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Is Private Elementary School Worth the Money?

This is a guest article by Kiley Theiring. Kiley is a film student and freelance writer. In this article, she questions the value of private elementary school and reflects on her own experiences to offer suggestions to parents.

As a parent, you are interested in giving your child all the best opportunities that you can find. At the top of this list is your kids’ education. When you are considering saving for your child’s education, college and high school are the first priorities. But what about elementary school? To provide the best opportunities, many parents choose to send their children to a private elementary school.

At costs of at least $3,000 a year, is private elementary school really worth the money?

Why parents choose private school

Parents have many good reasons for sending their kids to private school, but often there are much cheaper alternatives. For example, my mother chose private school for me and my siblings mainly because of the rich extra-curricular programs like band and chess club. However, even after the multi-thousand dollar tuition, these things all cost extra. You could easily take those funds and look into a separate after-school program for an activity that interests your children. This way, your children will also get to interact with other kids their age that they otherwise would not see at school.

Many parents also choose private schools based on their religious affiliation. Unlike public schools, private elementary schools have a portion of the curriculum dedicated to the religion that they represent. Instead of opting for a private school to give your children a religious and moral foundation, attend your affiliated church, synagogue, or other house of worship regularly. You can get the same –- if not better — religious education without shelling out a four digit figure. Take some responsibility and start teaching your child about morality and ethics at home. Your kids look up to you and will inevitably learn from you, so set a good example.

“Isn’t the core curriculum important?”

Of course the basics are important, but are they $24,000 important? If you’re worried about your kids falling behind privately educated students, enroll them in advanced programs or hire a tutor. Either way, it will be cheaper than funding eight years of private school. With all the money you spend on private elementary school, you can afford a whole semester or an entire year of college, depending on where your kids go.

“I want my kids to be accepted at a private high school.”

If you’re considering putting your kids into a private high school, I would definitely recommend private elementary school — but only for the last two years. Private high school admissions offices usually only care about your child’s success in seventh and eighth grades. Your child’s extra-curricular activities and service hours are what make them stand out as applicants, and both of these can be improved on, even while they are in public school.

Private high schools are generally much harder to get into than private elementary schools, so I recommend enrollment for seventh and eighth grade. Even if your local public school’s curriculum lags behind the private schools nearby, the gap will likely be small enough that your child would have no trouble catching up if they enroll starting in seventh grade.

Was my pricey grade school education worthwhile?

In retrospect, probably not.

I’ve never set foot in a public school before, and my parents are in huge amounts of debt because of it. Although I am glad that my participation in service hours and membership in the school band helped me ease my way into a prestigious private high school, many of my extra-curricular activities were programs created by organizations outside of school.

I only played club sports and I completed many volunteer hours outside of the school campus. I can’t say that I got too much out of the material taught in the classes, either. In high school, private vs. public school definitely matters because there is such a wide array of optional classes offered. In elementary school, there is no standard “advanced” program, and even if there is it’s usually just working a grade above your own level.

Avoid private elementary school until the last few years. Private schools may be great institutions, but they will eat up your child’s college fund without any real long-lasting benefits. Remember that you are your child’s greatest teacher, so think about what you can teach them at home before you enroll them in an expensive school.

Flexo’s thoughts: Not every private school is excellent, and not every public school is wanting. In my experience, I’ve seen more and a wider variety of extra-curricular activities offered at public schools than private schools. From a student’s perspective, the right attitude and appreciation for learning can lead to success regardless of the school, public or private.

Because private school is a large financial commitment for the parents, those parents would do their own finances a favor by carefully evaluating the local educational options and recognizing the educational needs of their children before choosing a school.

What are your thoughts on private elementary school?

Updated July 24, 2011 and originally published July 22, 2011.

About the author

Kiley Theiring is a film student at Chapman University who also loves to write. Her many freelance articles cover saving money and applying the concept of frugality to every aspect of life. Visit her website, Love~Glitter~Art. View all articles by .

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

Both of my children went to private schools for two school years but it was neither the curriculum nor the quality of the teachers that drove me to that expense. It was the environment. Serving in the USAF we weren’t able to choose where we lived and in the case of one assignment in Virginia (I won’t elaborate because it’s not my intent to slam the state of Virginia) the school environment was so fraught with gangs, bullies, and drugs that the cost of the private school was rendered unimportant.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

Thanks for your article, Kelly. First, let me say that this is a topic that is full of strong opinions on both sides, and like couples who chose to have children and couples who don’t, both sides try to convince the other side about why they’re wrong, which is inappropriate; choosing whether to have children and choosing whether or not to send your kids to private school are both personal choices. That said, I can talk about my experience and my thoughts on the subject for what is right for our family. My wife and I both went to public school and both graduated from college and are doing fine. Let’s just say that there are a number of challenges facing the public school systems that were bad when we were in school and are worse now (discipline, bullying, (negative) peer pressure, instruction focused on passing standardized tests and a challenge in attracting the best and brightest to teach – though there are many great altruistic teachers).

You mention that you haven’t stepped foot in a public school, so it’s not possible for you to compare your learning environment with that of a public school. That said, there are many public schools that have a great environment including strong parent support. There are many different independent (or private) schools and many different models. Some are there to teach their religion, some are there to provide an educational foundation and exposure to a faith based environment (which is inclusive of many faiths) and some are non-sectarian. Most focus on academics, but not all have that as their primary focus.

We chose for our kids to go to a private elementary school because it provides them a solid foundation; they learn the fundamentals of learning and interacting with other children while they learn. One of the biggest differences we have seen is the positive peer pressure (competition) which helps our children to want to succeed. We did not go into debt to send our kids to private school and I’m not sure I would go into debt. If our kids had to go to public school, we would find a way to make it work. It’s our choice on how we spend those discretionary dollars…and it’s tough because its expensive. We believe it’s the best dollars we spend.

It’s a personal choice…one where there is no one “right” answer. It’s about making your own personal choice and making it work for you and your family. I’m not sure one individual’s experience is indicative of a private school experience. We considered home schooling as an alternative to public school, but found we could not provide the positive and nurturing educational environment (including positive peer pressure) that would match our experience in private school. My daughter’s school, which is fairly small and goes through 12th grade, graduated 100% of the senior class and all went to college; some went to prestigious colleges.

Do your own research, make your own decision. If it’s only about money, that’s an easy answer: don’t spend the money. I think its a more complex decision than that though, one where you have to make your own situation work. Best wishes in your decision making.

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avatar 3 Kiley Theiring

I definitely agree with both you and SteveDH that environment is a huge part of the private vs. public school atmosphere. I guess what I’m really getting at is – is that safe environment worth going into debt for? It’s a very personal issue for me just because my parents have put three kids through private school and they really can’t afford it. It’s hard to watch them struggle with their mounds of debt, and I can’t help but think how much weight they could take off their shoulders if they had just waited until Jr. High to enroll us.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

Fortunately that’s a question I didn’t have to answer. Although those two years strained our commitment to saving and limited our vacation quality, debt didn’t have to be considered. The USAF pay, which wasn’t great, coupled with my wife’s insistence on spending priorities kept the debt question at bay. Since my job requirements kept me on the road 84 out of the 101 weeks we were there, just the alleviation of worrying about the little brats ;-) justified the cost.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

I know children who have gone to private schools and were bullied so bad that they could not wait to get into a public school. They preferred public school because they could do their own thing and find like-minded individuals. This is the part where you have to know your child and consider your child’s view of the whole experience to make an informed choice. Not everyone wants or needs college; and that’s ok. You mainly just want to give your child the basic tools to succeed: creativity, productivity, being a team player, knowing how to research information and apply it to the task they are engaged in…among other things.

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avatar 6 shellye

I agree. I homeschooled for six years, then sent kids to private school for another four, then pulled them all out to send to public school. I now have one in college, one in HS and one that does school online for middle school. So I guess we have had a taste of all of the options out there! LOL. Seriously, though, I appreciated the environment that private school offered my kids when they were younger; I felt it was worth the money. At that time, we lived in an area that had low-performing schools and thought private school was worth the money. Later, we moved to an area that had excellent public schools, so I couldn’t see any reason to continue spending the money on a private school. We didn’t go into debt over it, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone else do that, either. It’s what works for each family. It’s good to have options, and we shouldn’t judge others based on what option they choose.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

I know that there are lots of public schools that rival private schools in academia but ultimately the experience of the child is determined by the parents’ willingness to be involved in their child’s school, supplementing curriculum, and finding outside experiences to help round out their child’s life education. If I can afford it I will definetly consider a private elementary school over a bad one; but an average to good public elementary school would not be ruled out. I have a couple more years to decide.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

I think this depends on the local public & private schools a lot. Some places the public schools are horrible and private school is definitely worth while but in other areas the public schools are great and paying more for private isn’t really necessary.

I went to a public school district that is average quality in the state in question. I got what I feel was a pretty good education and if I was in charge of doing it over I don’t think I’d pay extra for private. My sisters kids are now going through that same school district and doing fine there. My wifes experience in public schools in another state were a lot worse. I think she’d have chosen private if given the option.

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avatar 9 Anonymous

I went to private school from nursery school through high school. My two children did also. For the last 10 years, I am a public high school teacher. I see first hand the value of a private school education. My reasoning for sending our children to private school was not religious, but purely for a good education. I was very concerned about my children being with kids who had no goals or could influence my children negatively. So I gave them a great education and they are successful in life. Would they be successful without the private school education, I will never know.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

Thanks for this post exploring private elementary schools. It does seem safe to suggest – as you do here – that not all private schools are superior and not all public schools are lacking. Good post.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

“I’ve never set foot in a public school before, and my parents are in huge amounts of debt because of it. ”

Is this clouding your judgement? If your parents had planned better or made different choices would you feel differently about your education? By forgoing new cars and car payments we could afford the $3K per child price tag. It was a choice we were willing to make.

And it depends on the child’s needs. One of the biggest differences in my town is class size. The public schools in my town rank very high, but they are huge with huge class sizes. (The high school has over 3000 students–that’s bigger than the college I attended.) Class size was a big factor for us.

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avatar 12 Kiley Theiring

That is one thing I do LOVE about private schools – small classes. My college has about a 15:1 student/teacher ratio and it’s great! It’s definitely much easier to learn in a place like that.

I don’t doubt that I got a good education, but I really don’t think the benefits outweigh the costs, especially when you consider the younger grades like Preschool-2nd. Obviously I’m not saying that private school is bad, but I think parents should carefully consider where they send their kids if they can’t afford it. For example, if you want your kids to enroll in private school but you don’t have the money, don’t go straight for loans or eat into their college funds. Instead, send them to public school or home-school them for a few years so you can save up to afford it.

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avatar 13 wylerassociate

I went to private schools when I was very young and then went to public schools through high school. I didn’t like the public school experience because I was bullied. I would send my children to private school definitely not for any religious purposes but to receive a good education.

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avatar 14 Anonymous

In our state, the public schools are horrible. The HS graduation rate is barely over 60% in our district. I might have done better to live in a better district, but taxes are low enough here that it makes up for the cost of private, IMO.

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avatar 15 Anonymous

The problem with public schools is they let in people that have no motivation to be there and would probably prefer to be in a trade or technical school.

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avatar 16 Donna Freedman

I can’t help thinking that tens of thousands of dollars should be spent on college, not elementary school.

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avatar 17 Anonymous

I don’t know, aren’t the early years of a child’s life much more formative? By the time they’re college age, they might not even have the attitude/background to want to go.

I don’t have kids yet, but I see their early years as especially important. I think of it like compound interest. It’s better to invest early and reap the returns years down the road, rather than trying to save enough at the last minute. Of course this doesn’t have to be just by shipping them to some fancy boarding school or whatnot, but if nothing else, taking the time to make sure you’re engaged with them and what their doing.

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avatar 18 skylog

i can not help but think that the costs outweigh the benefits in this case. i am sure there are certain advantages that come with the private route, but i am just not sure it is worth it most of the time. that said, i do agree with what others have said here with regard to environment being an important factor in the decision. if the public options available are such that education could suffer, the the private route is clearly the “better” choice.

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avatar 19 Anonymous

There definitely are many factors to consider, one of which is the public school system that is the default location for your child’s attendance. I went to public school in a very good location, but am sending my kids to private school since the system where we live has a few more issues that I would prefer they not have to deal with. It just ends up being a priority for us.

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avatar 20 Anonymous

In my opinion, the single most important factor in elementary school success is parent involvement. The more the parents aer involved at school the more successful the school system is, the more the parents are involved with their kid’s education, the higher the likelyhood of planting the seed for a thirst for learning in the child.

As far as cost goes, you pay for education either way, if you live in a good school district you pay in higher home prices and higher property taxes. So my thinking is if you are in a good school district, no need to shell out extra dollars for private education and if you are in a not so good one, Private school is the easy way out, it is transference of resposibility for a price, if you can afford it. The right thing to do (which is usually the herder choice) would be to get involved and get others engaged to do your best to make it better. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. so lets not shy away from making our “village” a better place.

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avatar 21 Anonymous

I just came across this post, and I am horrified by your suggestion that sending kids to private school is the easy way out, and it is a transference of responsibility. You are insulting me and the rest of private school parents. Have you been to private school? My kids and family members have been and do go to both public and private. Private school parents in general are WAY more present and engaged in their children’s lives and school. It is clear in my minds/our minds, that private school children are better educated, are much more charitable and compassionate, much less engaged in bullying, are taught a strong work ethic, and are taught to be responsible and independent beings. Yes, it is expensive and we can afford it, but that’s because my husband and I have always, from the time we were 21, worked 60+ hours a week each and have still MADE the time to be involved with our children’s school. I personally did not go to private school, but wished I had. I also spend at least close to 2 hours a week at my children’s private school. We pay exorbitant taxes in my town, have good to very good public schools, but still we choose private. In addition, we have a diverse economic pool at our school, and many families receive aid, some full aid. Again, we are offended by your post.

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avatar 22 Anonymous

This was in no way meant to be offensive, merely a speculation on allocation of funds. I have only attended private school my entire life so I am well-versed in what they have to offer and the community surrounding it, including the parents. Saying that private school parents are more involved is a huge blanket statement – in fact some parents may find it an excuse to be less involved (ie – the school is providing values and a healthy community setting so that they don’t have to.) Either way, I’m not insulting or even really addressing the parents on either side of the issue.

I loved my time at private high school and college and wouldn’t trade it for anything. However I find that private elementary school is not necessary and I would have traded that for a college fund in a heart beat. If you have the means to send your children to private school, then by all means do. But as I struggle to stay in college because my parents had no money left after early schooling, I can’t say it’s the best option.

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avatar 23 lynn

Our kids went to private school for the environment and the religous teachings. It’s the best investment we made for them and their futures.

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avatar 24 qixx

A good way to improve the quality of the education for your children is to evaluate the different schools and school districts in the area. Every school in a district will not be the same. Some districts will allow you to send your child to a different school than the one whose boundaries you live in. Some will not. Check your various public school options before paying for a service you might already be paying for and have access to.

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avatar 25 ib

thanks for writing this article, kiley.
it’s interesting to know which years could matter further down the road depending upon the plan.

i really enjoyed reading this and immensely appreciate your views.

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avatar 26 Anonymous

We chose a language immersion (German) private elementary school for several reasons (not in any particular order of priority):
1. Cultural appreciation. In addition to gaining appreciation for the German culture, many of the kids parents come from several nationalities. My son regularly plays with kids whose parents moved here from Germany, Japan, Singapore and the UK. This world is becoming more global and gaining a deep appreciation and understanding of the various cultures will give them many life skills beyond academic.
2. Several scientific studies have shown many benefits of bilingualism from an early age including increased concentration and gray matter density among other advantages.
3. The student/teacher for my son’s first grade class is 1:12. Many of the teachers are on loan from Germany while others moved here permanently. They are all very passionate about teaching and love the kids. There is an emphasis on respect and teaching the kids social skills and conflict resolution.
4. The parents are very engaged with their kids education. As a result, there is a very positive group of kids with good heads on their shoulders. I don’t see any elitism as the parents tend to be very open minded and accepting of differences. The school has a very strong community feel and I feel like I can be myself around the parents.
Of course, the academics are strong and the school has a philosophy of continual improvement. This is something I saw was lacking with the public schools. They seemed to be content with the status quo.
It’s an expensive school but it is all about priorities. We live in a small house and drive older paid-for cars, but we feel giving them a solid, positive early childhood educational experience that enhances our values will benefit them for their whole lives. The school district in our neighborhood is a good one, but it couldn’t offer a lot of these benefits. I guess time will tell whether we made the right choice. Maybe I’ll post a response 15 years or so from now and let you know if I still feel it was. :)

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avatar 27 Anonymous

Our daughter attends a private preschool and will likely continue through elementary (as will her sister when she’s old enough), even though the public schools in our district are highly rated. I LOVE that her school doesn’t focus on academics. No grades, no tests. Her class has 10 children, a teacher and an assistant teacher. They focus on teaching kids to question everything and then how to find answers to those questions. Yes, academics are “snuck in” like spinach in a lasagne. The students look forward to the adventure of learning. They practice problem solving, conflict resolution, empathy. For science class, they plant an organic garden, then measure, chart, graph, disect, draw, examine under a microscope, cook with, and taste the plants they have grown instead of memorizing plant diagrams from a book. For Language Arts, they read an entertaining story about a foreign country, then make costumes using similar patterns, sing songs in that language, act out the plot of the story, teach it to other classes and thoroughly digest it (and she is FOUR years old – imagine what they’ll be doing in second grade :-). I have never seen a teacher, administrator, staff member or child at this school who looked like they would rather be anywhere else. That foundation of a hunger for learning is what makes this private elementary school worth every penny.

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avatar 28 Anonymous

terribly sorry my son. but i do have to agree my children have been going to private schools but i think it is worth the money

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