Advice about Attending Private Schools

Parent Q&A

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  • We aren’t wealthy. We would be considered middle/upper middle class based on income but we don’t have a lot of disposable income. We would not have considered private school but with the pandemic, we need kids to receive in person instruction in a safe environment. We are considering Aurora, Park Day, Redwood Day, and MCCS. I went to prestigious private schools and was quite aware of how “poor” my family were. We were not poor by any means, but as a kid with scholarship, I felt that way when surrounded by a majority of kids who were truly wealthy — large homes, BMWs and Porsche driving parents, lavish vacations and designer clothes. I am concerned that my kids will feel out of place as we prepare to slash various household budget to pay for private school. Have you sent your kids to these fancy schools as a family with moderate means? How was/is it?

    I had a similar experience as you - I grew up without a lot of means, went to a prestigious private school and always felt like I was an alien. Our daughter goes to Park Day and we never felt like that. It is a loving and awesome community. There are people there who are wealthy, but also plenty of us who are not. Don't know about the other schools on your list, but Park Day is great.  

    Hi. We attend one of these schools and are not fancy. We live in a very small house in the flats, drive an older Subaru, and take modest vacations. Most of the families seem to fit this general description. (And the ones who don’t, don’t flaunt it.) Many or most families receive tuition assistance, subsidized by wealthier families paying full price. 

    Based on my experience as a parent and as a former independent school administrator in the area, the list of schools you're suggesting is a good one. My information may be outdated, but these schools are less "toney" and have more of a community feel. While it's not easy to go from private school back to the public school system, that may be one option for you. We sent my daughter to a private for a few years, and the to public school the other years. When we sent her to private school, I made sure to still donate to our local public school. We didn't have a lot of money, but that's what felt right to me. Of course, it can be hard on kids to switch schools unless there is something in the school community that isn't working for them. If this is your plan, it's best to try to cultivate friendships outside of the private school community (Girl Scouts, sports teams, summer camps, etc). It can be challenging since you don't always know what public school your child would have attended if you pull them out of the lottery system, but what we found was that by the time our daughter went to Berkeley High School, she actually knew many of the students from these different activities. Resist getting insular in the private school, if you can.

    We are an upper middle income family at St. Paul's. We feel very comfortable there, though there are absolutely many families with far greater means than ours (and also those with far less). When we were considering independent schools, I specifically targeted those where significant percentages of families received some level of tuition assistance--both because I knew our family would need this to attend, and because I wanted my child to be interacting with peers from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. (I also attended a private school for high school where I often felt "poor" compared to my classmates, though looking back now know our family was far from it.) I appreciate having my child at a school where a majority of families receive assistance--it means parents feel comfortable freely discussing economic tensions, aid applications, and the many tradeoffs that are part of choosing an independent school as a middle/upper middle income Bay Area family. I can't speak to the specific schools you're looking at, but you can absolutely ask how many families receive aid, and that should give you a sense of what the experience may be like. Good luck with the process!

    I can't address this as a parent, and can't tell you about those specific schools, but as a kid I was in almost exactly that situation.

    In my case, it felt perfectly fine. My parents were pretty straightforward and easygoing about it, and I don't remember it being a source of stress for anyone. I knew we had enough money to get by -- a comfortable place to live, enough to eat, birthday presents -- but that anything beyond that didn't really matter. Besides, look at fairy tales: the poor kid always wins!

    In retrospect I think it helped that we hardly ever watched TV at home so weren't exposed to a lot of advertising. Also, the school was a fairly progressive place and appealed mostly to sensible, discreet families who didn't show off or boast. I do remember one girl who was kind of obsessed with how much money people had, but none of the other kids paid any attention.

    We are sending our son to a school that has limited hours (no aftercare, lots of closures) and just isn't used to dealing with working families (most families have a stay-at-home parent, we can't afford that) and it has been a serious culture shock for us. The school just doesn't see or seem to care about the needs of families who can't afford to keep a parent at home. The demands on our time and excessive closures and reductions in school hours have been extremely challenging for us, and we aren't getting any sympathy or cooperation on the part of the school. And because most families don't have the same needs as us, we feel like we are in this struggle alone and the school has no need or desire to work to make any changes just to accommodate a very small minority. So this isn't exactly the same situation, but for us it has been really illuminating about the type of school community we want to be in. And we are in the same boat as you, very much hoping to do public school in the fall but considering private school because we need something in person, but we are targeting schools that seem less fancy for this reason.

    The thing I noticed when I had my kid in private school was that the wealthier parents had the luxury of TIME, and that seemed to make more of a difference than the material goods they had. The moms didn't work or worked part-time and thus could host impromptu playdates after school, which my kid (who was in the after school program because both parents worked full time) was never invited to (because I wasn't hanging out at school to arrange them). Then, the moms would hang out, and the kids would hang out, and my daughter really felt left out because she didn't get to go out for ice cream, or donuts, or to the park, or to so-and-so's house after school. Then, the kids would talk about those things they do together at school, and mine would feel even more like an outsider. So, it wasn't the car that they drove in to go get the ice cream, it was the fact that they could go get ice cream during the work day. We switched to public school, and my kid was much happier.

    Yes, we did the fancy school thing for middle and high school and it has not been easy. It has also not been terrible. My child is a senior now, has had some great teachers and experiences, and is happy with their college options. They have friends, both wealthy and not-so-wealthy. That said, I think my kid has felt generally out of place, and even though the friend group is there, it doesn’t seem that tight. We rarely have their friends over here, and that has also made group projects complicated. These things are never intentional, but they just seem to happen - all the other kids live close to each other, or near the school, or whatever. We have experienced what you described when it comes  things like cars, clothes, vacations, homes, etc, and even class discussions to a point, as most kids speak from a position of privilege. It helps that the teachers are more down to earth. The wealth gap becomes more and more apparent as the kids get older. So, probably what you already imagine - depending on the kid, for the education, the fancy schools cannot be beat (imo), the social dynamics, however, are uncomfortable at best and damaging at worst. 

    I can't speak the those schools, but I can highly recommend The Walden School and Center in Berkeley. While it is a private school they are very diverse. There are some wealthy families, but I'd say the majority are not and they offer scholarships and really strive for inclusion and diversity. We've been there 3 years now and it's been wonderful. Small, in-person, caring staff and wonderful community.

    If you're interested in language immersion, I can recommend the East Bay German International school. They're private but not fancy. The focus is not on elitism but on multicultural education with global awareness. Depending on the age/grade of your child (you didn't say), you can join even if your child doesn't have prior German background, in preschool and Kindergarten. They've had on-campus instruction since the school year began, with all the COVID procedures in place. Given their focus, the economic spread isn't much of an issue.

    We sent our child to a montessori preschool (that extends into K-12), which felt VERY expensive and we also had a difficult time as our child started right around when COVID happened, so we had paid the full tuition to basically do distance learning with a toddler at home. Our family is probably also middle class based on income and neither my partner and I ever attended private school as children. We are excited for when our child is old enough for public school! I would say that yes, many families that attended our son's former school were well off (not sure about Porsche-wealthy), and it wasn't so much the feeling out of place because of material things that made us uncomfortable, but more that there were not many students that looked like my son or our family, if that makes sense? We are a family of color, both my partner and I with graduate degrees, and also essential workers. This caused a lot of stress during the times we were SIP because we didn't have tech jobs that WFH 100% like the other families at the school, or the ability to hire a nanny if we WFH either. We tried to apply for scholarships to get aid if we did need to hire a nanny and were denied because my partner was still employed and above the arbitrary cutoff for what the school decided was the limit. Needless to say, we left the school in June and did not return for fall despite them know being open for outdoor in-person instruction. We found a home-based preschool that is cheaper and more loving, and are waiting to hear about our enrollment in BUSD for next year. Our kiddo loved what he was learning and I would definitely say the learning environment is more enriched than what he's getting now, but he's also happier where he is now, so we prioritized that. I would say, if you think your kids will be unhappy or feel out of place, then go with your gut about if it's a good fit for your family or not. Our family values diversity and equity, and we just didn't see that in action despite it being the mission statement at the school, and actions speak louder than words. Hope that helps!

    My family is of single parent, middle class, POC.  Park Day School is fantastic!!  Tuition assistance is relatively generous, and on a range, so no one really know who gets what or how much, nor cares.  Families who choose to go there, do so for the values and not the image.  I do not need to buy my child "fancy" clothes, shoes, backpacks, or other.  She is not embarrassed by our non-luxury car.  The academics are great, the socio-emotional environment stellar, and the social justice lense for real.  I highly recommend, and haven no reservations.  My child is currently in 7th grade.

    Hi there! We are a Park Day family and find that there’s a balance of families. From our perspective there is not a focus on wealth or status at all between the kids and the school does it’s best to make sure all kids feel as equal as possible - making sure everyone has the resources needed. This has been significant with the pandemic and distance learning. In our experience Park Day is also able to have age appropriate conversations about class and wealth and the current climate which is really important that kids understand. I’ll also add that this is a very diverse area and there’s plenty of families at public schools with fancy cars and vacations. You’re going to find this everywhere, to me what’s important is how the community interacts with it. All this is to say we’re happy with 2 kids at PDS and are likely a family in the “middle” similar to what you describe.  

    Your post sounds familiar to my situation.  Growing up on the east coast, I went to private school.  My family had a modest home compared to my peers and I grew up lusting after giant houses -- not healthy at all!  Fast forward 30 years, things are similar. We live on Alameda but send our girls to a private school that isn't nearby (none of the ones you are considering). Our home is quite modest compared to some of their classmates, and though we fit in socioeconomically, I always feel a bit weird about having their friends over, particularly as our house is always a mess and I'm very conscious of it.  I think when your kids are younger, they won't notice the difference with their peers.  But as they get older they will.  A lot of this may also be in your head, as it is with me.  I wish I had something more positive to say, but it might not get any better and you'll just have to manage your feelings and expectations. Ultimately, if you wind up at one of those schools, it will be about the quality of your kids education and of course there will be some families that you become friends with and are close to.  Concentrate on those relationships and it might become easier.

    We are a solidly middle class family (two incomes; two vehicles are both 15+ yrs; own a small home; no lavish vacations; lots of fun staycations). Our eldest has already graduated Park Day (attended K-8), and our younger one also started in K and is currently finishing up 8th grade. Park Day has been superb for us. The climate and culture have been enriching for both of our kids, and for us as a family. The school works intentionally to foster a learning environment that is first and foremost about the kids with equity, social justice, and belonging at the center of everything. That means teaching and learning that embraces diversity in ethnicity; gender identity; religion; economic class; a variety of household structures; etc. 
    My kids have made friends with kids who live with their single parent in an apartment, as well as single or married, wealthy parents living in large homes, and who take expensive vacations. We have never felt out of place. At school fund raisers that have a ticketed entrance, no family is turned away for inability to pay; there are no pay-to-play events such as special dinners for high-level donors; and everyone’s contributions are valued, whether it be monetary or volunteering time (time is money!). 

    Yes, at drop off, we pull up in our aging, scratched/dented van, and are behind some Teslas and BMWs, but we’re also behind some Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics. The school makes every effort to have meetings that are accessible for working families who may have childcare needs, or simply can’t meet during the typical school day. And when possible, childcare is provided. 

    Over the years, my kids have asked why we don’t take bigger/longer/international vacations and we’re completely upfront about it: investing in their educational foundation is our priority.

    And let’s be real. Kids will sometimes brag or hurt another’s feelings. No doubt. Park Day doesn’t cast itself as a place where kids won’t struggle, or won’t ever experience a negative feeling. Park Day’s strength lies in its response to these types of challenges.   
    Built into the DNA of Park Day are ways to support kids as they revel in their comfort zone; learn in their stretch zone; and sometimes dip their toe in their panic/rip zone -- all the while fostering a love of learning. Additionally, restorative practices and OFNR dialogue (Observe, Feel, Need, Request) are second-nature at the school (it’s a learning opportunity for all sides involved). These are important pieces of raising a child that Park Day gets so right. 

    Hi there, we’re in our 2nd year at Park Day school (1st grade). The families we’ve spent time with have been hard working families, some doctors, corporate jobs etc, but also therapists, teachers, nonprofit folks, artists. Nearly 40% of students receive financial aid at Park. Feel free to DM me if you’d like to chat more.

    We were in a similar situation last Spring with our rising kindergartner and chose Park Day and have been very happy. The staff has been incredible- I was laid off after we made the decision which obviously caused even more anxiety about cost etc and they were thoughtful, supportive and helpful. Since we started there, we’ve happily seen that most (I would say vast majority in our experience) of the families have two parents that work and there is a lot of diversity in the families you’ll meet. When school started virtually (it has since moved to in- person for those that choose to send their kids - we did!), we talked with other families about doing a pod together and many shared openly that they did not have the ability to pay for care alongside tuition. I remember a lot of honest and supportive convos and no exclusion of any kind or weirdness. At least that was our experience! Really I can’t say enough good things about Park Day. We’re planning to leave the area because of family, etc and the one thing that we regret is leaving the community and the school. I don’t think we’ll ever find a more supportive, diverse, thoughtful and welcoming community again - and I’m really not exaggerating! Good luck - these are such tough decisions. Happy to share more if you want to message as well!

    My child currently attends Park Day and we have not had any issues, and I wouldn’t even be considered in the middle upper class. I only looked at Park Day and Redwood Day. Park was a much better fit for us with its racial and socioeconomic diversity. My son is thriving there and I’m loving the parent community. It is not “showy” at all from the cars to how kids dress. Sure there are some luxury cars, but it doesn’t have that energy of prestigious private school wealth. The belief in social justice and diversity drives the curriculum and practices which lends to a more welcoming community in my opinion. I’ll also add that what they’ve put in place for in person school is incredible. They’ve been so thoughtful and careful to the point that I feel completely safe sending my child back on campus. Good luck on your search! 

    This is a great question, and one we also asked ourselves before moving our kids to private school this year. I think the answer is, it depends on the school. We are also a middle-class family, and we basically chose the school that had the best financial aid package. We feel comfortable at our school -- in part, because our school gives financial aid to over 50% of families who attend. At my child's soccer practice, the parents all discussed when next year's financial aid forms were due: there was certainly no stigma around the issue.  My advice is to look closely at the school's financial aid statistics: the higher the percentage of families who receive financial aid, the more likely you are to feel comfortable there.

    I grew up in Oakland and went to Park Day and another independent school that is not on your list. My son attends Park Day. My parents income bracket when I was a kid and mine now are likely similar to yours currently. We’re not rich, but we’re not struggling beyond the way all but the very rich struggle in the bay area.

    Both now and when I was a kid I have never felt the kind of financial divide that you are describing at Park Day. I know exactly what you’re talking about because I definitely experienced the feeling of being one of the “poor” kids at the other school I attend, even though I did not receive financial aid.

    While I’m sure there are a wide range of incomes at Park Day school, the kinds of people who are drawn to the school are not the kind of people who are likely to be showy with their wealth. Especially for kids with a middle/upper middle class background, I think they are really unlikely to feel “not enough” because of what they have. (I think this may be true for kids in lower income families as well, but I don’t want to speak to other people’s experiences in that way.) The school’s focus on personal relationships and social-emotional learning also tends to discourage this kind of situation.

    No school is perfect, but I do not think this is a widespread problem at Park Day.

    I can speak for Park Day School, where our daughter began kindergarten this Fall. I was truly amazed at the generous financial aid package the school gave our family along with admission. The cost of living in the Bay is so high now that close to 40% of families at the school get some amount of financial aid, and a quarter of financial aid packages actually go to families earning $180K or more. You would not be alone in being middle class, yet without a lot of luxuries. Park is such a low-key, relaxed, and friendly community where families and their children aren't into status symbols. I don't think you would find it alienating in terms of class issues. This is the kind of place where the families with money aren't showing it off, they're donating some of it to the Annual Fund because they want a more equitable world. You'll see a nice car or two, but you can bet it's a hybrid or electric vehicle with a decent human being inside. The school does not have glitzy exclusive fundraisers but community events like the annual East Bay Mini Maker Faire, where the kids, and their creativity and learning, are the focus. Park Day is an extremely thoughtful community where possible issues of exclusion are carefully scrutinized and intentionally avoided.

    Just to provide another perspective, I went to *public* school with a lot of rich kids (Piedmont Schools) and definitely felt and noticed ALL the things you are worried about as a child/teen! So I don't think it's a strictly private school problem. While there are some super rich families at my son's private school I would say that's not the case for most of them. There's a big range. Honestly there was a range in the Piedmont of my childhood, too, but I definitely focused on the disparities. I guess what I'm trying to say is that this problem may come up no matter what you do. Perhaps it's best just to confront it. These days with instagram, etc the need to "keep up with the Joneses" (or the Kardashians) is something we all just need to get over. You are doing the right thing in prioritizing your children's education. Good for you! Stand firm and hold your head high.

    I am honestly shocked when other adults tell me they "aren't wealthy" or "middle class." This is the Bay Area. Anecdotally, I know at least 6 Park Day families that claim they are not wealthy but they have a household income of over $200k, own a small (but valued at over a million dollars) house and have money for trips to Tahoe and Hawaii annually.  The actual "not wealthy" families I know rent apartments and work full time and even with financial aid couldn't begin to afford Park Day. I don't know how it got to be so completely skewed here, but just wanted to throw in the perspective of a 'legitimately not wealthy person' who has lived here her entire life. So, please take these responses with a grain of salt. 

    I have a child at Park Day School and couldn't be happier! I am a single parent and while I do alright financially, we are definitely not wealthy. I have found that there is a great diversity of income levels at Park Day and have not noticed any of the wealthier kids flaunting their money in our time at the school. I had very similar concerns as you when we were considering moving from public school, but my child has been welcomed whole-heartedly and has never felt out of place. I am so grateful for the assistance we have received to be able to attend PDS. It has been a game changer for our family. Good luck with your search!

  • 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.  

  • It didn’t occur to me to check to see whether the private elementary schools we’ve applied to for K for next year are accredited. How important is this? Is it a dealbreaker if they’re not? We’re looking at schools in Oakland and Berkeley. (Also, where should we be checking to confirm accreditation? WASC, CAIS, NAIS?) Thank you!

    As you probably know, private schools are not required to have any particular accreditation and many of them are not accredited at all by any nationally-recognized organizations. I would look at WASC accreditation, which is a standard that public schools as well as private schools aspire to. If you google the school name and 'wasc' you can probably find out if they are accredited. 

    You really have to weigh what works for your particular kid though. Of course everyone would like their child's school to meet every possible standard, but sometimes an off-the-radar school is the perfect solution for your kid. One of my 3 kids attended a private school that did everything out of the box and was not WASC accredited and also did not have report cards or tests or anything else that can be measured. My kid had a very positive experience there and easily transitioned to a public middle school and high school after that. On the other hand, a private school that pitched itself as academic had no accreditation and we had a terrible experience with constant teacher turnover and uneven instruction - much lower academic standards than the public school my kid transferred to after a couple of years there.

    So it depends. If you are looking for a top notch academic education then at minimum you want the WASC accreditation.  But there are kids who will get what they need at schools that don't have that.

    We sent both of our children to a terrific elementary school that is not accredited (one still attends). I would suggest, if this is a sticking point for you, that you ask the head of school about it. My impression is that basically all Oakland and Berkeley private schools adhere to the fundamentals that accreditation confirms, while not perhaps engaging in the formal process. Any head of school should discuss their accreditation stance with you, and walk you through the specifics, particularly those items that matter to you.  Bottom-line, I'd say it isn't close to being a dealbreaker, and none of our friends have mentioned it in any way.  And/But we've had a great experience at the school our children attends/did attend.  Best of luck to you as you find the right school for your child!

    My advice is to take accreditation seriously, especially if you are considering a language immersion school. We attended one term at a language school last year and though historically the country this language is mainly spoken in has had known issues with prejudice, we went ahead. We quickly regretted our decision. The teachers and staff have not received diversity training. Numerous issues to do with race, sexual orientation, national identity and religion arose in just the one term we were there. Parents and students suffered from staff who, having no idea of their prejudices, became unprofessional in their responses to issues that arose. The other main issue was the curriculum: in some grades rudimentary art and “play” projects were passing as curriculum since no one was checking up on whether the school was actually teaching the children anything. These are just a few of the issues we encountered so please do take accreditation seriously.