Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Musings on the public vs private school debate

This is a copy and paste of a comment I left on an article about public vs private schools at the Monthly:

Living in a large country town that is crowded out by private (mostly Catholic) schools that apparently poach top performing students from public schools, leaving the public schools with 'the leftovers', I'm caught between a rock and a hard place.

I myself went to what was (and still is) a very good public school (I think we got lucky with where we were living at the right time) whereas both of my parents went to private schools and opted for a lifestyle decision not to send me to a private school, mostly based on the good reputation of the local public school.
I'm in the opposite situation as where I'm living with my family is in an area that has pretty terrible public schools (primary and secondary) for the simple reason that the private schools poach the good students and then parents (like me) decide not to send our beloved children to what is a 'failing school', statistically speaking, in favour of one of the more expensive private schools, which in my area consist of moderately priced Catholic schools (a bit hard to get in if your children aren't baptised) or the exorbitantly over-priced non-Catholic schools.
It almost becomes a self fulfilling prophecy because nothing succeeds like success, so parents climb over and sometimes go into debt to send their children to one of the nearby private schools instead of risking their children's education.
My brother and his family are living in the catchment area of a much better performing public school, but oddly enough, should they decide to send their children to the nearby private school, the fees are very reasonable at about $2k per student per year, as opposed to the 'moderately' priced $5k per student per year I'm looking at.
So, I've got the choices of:
1. Move into the catchment area of a good school - $$$
2. Get my children Baptized so they can attend - deceptive, but I have seen MANY couples do this
3. Put them into the public system and hope they get poached - not helping the public school
4. Put them into the public system and put full support behind it, even going so far as to resist any possible effort for my children to be poached.
It's a hard decision to make and I'll never really know if I've done the right thing (unless all of my children become CEO's or Prime Minister) as I'll always wonder if whatever decision I made could have held them back.
Sorry for the long post, but I'll finish with this one piece of information that the original poster may not have been aware: one of the reasons behind my parents, who were both privately schooled, not sending me to private school was that a study had been completed by Melbourne University on the outcomes of students who went public vs private. The outcome was that if a family could easily afford the money, then the slightly improved outcomes were worth the money. If, however, the parents had to scrimp, work two jobs or struggle to put them through, then it wasn't.
Whether this was because of any pressure or resentment from the parents (ie "I'm paying a fortune for you to attend that school, you should be top of the class") or whether it is because the children from wealthy families bully the 'poorer' students (apparently the children work out very quickly whose family isn't wealthy), the conclusion from the study was that the overall outcomes of children has more to do with the home life of the children than what school they went to.
If parents are always out working (to pay for school fees) then of course the children are at a greater risk of falling into bad crowds.
As a guy once pointed out to me when talking about discussing sending his two girls to private school: "for the amount of money my ex-wife is asking me to pay for our daughters' education, I'd rather buy each of them a rental property that I have to put the same amount towards every year and be able to give them each a rental property when they graduate".
I'm not sure which way that guy went, but often times we like to console ourselves that we 'did our best' when raising our children, and all too often the yard stick we measure how much we put into raising our children is measured by how much we spent on their education instead of by how much time we spent with them.
I know many doctors and lawyers who went to public schools and I know quite a few people who went to private schools only to drop out of university or who never went to university.

Further to the above comment, when I look across the people my age who I know went to private schools, not that many of them completed university (some had trouble going from a system that held their hand right through to a self-driven model), so I imagine a few people would be a little annoyed if you'd spent $50k on your child's education for them to end up as a waiter/waitress.

Conversely, I know quite a few people who went public school, who work as real estate agents, supermarkets and as mechanics and who are very happy with their lives, not that the private school people aren't happy, and perhaps they could have done more, but their parents are at least not disappointed in the lost opportunity cost.

I think giving any children I have a (partially paid off) house each in a market that will arguably be very much harder to buy into in 20 years time will provide a much bigger advantage than a $50k education that they may choose to take or leave.  The house will probably be worth more than the education would have cost and it would be theirs to do as they wish, removing the need for them to spend the first 5 to 10 years of their working lives scraping together a deposit on a small starter home.

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