you have a conversation with your son - if school is not his bag, does he want to go into a trade? the military? He needs to have a better response than 'homework is stupid'. It could be he is really struggling and needs a tutor, or he needs to just get the work done and have more challenges such as a sport or activity he enjoys. Be willing to pay for the extracurricular on the condition that the homework is done on time every day and grades are B or better. If the homework is that easy he should be able to finish most of it at school. No Excuses for Homework

I am conflicted about which school to send him to

May 2010

My son is currently enrolled in a private pre-school that runs through the 8th grade. He loves the school and I am aligned with their view of child development and overall approach to education. He will be entering kindergarten next year - and has just been accepted into a public k-5 school (Grattan Elementary School). From what I've learned, the public school has a good reputation (for child development, for it's environmental and computer programs and for an active, engaged and concerned Parent association) and a good (tho not great) reputation for the quality of it's academics. Grattan is also in my neighborhood (half a dozen blocks from my home).

I am conflicted about which school to send him to. While I like the notion of public school (and, of course, not spending $23,000 a year on elementary education!), I am a bit concerned about how all of the SF & state education budget cuts (both those which have happened and those that are coming) will impact the quality of the education, energy & culture at the school. I am also a bit concerned about the increased difficulty I might have in getting him into a private school in the 6th grade (if I were to decide that was in his best interest).

I know many parents have struggled through the 'private vs. public' school decision - and would be interested in any advice or experiences you've had that would help inform my decision. Thanks very much for your thoughts!

I don't think there is a ''right'' decision. Every family is different. I WILL say that I often wonder about all of those private school families who somehow have $2000 to pay each month for private school, but are not willing to put that money into a public school that may be suffering from the current district and state cuts. Yes, times are hard for schools, but imagine the wonderful art and science programs that schools could have if more families put their children and their resources into their local public schools. We did just that a few years ago, and could not be happier! We helped get art and science programs back into our local neighborhood school, and our children have had an amazing experience there. I think with a little faith, some hard work, and a smile, public schools are the way to go. Everyone benefits. If you try it, and find that it is not for you, then you can always switch to private. I also know families who did that. Good luck in your decision. You will choose what is right for your family. putting my money where my mouth is!

We chose private school because I wanted more choice in how my child was educated. I was looking for a more progressive school with smaller classes. I got that and more - responsive teachers who really work with parents, an administration that responds to parent's concerns, small and creative classes, a wonderful community of kids. One of the best things we have gotten from private school is that they truly supervise the playground and if there are issues they intervene. I find that the kids are kind at my son's school because teachers really pay attention to what is happening socially and work with kids on social interactions. I cannot begin to tell you what a big deal that is. Bullying is a normal part of the school experience but how the school responds makes a big difference on whether it is common or infrequent. Our private school handles these issues well. Now this is not to say you couldn't find these things in a public school. There are lots of terrific ones.

The gift with private schools is being able to find one that fits your child's personality. They all have their ''cultures'' and I found a school that truly suited my son. Look at the culture of a private school whether it be academic, progressive, emphasis on sports, emphasis on drama, what is the parent community like, etc. and choose the best fit for your child. Don't get caught up in what is the ''best,'' as many kids will not be happy in those super academic schools. There are some amazing choices out there. If you feel your child will get lost in a large classroom it could be worth looking at a private school that emphasizes small classes. I was in your position last year asking the same questions and really feeling torn on the issue. After a lot of soul searching, and researching our family decided to give our local public school a try. The raves about the school made us feel confident that we were making the right choice. Our child had spent a number of years in a small and nurturing pre-school and he was completely prepared for kindergarten, perhaps over prepared.

Our experience was mixed right from the start. The classroom environment was a bad fit, the cohort group was a bad fit and the administration was distant and unresponsive. Almost immediately our child began to complain about going to school. ''I hate it!'' was usually what we heard on Monday mornings. We were in the thick of it and trying to find the best in a bad situation. We talked to LOTS of people, wrote emails, volunteered (a ton of time!), donated money and hoped for the best. As time went by our son's behavior deteriorated and he seemed to be back tracking academically as well. I think because he was already reading and writing when he entered school he was left to his own devices while his teacher focused on other children. Most days he was directed to a corner of the room and told to read or do workbook pages on his own. He was completely bored in this joyless environment. He learned that being bad was what got you attention. So that is what he started to do.

Special classes were/are over-rated too. What I personally witnessed was lots of busy work given to a group of kids scared to death to step out of line for fear of being yelled at and chastised by the adults around them. Young children were regularly sent out of the room to other classrooms where they would sit alone isolated from the group. Rarely were consistently well behaved, good performing kids rewarded. In fact kids who were normally disruptive would receive an abundance of praise and attention on the rare occasions they cooperated. This approach seems backwards to me!?

In the end we were lucky enough to find a place in a private school. The change in our child was immediate. No longer anxious and scared he completely engaged with his new friends and new challenges. The curriculum is so much richer and presented with excitement and yes even joy. He is back to loving school and feeling safe so he can focus on learning. That is all that matters to us.

What I have learned through this experience is that you MUST follow your own instincts. It's very hard to get a true understanding of a school in an hour long tour, but you can get a pretty good feel for it. If there is a school you like a lot see if your child can spend a few hours in the classroom. Go to the PTA meetings, special events and see what goes on behind the scenes. Public school can be fine for some kids, but definitely not for all and it can be all about 'the luck of the draw'. If you do choose a public school be prepared to volunteer as much as you can. Teachers in public school really rely on active parental involvement and you have to factor that time requirement into your schedule. You won't have a choice when it comes to your teacher and if things start to go wrong you are stuck. The cohort group is also very important. If your child happens to be placed with a particularly disruptive group of kids there is also nothing you can do about it. The greatest curriculum in the world is worthless if a teacher can't teach and the children are prevented from learning. In a private school parents demand the learning environment be maintained because they are paying for it. Kids are expected to show up ready to learn and when they aren't there are real consequences. On the flip side, parents can expect and demand that teachers are competent and capable.Of course no situation is perfect and I'm sure you will find many private school naysayers, but for us private school is the best choice. Our son is thriving and most importantly he LOVES to go school again. I wish you all the best and hope it all works out well. ANON

I didn't see your original post, but I would recommend to ''go with your gut''. That's what we did, and chose private. Well, it didn't work out- we were disappointed that smaller class sizes meant the teachers spent more time dealing with social issues than school work- much to the chagrin of my child who had to sit around and wait for the teacher to discipline kids. Also- it was supposed to be an academically advanced school with lots of enrichment, but our local public offers so much more and is MUCH more challenging (and it's not in Lamorinda or Piedmont). There are many more reasons, but I won't bore you with the details. We tried something and it didn't work out, so we made a change. Now our kids are happy and thriving both academically and socially in a public school. If only we had a crystal ball, but alas, we don't. Do what you think is best at the time you are doing it- nothing is irreversible. happy public school parent who tried private

Academics in Private vs. Public School

Nov 2008

Hi, I've seen several messages lately regarding the level of academics in private school vs. public school. May I ask parents, teachers, school administrators out there to revisit this issue with me one more time?

Right now my child is in a private school in Berkeley and going into middle school next year. I don't know if we can afford it, but I've been thinking (dreaming, really) how cool it would be if she could go to a private high school like CPS or Bentley... I expect she would get great education from caring teachers and she would be surrounded by motivated kids... I thought being in a school like CPS would allow my child to be more focused on academics and learning and not have to worried about other distractions like lack of funding, etc.

So, here are my questions... Do you really think the academics level in public schools is higher than private schools? How do we measure this ''higher academics''? Is the school more academics if it's teaching algebra (for example) in 6th grade while others aren't? Is it better for the school to be more ''advanced'' and what does ''advanced'' mean? What does it mean when a child is ''behind''? Where can I get my hand on the list of items that a child should be learning in each grade based on the CA standard? What makes this standard a good standard for my child (except for the fact that we're living in CA)? Boy, I feel dumb. Please help me.

Thank you! Anonymous

The CA state education standards are at this link:
There is another option for public high school, Oakland Unified's Middle College High School at Merritt College and West Contra Costa's Middle College High School at Contra Costa College. The 11th and 12th grade classes are college classes; the students earn high school and college credit at the same time, graduating with a high school diploma and an AA degree. -- happy with public school

I have been a private math tutor for many years. Many of my students are or were at private schools. I find public schools almost always do a better job of math instruction. I often find that private school students have large gaps in their math knowledge (i.e. can't do basic algebra or even fractions). Consider that private schools almost always hire someone without math teaching credentials. They are under no obligation by the State of California to do so and as such often don't even attempt it as their costs would certainly increase.

Now credentials are certainly not everything; there are a lot of really bad credentialed teachers. So not sure what the real problem is, but it is very clear to me in my 27 years of tutoring that private school students get generally inferior math instruction. I would never send my kid to a private school for that reason and a number of others. sean

I wanted to respond to the post about math skills in public vs. private schools. My daughter started in public school and then transferred to Black Pine Circle. The public school she attended was great in many ways, but it was not great for her. I think it is important to look at schools individually since not all public or private schools are the same.

I did not know about BPC's award winning math program when I picked the school. I wanted a school that provided a well-rounded good education. My daughter loves art and does best when she has strong relationships with her teachers and peers. I loved the feel of the school, the small class size and the fact that the students spend many hours of the day in music, art, drama, library, reading, science, social studies, computers, gardeningVand math. I loved the parent community and the attention given to caring about people.

While at BPC, I have learned about the amazing math program. In the last 7 years BPC middle school students have won the championship in the Oakland All-Star Mathletes Competition. This year BPC Math Teacher Anatoliy Gulimovskiy received an award administered by the Mathematical Association of America for Distinguished Teaching. The award says, in part, [Mr. Gulimovskiy's] effort has placed [BPC] among the top [schools] in the region.

BPC has a math specialist who works two periods a week in each K-5 class q one is for enrichment for the whole class, math games and activities that promote problem solving and critical thinking skills. Then her other session in the class is to work individually or with a small group more on remediation. BPC approaches many subjects in this manner (individual attention & group learning).

My experience is that Black Pine Circle has created a culture that integrates math into the larger school atmosphere. I have not seen anything that looks like high-pressure learning or geeky math professors. Instead it seems like there are real pros that see math as fun and interesting who are inviting kids to join them. Happy BPC Parent

Change to private for middle school?

Nov 2008

We know the old public/private debate is an old one, but now that we're in it...we are wondering whether middle school is a good time to consider private school (in Berkeley) -- age and development-wise, can private schools offer more guidance and stronger academics so a child is better prepared to navigate Berkeley High? The middle school years seem like critical years, and we're wondering what other parents that have gone through this concluded or learned through the process. Thanks. -making tough decisions

As a Berkeley parent who has gone through the middle school decision process I can give you the following perspective. Our child was in public elementary school in Berkeley, and we found that school to be very good academically. We also kept in mind that if she did not flourish in public school, we would consider private.

For example, if she felt overwhelmed by the boy factor, Julia Morgan middle school (for girls) could have been a great alternative. I understand that many of the families there do private school only for the middle school years. It sounds like a truly wonderful school. Since my daughter was doing fine in public school and was well grounded, we decided to go for public middle school in Berkeley.

The 3 Berkeley middle schools each have excellent academic programs with wonderful teachers. In addition to the academics, music and athletics are quite accessible to all kids. I have heard that, on average, Berkeley middle school kids come to Berkeley High with more advanced math skills than many of the local large private schools.

Do you know any Berkeley high teachers? you could ask them what they think of the skills kids bring from the different middle schools. Do you know parents of kids at the middle schools or high school? I encourage you to ask them directly. There is no one solution for everyone. For our kid, attending a public middles school in Berkeley is giving her lots of wonderful academic challenges and she is having a lot of fun, too (and we are saving money for other things like her cell phone bill - just kidding). BUSD Mom

I have a son in the middle school at St. Paul's Episcopal School in Oakland, although we live in Berkeley. (It's a short drive for us.) We believe that St. Paul's is the perfect place for our son given that we are also hoping to attend Berkeley High. St. Paul's education is geared toward teaching kids to think independently and critically. They actually give two grades on their report cards - one for approach and one for result. There is great emphasis on learning how to tackle problems, how to analyze a situation and how to proceed toward the result. There are also lots of projects designed to get students to work together and develop collaborative skills. I have consistently heard that St. Pauls' graduates are independent thinkers and geared toward problem solving.

I agree that the middle school years are the most critical period in a child's life and that is why we are so pleased with our St. Paul's experience. In addition to high academic standards, the school's corner stones of belief are respect, diversity and service learning. I consistenly see that St. Paul's students are respectful, empathetic, confident in their own abilities and can distinguish between good and bad choices. Societal values are discussed and considered at school and the extensive diversity of students results in a sense of self in students that allows students to be more resilient and less susceptible to outside pressures. I'm confident that this middle school investment will pay off well when my son is ready for high school. Anonymous

I moved my daughter from a highly rated (and beloved) private school to an Oakland Public School last year and cannot rave enough about her year at Crocker Highlands Elementary. The academics were superb, the community involvement was outstanding, and the kids in her class (and their families) are friends I hope she will keep for a lifetime.

She has now moved on to Edna Brewer Middle School with a large group of these same friends and I cannot speak highly enough about this middle school! We have many friends in private middle school who are having an equally good experience,but I can say hands down that I would choose Edna Brewer Middle School again without reservation.

Here is what I love. They seem to really understand 6th graders on a cognitive-social- emotional level and provide a warm, safe, whole child learning environment. They also really seem to understand the parents of middle schoolers and provide (and require) for us a constant understanding of how our child is performing with weekly reports on our child's progress, areas of concern and areas where praise is merited. We have access to all teachers via progress reports and an online program called TeacherEase. The academics are very challenging for my child and I give high praise to her teachers. There is a superb music department with a talented and dedicated music teacher and my daugter has a full class period of music daily plus practice at home. I have always wanted this for my child but could never quite get the time and money together for lessons! The school offers free afterschool programs (sound great but no personal experience).

Finally, I could not be more content with my daughter's social experience. Nope, no bullies, no inappropriate stuff has crossed her path - I keep asking and my daughter keeps replying ''Mom, everyone is really nice!'' This is our neighborhood school and she walks home with a close circle of girls daily just like in the 'good old days' of my youth. Not only have her Crocker friends and their families continued to be a strong presence in her life, but she continues to make great new friends and ties to the Brewer community. We are so pleased and excited to be a part of this new community. Thrilled New Brewer Parent!

Public School Curriculum Woes

Dec 2006

I?m a parent of a child at Kensington My child is happy there, doing great and making friends, But, I have a real problem with the narrowness of the curriculum that teaches to the test and I?m not sure what to do about it.

Despite the limits of the curriculum, I do believe that Hilltop will prepare my child to be a great student and do well in the world because for now she is happy and thriving. Part of me wants her to have a fuller educational experience while part of me believes that it may be in her best interest to keep her in this situation because she may be better able to accept life on life terms. Then, I question whether putting her through what I see as a mediocre educational experience justifies her being able to negotiate life being less than perfect. I?m considering my alternatives in private school. I am not sure if what I consider to be the fuller curriculums in private school will in the long run either make a difference or be better for my child. I do like that Kensington is a neighborhood school, the great group of parents and kids there, the skilled teachers and the serene physical environment. While we may be able to afford private school now, it is a huge amount for two children and it is unclear the financial impact this could have on us.

Had I been able to visit the classrooms ahead of time and seen private school as affordable I never would have picked this school for my daughter. I don?t know how my daughter will feel being pulled out of a situation where she is thriving and if she will be better off in another situation. Now that we are there, I?m not sure what to do. Any advice from others who have had similar concern will be appreciated. Anon

I taught public school for 7 years (3rd and 4th grades) and am now working as an administrator part time. One of the biggest reasons I left teaching (aside from my then 8 month old) was precisely for the reason you brought up. As a graduate of Cal's Teacher Ed program, I had much higher hopes for the public school system, which basically spent 7 years telling me that teaching students to love learning was far less important than teaching students how to score well on the test. The school I just left has such a regimented day now (full of mind- numbing textbook driven instruction) that students don't even have time to read books of their choosing or write during the school day. Sure they learn what writing is on a multiple choice test, but they don't actually get to put it into practice by...writing! In my new job I am hearing from many parents who have unprepared Freshmen in college, mainly because they were never taught how to think critically, research, or question. I also work with kids who can multiply out to the 30th digit but when given a simple story problem ask, ''Do I add, subtract, or what?'' (Thanks Kumon--but that's another tirade.)

When I was teaching I hoped for parents like you - advocates for their children's right to a stimulating, engaging, and cognitively appropriate education. Please complain to anyone and everyone who will listen to you. Please support your teachers as they try to employ best teaching practices despite what the state is shoving down their throats. And when you encounter an innovative, constructivist teacher, please write him or her a note (and cc the principal and school board and supe) expressing how grateful you are your child is not being taught like a drone. The only thing that can change this tragic situation is parents like you with VERY LOUD voices.
Tired Teacher

How about keep her at Kensington and at the same time enroll her in outside programs (which maybe you are already doing), in the subjects you think are lacking. Maybe design your own interdisciplenary program to do with her at home. Download some free homeschool curriculum to supplement/enrich what is going on at school. I'm sure I'm in the minority, but I like Open Court, because it ensures that no basics get inadvertantly skipped; however I definitely look for supplementary and enriching activities to do at home.
--public school parent

Oh, yes. I have been there. My son had a good experience at our local public school, but after 2 years we switched him to a waldorf school because we were very dissatisfied with the school curriculum. With this change, we have had to grieve the things we have lost by not staying in our neighborhood school (mostly a connection to a local community) and we've had many opportunities to rejoice in both the method and the things he is learning at his present school. So, there is no easy answer! My one thought about public school is that I think each teacher interprets the curriculum a bit and some can bring a lot more creativity to the work, so you may cross your fingers that your child will cross paths with some of those teachers over the years. anon

Disregarding the cost, public or private?

Nov 2006

I have seen this question asked a lot of different ways on this site, most have to do with cost. I would actually like some input around the quality of the education regardless of the cost. We are prepared to move and we are prepared to pay for private school. My goal is to provide the best education possible for my daughters to prepare them for college and for life. I want them to have the confidence that they can achieve anything they set their minds to and the discipline to actually achieve it.

My oldest daughter will start kindergarten next year. Like many kids she has areas such as math and verbal skills where she is above her grade level and areas such as social and fine motor skills where she is at grade level. What is important to me is that she is able to continue to build on her strengths (my fear with public schools is that her strengths will suffer while she waits for all students to be at grade level) while developing her weaknesses. Other things important to me are; a nurturing environment that continues to let her love learning through structured and unstructured time, learning how to study/be a student (something I never learned), music, language and athletics, along with the obvious of a good academic foundation of math, reading, science etc. We have taken many school tours (public and private) that have ranged from all free time with little structure to all structure and too many sit down and be quiet rules.

My question to parents in public school, do you feel that your child gets enough personal attention to develop their strengths or do they teach to the lowest common dominator? For parents in private school, do you feel your children are well rounded enough to survive in the ''real'' world? Do they get the attention your money is paying for? Thank you for any and all feedback as we are really struggling to find the right fit for our family
Willing to move for public willing to pay for private

The question of public vs. private school (particularly elementary education) regardless of cost reminds me of the ''if money were no object, how would you live your life?'' question - it gets to your basic beliefs and values and how to make them congruent. In the case of education, it brings up the issue of learning and parenting, and how broadly you define education and the purposes of schooling. So, money aside (which is difficult to do), I'll tell you about my children's private school education over the past six years.

They have: 1. been in small classes with engaged peers (ethnically and economically diverse); 2. had teachers with boundless energy, hands-on strategies, interesting projects and fieldtrips; 3. experienced afterschool staff who make the best summer camp counselors look lazy and boring in comparison;, 4. school grounds with composting and recycling and play structures that do not get vandalized or left with trash after a weekend; 5. a parent community who pitch in when someone is in need, and who volunteer above and beyond the 20 hr/year commitment, and who are commitment to the school's mission; 6. organic,local produce, hot friday lunches served by volunteers that supports financial aid programs; 7. service learning projects in the community that range from planing trees to tutoring to serving meals; 8. administrative leadership that is truly committed to honoring each child's gifts, and who ensure that the school operates from its ambitious mission; and 9. a real love of learning.

This last point is what is most valuable to our family -- how to continue to instill a love of learning, a curiousity in the world around them, and the tools to be smart and engaged citizens. I would recommend you check out Deborah Stipek's book Motivated Minds for a thorough analysis of schools (public and private) and some questions you can ask yourself to determine what would be the best fit for your family. By the way, the school I describe above is Windrush School in El Cerrito (
Happy Windrush Parent

My reply is: "It depends". It depends on which school and it depends on what kind of child you have. My three kids have been in a variety of public and private schools over the years. One went to Berkeley public schools all the way through high school, another the same except for a few years in two different private schools in upper grades. My youngest has just started kindergarten at a private school.

First, it depends on which school you are talking about. There are lousy private schools and lousy public schools. There are excellent public schools and excellent private schools. Your definition of lousy and excellent will be different than mine, so a lot depends on what kind of school you are hoping for, and whether you will recognize it when you see it. Good for you, for visiting a lot of schools.

I only have experince with a handful of Berkeley public schools, and with 3 private schools, plus a few more I've visited. But I would say that two of the private schools my kids went to were inferior in almost every way to the public schools they attended. When I was touring kindergartens last year for my youngest child, I visited a couple of popular private schools that looked exactly like Berkeley public school kindergarten to me, only a little whiter (and in one case, a little shabbier), and I wondered why parents in Berkeley would pay all that money to get basically the same educational experience they could get for free. (Unless they are paying to have wealthier classmates for their kid?) Teachers at the private schools my kids went to were often not as experienced - it was not unusual to see young teachers who a year ago were still undergrads. Pay is lower in most private schools compared to public, so there is often more turnover and fresh-out-of-college teachers abound. Young and energetic is great, but a more experienced teacher has "seen it all" and knows how to approach all different kinds of kids. My kids had some really top notch teachers in public school. Yes, there were a couple of duds but I'd say 85% of the teachers were superior. I also found that coursework in private schools was not as varied, and extras like computers and field trips often not as well funded as in public school. Of course this is not true of all private schools. But that's why I say, it depends on the school. Another factor that is sometimes overlooked is what your experience as a parent is likely to be. Communication from the administration to parents was much worse in two of the private schools my kids went to than in public school. As to individual attention, my experience was that private school, even a small school with very small class size, does not guarantee your child will receive more individual attention than she would in public school. In fact the reverse may be true: many private schools have a particular type of student in mind, and classroom instruction is directed to that type of student. If your child turns out to be not that type of student, you and your child will be very, very unhappy when you find out (like I did) that no accommodation will be made. And I'm not just talking about learning differences. My child's out-of-the-box thinking and creative dress was not only frowned upon but made fun of by staff at one private school. In the public schools, teachers are used to the full range of abilities and personalities, and there you may find more tolerance, more accommodation for differences, and more understanding of all the different ways of learning.

But it also depends on the kid. My youngest is going to private school and probably will continue there till high school. This is partly because I just could not deal with the uncertainty of the BUSD school lottery for K-5 so I went to look at a lot of private schools and fell in love with one particular private school in Oakland. But the decision was also based on my experience with my other two kids. They started public school all bright eyed and bushy tailed, both in the GATE program, ahead of the curve in reading and math, but by 4th grade they both hated school, had stopped doing homework, and were bringing home Cs, Ds, and Fs which continued all the way through high school. There was no more curiosity, no more love of learning. They started to lose track of basic skills as they moved on to larger schools and became lost in the crowd. They never got around to memorizing math basics like multiplication tables, so every year, learning math got harder and harder. They rarely had to write anything -- English class projects often involved drawing pictures because creativity was valued more than the mechanics of sentence and paragraph construction. Somewhere around 4th or 5th grade it became very uncool to be academically focused, and that attitude prevailed throughout middle school and high school. Since they had no internal motivation to do anything beyond the minimum, they floated along, happy socially, but academics were a thing of the past. This does not happen to every kid in public school. Many of my kids' friends did extremely well in BUSD and took full advantage of the great opportunities that exist in public school, especially at Berkeley High, and went on to excellent universities. But my two kids did not, despite tutors, conferences, and lots of involvement from me. One of my kids did not even finish high school. And there are other very nice, bright kids I know who also did not, mostly boys. Maybe this is a failing of the kid, or maybe I should have tried harder myself. But I do wonder whether a different school early on might have made a difference. I don't know which kind of kid I've got in my third child because he's only in kindergarten. Maybe he would be one of the academic-minded, driven kids in public school who thrive there. But I'm not taking the chance. He is in a school where I know that it will always be cool to learn, and be curious, and succeed to the fullest potential that he is able to. He does not have to be the brightest star in the sky, but if he turns out to be not very motivated like his siblings, I know that at least he is in an environment where everyone around him values intellectual curiosity, and where the expectation is that he will work to his best capacity. I want him to get the solid foundation he needs in the early grades so that he will have the tools he needs to take advantage of all that Berkeley High has to offer, if that's where he wants to go. I want him to have a lot of options.

Smart kids can excel and be stimulated in public school. You don't have to worry that your smart child will get a dumbed-down curriculum, at least not in Berkeley. And my kids had a good social experience at the public schools. But for certain kids like mine, maybe a different school would have worked better. So I would say, don't assume private will work better than public or vice versa. Look at the individual schools that you have to choose from, think about the kind of kid you've got, and what your own goals are, and take your best shot. Good luck!

Each grade level my son goes up the workload gets more challenging at his public school. And with the new focus on ''accountability'' and additional money flowing from the state, I see more public school administrators and teachers demanding more of their students--and getting results.

My son is in fourth grade at a W. County public school and he has a young, energetic, and enthusiastic teacher who has guest speakers in the classroom to build a model marsh and talk about the wetlands and then they go on study trips to the wetlands; she requires nightly reading and asks the students to complete a daily reading journal. She also does hands-on science with the kids and the PTA has brought so many ''extras'' into the school that it feels more like the private schools every day--after school sports, rec, and 2nd language programs, a great library, and wonderful field trips to explore the Bay Area.

I find that far from ''dumbing down'' the curriculum, the rigorous CA state standards have raised the bar for all students. My son is continually challenged in his strongest subject (where he is a full grade level above some of his peers) and the school really helps/supports him in the areas where he needs extra help.

His teacher has excellent classroom management skills and runs a very structured and orderly class where all the kids are expected to be quiet, respectful toward each other, and polite. They also have a lot of fun together. I think this might be why we are starting to see kids trickle in from private and parochial schools--beginning in 2nd grade.

We don't pay private school tuition but a lot is expected of parents, teachers, and students. The burden of fundraising is certainly heavy and, as homeowners, we pay more in parcel taxes and bond measures to support the public schools. But I want good schools for my own children and for all the kids in my neighborhood and if that's what it takes,
I'm willing to do it.

Just like with any decision that is tailored to the needs of your children, I would suggest you make arrangements to sit in classes at schools you would consider for your child. Kindergarten as well as higher grades. From what I have heard, the middle school years are the hardest for kids to adjust to, so you may consider looking there as well. In both the private and public schools. I believe you will know what you are comfortable with, based on the needs of your child and your personal standards. I have been so very happy in the public schools in Lamorinda, I encourage you to look there as an option.
Happy public school parent

You ask an excellent question. For our family, this very difficult decision boiled down to basically one thing-- where did we think our daughter would be the happiest AND where would she get the strongest foundation for learning and the LOVE OF LEARNING.

Our Oakland public school is one of the top three in the district with regard to test scores, but I was non-plussed by the overwhelming drive to score high on the STAR tests, the bureaucracy of public school (I work in education and am troubled by the waste, the regulations, the dance of the lemons, etc.), and the PTA president lamenting that she would put her kids in private school if she could afford it.

We toured several private schools (many were less appealing to us than our local public school), looked at moving to ''a better district'' or even out-of-state, and ultimately decided on a private school that has been an amazing fit for my child and our family. She wakes up on the weekends wanting to go to kindergarten, the class is a diverse mix of kids with families of all different backgrounds, and they are learning amazing things in a way that is not limited by state testing requirements. They also have fabulous classroom assistants, an amazing array of resources (books, learning materials, math manipulatives, science equipment, etc.) in a clean, well- maintained facility. Our local public school still has a number of classes in portables that have been there ''since I was a kid'', as one father in his early forties proudly mentioned at an open house event at the school.

Money is an enormous concern for us, but we ultimately decided that our children's education is a priority for us. If they can get a good, strong foundation and be at a place that instills a love of learning from the start, then we feel we have received something priceless. We don't care if it's at a private or a public school, just that it happens. I think another BPN parent wrote that if their child gets a strong academic foundation and slowly but steadily develops a love for learning up until high school, then they will have the skills they need to navigate the courses, et al. at a public OR private high school and later on, university. That's our plan for now.

I wish you the very best in this process. My final recommendation is that you trust your gut when it comes to your child's education.
fellow parent

I think you ask some really good questions -- we have chosen public schools thus far for our kids because we think that the public school environment will encourage them to make the kinds of choices about their lives that we would hope for. We hope they will choose careers that focus not so much on how to make the most money, but on how to do meaningful work that gives something back to the world, and allows them time to be with their families and friends. We hope they will focus less on personal success and more on community, the quality of their lives, and taking responsibility for their actions in the world. We hope they will strive to think about how their actions affect others, and make responsible choices. I guess we think that public school will encourage our kids to lead the lives we strive to lead, and instill the messages we believe in
happy idealist

Forgive me for starting this response with a little ire: I am so tired of the assumption that if your kids are in public school they do not need, or are not getting academiic challenge! I keep hearing ''I could not send my child to public because they are too smart!'' Please - many of us in the public schools have children that are well above grade level, and that need academic challenge! I have two children at Chabot, both who are above grade level - like many of their peers. While the public schools are working to ensure that every child is at grade level that does not mean they only teach to the grade level. These are classrooms of bright, eager, excited students who are getting a fabulous education in the classroom along with art, music, gardening, technology, spanish, pe, etc.... every week! Yes, there are some students who are not at grade level who need extra attention, and yes there are some who get bored at times, but we have had wonderful teachers who are able to balance that and make sure that everybody is getting what they need - especially when you have active parents who are working with the teachers to understand what that is! My children are not only getting a good academic experience, they are learning to work in an environment that looks like the world around them - where not everything is perfect and not everyone is just like them.
Public School Parent

We struggled with the same questions you did in considering whether to place our children in public or private schools. I really cannot tell anyone what is right for their particular child and certainly don't want to start a general forum on private v. public.

We visited many public and private schools in the Berkeley area. I strongly suggest that you observe in the upper grades to get a good feel for the academic environment. Many kindergartens, especially in the fall, make a gradual transition from nursery school to kindergarten and so your visit may not be an accurate snapshot of the kindergarten curriculum. Ask for written curriculum guides to get an idea of the academic foundation they provide.

Ultimately we chose a private school (Tehiyah Day School, a non-affiliated Jewish school) precisely because we felt that for our children the academic environment, the emphasis on values education and the Tehiyah community were worth the financial sacrifice. Although we are not religiously observant, to our surprise we fell in love with the school. (The range of observance is very broad and my children have had classmates who were not Jewish). Our children have made wonderful friends and through them we have made good friends that are an important part of our family's life.

The teachers and the curriculum are impressive and the thought and care provided for each child is touching. In private schools most if not all the kids come from nursery school and so academic preparedness is pretty uniform. We felt that in public schools my son (who was a quiet child) would be overlooked because he was at or above grade level and there would be other children who would need more guidance and help.

Our son was an easy student until third grade when became a ''problem' in the classroom. We were flummoxed by the change and became angry with him because he was getting into constant trouble. His third grade teacher suggested he get a neuro-psych evaluation. To our complete astonishment he was diagnosed with some very subtle learning differences. I fully credit this awesome teacher who nurtured my son and who recognised the difference between ''bad boy behaviour'' and his really painful internal struggle. It was precisely because this teacher was able to give him her full attention that he was diagnosed. She couldn't have been more caring and thoughtful.

The school (head, teachers and school psychologist) met with us regularly (usually every 6 weeks) over the course of his stay at Tehiyah developing and evolving his lesson plans. Because of their care and hardwork our son did extremely well at Tehiyah and was admitted to several private high schools. Ultimately he decided to attend Berkeley High and is now a junior. (I have to put a plug in for Tehiyah's athletic program. My son (not athletic) had never touched a basketball but in 7th grade decided to tryout for the j.v. team. The kids and the coach encouraged and supported him and in 8th grade he was voted most inspirational player by his teammates!)

We had our son evaluated by BUSD before entering high school he was deemed not eligible for help by the district. He's getting some outside help with his classes.

We find that the Tehiyah kids at Berkeley High are well prepared for the ''real world'', both academically and socially. He has retained his close Tehiyah friends (many are at BHS). Upon graduation they go on to great academic institutions. (His freshmen friends from Tehiyah are at Harvard, U. of Chicago, Northwestern, Haverford, UCSC, etc.) Because Tehiyah also emphasises creating thoughtful morally-concious graduates, we feel confident in our son's ability to make the right choices out in the ''real world''.

I have 2 other children at Tehiyah , an 8th grader and a 6th grader. Although my 3 kids are very different from each other, with very different learning styles, they have had a great education and, as if not more important, are genuinely cared for by their teachers and peers. We feel that they have educational opportunities that have been really extraordinary. My 8th grader just came back from a week in Washington,D.C. and spent a morning in conversation with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg! (I am so jealous.) Our daughter is going to BHS next year and I feel totally confident that she'll succeed there too. Our children also played soccer, baseball, ballet, took music lessons, etc. so they've made friends outside their private school niche. I wish you luck in your decision.

Yes - in my kid's school, my high achieving and my average public school children get the challenges they need in class, and it helps that I communicate with and work as a team with my kids' teachers. Differential teaching is working at our public school. My kids do build their strengths - at different rates, at different times, in different subject areas...and that is normal. Our public school is a respectful and safe environment in an east bay city. The teachers expect the kids to do their in-school work and do their homework. Upper grade teachers emphasize how it is the student's responsibility to study and get the weekly homework packet done. The school is also a rich learning environment with weekly dance, music and art classes offered during the school day. Science is taught on its own and is well-integrated with other subjects, as well. Kids get plenty of running around time at the 2 or 3 recess periods each day.
anonymous public school parent

I was intrigued by the list posted by the parent at a private school and so far, here's how the public school we have been at for 6 years stacks up They have:

''1. been in small classes with engaged peers (ethnically and economically diverse);'' It Depends on how you define ''small'' but my kindergarten-age daughter is in a small class (under 20) and my son is in a class of 25 (4th grade)

''2. had teachers with boundless energy, hands-on strategies, interesting projects and fieldtrips;'' With one exception, I would agree that this has been the same at our public school. We have been very fortunate to have wonderful teachers and my kids are both excited about school.

''3. experienced afterschool staff who make the best summer camp counselors look lazy and boring in comparison;'' I am a SAHM so I don't utilize the after school program but I don't think our after school staff are quite this energetic. They are competent but not that perky.

''4. school grounds with composting and recycling and play structures that do not get vandalized or left with trash after a weekend;'' We have a brand new school generously funded by taxpayers and a crack team of janitors. We have also won recycling awards. I would say this is comparable.

''5. a parent community who pitch in when someone is in need, and who volunteer above and beyond the 20 hr/year commitment, and who are commitment to the school's mission;'' This is absolutely the same in good public schools, particularly those where a lot of the kids from the neighborhood are attending. I probably volunteer a minimum of 20-40 hours per month at our local public school and I see many other moms (and dads) pitch in to help. We also have an informal support network going if someone has a new baby or is at home with a sick kid, they just call another parent and ask for help. I have been the recipient and the provider of this kind of assistance.

''6. organic,local produce, hot friday lunches served by volunteers that supports financial aid programs;'' I don't find W. County district-provided lunches all that appetizing so we make our 2 kids' lunches every day, that way we know they are getting healthy food.

''7. service learning projects in the community that range from planing trees to tutoring to serving meals;'' Our student Council raises money and does a warm clothing drive every year for a local homeless shelter. They also jumped in to provide relief for Hurrican Katrina. I think service learning is pretty standard in public schools now.

''8. administrative leadership that is truly committed to honoring each child's gifts, and who ensure that the school operates from its ambitious mission; and

9. a real love of learning.'' I believe this is also true. Our administrators are committed to ensuring that each child gets a good education, whether they are gifted in some areas, average, or have learning disabilities or physical handicaps. Whatever level they are at, they try to bring them up a level. They also have many, many resources for kids who truly are struggling--much more than you will find in the private schools.

''This last point is what is most valuable to our family -- how to continue to instill a love of learning, a curiousity in the world around them, and the tools to be smart and engaged citizens.'' Ditto for us as a public school family. We are a modest-income family living in the Bay Area so the money we save on tuition allows us to take the kids to a lot of local arts and culturural stuff. We are also able to afford the occasional family vacations. The money we save on tuition also enables us to afford theafterschool enrichment provided on our public school campus for a fee--music lessons, art, dance, etc.

I personally think the gap between good public schools and private schools is narrowing but it really depends on the school
-happy public school parent

My son was in private school for 5 years. We moved to Pleasant Hill and decided to put him in a public school. It was a complete disaster. Even though my son started 4th grade well prepared, he fell so much behind that he was recommended for summer school for both math & writing (a large percentage of the class was recommended for summer school as well). There were various reasons. The class size was large, 30 kids, so my son had difficulty concentrating. There was a lot of chaos in the class and it was never quiet. Also, I find it very difficult and sad when all the children (in all of California) have to learn the same material at the same time in the same manner. This ?one size fits all? system does not work for many children! My son fell behind when he did not understand the material and the way it was being taught en when we questioned it, all we would get was ?this is the fourth grade curriculum and you should know how to do it.? Also, the teacher constantly made him feel bad because he came from a private school: ?didn?t they teach you cursive over there? was said on a daily basis. There was a lot of prejudice regarding private schools, and this was shared by the entire administration. ?Private school is inferior because the teachers do not have credentials and they do their own thing because they do not test?, is the feeling every one had. When things were going south, we were sent to the school counselor who could not even help us with a recommendation because they told us that since private schools do their own testing, they have no idea what those kids learn over there. Finally, my son was bullied every day. He had stomachaches and migraines on a daily basis. He even made his own pepper spray the last week of school to protect himself. I have asked many times the policy on bullying, but never got a straight answer. Despite the fact that I pay a large mortgage in a so-called ?better school district,? my son is back in private school in Oakland. We drive every day through the tunnel, but it is worth it. Class size is small, around 16 kids, a diverse student and staff population. Teachers and students respect each other. There is little bullying, and when it happens, it is talked about and nipped in the butt. My son?s health problems are slowly disappearing with each and every day. All children will learn when they are in a supportive and safe environment. In the end, it is all about the fit. You can have a bad fit in private school and a bad fit in public school. However, children?s learning styles can vary so differently, that I find it hard to believe that a ?once size fits all? type of public education is beneficial to our children. It certainly wasn't for mine!
happy in private school - tried public

As a family with two full-time working parents and a child in first grade, private school has absolutely been worth it so far for a reason I don't think has been mentioned yet, which is the length of the school day. In our school district, our child would have been in kindergarten for three hours per day, while at her private school, kindergarten was six hours. In first grade her school day is seven hours, which I believe is still a couple of hours longer than in public school in our district. She goes to on-site after-school care at her school, and we've been happy with it -- it's a nice opportunity for her to play with her friends and do some fun activities (cooking, chess, tennis, etc.) that aren't part of the regular school day -- but the bottom line for me is that school, not after-school, is the dominant part of her day. Educationally I think her hours in school are at least as good as they would be in the public school, and there's so many more of them. They have time to do a lot of things that I don't see how they could fit into a shorter school day (music, science lab, computer lab, library, PE, art). Nobody at my house wants to be a stay-at-home parent, and I feel like with private school, we can ''afford'' to go to work!
Working Mom

One poster mentioned that they felt in public schools there is a?one size fits all? philosophy and while this may be true for some public, private, or parochial schools, I have not found this to be true of the public school my two children attend. Yes, there are minimum grade level standards that each student is expected to master. If they do not, parents are informed which areas students are struggling in and offered resources or suggestions for how to address those areas.

In the five years I have been a public school parent, I have never heard a teacher suggest that it was the fault of the previous school a child attended or ''blame'' anyone for areas that my children are struggling in. Instead, we have developed good working partnerships with all our classroom teachers and this has helped our kids improve academically, socially, and in other ways. If and when a child is really struggling (far below grade level) in a single subject or multiple areas, teachers will refer children for testing and additional services are offered. These can include small group pullouts, one-to-one referrals for private tutoring, or free after school academic tutoring. My son's fourth grade teacher took nine student study trips with her class last year. She also worked hard to support a science program so that elementary school students could do hands-on science experiments with college students. We have a wonderful music and arts program that supports the core curriculum too. I feel that all of my childrens' teachers have very high expectations for every student and they get results.

To say you tried one public school classroom in one school in California and then decided public school doesn't work for you is like biting into a rotten apple and deciding that you'll never eat apples again.

Is private Kindergarden worth the cost?

Oct 2006

I realize the private vs public school quandary has been hashed over many times but I have a more specific question regarding this general topic. There is little doubt in my mind that the very best private school is better than even the very best public school for what I want for my children, i.e. rigorous academics, small classes and avoidance of disruptive behavioral problems in the classroom. The essential question is whether the cost of private school education (~15k/yr) is really worth it in the first few years of elemtary school? In other words, if you believe that private schools indeed offers significant advantages over public, how critical are the first few years of schooling? Given my finances, I was hoping that I could send my child to public school in Berkeley for K-3rd grade and then send her to private school in 4th grade when academics become relatively more important and academic variability between students becomes wider. I get the sense that many families start out in private school at Kindergarden so as to avoid the possibility of not getting into their school of choice later on, e.g. 4th or 5th grade. Now that I have to decide which school to send my child next year, I'm starting to wonder whether my line of reasoning is flawed. I would be especially curious to get feed back from teachers and/or parents who have been in a position to see the effect of early school environment on their child's academic development.
confused parent

As a parent with 2 kids in public school, I think you are far better off putting your private school tuition into a savings account for college and giving the local public school a try. We started out in our local public school with some of the same assumptions--we'll try it for the first few years with the idea of moving to something better when our kids get older. What we didn't factor in was how connected we would feel to the school community, how rigorous the academics are, and the close friendships our children would develop after a few years. If you haven't toured public schools in awhile, you may be shocked to find out just how good they are--even the districts that aren't thought of as being the ''best''. Kids are incredibly resiliant and it's good for them to meet/interact with children from different backgrounds, it's much better preparation for life than some of the ''best'' private schools. My public school kids are very polite and academically-oriented. On our block, the kid who goes to the really expensive and exclusive private school is the bully of the neighborhood and has the hardest time making friends.

I would encourage you to take lots of tours and keep an open mind
public school mom

Hi, I believe I have some experience to share on this since I have 4 kids - 3 olde girls one college grad, one jr in college one sr in high sch and a 22 mo son. The girls all went to private schools and now I am considering where to send my son. Initially i looked at private because my daughters had fall birthdays and public schools would mean delaying k a year and starting them at 5 almost 6. PRivate schools do not always have the same fall birthday deadlines and have some flex but i learned they strongly advise delaying a year as well. I then realized I had other cosiderations to make in the decsion making process. Even if the age issue is not one you face the considerations and lessons i learned on our kindergarten search may be helpful and i would be happy to talk more (I learned more than I could possibly relate in this email! But my daughters all had 50% scholarships for private school and the oldest ended up with a 50% scholarship and grad of Harvard. The middle is premed at UCSB and the youngest girl at Head Royce. Since I will be starting the K search again for my son, I would be glad to share more of my experiences if you are interested. Brenda

I would say that, if you feel private school is better, it is important to start going to private school in kindergarten. You seem to think that the academic gap will get bigger as the school years go on but I think it is the opposite. In kindergarten you will have children that have had 2+ years of private preschool and kids that have had no preschool at all. Some will be able to read and some will not know their colors, alphabet, etc. To me, the time when public school might be acceptable to someone who would otherwise choose private is high school. Supposing your child has had 8 years of a good private school and done well there, they would be eligible for all the advanced, college-prep type classes at a school like Berkeley High. Finally, practically for you, you should just consider the public school your child would attend and the private school they would attend. Observe both classes as soon as you can and then you will have a better idea of what the differences are anon

We were in the same dilemma and really questioned whether private school before the 4th grade was really necessary. The choice was made for us when we did not get into any of the public schools we wanted. So we took the plunge with private. We have been very happy with going private and the school is amazing. Academically my child is doing work above that of her cousin who is a grade ahead in public school. Socially the school is a close knit community and very diverse. We couldn't be happier with the choice we made but we do pay dearly for tuition. Academics vary by school (public and private!) so look very closely at what is most important for you and your family when you decide. Best of luck in your search. - RK

For me, YES! Do I kids feel my ''children are well rounded enough to survive in the ''real'' world? Do they get the attention your money is paying for?? YES. We chose Tehiyah Day School for our children because it offers a warm and caring learning environment in which our two sons (kindergarten and 3rd grade) are learning and growing by leaps and bounds. Along with providing a solid academic education, art, music and other classes, Tehiyah has a welcoming community that has become very important to our family. We chose Tehiyah because this is what is offers and offers so beautifully. When I began our school search for our oldest son a few years ago, I discovered that it was important to choose a school that works not only for my oldest son but for our whole family. It is also very important to me that my children be educated in a loving environment that teaches them to love learning and creating. I wanted them to be sheltered and nurtured at this early stage of life, so that when they do go out into the ?real? world, they feel a solid foundation inside them. I feel that Tehiyah is contributing to a strong foundation for my children. From the first day each of them started kindergarten, when the entire school welcomed the incoming kindergarteners with a song, our sons have felt included, cared for and received by the community and their teachers, as is true for our whole family. Tehiyah is also committed to creating a healthy environment for children to develop real friendships. Tehiyah?s approach to kindergarten offers just the kind of balance between academic learning and play we were looking for, which means most of the learning at this age takes place through play. And they are learning some wonderful skills! I didn?t realize how important it was to me for my sons to have a Jewish education outside of what they were getting at home....until my oldest son came home from kindergarten a few years ago singing Hebrew songs and enthusiastically unveiling the challah he made. My children are getting a rich experience of Jewish culture and education with an active recognition of the diversity that exists within the Jewish world. To me, this is very unique and important. Go see for yourself. And, good luck!

I never knew how difficult it would be to decide on a Kindergarten for my child when we were presented with this issue last year. I really thought I would send my kid to public school because I didn't think of us as an, albeit stereotypical, private school family. That said, I researched all the public and private schools that I thought would be a good fit for my child. This is a difficult process because the kind of child you have when they've just turned 4 is not necessarily the same child at 5. So how do you know? I think the best answer is to go with your gut. I was daunted by the cost of private school, but ultimately chose private because I felt what this particular school had to offer my kid was the best balance of what I was looking for. The teachers are engaged and enthusiastic. The student body is diverse (for a private school). Music and Art are priorities. Spanish, gardening, math, science and social awareness are just some of the subjects they engage in. Community involvement is integral. As to the public first, private later question, I believe that these first few years are the most important in helping your child develop a sense of who they are, building confidence and self-esteem that will prepare them for the later years that will be more challenging academically as well as socially. Will I be able to afford private school through 8th grade? I hope so, but if I can't, at least I know I did what I could to help build a solid foundation for my child so that if we put her in public school later, she will be well prepared. That's my stance. But the bottom line is, a good education costs....a lot. Whether it's in money or time, or both. Those that save on tuition have money left over for other enrichments, lessons and the like. Private schools have those enrichments included in their curriculum. So in many ways, it's six of one, half a dozen of the other. The one advatage I think that private has over public is the ability to deal with discipline and conflict resolution head on. At our school, this priority is at the top of the list. And what kid won't thrive in an environment where they feel safe and secure? I'm glad I made the decision I did. And the sweat and tears I shed over making the decison, so far has been worth it.
And our school? Black Pine Circle
yes, it's worth it

I disagree that the teachers are any more engaged and enthusiastic in private school. My mother taught at a private school and was dedicated and passionate. I attended a private school and had great teachers. My children attend a W. County public school and their teachers are top notch. The public school we attend puts a high priority on the visual and performing arts. We as a parent community raise a lot of money to be able to pay an art teacher to come to our school and provide each student with painting, sculpture, and drawing instruction. We also pay a music teacher so every child receives music instruction beginning in kindergarten. Upper grade students can join a drama club. We don't offer an ''immersion'' program as some public schools do but do offer Spanish classes after school. We have a school garden, a wonderful library, a very challenging math curriculum and language arts curriculum, and interactive hands-on science.

The student council chooses one project to raise money for each year and the entire school participates. We also have anti-bullying programs and ''buddy'' programs in place which pair up older mentors with younger students for special class projects. Our public school has strict discipline policies and because our hardworking staff can't be everywhere on a large campus, parents are encouraged to step in any time they see potential problems before or after school (esp. rough play that might lead to fighting or teasing that might lead to bullying). My children both feel safe and secure in their public elementary school and we have a close-knit parent community.

There are only slight differences between a good public school with strong parent involvement and a private school in terms of the academics, social environment, parent community, and approach to education.

The biggest differences between private and public schools are the student demographics (fewer minorities and low-income kids attend private school), the access to free special education services (in most private schools, parents are obliged to pay for these on their own), and, of course, the tuition.

Worried that public kindergarten will be boring

Jan 2006

My daughter absolutely loves her preschool--so much that on weekends, she asks us when she can go back to school! I am concerned because I have heard that kindergarten can be a tough year because the state mandated curriculum isn't great-- too much required at too young an age resulting in lots of memorization drills. I've also heard that for children who have attended preschool, it can be boring due to the kids who haven't attended learning to catch up with skills such as standing inline, raising hands, etc. I'd like to hear from parents about these issues and how they affected your child's love of school and learning. Was there anything you found useful to improve the situation? Any helpful advice will be appreciated. anon

I was worried about the same thing, but my daughter is absolutely not bored in kindergarten. There is so much to learn and enjoy! The structure of the curriculum has turned out to be a good thing because it makes clear the concepts she has not caught onto quickly (such as some math reasoning skills). On the rare occasion she says school was awful or boring, upon further inquiry it turned out school was awful because her socks bunched up in her shoes or her hair braids came undone. --bright child loves public kindergarten

Private vs. Public School and Teaching to the Test

Nov 2005

Hi, We know that these question got asked before, but the most recent post on this subject was early 2004. Could we possibly get more recent opinions on the subject of private vs. public school? Can our children still get ''good'' education from our public schools? Can our children learn to be independent thinkers, to critically analyze situations, to solve problems logically, to express themselves artistically, to grow up to be good members of our society (with understanding of responsibility, honesty, respect, tolerance, etc.) if we send them to public schools (and we do our part at home as good parents should)? What does it mean when parents say that they send their kids to a private school because they believe public schools tend to ''teach to the test''? What does ''teaching to the test'' actually mean? What major factors differentiate private schools from public schools, especially for public and privates schools in Albany/Berkeley/Kensington/El Cerrito? Have schools changed very much since a couple of years ago (when public schools were considering eliminating the K-3 class size reduction and there was a teacher/parent uproar?)

By the way, we live in Kensington and our child is now in a private school. We are considering the possibility of moving our child to Kensington Hilltop for financial reasons. Of course, our questions are focused on Kensington Hilltop as our public school choice for the time being. However, we are also thinking ahead about Albany High School and Berkeley High School. Choosing a school is such a stressful undertaking. We appreciate any insights you have. Thank you. Stressed Out Parents

I did a combination of private and public schooling and we decided to do public for my son beginning in kindergarten. He is enjoying his 4th year in a public school (he started in kindergarten) and while there are many ''assessments'' and he did take a standardized test for the 1st time in 2nd grade, I don't feel that it has negatively affected his passion for learning or his overall enjoyment of school. He scored in the 100% percentile in math and loves science. He is not a confident reader but the school is working with him to to help him and I see much improvement. He also loves his teachers, some of whom we have developed friendships with outside of school.

His public school does emphasize math and reading as their ''core curriculum'', both of which are tested. Beginning in upper grades the standards-based curriculum incorporates science which is also tested. However, there are many opportunities for students to take art classes, music instruction, and do student study trips while at school. These things are not tested but add to the overall richness of the school experience. Most of these are subsidized by parent fundraising.

From my perspective, private schools offer parents an opportunity to feel somewhat ''insulated'' from social problems. That is not the case in public schools where you are obliged to mix with families that may not share your parenting style or values. Our family income (approx. $75K/year) would probably enable us to send one child to private but not both so that was a factor too. We may do private for middle school or may not depending on where our local middle school is when we are ready to take that step. We also put money away every year into a college savings account which we couldn't do if we paid for private school.

I hear other parents on my son's soccer team agonize about the 10% hike in tuition every year for their private school and feel sorry for them. Every year, a few parents end up transferring into public because they ''hit the wall'' financially. Also, there are standardized tests in private schools too but you won't see the results published in the local newspaper. For me, public schools in partnership with supportive parents do a good job preparing kids for college and for life. Private schools do an excellent job preparing kids for college but don't give kids as many ''life skills''. I see benefits and pitfalls in both. W. County public school parent

This is an interesting question and I come into the discussion from several perspectives: a public school teacher who has taught at El Cerrito HS, Pinole Valley HS, Berkeley HS, and now Clayton Valley HS. I also taught for 3 years at Maybeck HS which bills itself as a college prep. school.

I hold a teaching credential although a credential is not required by many private schools. The private school I taught at had very little knowledge of how to accommodate ''differently abled students.'' I also raised some hackles trying to increase training on issues of sexual harassment. On the other hand, the small class sizes allowed me to do more detailed projects with the students. I was responsible for about 45 students per semester. Each test could have an essay question on it. The students wrote a 15 page research paper and presented a power point based on it. The Health Science class I taught was far more liberal and far ranging than what I am allowed to teach in a public school. For example, for years someone from Good Vibrations Education Division visited and did a talk with visual aids. A parent who worked for Planned Parenthood supplied me with condoms to distribute to students. We were able to dis! cuss gender issues much more openly and the school had an openly gay and lesbian population among both students and faculty. The public school I teach at now is much more conservative. However, I taught to the state standards equally in both schools and the students probably learned a similar amount of information, did labs, had to analyse results, etc. At my present school, I am responsible for grading close to 200 students, teaching 6 classes of about 32 students each. It is taking me longer to get to know my students and I cannot give them essay exams. The projects I assign are less detailed and more superficial, but the students learn the same skills in public speaking and power point presentation. Instead of just lecturing as I often did in private school, I need to divide the period into a number of varied activities. If your student is bright and can work in a large classroom, they can probably achieve a higher G! PA at a quality public school. For example, BHS offers many AP courses. The private school may be more challenging in curriculum, I don't know if they really can get into any better colleges. One of my students at the private school was very bitter because he had a 2.4 at the private school whereas he felt like he would have had a 4.0 at a public school. When he was trying to get into his first choice college, he may have had thoughts about whether his parents' money was best used for a private high school.

I have two elementary school age children so I am interested in these questions. Disclaimer: I can only speak to the schools in which I have taught. kathryn

My daughter has been in public school in a ''bad'' district (west contra costa) for nine years. The schools are not really bad, or I would not send her there. About teaching to the tests. I have never noticed any effort to prepare the kids to take standardized tests. However, each grade level does have a series of educational goals (thank god) that are to be met. The goals are supposed to be in line with what is being tested. The kids use standardized textbooks, some which I have seen in use in private schools. Some teachers deviate from the textbook.I think what people mean by ''teaching to the test'' is that they think the teaching is regimen! ted and basic. Although I think there is less room for creativity on the part of teachers in public school, I have seen quite a bit of creativity. In 8th Grade science, my daughter's class spends most of the class time doing hands-on labs. I only started doing that in chemistry in 10th or 11th grade. Her tests cover advanced concepts that I never learned in high school at all. She also had an outstanding art class which integrated art concepts and history with painting, ceramics and other forms of art. Some of the kids had their artwork in a show at the Richmond Art Center and I was impressed with the work. In the drama class, the kids write their own script and work on a performance which is given at the end of the year. Lots of English lessons sneak into scriptwriting. Also, the kids experience public speaking which is helpful in any endeavor in life.

If you are considering public school, I suggest that you talk to some parents who have kids in the school you are thinking about. If you don't know any, find out about the PTA and make contacts that way. Unfortunately, most of those who wring their hands about public schools have dismissed them without making any inquiry, other than, perhaps, test scores, which is a whole different subject. Suffice to say, if your kid is testing well, it doesn't really matter how other kids are testing. If your kid is not testing high but doing well in school, then maybe he/she doesn't perform well on standardized tests. No big deal-- -that's what Kaplan is for before taking the SAT. glad you asked

I have a child who is doing well in a BUSD elementary school and have taught in BUSD and in a private school. Your choice of school needs to be determined by your values and by your child. The advantages of the public schools are that all the teachers are credentialed/trained, they know how to work with a diverse group of children, you will meet people in your community, your child will get to know students from a broad range of families, and your child will be aware of their relatively advantaged situation (since you have the wherewithal to choose). You will also have money to spend on summer enrichment, and afterschool classes as your child gets older. My bright child (GATE, etc.) has had a number of teachers who have recognized her strengths, and allowed her to take the curriculum a step farther. I have also know children with learning difficulties who were excluded from the private schools where they attended the early grades, and after moving to public school were able to get the services they needed.

The disadvantage/advantage of the public school is that your child will need to learn to share materials and a culture with children from many backgrounds, including children from at-risk situations. We are working with my daughter on being accepting of other children, while staying assertive about her own needs and values.

The set curriculum of the public school is also an advantage/disadvantage depending on your point-of-view. For example, the teacher is unlikely to be able to devote weeks to involved social studies or science projects. On the other hand, you know that when your child arrives in high school the will have the prerequisites to succeed. Some students moving from private K-8 schools to high school, have difficulty with both the social and academic demands. My child, has often come home and been excited about topics or skills they are learning in her class; so my sense is that many of the teachers are able to balance the ''fun'' projects/topics with meeting the state curriculum. The advantage of a private school is that your child will be in an environment where the other children are from similar backgrounds (they may differ in race at the more diverse private schools, but they will rarely differ significantly in class background.) This means your child may get more attention, depending on the teacher. Some private schools are able to accomodate children with learning issues smoothly (but be sure to check, because learning issues sometimes don't become apparent until 2nd or 3rd grade.) Private schools provide greater opportunity to specialize whether in art, music, language, or religion. My impression is that the parent communities at private schools are also closer, which for many is an advantage. Visit schools and think about your child's personality. Where would they be comfortable? Where would it be a stretch but worthwhile? Don't make a choice out of fear of the public schools. anon

Wow that's a great set of questions. Here are some thoughts to a few of them.

Question: Can our children still get ''good'' education from our public schools?

Answer: An emphatic "yes." Having visited dozens of schools in the East Bay, I can tell you that thousands of students are learning to be independent thinkers, to understand civic responsibility and to love learning. Parents do and are playing a critical role by reading to their children and by creating "teachable moments" at the dinner table. Equally importantly, parents can let each child know that learning is important and that s/he can succeed at school.

Question: What does ''teaching to the test'' actually mean?

Answer: "Teaching to the test" can mean either teaching students the content (e.g. the facts and skills) that will be on the test OR teaching students test-taking skills (e.g. how to approach a multiple choice question that follows a 3-paragraph essay). In the past few years, the state of California has changed the test that measures student achievement and school success. Currently, the California Standards Tests (CST) are the tests given the most weight (or credence) by the government. The CSTs measure if students have learned the content (i.e. algebra skills, writing techniques) described in the California Content Standards. As a result, local public school teachers who "teach to the test" by teaching students the content that will be on the CST are helping their students. [For more clarification or for guidelines on how to distinguish "good teaching to the test" from "bad," contact me directly.]

Question: What major factors differentiate private schools from public schools, especially for public and privates schools in Albany/Berkeley/Kensington/El Cerrito?

Answer: When comparing schools, you can look at - Student outcomes - Educational approach - School size and structure - School norms, culture and religion - Cost There is tremendous diversity among private schools as well as between public and private schools. Before visiting and comparing schools, you may want to decide what type of school environment will be best for your children and for you. Then, you can compare public and private schools. Debbie

Middle school: private or public?

June 2005

Our 6th grade daughter has attended a small private school for the past seven years. She now is making the decision of where does she go for middle school. Does she continue at the small private school, does she go to a charter school that we, her parents like, or does she go to the large public middle school (900 pupils) in our district? In two years She will be attending the public high school of 2,000 pupils in our district. Any advice on how she can make the best decision would be greatly appreciated! Thank you
Needing Sound Advice

In response to ''Needing Sound Advice'' in the June 9th newsletter, who was wondering whether to keep his/her daughter in private school or send her to a public middle school:

I have a daughter at King and a son who is just finishing at a private school and is moving to Berkeley High next year. I also am a writer coach (an in-school tutor) at Longfellow, and BHS, which is to say that I have some experience with the work the students are doing in English, at least, and have witnessed some of what goes on in the classroom.

I've only experienced one classroom at Longfellow, but the teacher was spending more than half her time just trying to keep some semblance of order. She was ignored by most of the class, ''students'' were answering cell phones, having conversations with each other, getting up and walking around, sleeping, leaving the classroom without asking permission, fighting; you get the idea. Essentially no learning was happening.

There are discipline issues with some of the kids at King but the classroom environment I've seen there is much more conducive to learning, and I'm reasonably happy with the education my daughter is receiving.

I think King is OK, otherwise my advice would be to keep her in private school until she enters BHS. She'll be better equipped to succeed.

Finally, moving up to Berkeley High is also, I now think, problematic. Though my son will be there next year, I'm beginning to regret the decision to send him. My thinking is precipitated by the fact that that they've restructured the entrance procedure for the college-preparatory track (called ''Academic Choice'') so that, though 100% of the kids in West Berkeley were admitted, less than 30% of the applicants in the Hills were admitted. They scaled back the size of the program considerably to achieve this "socioeconomic balance." (There's an article on this topic in the most recent BHS Newsletter , which contains a list to the actual statistics.)

Last year, anyone who applied could participate.

Leaving your child in a private school will give you more options when it comes time to consider high school.


Editor Note: several people wrote in to correct the statement above about Academic Choice. See Is Academic Choice the College Prep program at BHS?

Anxiety about choosing a kindergarten

Oct 2003

I need an advice to decide what to do with my son's Kindergarten next year.

My son lives in a district of Madera school in El Cerrito. While we heard very good thing about Madera, I am considering applying for a transfer to Kensington Hilltop school since most of his preschool firends will go there, but none of them will to Madera. In order to make a decision I wanted to visit both schools, but found out that they do not allow any visits. They have open house days in Februrary and March.

While thinking about public Kindergarten, we also wanted to visit private kindergartens in our area too. They do allow us to visit starting from October. However, the last day to turn in an application is in January, which is before public school's open house. Off course it does not guarrantee our acceptance to a private school, nor do we know yet if we can afford it or not. However in order to consider it we still need to turn in an application.

Frist, I grew up in Japan, so I do not have the feel of what both public and private schools are like. For my son's prechool we could visit most schools , even a city-run preschool, to decide. In this case, first, we cannot know about public schools. Second, even though we can know about private schools through visits, there is no way for us to compare them to public school. Third, we still need to take some action without having any way to know which school would be best for my son. Even if we do take some action, we still do not know whether my son can transfer to Kensington, or he can get into a private school or not. (Well, I just realized,,,, the only thing we know is that he can definitely go to Madera Kindergarten since we live in its district,,,.)

Part of my worry probably comes from normal anxiety that any parents are having when sending their kids to Kindergarten for the first time. However, on top of that I think my anxiety comes from not growing up here, thus I just do not know how public Kindergarten is run in this area. I just do not have a clue. I am also frustrated because in the past when we needed to make some important decisions, we tried researching in depth about them, educated ourselves, and came to our final decision. In this case, we cannot SEE the program of public school. We can only rely on other people's opinions about those schools. We cannot have OUR OWN opinions because we cannot SEE the program.

I do not know what I am asking here, but I wonder if anyone can consult me to deal with my frustration and anxiety toward this issue. Thank you very much. Worried mom of 4.5 years old boy,,,

I think choosing/preparing your child for kindergarten is a huge stress. Although I taught kindergaten for 10 years in our local school district, I faced many of the same issues you are now facing - mainly that you have to apply to private schools before you can even visit the public ones. I recommend keeping your options open - visit the private schools you're interested in - East Bay Schools Guide and Neighborhood Parents Network both publish yearly directory with good information about private schools. Apply to the private schools you think would be a good fit for your family. Then, when you are *allowed* to visit the 2 public schools, do so. We did all that and in the end chose our local public school. It was a lot of work but very interesting and we then felt confident about our choice. I'd be happy to discuss further with you (e.g. what to look for in a kindergarten...) Betsy

A private school in your area, just down the hill from Madera, is Windrush. It's a terrific school, at a (comparatively!) reasonable price, with small classes and a very welcoming environment on a 4-acre campus. My son started kindergarten there last month and loves school - he says this must have been what he ''grew up'' for.

I know it's a pain to have to apply before you know for sure what you want to do, but it always seems to me to be better safe than sorry. Worst case, you've spent an unnecessary application fee or two. On the other hand, if you don't apply and later want to, you've got no options. I agonized for 2 years about kindergarten, so I have some idea how you feel. (My son has a late birthday, so we didn't know when he'd start). Good luck! Kathleen

Dear Anxious Parent -- It is certainly a stressful time when looking at kindergarten for our children. I have a 6 yr old girl and a 9 yr old boy attending Crocker Highlands Elementary School in Oakland. First, do not give up hope for your public school! Contact the school office and ask them to put you in touch with the PTA. A parent should be able to answer your most basic questions and perhaps give you a brief tour before Information Night and Open Enrollment. Second, you need to decide whether private school is a viable option for you. Cost is a huge factor for many of us who are not comfortable mortgaging our futures at least not for elementary school where there may be little or no compromise on the quality of education. Third, think about where you want to build community. Your child will make friends easily with classmates; play dates will be arranged; and you will develop friendships with the parents of your child's friends by extension. Fourth, do not select a school where you will not be welcome in the classroom. You should always be involved in your child's classroom education -- good schools and good teachers know how important your role is. You are not simply a signature on a check. Let me know if you have further questions or concerns. Judy

Yes, you CAN visit public kindergartens! Schools like to tell you to come just on a particular day, but my understanding of the law is that you can go to any public school and visit at any time. You must sign in and out in the office. They may not allow your child to visit, however. R.K.

I went through the whole school choosing thing myself last year so I know how anxiety producing it is. While you do have certain time lines you need to follow if you want to apply to private school - you have until March (when private schools send out their acceptance letters) before you have to make any firm decisions. So take this time to do the research you need to do. Asking parents of this newsletter was a great place to start. Hopefully parents of kids at Madera and Kensington Hill School will give you some feedback. How about going to events at these schools? Schools often have fairs, plays, etc. that you can attend. Call the school for a schedule. Also look around your neighborhood for school age kids and approach their parents for info on Madera.

Private schools are doing intensive recruiting right now. Check out the Neighborhood Parent's Network Private School Directory for a comprehensive listing of schools, their website is I know Prospect Sierra, Crestmont School and Windrush are in your neighborhood so call them about attending an open house and getting a school tour. The more schools you look at the savvier you will get at seeing what you want and what would work for your child.

We ended up deciding against public school because we feel the emphasis on standardized tests was shaping the curriculum in a way we didn't like. Schools are under enormous pressures these days to score well on tests, sometimes at the expense of creative and innovative teaching methods. That said, there are a lot of really terrific public schools and you're right in thinking you need to visit to really know if you like either of the public schools you mentioned. After visiting private schools you will have something to compare to when you visit the public schools. You can compare the curriculum and the extracurricular activities (physical education, art, music, dance, other languages, school aftercare programs, etc).

Personally in your position I would register for Madera, apply for a transfer to Kensington Hill and visit and apply to private schools. I would cover all my options while I bought myself time to meet up with other parents and ponder what I think would benefit my child. It is hard to picture what your child will be like a year from now - that's where the preschool can come in handy. They could probably make some recommendations as to what type of environment he might do best in (for ex. I have a really active boy so I chose a school that lets the kids get up and move around a lot in class). I know just how overwhelming this can be so I wish you the best in making your decision Good Luck!

Hello, I was in your situation last year and would like to share my experience. My husband and I live in Kensington and we thought that we would just send our daughter to Kensington Hilltop and life would be perfect. It didn't quite work out that way.

Kensington is supposed to be a very good school -- everyone said so. However, you're quite right -- we don't get to see the classroom in action before we make the decision about the school. We had to rely on the comments out there, and that made me a bit nervous. In addition, Kensington Hilltop has a half- day kindergarten program. My husband and I both work full-time. This makes the after-school program very important to us (since our daughter will be there for half a day). We visited the after-school programs and I was disappointed at what I see. There is nothing wrong really. I just hope for more -- more meaninful, fun activities, less like ''after-school'' and more like ''the place to be''. My husband thought the school and the after-school program were all right, but I was not at all happy. In fact, I was depressed about it. I want a happy place for my daughter to learn. Somehow, I couldn't see it at the combination of Kensington Hilltop and the after-school program. I know that there are many happy parents at Kensington and that it is a good school. I just want more. At the time, I couldn't express very well what ''more'' I want. I just felt that something was lacking; I just felt lost. Now I know. I want a place where my daughter learns many things, most importantly, how to grow to be a good member of our society. Also, a place where everyone knows her name, where she can have fun, where she can be herself, where she is encouraged to speak up, where respect for others is emphasized, where I can feel comfortable that someone cares about her. That's not too much to ask, is it?

By the way, I forgot to say that I am also an immigrant. I have never been in Kindergarten, in this country or in the country where I was born. I had to do research to find out how the elementary school system works here. Not too hard for me because my husband is Caucasian and he was born in NY. However, the fact that I've never been through an elementary school in this country makes it a bit harder for me to visualize how life would be for my daughter in school.

So, I started the private school search in September 2002. I was doing the private school research while my husband did the public school research (that was the time when the Governor was going to cut the public school budget, increase class size, etc.). It was a very stressful time for us. My husband attended many parent meetings with the West Contra Costra school district. The more we learn about this school district, the more depressed we became. We then applied to a private school in El Cerrito. We applied, got on the wait list, but couldn't go further. We then looked at Pacific Academy in Richmond. This time, we got in. Our daughter is now in Kindergarten at Pacific Academy. We have the world's best Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Christine Trotter. Our daughter is learning reading, writing, music, PE, art, Spanish, ballet. This month, the kids are learning about the ocean and they are going to Steinhart Aquarium next week. (I've volunteered to chaperone the kids on this field trip -- something I've never done before! This should be fun!) Our daughter has good friends. Parents are wonderful and friendly. Cultural diversity is very apparent and honored. In addition to the academics, the school is teaching the kids about school values such as courage, compassion, responsibility, honesty, etc. This is especially important to me. There is a school assemby for K-3 children and teachers every Monday to talk about these school values. How cool is that? Although Pacific Academy was our 2nd choice in private school, we are very happy here and our daughter is also very happy.

Pacific Academy was founded by Mrs. Faith Nomura and her late husband. Mrs. Nomura is still involved with the lower campus. (The School has two campuses -- K-3 on Carlson, Richmond and 4-8 at Hilltop.) In fact, she is teaching my daughter and her friend to read during the after-school hours. She does this with the kids whenever she has time. There are a lot of Asian families at the school (maybe because the school was founded by this Japanese couple?) But there are also non-Asian families. Our Kindergarten classroom is quite diversed -- Chinese, Japanese, Mixed (two families of Asian and Caucasian), Persian, Caucasian, Indian, Latin. All are welcome at the school and all kids are treated with loving care, as far as I can tell. Japanese is also taught as an elective language for K-8 (you can pick either Japanese or Spanish). I don't know the upper campus (4-8) very well, but will learn about it soon.

I am not advocating for private schools, or for Pacific Academy. I am only sharing my experience. Private schools are expensive and the financial burden is a real burden. (I'm feeling it every pay check.) I respect what teachers in public schools are trying to do with limited resources. (I cannot say that I respect the administrators of this school district.) I understand the good reasons why parents send their children to public schools. We have friends with kids in Kensington Hilltop and they are happy there. For me, at least for now, I find what I want for my daughter at Pacific Academy. Every time my daughter tells me about things that happen in her class or teaches me to sing, I am overjoyed. For now, I decided that we made the right decision.

Oh, financial. Private school's tuition runs around $12,000 - $15,000 for the 10-month school (this includes the ''building fee'', the insurance tuition, the book). There is a private school in El Cerrito (not the one I applied to) that may exceed this range now. Pacific Academy is on the lower end of that range (around $12,000). After-school programs are additional (around $2,000-$3,000). Extra classes for the after-school hours are additional (about $125-$150 per class for a 10-week class at Pacific Academy). Summer camps will of course be additional. This is expensive, no doubt about that.

It is hard to make a comparison between private and public schools. We didn't quite figure out the best way. For the public school, we used the reputation and the experience of other parents as a guide. We used our interaction with the school district to enhance our thinking. For the private school, we read the website, toured the school, talked to people with kids in the school. Then, frankly, I followed my heart. Oh, I also prayed A LOT. I was in tear; I was desperate. So, I prayed and prayed and prayed. God was listening. We got a good school!!

It might make you feel better to know that you're not alone. I was there last year. I experienced the pain (yes, it was painful!) I wish you and your son all the best. If you want to talk to me some more, you can e-mail me at kabmommy98 [at] Good luck! Anonymous

Many local private schools do expect applications to be completed in January, but don't extend offers of admission until March. Meanwhile you will have a chance to check out the public schools before you need to make a decision- you need to do this in any case, in case the private school you want doesn't accept you. It's really a toss-up to get into the most popular private schools. Your only real problem is the interdistrict transfer- they may not tell you if it is approved until just before school starts, so you will have to make your decision regarding private schhols with that in mind. Esp. in regards to the Kensington school- it is the most popular in the district, and you will only get in if there are spaces not filled by all your child's classmates who live in Kensington. anon

Dear Worried Mom: You're right. Planning the first steps in your child's educational path is a very daunting responsibility. (I was right there with you this time last year!) Those steps are the very ones that set our children off toward the bright future we dream of for them. These are important, lasting choices. Good for you for wanting to make these steps with all the information available to you. It's great that you're asking for help and support with the process.

Choosing the right educational approach and school for a child involves consideration of factors very particular to that particular child and family. First consider your child as a person and as a student in terms of learning style, academic ability, personality, and personal passions, gifts and challenges. Then consider your family in terms of its structure, lifestyle, ethnicity, economics, politics, geography, religion and educational philosophy and value system.

A strong school match exists when the school's strengths, expectations, approach, culture, and cost (in time and money) matches the abilities, interests and needs of your child and of your family.

The process is made even more daunting by dueling calendars and deadline dates, school fairs, visits, assessments and interviews. It is fueled further by the decline of the public school systems, a failing economy, the proliferation of new alternative educational choices, and the shared angst of social relationships among us all.

With all that going on, what's a parent to do? Stay calm and breathe. Every child ends up in kindergarten somewhere and has great stories to tell about it?really.

Some suggestions:

Get clear about which choices make sense for you and your child by talking about your educational ideals and needs as a family.

Get clear about what schools fit your framework by networking and asking other parents about their experiences, by being open to the input from your preschool providers about what they would suggest for your child, and by visiting lots of schools and asking lots of questions. (You can learn as much from watching a school's play yard or stopping at its front desk to make a quick inquiry as you can from sitting in the classroom on a prearranged tour. You will also learn as much about what is right for your child by visiting a school that you think you do not want, as you will from visiting the one that you believe you must have.)

If you are still completely overwhelmed by the thought of it all, call an educational consultant. The BridgeWorks Group conducts group seminars to coach parents through the Kindergarten admission process. (If your preschool requests it, The BridgeWorks Group will send out its KinderPrep facilitator to conduct a 45-minute session for parents called "Twenty-two Questions to Ask of Schools, Your Child, and Yourself." Wanda Stewart, the facilitator, has 22 years of experience as an independent school student, trustee, and admission director ? most recently at the Bentley School?where my child ended up.

My personal experience with Ms. Stewart was beneficial to my entire family and, from what I can see on an almost _daily_ basis, the many families that have come in contact with her. If you'd like to contact the BridgeWorks Group, the number is 510.665.1665. Good luck to you! You and your family will make it through this. stinson

I have a friend who is an active parent volunteer at Madera. Her second-grader has been there since kindergarten. I'd be happy to ask her if she can arrange for you to visit one or both kindergarten classrooms. Feel free to contact me if you would like to get her contact information. sj

It might be helpful for you to hear about our personal experiences in choosing a kindergarten since we've been there.

I, like you, found myself getting more and more anxious. We took tours of several private schools which we really liked, then took a hard look at our finances and decided it wasn't worth having me go back to work and put my toddler in childcare 30-40 hours per week in order to afford private school for my oldest. Sadly, our one income family budget just wouldn't stretch to afford even the least expensive private school without MAJOR sacrifices (light, water, groceries).

Our designated nh school is Harding. I did the research and discovered what many parents do--that Kensington Hilltop is one of the top rated elementary schools in the nation. It's only 10 minutes away and in spite of the fact that they discourage classroom tours, I was able to talk to enough parents to feel confident in applying for a transfer. Well, 2 years later, we're still on a waiting list and at this point, my son has had such a great experience at Harding, that I wouldn't consider sending him anywhere else. He's had 2 excellent teachers (Ms. Smallfield for kindergarten and Ms. Shinsako for 1st grade), he's made friends, and I've become quite attached to at least 3 other moms at the school who I regularly exchange playdates/pick up/drop offs with. Plus it's 3 minutes from our house so we really feel part of our local community. Best of all, my son is an excited and enthusiastic student who loves going to school.

So public school can be very scary from the outside but really all it took for me to be more comfortable was to get in touch with another parent in the nh who volunteers in a classroom and she got me in for a classroom visit. I was so impressed with Ms. Smallfield's classroom management and the eager, bright, enthusiastic kids that I felt much more at ease.

Finally, you should know that Madera is a highly desirable public school. So you are in a win-win situation. If you decide to enroll, the money you will save on private school tuition can be used for after school enrichment activities or put into a college savings fund. However, if you find that you can afford private, there are a number of excellent private schools to choose from. Best of luck with your research. --W County parent

Please don't worry too much about this. Your child will be fine, and you can always make a change later if you need to. Most people around here send their kids to public school and the kids have a perfectly fine experience there. If the reviews on this web site are any indication, most people on this list also send their children to public school. Why don't you visit a couple of public schools in your area and if they seem acceptable, just do what most other people do and send your child there? If it turns out that he isn't happy or you aren't happy, then you can make a change. In my case, we did public school for the two kids, and by about 5th grade, it wasn't working out of one of the kids. So he changed to private school, but the other one stayed at public school. They both did fine. There is no harm in trying one thing and changing to another thing if it doesn't work out. My kids both loved their public school from kindergarten on. If they hadn't loved it, I would have changed them. Chances are, your son will love being in school no matter where he goes, and he won't be hurt if you need to make a change later. You are not going to permanently damage him with a decision you make this year. So make your best guess and then tell yourself if you need to change it later, you can! Anon

PS I have heard that Kensington Hilltop does not allow visits during class time. I heard this was written into the teachers contracts. I think this is very strange. All the other public schools in the area that I know of do allow visits and in fact encourage parents to visit. Private schools too. Maybe KH feels they are so desirable they don't need to allow visits because parents will try to get in there sight unseen.

Dear Anxious Mom,

All my experience with public schools (12 years) makes me think you might be mistaken about the ''no visiting'' policies. Please call again and ask to speak to the principal, or go to the school office and explain that you want to visit before you enroll your son.

You should be able to make an appointment to visit a kindergarten classroom and speak to the principal about any concerns you have. Good luck, Sue sues

Deciding between public and private

December 2001

There was an excellent article in the Nov 2001 issue of the Neighborhood Parents Newsletter called: Observations from the Field: A Teacher's Perspective on Public and Private Schools, by Sarah Comey Cluff. The points covered there could easily be about the El Cerrito Schools. Here are the basic points, with my own opinion after some. My child has been at Castro for 2 years.

1. "Public schools offer more diversity."
2. "Private schools provide smaller classes. " My child is in a class with 20 kids. To get 20 kids doing the same thing requires a good teacher. His class has a parent volunteer each day, but still the amount of time in the day spent on transitioning everyone is significant. For my child, it is something I have had to let go of, and I don't think it presents a problem for him, he just sits it out.
3. "Public schools are better able to meet special needs. " Castro is the school for the district that mainstreams the disabled children. So, many classes will have an aide assigned to be with that child the whole class day. My son has learned a tremendous amount from some of these special needs kids.
4. "Private school curriculum is more challenging because of the selectivity of student admissions." There are many complaints at Castro that the curriculum is taught at the level of the mid-level achieving student, so it is a little too slow for the high achievers. This is something that bothers me a lot and my son's teacher does not group the kids by ability at all. So I am committed to doing a bit more at home, tho I also recognize that academics is only one part of school; he does not complain of being bored and he is learning so much about social relations.
5. "Public school teachers are professionally trained and better paid."
6. "Private schools have superior supplies and physical plants." Castro school has no PE, art or music teachers. The teachers include it as they are able and within the curriculum guidelines. For example, this year, my son's teacher includes PE instruction twice a week, there is a parent volunteer who does music once a week, and art is done at the teacher's discretion.
7. "Public Schools are free." 8. "Private school curriculum is free from the constraints of local school board politics. "The curriculum for west county school district is the same for each school, so Castro, Kensington, Madera all have the same curriculum. I feel that in many ways the curriculum is pretty dull. What differs between these schools in my mind is the level of parent involvement. Castro has the least amount of parent involvement of these 3 schools, but those who are involved get a lot done.
9. "Public schools build the local community. " This has been very dramatic for our family. From not knowing too many of our neighbors, to being able to walk to school and know so many neighbors now. That has been one of the best things for us.
10. "Private schools offer a broader choice to parents."

Good luck in your decision.

Dec 1999

I've just completed school tours for private schools as well as our local public school in Oakland. I started the process rather non-plused thinking there would be more than enough schools that I would be impressed with and that we'd have no problem getting into one of them. The reality is that there is only one school I really like and another one my husband likes. I'm fairly convinced that I don't think the 3rd, 4th and 5th private schools on my list are better than my local public school (Hillcrest). Incredible anxiety has now set in which I hadn't anticipated. I would like advice from other parents on the following: 1) how many evaluations can you realistically expect a 4 year old to go through, 2) what are things that I should be doing that aren't on the school provided checklist (eg. should I have friends already at the school put in a 'good word' or should I write a letter stating this school is the only school I want for my kid), 3) what is the reality of racial diversity in private schools (our daughter is mixed race, many of the classrooms we're seeing don't appear to have the racial diversity I expected given all the lip service it's given in school presentations), 4) for parents that left/changed private school after kindergarten what are things in hindsight you think you should have evaluated more closely (could you have prevented the mismatch?), 5) beyond the marketing presentation you get on a school tour, what questions should I really be asking, 6) what is the best way to set my daughter's expectation about what's going to happen in a school evaluation and 7) how do I convince my husband the school I like is better than the one he likes? Thanks.

I'm reminded of a wonderful and calming quote from a friend about her daughter's school. After sending her daughter to private school for a year she put her back in public school with the comment, "I can be dissatisfied for free!" I've found this a calming mantra when school issues get too crazy.

For the parent wondering about private vs. public schools: my observation of racial diversity in the schools I looked at was that while the schools all want it, or say they want it, what they really achieve is way less "genuine" than you'll find in public school. There were far fewer children of color at my child's Oakland private school than in the general population, and of these, many contributed to diversity in appearance only, being raised by upper-middle-class white parents. It's harder for a school to get cultural diversity or socioeconomic diversity, so ask them how they're doing in these areas. My child left private school after kindergarten to get public school services in special ed, which the private school was utterly unprepared to offer.

Finding "the right" school is a tough job, as you can see. I have 2 children in private school, one of which I switched after 2 years at one school. (It was a great move and easier than you may think.) In answer to your questions: 1) I don't believe in testing kindergartners, so I didn't apply to any schools that required it. 2) If a school is really your first choice, say so. Schools like to know which applicants really want to be there. You should also have friends put in a good word, it can make a difference. But be honest - don't do it unless the school is truly your first choice, and don't say it to more than one school! 3) Lack of racial diversity is a big problem. You are right, many schools trumpet their diversity and once you visit the classrooms you just don't see it. But some schools are definitely getting it right. At schools which don't show diversity, ask about outreach and what their diversity goals are. If they talk it but don't have a plan I'd question their seriousness. If there's a plan but you don't see diversity ask why. 4) I did have to switch my child, and in hindsight I don't think there's anything that would have tipped me off. You can only use your judgment and make the best decision possible. You just don't know how it's going to work out until your child is there and you see how the school really works, what the other families are like, and how the teachers and curriculum are. But if you do have to switch it's much easier, because you have much more information. You know more about the kind of student your child is and are usually looking to correct something specific, so you know exactly what to look for. 5) You should always ask what kind of child does well at this school, and how they would characterize the child that graduates from their school. That tells you what they are looking for, and what they believe is important for students to take into middle school or high school (sometimes into life.) This will help you decide if you like their philosophy and if you think your child would have a good experience there. 7) You probably can't, anymore than he could convince you that his choice is better. Besides, how do you know your choice really is better? It's probably just that you and your husband are looking for different things.

Hope this helps. Good luck!!! And don't drive yourself crazy. We all want to make the right decision the first time, but if you make a mistake it's not the end of the world - you can do something about it.