Why not improve your local school instead of sending your children to private school?

In an article over at LearnVest a parent graciously describes the details  and sacrifices of why they send their children to private school  to help educate us and share their story.

The comments in response to the article were filled with criticisms.

One comment stood out;

“I love the “we had no choice” but to put our kid in private [school] argument.  Why not put your kid in the public school and spend some energy improving the school? “

I honor and respect those who sacrifice by staying in a difficult environment to make things better.  They reject better choices for their family for the good of the community.

So lets extend this persons line of thinking to explore the principal behind it. Couldn’t the family take public transportation every where and become vocal advocates? Or move to a food desert and use their earning power and ability to problem solve to help the entire community have access to fruit and vegetables?

What I don’t understand is the willingness to put someone else (in this case, their children) in an environment that needs improvement on multiple levels that are unlikely to be solved in the time they are there.

Another alternative is to send your child to a private school that teaches social activism and key life skills. Thinking longer term, an adult who  will spend a life time thinking about how to help others and will have the tools and financial means to do is another valid way to help both the family and the broader community.

Getting in to a private elementary school

One of the advantageous of a private school is the alignment of values, approach and focus with that of the family’s interest and needs.

This is a two way street

Many prospective parents are surprised to find this go both ways. Quickly dispel the notion that you paying gobs of money means you are a customer. Incorrect. You are paying for part of the expenses for a community you are joining (and ideally, have been long part of). And this means it goes both ways.

Many private schools often don’t have enough openings. Others have certain entrance criteria (this doesn’t mean academic) and will not diverge from that criteria, even if it means leaving seats empty or shutting down. That is what makes them special – the ability to focus on their particular mission.

In short, this means your family must earn and keep a spot in a private school. That means not only selecting a school that is a fit for you but the school selecting you.

Where does your family fit in compared to other applicants?

To do this we will examine existing models constructed from the research at (where else) a private education institution – in this case Harvard University  – where Michael Porter describes the five competitive forces that should be considered in shaping strategy[1]. These forces include rivalry, threat of new entrants, threat of substitutes, bargaining power of buyers and suppliers.

In your own situation what is your value to the school community?  If you were the school would you select your family as compared to others? Why? And why not?

Remember financial aide is often managed through a blind trust so the ‘I can pay the tuition’ might not be a factor. Or it might be. Depends on the school. And for grade schools, academic excellence doesn’t exist. And for college it might be one of those necessary but not sufficient items.

In our own situation we are members of the religious community where our child goes to school so we offer continuity and shared values.

Our differentiation

Additionally, we enrolled during the last large economic downturn when interest in private education waned because of financial challenges for many families. For us the religious framework was more important than the bank account.

What about you?

What about you? Is a new school forming that needs students and aligns with your vision of a school? Or is the school almost entirely families from one part of town/culture/group and you family can introduce much needed diversity in the classroom?

Investigate and understand. We have seen a class with 85% boys in the class turn away more boys because they wanted a higher mix of girls. Your value proposition can be as simple as having a daughter who is interested in the school.

Lay aside your tendency to fighting for what you think is the right school for your child – you might be wrong

You might be thinking that school ‘over there’ would be perfect for your child. And that might be the case but more than likely the school ‘right here’ is the ideal fit and will seem all to familiar. It might even be your local public school.

The point here is to find out instead of blindly applying to what you think is the ideal or best private school. And consider your families relative position in the five forces competitive model.

And finally, do your research

Do your research. I assure you that is it much better to find out your situation is not a match before your child joins the school rather than focusing on getting in no matter what.

[1]“The Five Competitive Forces That Shape Strategy.” Harvard Business Review. August 13, 2008.

A new education secretary

In November of 2016, the incoming administration appointed Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary and today she started her nomination hearings. What does her nomination mean for the education system?

Betsy is chair of Amercian Federation for Children, a group advocating for school choice for parents and students through the use of charter schools.

They claim the following:

  • Every 26 seconds a child drops out of a public school in America
  • In many of our nation’s largest cities dropout rates exceed 50%
  • America is lagging behind more than a dozen other nations in math and literacy.[1]

These are astounding numbers.

Old School House Sign - Source: Wiki Commons
Old School House Sign – Source: Wiki Commons

Their proposed solution is to introduce choice via charter schools and her appointment is a clear support of that philosophy in the public education system.

I have no idea if a voucher approach will work but I suspect (acknowledging I am the least qualified person in the world to talk about this) that a sudden switch to a voucher approach will leave areas where no education options are available.

The result would be similar to food deserts. These have occurred in cities with big box grocers understandably focusing on higher income areas. The under served areas are left with few if little options and lose access to fresh produce.

Source: http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts
Source: American Nutrition Association 

I hope a new national approach results in improved academic achievement for all students but urge caution.

Slow and careful changes with an exploratory approach  may make sense here. For example, can the power of the internet remove geographic barriers to educational access? How can they assure that there isn’t a generational gap for specialty programs such as special needs programs, programs focused on the arts, STEM and vocational studies while they experiment approaches?

We will watch this closely from the lens that every child deserves to use their time in school to have the opportunity to grow to their full potential and be an active part of the broader community.

[1] http://afcgrowthfund.org/school-choice-facts/

Washington D. C. Charter school rankings released for 2016

Last month the Washington Post reported that D.C. has more high-performing charter schools than ever.

A benefit of private schools is the ability to select a school that matches your child’s needs and your value system and for the school to do the same. And a charter system is an excellent alternative to fee based private school. It has many of the advantages; open competition, selection

Old School House Sign - Source: Wiki Commons
Old School House Sign – Source: Wiki Commons

and flexibility for the teachers and administrators.

If you find you can’t afford a private school consider getting in the lottery for a charter school education instead.