I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


As Bruce Baker points out, it's all about the Benjamins:
I am by no means criticizing the choice to provide your own child with a more expensive education. That is a rational choice, when more expensive is coupled with substantive, observable differences in what a school offers. I am criticizing the outright hypocritical argument that money wouldn’t/couldn’t possibly help public schools provide opportunities more similar to those of elite private independent day schools, when this argument is made by individuals who prefer private schools that spend double what nearby public schools spend.
As always with Bruce, read the whole thing - it's worth your time. Some additional thoughts:

- WARNING! ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE ONLY! I went to a very exclusive private high school in my upper-classman years. I taught for two years at a fairly exclusive K-12 school in FL. My personal observations from the experience (and if the data contradicts this, I'd love to hear about it):

  • More money in tuition doesn't guarantee better teachers. While some of the teachers I had and worked with were certificated, many were not, and it showed. Being smart and well-educated does not automatically make you a good teacher.
  • Money spent at exclusive schools often does not go toward resources that directly lead to better learning. My high school had a private 9-hole golf course (!).
  • Small private schools often miss out on great educational opportunities that come only from larger numbers. Neither of these schools, for example, had a marching band or orchestra.
  • The level of achievement of the local public schools has, I believe, a direct influence on the quality of the local private schools. FL private schools, IMHO, do not hold a candle to NJ private schools, because the suburban schools here have set the bar very high. Your private school as to be something really special if it's better than a great public high school like Chatham or Millburn. That's much easier to do in FL, where even the most exclusive suburbs have mediocre public high schools.
- It's no surprise that NJ is the only state in the area to spend more in its poor districts than its rich ones. According to Bruce's chart, it's been that way since 1997. You would think that this would be the cause of great gnashing of teeth in the 'burbs (al a Paul Mulshine), but I just don't see it; the ire has almost exclusively been directed at "greedy teachers unions." Christie has taken away nearly all state aid from the wealthy 'burbs while the Abbott districts continue to get the majority of their funding from the state, and there's been barely a peep from the cul-de-sacs.

I can't decide if this is progress or not...


Anonymous said...

Your bullet points above, although anecdotal, do play out with larger data sets. Yes, very small private schools tend to have limited breadth of curriculum and limited extracurricular opportunities. Most established private independent schools seem to run pk-12 with 700 to 1200 students in the northeast, but may be larger in the south (like Lake Highland Prep in Orlando).

Public school quality is associated with private school quality and public school quality with levels of private school enrollment. Yes, NJ 'burb schools do set a high bar, making a suburban homeowner who pays $13k to $15k per year in property tax question whether to pay an additional $25k to $30k for private schooling. NYC area, and NJ private schools certainly set a higher bar than those I saw in Kansas City (or where I taught in Virginia).

I would argue that the breadth of opportunities, including that 9-hole golf course, are examples of what the parents demand. Parents of private schooled students demand a certain level of breadth and depth of curricular and other opportunities, ranging from boutique elective courses to small group music and arts programs to golf, fencing, squash, etc. The kids are able to be exposed to a variety of different opportunities.

With a few exceptions, these extracurricular expenses, while they seem over-the-top, are still a relatively small share of the budget. Notably, many of these schools do not even have football teams (a greater annual operating expense!)

Most of the difference is in the pupil to teacher ratios - in high schools- driven by all of those small group elective courses, and in elementary schools by simply having the small class sizes that tuition paying parents expect.

Yeah... some of those well educated teachers - most not certified - end up sucking. Some schools filter better than others and this tends to work better at the secondary than the elementary or middle school level. I'm not sure that even after all these years, private independent schools have done a great job at figuring out middle level or elementary education.

Duke said...

I know Lake Highland Prep well. Good school - one of the best in Central FL - but I would rate it below many suburban NJ public high schools in both opportunities and quality of academics.

The extracurriculars are such a big part of prep school life. So much of that revolves around padding the college application. What's interesting to me is that kids are specializing in extracurriculars so early, by the time they get to 9th grade they're locked into a particular extracurricular path. No way a freshman who's never picked up a racquet makes a tennis team, even at a moderately-sized school. So "exposure" isn't so much the issue as providing something for the student to use as a wedge to open that college door.

Which gets me thinking about the "fee avalanche" that's happening at the publics in NJ now. Seems to be very little outcry. Worth a post...

Elementary ed and the private school is a very large and interesting subject. Class size is a huge part of it, but class segregation is a large factor as well.

Private elementaries are very different animals than private high schools. I agree - not many get it. Some are outstanding, but also VERY selective. With great students, it's easy to make great schools.

As always, thanks for stopping by and giving me lots to think about.