Friday, December 9, 2011

It's School Choice Time! $K - 8

Throughout Lukas' first 4 years Mrs. LIAYF and I consistently held firm with a certain mantra. 

Despite statistics indicating that approximately 40% of Seattle families opt to send their children to private schools over a vastly less expensive public option, we weren't buying it.  "We went to public school and turned out just fine" we would tell anyone who broached the subject.  And "We're not even considering private school as an option"  we told not only friends and family, but each other often when we thought about the choice we would have to make someday far in the future regarding where Lukas would go to kindergarten and beyond.

We honestly considered public school as our one and only choice.  End of story. 

But, and I'm sure you've gathered this by now, a funny thing happened along our path to loading Lukas onto a bus bound for the neighborhood elementary.  As he entered Pre-K we started taking a more thoughtful look at the choices that were out there, and began to educate ourselves about the quality, cost, and philosophies of those different options. 

While Mrs. LIAYF was busy checking private school application deadlines (many of which are due by mid-January), we scheduled some tours and attended some open houses at some very nice schools.  Schools where, personally, I was AMAZED at the individualized and challenging lesson plans for kids starting in kindergarten. 

These were schools with top-notch facilities, small class sizes, enthusiastic and engaged teachers, and caring and involved parents.  Schools where the 3rd and 4th graders were addressing the large tour groups and giving presentations, the likes of which even to this day would make my knees buckle more than a bit, with confidence and ease.  In short, it was clear to us that for most of these private schools, the kids who attended were getting a fantastic education. And they made us want very much to send our son there.

This is not to say Lukas wouldn't get a decent education at his local public school - which is one of the better public schools in Seattle.  However, we have yet to tour it or even talk to the Kindergarten teachers.  That's because tours in our public schools aren't allowed until late February, long after applications are due at the private schools.  So basically, to even consider these private schools we have to get those apps in now, at up to $100 a pop.

What we do know about our Seattle public option, however, is that the class sizes are going to be huge, up to a 26 or 27 to 1 teacher to student ratio in Kindergarten with no teachers aides (Washington has the 3rd largest ratio in the country), and the schools are bringing in portables to handle the extra kids.  This, while we would also have to pay for the 2nd 1/2 day of Kindergarten.

I mentioned to a neighbor who has a child at our neighborhood school what we had heard mentioned regarding classes that size.  The kids in the middle get very little attention, while the needy kids and the squeaky wheels are focused on.  That's about sums it up, she indicated.

But that has only made our choice more difficult.  As you have probably already know, these private schools don't come cheap.  Yes, Mrs. LIAYF and I are both professionals making a decent living wage and we are extremely lucky to even be able to consider private school, but with all our other obligations, and the hope of another addition soon to our family, it would be extremely difficult to swing yearly tuition at the kindergarten level that rivals that of many colleges.  Sure, we will apply for any tuition assistance each school has to offer, though we are generally unsure what if any we would qualify for.
But the real question isn't "Can we afford it?" It's "Can we afford not to if we can at all find a way to make it work?"  Lukas is a bright, funny, and extremely social boy with loads of potential.  We love him to death and want the very best for him.  But the questions still remain.  With some of the extra savings from choosing a public school (even though we would be paying for full day vs half day public kindergarten) could we supplement with after school classes, trips, technology, etc... which would give just as good an overall experience?  Well, we're really not sure.

In the end our choice will most likely come down to where he gets admitted (did I mention these private schools are highly competitive for available spots?), how close that school is to where Mrs. LIAYF and I work, and how much, if any, tuition assistance is available.

 If the combination is favorable, and the stars align just right, next year we may be eating at home much more often, staycationing in our beautiful city, brewing a lot more coffee rather than hitting the corner Starbucks, as well as any other belt tightening measures we haven't already employed.  If not, we will enroll him in his public school and be active and involved parents there instead.  We'll know more in the coming months.

How about you readers.  If you had to tighten your belts considerably to send your kids to private school and a better education, would you opt to?  What other considerations which I haven't mentioned here, would you have to consider?  Thanks for any feedback you can give.

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Idaho Dad said...

These are all the same kinds of questions we had to mull over when considering taking my son out of public school and teaching him at home.

The biggest difference, though, is that my son is not social. Never has been, doesn't care about it at all. So, we never thought about that aspect of his schooling.

The major consideration for us was what you mentioned about the kids in the middle. That was my son. He did well, followed the rules, didn't make a fuss, and was completely ignored by the teachers in 1st and 2nd grade.

I could see him just becoming invisible for the rest of his school career, much like I did when I was a kid. So we brought him home.

Now it's 5 years later, and I think about all the money we've spent on his homeschooling, as well as PE classes, field trips, piano lessons, educational vacations, and I can conclude that it was all completely worth it.

Maybe this post wasn't very useful to you... It's just me rambling, but I think you already know that, whatever decision you make, you will never, not once, think of the money you spend on your kids as wasted.

Just pursue what you think will be the best experience for Lukas.

J-Tony said...

Personally, I think if you can afford it, and it works logistically I say opt for the priviate school. Whatever option you choose, in the end it has to be something you both are 100% comfortable with. Don't have doubts. Good Luck.

Debbie Dubrow said...

Hey there - we live in Seattle and went through this same debate. Like you, we always thought we'd send our kids to public school, but the picture starts to look different once you know who your kid is and what their individual needs are.

After looking at the options, we ultimately chose a private education, and our kids thriving beyond what I would have expected. Both my PK daughter and 1st grade son can't wait to get to school in the mornings & my son routinely complains that school should be every day. The tuition is painful, but I think we're lucky to be able to manage it.

Drop me a note if you want to hear my candid thoughts on the Seattle education scene, happy to help out - debbie AT deliciousbaby DOT com

"Trauma Mama S" said...

You didn't mention the consideration of your future adopted child... How much more will that child cost, and if you send one child to private you'll probably want to send BOTH to private and how much more will THAT cost? Can you afford that??

I'd say if you have GOOD public schools, it wouldn't hurt to at least try one year there and see what you think. If your public schools are bad, however, then opt for the private school if you can afford it for (potentially) two children.

Bruce Sallan said...

Have you considered the home schooling option and save the money for primary education for college and beyond?

Home schooling is a marvel. I did it for a couple years as a 24/7 single dad. Not easy, but the reasons for it were important - at the time - and the benefits incredible.

The community of home-schooling parents is truly terrific.

Consider it, perhaps?

James (SeattleDad) said...

@Idaho Dad - Wow, thanks for sharing that. We are afraid what happened to your son in 1st and 2nd might happen to Lukas as well. Even though we won't be doing home schooling your point of the cost is valid and if we end up swinging private school we definitly wouldn't consider those $ wasted.

@j-tony - Yes, I think that as long as we could (which is still questionable) we would opt for private without much doubting ourselves. Thanks for stopping by.

@Debbie - Thanks for sharing. I will definitley send you an email. I am curious which private you opted for and if that is on the list of ones we are looking for.

@Aggy - Yes, that is a very valid point. I did reference it breifly in the post and that will certainly factor into our ultimate decision.

@Bruce - I wish that was an option, but both Mrs. LIAYF and I work full-time outside the home. I have heard great things about home schooling, particularly from Phil (Idahodad - see above) and if that were an option we would have given it serious consideration.

momnextdoor said...

Our school district is very good (one of the best in the area)and Bud has the best kindergarten teacher in the school (it's nice to have your mother-in-law and sister-in-law work at the school) and there is a big difference in how prepared Bud's class is compared to the other classes. It really does make a difference. It's not an easy decision but I wonder if you try private, even for a little while, just to get him on the track, and then if cost becomes prohibitive then you can switch to public. Not ideal but better to give him a few years of exceptional schooling if you can. And Lukas seems like a very bright, well-adjusted child, he shouldn't have too much trouble making the transition if he needs to.

Good luck!!

Jack said...

Hi James,

My kids have been in private school for years. It was never the plan but it sort of happened for the reasons you described.

It has been the best and worst thing we have done financially. The education has been exceptional, amazing and outstanding.

I can't praise it enough. They wouldn't have gotten the same at public.

But we are on the verge of middle school and it is killing me to think that I am going to have to pull them out and stick them in public.

I am sure that it will be fine, but it is harder because I have seen the difference.

I know what my kids have and have seen what friends/family don't. That doesn't mean that Lukas can't get a great public school education, but it could be more challenging.

the other amy m. said...

This is such a tough decision. We have our son in first grade at the public school after having sent him to private kindergarten. The verdict's still out - he seems to be doing well enough both socially & study wise, but upon reading all the private school comments I'm sure we're missing out on something greater! We'll see... we opted for public school first, just to see how it went. It seemed to us it was worth a shot - like you, the public schools in our area have a wonderful reputation. However, we are always ready to switch to private if we deem it's something he needs.

Please keep us posted on your decision.

Jill said...

Oh good luck! School at any age is SUCH a hard decision. So very, very hard. I teach preschool in a private elementary school. I've taught two years in public school. My kids have been in both private and public school. I think...I don't know. Luckily, most kids will do fine even under mediocre conditions.

I have a lot of really strong opinions which I've already typed in and deleted several times. And there are so, so many individual factors. I think in general the schools I've worked in, trained in, sent my children to private school is much more able to be attentive to the needs of children, not only because of the lower child/teacher ratio, but because private school rules usually stem from the needs of the actual school population rather than the entire state or country. And I feel like, at least in my own experience, the school rules for private school are less politically motivated.

One suggestion - see if you can observe the kids while they're at lunch. I think it's telling. Are they treated like children or like potential criminals? Are they shoving their food into their mouths as quickly as they can because they only have seven minutes to eat or are they chatting with their friends? I just think lunch time gives you a glimpse into the general atmosphere.

Other than that...good luck. It's just hard.

James (SeattleDad) said...

@Momnextdoor - Thanks for the comment. That is definitely a possibility too. There is a public school opening close by in another year that is going to be a science and math focus school. We may decide to go private until he can get in there.

@Jack - That is exactly what we are debating. We know that he will get a good public education, but it would be so much better at one of the privates we have visited. Is it worth it financially? Will we have to then put him in public later? What effect would that have? We will never be sure of the answers but will just have to go with our gut on it.

@Amy - But then we hear from a lot of parents like you who are doing well at public and that is encouraging. Thanks for sharing your choice. I will definitely be updating once our decision is made.

Anonymous said...

We paid tuition (and had a little bit of financial aid at the end) for both boys to attend private, wonderful preschool, then went straight to public as soon as they were old enough for kindergarten. We looked at one private school, but honestly, during the parent tour, I felt it was very snooty and that they were looking us over to see if we were the right clientele for their school, and I was seriously not interested in my child being in a school that excluded all but a certain type. The feeling must have been mutual, for we didn't get in. Went to one of the public magnet programs (magnet for its educational philosophy, self-directed learning, rather than a magnet for a specific academic subject), and have never looked back. Luckily, we have much better teacher ratios in KY (the state everyone thinks is universally stupid because of our many low test scores, which are really the result of rampant poverty and all the family strife that goes with it), 24 to a class K-5th, and K-2 classes have teacher aides, so effectively 12:1 in those grades. My kids have flourished, though both have experienced some middle school strife that I'm not sure is avoidable in any school environment. Puberty is just difficult. But their state and national percentiles on the standardized year-end testing have been perfectly acceptable, well above average in everything, and even quite high in a few specific areas. Can't wait to hear how it all works out for you guys. Missy