Education Opinion

High vs. Low (formerly Public vs. Private)

By Jessica Shyu — July 30, 2007 3 min read
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Update 8/3/07: Dear Readers: Thank you for your thoughtful comments. What a tricky issue this is. As readers’ remarks made me think about this even more closely, I had to revise my words to clarify my ideas. While the original discussion revolved around public and private schools, what I hadn’t explicitly written was that I solely meant low-performing public schools. So really, the discussion is about, when having a choice, if parents would send their children to local low-performing schools or high-performing schools elsewhere. The changes are marked in italics. Thanks for the comments-- keep them coming!

So last week I grouched over the lame questions asked during the CNN/YouTube Democratic Presidential Debates. But I still have to ask: Public or private?

That’s the question our politicians were grilled over during that groundbreaking discussion with the public. And while I scoff at its shallowness, the question (and the politicians’ defensive and cautiously crafted responses) digs at an issue we have all probably considered at one point or another: Public or private? Or more specifically, whether we would send them to a high or low performing school. (This is not to suggest “public” is synonymous to “under-performing”. There are thousands of high-achieving public schools in the country.)

I am not yet a parent, but do intend to be, one day in the long, faraway future. After teaching for two years and being surrounded by students I have adopted in my heart as my own, I’ve spent more time thinking about my one-day-in-the-way-future children than is probably normal. I’ve collected books I’d want to read to my one-day children, devised behavior strategies, and debated whether I would send them to local low-performing schools.

As a product of U.S. public schools (even at the graduate school level), I am proud of our system. From my (very limited) vantage point, I can only imagine working long-term at under-resourced public schools. I am committed to closing the achievement gap no matter where I am in the field, and truly believe it can be, will be and must be done ASAP.

That said, I would have a hard time sending my children to an under-performing public school, AKA a school I would likely work at. Even if it meant spending more money and/or driving longer distances, I think would try to send my children to a higher performing school, even if it was a private school, charter school, or a school in a different district.

I am very wary about writing those few lines. I feel like they make my motives to teach very disingenuous. How can I possibly believe in closing the achievement gap if I won’t even send my own (one-day) children there? And how can I possibly be an active member of my community (one of the greatest joys and necessities as a teacher) if I’m not willing to participate in it as a parent? Having only ever attended public schools, I value their diverse people, ideas and opportunities. I grew from their limitations. I have countless peers who attended low-performing public schools and who have developed into high-performing scholars, thinkers and problem solvers.

Yet, I can’t get over the fact that a strong education, both at home and at school, is so critical at all stages in life.

Good teaching is central in pushing people’s learning. Low-performing schools are likelier to be one’s traditional, local public schools since individuals have a choice among private and charter schools, and would logically opt for the high-performing schools. I am concerned about mixing my mission to improve schools with my (one day) children’s development.

And yet, I can’t get past the sinking feeling when I hear of a family sending their child to a “better” school, whether it’s a high-performing public/charter or private school. Each child who leaves the system takes away with him/her countless learning experiences that could have been shared with others. How can our schools improve if we don’t invest our energy and commitment to the community we belong to?

I have a feeling this is a debate I’ll be waging with myself (and my one-day husband) for years to come.

I was wondering what (current and one-day) parents think about this issue. High or low?

The opinions expressed in New Terrain are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.