Tomorrow's Sunday Styles section of the New York Times will feature a story on parents in the New York area who, in the face of the economic downturn, are reconsidering whether to pay thousands of dollars so that their children can attend private schools. The decision to pull one's child from a private school is not one that parents make lightly. As the Times reports:
Many of these parents also seem to be motivated by a fear of what actually transpires in public schools. The Times quotes Jason Ross, who is considering sending his children to public school for the first time:
|To many parents who step outside the public system, an independent or parochial school is not a luxury but a near necessity, the school itself a marker of educational values, religious identity, social standing or class aspirations. Whether tuition payments to the country’s 29,000 private schools are made easily or with sacrifice, many parents see the writing of those checks as a bedrock definition of doing the best by their children.
| “Sometimes I joke with the kids: ‘The bus will come a little later in the morning, you’ll be home by two, and you won’t have as much homework. It will be good!’ ”
It is understandable that parents who have never sent their children to public schools would fear subpar schooling within government-funded walls. Every parent ultimately wants what's best for their children, and with a constant drumbeat of news coverage about the crisis of American public education, those who have the funds to procure what they believe is a superior education for their child can hardly be faulted for writing a $4,000 check to a religious school, or a $30,000 check to an exclusive Manhattan preschool.1 Even putting parental fears about public schooling aside, transitioning private school kids to public schools will undoubtedly present some difficulties for all parties involved. Switching schools is never an easy proposition for a child, and, as the Times points out, many public schools are already overcrowded and are hardly prepared for an influx of private school refugees.
At the same time, there may be a silver lining here. Many parents will discover that public schools--even urban public schools--are not the educational abysses portrayed in the influential Jon Lovitz masterpiece High School High. (With due respect to Mr. Ross, I don't know of many public schools that will actually allow his children be "home by two."). Furthermore, the same parents who willingly doled out thousands of dollars to their kids' private schools will likely support their child's new public school as well, and schools can always benefit from the involvement of parents who are concerned with their children's education. And both the public school and ex-private school kids involved may thrive from learning in classrooms that better reflect the diversity of the surrounding neighborhood. This is not to say that parents should always send their kids to public schools as a matter of policy--I'm a Pierce v. Society of Sisters kinda guy--but if there is going to be an influx of private school kids into public schools, those schools may well be strengthened by involvement of a broader cross-section of the community in American public education.
1. Full disclosure: I am a product of both religious and public schooling, and, like everybody else in the world, I think I turned out all right.