« Lightning Crashes | Main | Award-Winning Author Cherie Priest »

April 03, 2006

Thinking About Rich and Snooty Schools

Stories like this always interest me: an article in the Washington Post about how private school tuition in the area is going through the roof -- $26,500 for St. Alban's School, which if I remember correctly is where Al Gore's kids went. Boarding rates are of course even higher: $35,000. Now apparently the same parents who used to provide these schools with donations are looking for financial aid for their kids to go there. As a reality check, the cost of going to Stanford (or so the article reports) is $33,000 -- which means that it actually costs less to go to Stanford than to be a boarder at St. Alban's.

These stories interest me partly because, as most of you know, I went to a private boarding school myself: The Webb School of California, whose tuition is even higher than St. Alban's: $37,000 for boarders (although "only" $26,285 for day students). Although it's sick of me to do so, some weird part of me takes amusement at the fact that my high school is so damned expensive. It just seems deliriously perverse to pay more for high school than for college.

On the other hand, as I've also noted before, Webb (and, no doubt, other high-end high schools) in many ways probably has better programs and facilities than some colleges: its own accredited and world-renowned paleontological museum on campus, for example, is the most obvious example of that. Also, it's the sort of place where you really do get a kick-ass education that is also not painfully irrelevant. All students have to do reading over the summer, for example, but the reading selections are actually contemporary books worth reading. This year's seniors, for example, all had to read Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson, plus one or two other books from a list which includes Michael Chabon, Neal Stephenson, Vikram Seth, Susannah Clarke, Jared Diamond, David Sedaris and even ol' Bob Heinlein for their summer reading (note to self: Get on the summer reading list somehow).

The question is, of course, whether any of this is worth $35k at the high school level. It's all very nice to have a museum on campus and tell your kids to read Neal Stephenson, but then I can give my kid Cryptonomicon, and a take a weekend trip to Chicago and spend some time at the Field Museum with her, and that's going to cost nothing like the same amount. In the end, I think there are three reasons that parents are willing to pay stupid amounts of money for private school: Status, college placement, and the actual education at the school.

Status, of course, is an absolutely idiotic reason to pay through the nose for a school, but I haven't the slightest doubt that certain parents do just that. We live in a world where there are certain parents who are worried how it will look if their children don't get into the right preschool, after all; I don't doubt these same parents would rip out the spines of all who oppose them to get their kid into St. Alban's or Exeter. I feel sorry for the children of those parents, because those kids are merely another vehicle for their parents' status consciousness. The "good" news is that a lot of these kids eventually freak out and then embarrass their parents in various ways: Used to be they'd join a commune or the Peace Corps. Nowadays I suspect they just continue to live in the guest house, "strategizing" a Web 2.0 startup, which is aught-speak for "smoking a lot of pot." Shine on, you crazy diamonds!

College placement is a slightly more legitimate, and rather more practical, reason to pay a lot of money. Simply put, if you want to assure your kid gets into a respectable college or university, an expensive college prep high school is the best way to do it. Webb's "top 20" colleges where its students attend features Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, Stanford and (yes) The University of Chicago as well as other top-tier colleges and universities. Chalk that up to good academics (which we'll get to in a moment) and also top-rate college counseling; when I was there the college counselor was ranked in the top ten in the country, and I suspect whoever's doing the gig now is equally clued in (this is not to say that the college counselors were universally admired by the students; to this day I have friends who believe our college counselor tubed their applications to various places). Whether the desire to get your kid into a good college is for their own sake or just a slightly delayed issue of status is, of course, another conversation entirely. But if it's really important for you to get your kid into a top 20 college or university, for whatever reason, a $35k high school might not be too much to pay.

For my money, however, the only truly legitimate reason to a ridiculous amont of money for a high school would be for the quality of the education itself. Status be damned and let the colleges take care of themselves; for $35k I'd want an education that is its own reward. I'm happy to say that when my own mother made it her mission for me to attend Webb, that was her primary concern; we were too poor to worry about status (she made less than what Webb cost back then in 1983 -- which was something like $10,000) and my mother accurately assessed that getting into college was a problem for another time. What mattered was getting her kid the best education now. And she was right, because the education I got at Webb was manifestly superior not only to the education my friends at public schools got, but also superior to the educations that friends at other private schools got. Now, some of that was just me being the little informational vacuum that I was at the time; it was entirely possible to get a bad education at Webb, and I can think of at least a couple of people who managed it. But the school was equipped to let you take advantage of it, and I and many others did.

Back in 1983, a Webb education was definitely worth ten grand, but 23 years on is it worth 37 grand? That amount outstrips inflation by a rather handy amount; 1983's $10k is worth $19k today, which means that Webb effectively costs twice today what it did when I was there, and I suspect you'd find the same amount of price increase at other top-tier high schools. Personally speaking, paying $20k for a Webb education (or its equivalent) would not be out of the question for us. Paying close to $40,000 a year for high school, however, is not a thing I'd be keen to do. Quite frankly, I'd have to be either a lot richer or a lot poorer than I am to make that work. I'd be fine with the former, not so much with the latter.

(Another option, mind you, would be to join the faculty at Webb: their kids get free tuition. Not to mention free faculty housing! Hmmmmm...)

Personally speaking, I don't suspect Webb has to worry about it too much. Like St. Alban's or Exeter, it's the sort of place where people will pay to have their kids go, period, end of sentence; really excellent schools are a perk of privilege. Even "middle class" families (which would be upper class in any formulation but this) will shuffle their finances and apply for financial aid to make it work to have their kids go to these schools. Lesser-tier high schools may find themselves scrambling for students (as the article suggests), but that's someone else's problem. What I personally worry about is that Webb, and I suspect other schools like it, which have made an effort to make sure that at least a few "underprivileged" kids got the benefit of their educations, will be in a position where their costs are so high that they'll spend their financial aid helping the "middle class" parents (which in this inflated formulation includes people like us) and leaving the genuinely underprivileged to fend for themselves.

I couldn't give a damn about status, and I'm reasonably confident that when it comes to it Athena will be able to go to a college that will be right for her. As for quality of education, well, I love my kid, but I'm not worried that her education will be lacking, even without a snooty high school. This is in part because I have a good education and am busy applying it to her; as parents we'll be happy to supplement wherever we feel her schools are a little light on things. That being the case I'd be loathe to try to send my kid to a school like Webb if doing so meant some kid who is like me back in 1983 is going to get shut out because I'm pilfering the school's financial aid. I don't suspect other parents will have the same qualms -- nor, to be sure, should they be faulted for not having them; they don't have the same sensitivities about the topic as I do.

But for my part, unless I can pay for Athena's full ride, no rich and snooty private school for her. Some other child -- one who is poor but smart, and ready to be a sponge in an environment like my high school -- needs that educational opportunity more than she does. Let's hope that in the era of the $35,000 high school, that opportunity still exists.

Posted by john at April 3, 2006 12:25 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


CoolBlue | April 3, 2006 12:40 PM

In the end, I think there are three reasons that parents are willing to pay stupid amounts of money for private school: Status, college placement, and the actual education at the school.

Or you could send your kid to Catholic school, have them receive a kick ass education, all while being able to ask questions like "So Sister, explain to me how this Virgin Birth thing works again?"


John Scalzi | April 3, 2006 12:43 PM

I'm not quite sure I'm ready to get parochial on Athena, if you know what I mean.

CoolBlue | April 3, 2006 12:56 PM

Whatever. I wasn't, nor am I now, a parochial kinda guy. But I have to say the level of education and the spirit of inquiry at all the Catholic schools I attended was something well above what you normally get.

I know this because I made the mistake of convincing my parents to send me to public school in 11th grade. I was a year ahead of everyone there. Now this was in Long Island and I didn't know then how much better the New York public school system was than most of the rest of the country until I got hitchiking around the country.

So what I found out was the New York Public school system (at least in suburbia) was superior to most states, and the Catholic education was superior to that by a great deal.

Had I not made the mistake of moving to rural America, I would have sent my kids to Catholic Schools even though I didn't raise them as Catholics (or anything else).

I'm just sayin....

Oh, and Jesuit's are the most intellectually challenging folks I have yet to meet.

John Scalzi | April 3, 2006 01:03 PM

Well, I don't doubt the quality of a Catholic education. I'm just not convinced I want it for my kid.

Dave Munger | April 3, 2006 01:09 PM

re: Cheap Catholic schools --

It helps keep your labor costs down when much of your applicant pool has taken a vow of poverty.

re: expensive independent schools --

Things haven't gotten so bad here in North Carolina. Our kids' school charges about $12K/year. Little did I know, this is an "affordable" private education.

re: education inflation --

The gap between the haves and the have-nots continues to increase. I don't like the idea of home schooling, but I suspect that for more and more families, and not just wacko religious extremists, this will be the only way to get a decent education at a reasonable price.

CoolBlue | April 3, 2006 01:34 PM

re: Cheap Catholic schools --

It helps keep your labor costs down when much of your applicant pool has taken a vow of poverty.

Yeah. Plus they have the no-Union thing going for them.

I did find that the ratio of people dedicated to their profession of teaching also was much, much higher in the Catholic Schools I attended. (This is a sample size of four in Long Island, New York City and Philidelphia.)

In public school, the excited, dedicated teacher was the exception. In Catholic school, they were common.

Daruku | April 3, 2006 01:55 PM

sience blog had a story you should look at :)


Kevin Q | April 3, 2006 02:17 PM

I agree with CoolBlue on Catholic Schools. Even though I and the mother of my future children are both happily atheist, I value the education I got from my Catholic grade school and high school. (Some order of nuns in grade school, Jesuits for high school.)

The Jesuits are a very liberal group, and I don't mean in a "compared to the rest of Catholics" kind of way, but in an absolute sense. The value knowledge and learning in all fields. Where else can you watch Monty Python's Life of Brian in a Religion class?


Bob Westbrook | April 3, 2006 02:28 PM

Rich snooty schools produce rich snooty kids. It is refreshing to see your thoughts on the poor kids who desire to learn and achieve. A good education should include becoming aware of those who live in a different social community. For that matter I think everyone should go overseas to understand how good we have it here.

Lisa | April 3, 2006 02:45 PM

It has been my experience that Catholic Schools vary in quality as much as public schools. When I used to teach Special Ed, we taught the Catholic School kids via a school room van outside their building (a church/state separation thing), but we did interact with their teachers and did go into the school for meetings and see their classrooms and other students. Some were great, some were awesomely bad. Some teachers were great, others were clueless and boring and spent their classtime handing out ditto worksheets. A lot of this has to do with the community that the Catholic School is in and what sources of funding it is getting.

The same applies to public schools. I'll never understand how anyone things a free and equal education can be funding almost entirely through the vast inequalities of property taxes. Lower income, transient renter communities hardly have a chance and usually a higher population of needy students. They pay less and are not able to recruit more experienced teachers. There are some great, very college prepish, competative public schools out there with facilities that rival the best private schools. (Blue Valley Schools in Overland Park, Kansas comes to mind.) It all depends where you live and how rich you and your neighbors are.

It's just peachy that a private school like Webb can bypass all that and even let a few poor kids in on scholarship. But, to me, it seems like just another way for rich people to get out of supporting public schools and to further separate the classes.

Chris Byrne | April 3, 2006 02:49 PM

My wife and I are both non-christians (she's a neo-pagan of a specific sect, and I am something of a poly-deist), but I was raised as a catholic, in Boston, in the late 80s.

That has pretty much put me off the catholic church for all time; but there is one thing I very much like about the church, and that is the general quality of modern catholic schooling.

We live in Arizona, which has some of the worst public schools in the nation; we have two girls, a 4 and a 2 year old, and we're thinking of more kids.

We don't intend on raising our kids to be catholic, but we are very seriously looking at catholic schools; because they offer rigorous academic discipline. If choosing a jesuit school especially, they offer an education in LEARNING; not just in those facts necessary to pass standardized tests.

In particular I'm a big fan of independent reading, logic, debate, and disputation; all core tenets of a jesuit education.

Oh and never understimate the value of learning latin; especially if your chosen profession involves science, medicine, or the written word.

Most catholic schools we've looked into do require a religion class every semester, but I've sat through those classes, read the curriclae etc... and they are most defeinitely not of the proseletyzing variety.

The modern churches philoshophy is to present the religious "facts" to people, give them the tools to evaluate them in a spirtual context of faith, and choose for themselves; even including the choice of no faith. Faiths other than catholicism are represented, and debated, as well as core catholic tenets.

Even though we don't want to raise our children catholic, I think this is a valuable experience.

The other fact is this, there are perhaps a dozen decent catholic schools within easy range of our house, and all of them cost less than $10,000 per year, with several of the closest less than $5,000 (and even less for their kindergarten and preschool programs). These schools also have large charity programs to allow for students of lesser means to afford their schools. The good secular private schools in my area mostly run over $20,000 a year, and that's even for first grade.

It's important to my wife and I that our girls get an education that doesnt exclusively consist of overpriviliged Scottsdale assholes; but that still insists on discipline and academic rigor. We have looked at Arizona public schools and found them laughably bad; and we don't see a better alternative than catholic schools for this.

P.S. John, my family and I just rescued an older Akita mix. Some pics here:


Any advice, pointers etc... ?

Cassie | April 3, 2006 02:52 PM

Do I dare say the educational system that dares not to speak its name?

Homeschooling. I'm just saying...

John H | April 3, 2006 03:07 PM

I believe that for some red-state parents the driving force for sending their kids to private school (or home schooling) is to avoid the teaching of evolution.

Scott Westerfeld | April 3, 2006 03:07 PM

There's another reason to send your kid to an insanely priced schools: connections. Not just status-type connections (like being able to mention that you met Zubin Meta while you were both picking up your kids today) but life-long connections between your kids and the rest of the WASP mafia. In these schools, a kid can make the kind of friendships that get them jobs, investors, and reviews in the NY Times later in life. This will not be insignificant in your child's life.

And it's not just immediate friends. I remember at my Ivy League college, there was this huge database with the names of alums working in various industries. Need a job in TV? Publishing? Politics? Get out the school tie and call this number.

I'm sure all these private schools have something like that. Maybe not as obvious, but some sort of Masonic-handshake mechanism to make sure that those in positions of power can all keep hiring people who talk and think and look just like themselves. Mortgaging the house to attend one of these schools is one way of breaking into that system.

Maybe you've never used your Webb secret handshake, John, but there are people who are born really good at that sort of thing. They are often presidents.

Harry Connolly | April 3, 2006 03:15 PM

So, John, were you sent to this boarding school just for the education? Or is there a wild and crazy story somewhere in your past that ends "... and then my parents shipped me off to boarding school." ?

Some months ago I heard a lecturer on Speaker's Forum (I think it was Jonathon Kozol talk about the problems in public education, and how he thought it was underfunded. He would give talks with policymakers laying out all the reasons he thought the government and the tax payers should be increasing funding to provide every student with text books and repairing schools with leaky roofs.

After his talks, he would sit down with these influential people who would ask him: "Can you really solve this problem by throwing money at it?" And he would become pretty exasperated and say "Yes!" He would then point out how many of the successful people around him had expensive private school educations. If we could spend that much on all our kids, we'd be much better off.

John Scalzi | April 3, 2006 03:17 PM

Scott Westerfeld:

"Maybe you've never used your Webb secret handshake, John, but there are people who are born really good at that sort of thing. They are often presidents."

Oh, no. I think connections are extremely useful as well, and I've been not at all shy about using mine when it's been useful, both from Webb and from the University of Chicago. I do think connections are sometimes overrated -- a lot of significant life events happened to me through people I'd never met before, for example when PNH made on offer on OMW -- but that doesn't negate the fact that they certainly do help.


"But, to me, it seems like just another way for rich people to get out of supporting public schools and to further separate the classes."

Only if the rich people try to use the "hey, my kids are in private school" as an excuse to avoid property taxes. I'm not at all sympathetic to people who either want to avoid paying for public schools, or want to take money out of the public school system and give it to private schools via vouchers. There are many things which I would do to revamp public schools, some of which would not endear me to knee-jerk liberals, but taking money out of the system is not one of them.

Harry Connelly:

"So, John, were you sent to this boarding school just for the education?"

Yes, really. I assure you, Webb's not the sort of boarding school where you would go to be kept out of trouble.

Chris Byrne | April 3, 2006 03:27 PM

We've thought about homeschooling, especially since Mel (my wife Melody) wants to stay at home at least until the kids are all school aged, then finish her degree (I'm pretty OK with that idea myself).

The problem however is that we can't ensure we will always live in a homeschool friendly area. Also some colleges still look at homeschooled kids kinda funny (never mind the general public); no matter what their educational approvals and qualifications may say, or how far ahead of other students they may be (generally considerably).

Tom Nixon | April 3, 2006 03:43 PM

Also some colleges still look at homeschooled kids kinda funny (never mind the general public);

But less and less. When I wrote Bears Guide to Earning High School Diplomas Nontraditionally (Ten Speed Press), I included a chapter on homeschooling, but I also included a very long list of schools who are open to children educated through nontraditional means. This book was published in 2003 and I think that list is grossly outdated now. Many, many more options.

diddidit | April 3, 2006 03:50 PM

Simple, honest question:

What does "kickass education" mean? What distiguishes "kickass" from "decent" or "average" or "lousy" educations?


John Scalzi | April 3, 2006 04:00 PM


"What distiguishes 'kickass' from 'decent' or 'average' or 'lousy' educations?"

When you can get through almost two years of the University of Chicago -- acknowledged to be one of the most academically stringent universities in the country -- before you actually get a subject that you hadn't already substantially learned in high school, then you've received a kick-ass high school education.

Chris Byrne | April 3, 2006 04:12 PM

I had what might be termed as a hybrid education.

We were poor in income, but lived in a rich town (single mom, father in prison, struggling independent business owner, rich grandfather who rented us a house at price we could afford) so I had a decent public school to attend; but I had scholarship opportunities to Milton Academy (I mostly grew up in Milton), Newman Prep, Judson Academy, and a few other prep schools. My mother decided that she didnt want me growing up with the elitists (a view she now deeply regrets, but she was steeped in 70s bullshit at the time).

The hybrid part was in that I attended public schools, but because of my "exceptional gifts", beginning in thrid grade, and all throughout my primary and secondary educational carrer; I spent half my time in a program that sent me to special classes at private schools, local universities, and private lectures.

This program gave me excellent educational opportunities, far beyond what my other public school mates were recieving, even in what was at the time considered one of the best public high schools in the country. In fact, after about sixth grade, my time in standard public school classes was for all intents and purposes, wasted (academically anyway). I had an interesting social and extracurricular life (I'm a big strong boy, and I co-captained football and wrestling), but academically it was pointless.

Unfortunately my unusual education also very much skewed things on my college applications; because I wasn't issued a standard high school diploma. At the time my school district didnt allow early graduation, even though I had finished high school at 16; and in order to leave school they required I take an equivalency exam.

I was able to gain admission to all my colleges of choice; but it took a 1540 SAT score, 28 advanced credits (AP, achievement tests, and college courses I took while in HS) a waiver from the district, AND extensive (as in several months worth) conversations with admissions staff to get over the hurdles.

It also invalidated me for almost any financial aid eligibility my freshman year.

This was all because I worked "outside the system". In fact getting anyone to even consider going "outside the system" was a major difficulty for that entire period of my life.

Perhaps things are less rigid today; but if I had instead gone to an "elite" private school, I wouldn't have had those problems; nor would I have had nearly as much wasted time as in public school.

I have said above I don't want my daughters to grow up exclusively around Scottsdale assholes; and I meant it. I think that an education exclusively at upper middle to upper class schools fosters a sheltered outlook on life, and a general lack of skills for dealing with those unlike you. High school is enough of a conformity engine all by itself without class pressures added into it.

That said, I won't deny there are a lot of advantages to the "elite" institutions; and although I have been quite successful in my chosen paths, I think it would have stood me in good stead to take advantage of them when I had the opportunity.

Cassie | April 3, 2006 04:16 PM

John H:

You're joking.

Ok, I hope you're joking.

diddidit | April 3, 2006 04:17 PM

I'm going to guess that the typical student there was pretty inherently capable relative to the general population, which would lead me to guess that you didn't have to wait around much for other people to catch on to something before continuing. That sounds sort of ominous in my head, but I remember being bored a lot in high school, especially outside the AP stuff. I wonder if an important component to a kickass education is not being limited to the pace that everyone in the room can go. It makes "no child left behind" into "no child gets ahead."

The subject is getting nearer and dearer - the didlet is frustrating his pre-school teachers with his refusal to do stuff that bores him. It's exasperating when they say how smart they think he is, but then say "he's working way up here, and we need to get him back down here with the rest of the class." This was after he refused to color in the stars on his worksheet, and instead drew in constellations.

G. Jules | April 3, 2006 04:24 PM

Chris Byrne: My public school system told my parents, when I was in eighth grade, that if I stayed I'd be doing the college-classes route -- pretty much what you went through in high school. We decided to go the boarding school route instead, as I'm from a very rural area, and there *were* no other private schools within day student distances.

The experience depends a lot on the student. I had a few classmates who would have been much better off in a different environment, better off not living away from home. For me, though, it was by far the best choice.

Personally, I don't get the "snobbish elitism" bit that follows boarding schools around -- or rather, I get where it's coming from, but I don't think it's universally deserved. Yes, some schools undoubtedly both snobbish and expensive, but some are expensive because you're getting -- and paying for -- a kick-ass education. My school, for example, required students to spend at least a week doing the dishes in the dining hall.

Kevin | April 3, 2006 04:27 PM

Rich snooty PARENTS produce rich snooty children. The school has little to do with it.

John H | April 3, 2006 04:35 PM

Cassie: I wish I were...

Chris Byrne | April 3, 2006 05:09 PM

I'm not so much worried baout snobbish elitism (though my wife is), as I am having a kid who jumps everytime anyone gets competitive or confrontational; or who is unprepared to deal with awkward social situations.

Patrick Vera | April 3, 2006 05:30 PM

Nope, John H is not joking. On a mailing list I am on, one of the regular posters occasionally regales us with her travails in homeschooling her kids.

Most places have some sort of homeschooling support networks, to provide mainly for things like teaching of subjects where the parent is less qualified than others, socialization of the kids, state accreditation and other stuff.

The lady knows of a few support networks in her area and all of them are composed primarily of highly rabid members of what John calls the Chirstian Victims Front, with very heavy dosed of brainwashing of whatever religious doctrine the parents espouse.

So she primarily relies on a support network she found on the internet as she was not made to feel very welcome in her local networks as they kept trying to proseletyze her and her kids at every support meeting. Even though she calls herself a Christian just not of their denomination. Also, she wanted to teach her kids about evolution, a sensible sex education curriculum and other subjects.

Chris Byrne | April 3, 2006 05:38 PM

Thus, the power of free association, and parental choice in homschooling (or any other type of schooling for that matter).

Of course I'm a big supporter of allowing parents to make the choices about their kids education rather than the state; even though sometimes some parents make very stupid choices. So long as the kid is being taught to the academic standard necessary to recieve a diploma from an accreddited high school (and what a frightentingly low standard it can be in some places), the rest should be up to the parents.

Of course evolution absolutely should be taught (and is required in most states that regulate homeschooling curriculum, which is almost every state), as it is generally accepted scientific theory (all bullshit to the contrary notwithstanding. If the parents then want to teahc their kids that god says the scientists are lying, that is their right to do so; whether homeschooled or attending a conventional public school.

Like John says, if parents want to make their kids into uncompetitive ignoramuses, then I'm not going to complain; it gives my kids a better shot.

PeterP | April 3, 2006 05:44 PM

John Scalzi:

"here are many things which I would do to revamp public schools, some of which would not endear me to knee-jerk liberals"

I'm curious about this. I have spent a great deal of time discussing the issue with my friends. Many of the problems public schools have seem embedded in the system. John Taylor Gatto (The Underground History of American Education) and James Loewen (Lies My Teacher Told Me) seem to provide some good ideas for revamping the system, but somehow I don't see mainstream America signing up for that anytime soon.

At the very least, year round schooling should be mandatory. That alone would allow for the extra time needed for a more rigorous education. I also firmly beleive that parents should recieve tax breaks if their children do well in school (as measured by a standardized test or something - I realize the implementation would be difficult).

Chris Byrne | April 3, 2006 05:46 PM

If you want to see more of something, worse, subsidize it, if you want to see less of something, worse, tax it. If you want to see more of something, better, leave it the hell alone.

Universal truism of government.

Chris Byrne | April 3, 2006 06:59 PM

Yaknow, it looks better if ones comments on how poor education is arent full of typos and letter transpositions.

Dog I hate being lysdexic.

joshua corning | April 3, 2006 08:23 PM

so the consensious seems to be that a fair to good private school can run about 12,000$...funny that is about the same that public schools spend per student...i wonder why private schools are able to educate students far better then public schools can at about the same price?

I wonder?

John Scalzi | April 3, 2006 08:33 PM

joshua corning:

"funny that is about the same that public schools spend per student"

Actually, nationally, the average expenditure per student is $8,287, so you're off by a rather significant margin, there, Joshua.

If you're going to spout "facts," please try to have them have some relationship to reality.

joshua corning | April 3, 2006 09:46 PM

If you're going to spout "facts," please try to have them have some relationship to reality.

The optimal word here would be about. just as the 12000$ number was about as well. You would not happen to have statistics of the average price of private schools? or the average price of public high schools as opposed to elementary through secondary?

Do you think the quality differance between private and public schools is solely from lack of funding in the public sector? or even the largest contributor to that quality differance?

joshua corning | April 3, 2006 09:58 PM

Table 1
Private School Tuition, by Type of School and Level: 1993-94
Average Type of School Tuition ($)
All private schools 3,611
Elementary 2,138
Secondary 4,578
Combined 4,266
Catholic Schools 2,178
Elementary 1,628
Combined 4,153
Other religious schools 2,915
Elementary 2,606
Secondary 5,261
Combined 2,831
Nonsectarian Schools 6,631
Elementary 4,693
Secondary 9,525
Combined 7,056

answered my own question...in the same time frame per pupil in the average public school, $6,857

found here:


John Scalzi | April 3, 2006 10:30 PM

Joshua Corning:

"The optimal word here would be about."

You mean "operative word" here, I think; also, you're wrong. $8,000 is not "about" $12,000, Joshua; it is 33% less, which is a significant percentage (alternately, $12k is 50% more than $8k). The two amounts aren't even close to being "about" the same, and only someone who is monumentally poor with math would say that they are.

"You would not happen to have statistics of the average price of private schools?"

No, but on the other hand, I'm not the one fronting the proposition that private school tuition and public school per student funding are the same, either, nor am I pulling a dollar number for either out of my ass, as you were. Basically, you're asking me to drag up the evidence for the silly "fact" you've just vomited up. That's not my job, Joshua. You stated "X," and I disproved "X."

Incidentally, your after-the-fact raid on the Cato fact sheets (which are, incidentally, 12 years out of date, making them effectively useless for any conversation in the current timeframe -- not forgetting the rather important point that with many private schools tuition does not reflect true expenditure per student, some of which is also garnered through charitable contribution), doesn't negate the fact that you pulled some idiotic "fact" out of your ass to make a point, and you got stuffed for doing it.

The moral: I don't like people making idiotic statements on my site, and I don't mind noting for the general public when people are making idiotic statements, so they can avoid thinking the person making the idiotic statement actually knows what he is talking about. If you don't want it pointed out that you're making an idiotic statement, Joshua, then don't make idiotic statements. It saves me the time it takes to correct you, and it makes you look less of an ass.

joshua corning | April 3, 2006 10:33 PM

I'm not at all sympathetic to people who either want to avoid paying for public schools, or want to take money out of the public school system and give it to private schools via vouchers. There are many things which I would do to revamp public schools, some of which would not endear me to knee-jerk liberals, but taking money out of the system is not one of them.

You make a fairly logical statement not to pull money from education, makes sense but then you say you are against vouchers. Why...if the amount of money stays the same, you still retain a professional class of teachers, students still get thier education payed for by the public, with the added bonus of introducing competition into our educational system. Vouchers are not the same thing as pulling money out of education...you are only pulling it out of state control.

I fail to see why this is equated in your mind as the same thing as defunding education.

Anonymous | April 3, 2006 10:33 PM

The most insightful thing I ever heard said about Harvard and the rest of the Ivy League:

Its purpose is to make it so all the really rich kids and all the really smart kids know each other. Good education is just the means they chose to do it.

So it makes some sense that, as more people are applying to Harvard, tuition goes up - they want to make sure they only get the kids who can either get a ton of money from their parents or a ton of exclusive scholarships.

The thing I'm getting to - Harvard is pretty cool. And it's been kicking up its tuition. So private boarding schools - which really, really, wish they were Harvard - are going to kick up tuition too. They're trying to get a little bit of that reflected glow. (Presumably, it's almost impossible to pick out the really smart kids when they're five, unless you've got a major prodigy on your hands.)

On the other hand, it's not like they don't spend that money. I enjoyed a $20k/year education from fourth grade through high school, and we sure had new computers in the lab every year. And working equipment in the physics lab.

joshua corning | April 3, 2006 10:52 PM

So the price in 1993-94 for private schools was a little less then the price of public schools...not sure that makes me an idiot or an ass but whatever.

also the 12000 number I got was for highschool prices not elementary and secondary (probably should have been explicit on this but wasn't sorry)...the evil out of date cato chart shows that elementtry prices at least for private schools is less then high school prices...one might assume that 8280 being a combination of the two that the high school price might perhaps be about maybe near the 12000$ mark...this is not out of reason is it.

I really don't think my statment that costs of private schooling and public schooling are about equal is really off the mark at all...perhaps I deserve being called an ass or an idiot or whatever for other things i have said on this blog but for this one I think you are over reacting.

John Scalzi | April 3, 2006 10:52 PM

Joshua Corning:

"Vouchers are not the same thing as pulling money out of education...you are only pulling it out of state control."

Well, no, that not at all "only" what one is doing when removes money from the public educational system and shifts it to a private one, but I'm not going to get into my anti-voucher thing right now. Suffice to say I think there are any number of ways to improve competition and raise educational standards without giving the money to private schools.

"perhaps I deserve being called an ass or an idiot or whatever for other things i have said on this blog but for this one I think you are over reacting."

No, Joshua. You gave a number figure which you said represented expenditures for both public and private school, presented it as factual, and from that grounding attempted to spin a facetious comparison between the two. I pointed out you were basically making shit up as you go along; I don't know where you decided to get the $12,000 figure for private schools, but your suggestion that was a good number for expenditures for public schools was manifestly wrong.

It's not overreacting to point out someone is factually in error and pretty clearly hasn't the slightest idea what he is talking about. Mind you, if I weren't pointing out the fact you were pulling numbers out of your ass, I might have disputed your assertion that public schools are doing a manifestly poorer job of educating children than private schools. However, it was simple enough to knock the legs out from under your argument by showing you were simply pulling dollar figures out of the air.

The fact is, Joshua, you argue very poorly; you have no command of fact, you structure your arguments poorly, and your presentation (including spelling and grammar) suggests that you are all of 15 years old and deeply over your head. All of it makes it easy to bat aside your assertions and gives you no credibility at all when you do decide to make a point.

If you want to say that private schools do a better job of educating students, and do so on an equivalent amount of money, then you must provide the data to back up your assertion. So far you haven't, and the exceptionally sloppy way you've tried to make your argument, first by pulling numbers out of your ass, then by providing data from an entirely different century, doesn't suggest that you will.

No, Joshua, I'm not overreacting. I'm merely pointing out you haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about. Don't blame me for that, because you're the one who is making it easy for me to do so. I'm not suggesting you are stupid; mind you -- I don't think you are. You just need to work on your presentation skills.

joshua corning | April 3, 2006 10:56 PM

Suffice to say I think there are any number of ways to improve competition and raise educational standards without giving the money to private schools.

agreed...vouchers are not the only way or even remotely proven to be the best...one other way would be similar to what is used in Seattle (and other cities) is to allow parents to choose which schools they send thier kids to within a given district and have the money follow the student.

John Scalzi | April 3, 2006 11:09 PM

Indeed, that's one way to do it; that raises some problems of its own, but it's a start.

jess | April 4, 2006 12:47 AM

I went to public school from k-5. The first few years I had a phenomenal education, lots of enthusiastic teachers who were very creative, really passionate about what they were doing. As I got older though the quality of my education lessened signigicantly becuase my town stopped putting as much tax money into education. So yeah I do wonder about how private school vouchers help kids.

anonymous | April 4, 2006 07:29 AM

Two minor corrections I wanted to throw out there.

Harvard doesn't only give money to people who can win exclusive scholarships. Harvard gives money to *those who can get in*, on an as-needed basis. When I was there, this meant (on a practical front) that they funded the lion's share of my education, and while I did graduate with loans, they're 10% of the loans other people in my year at other colleges had. (With the new policies, I think if I went there now they'd be paying for everything but books and the like, which I paid for myself with a term-time job.)

Re: the difficulty of selecting the best students at age five: most boarding schools don't start looking at kids until they're in eighth grade. There are a few which go younger (down to sixth, generally), but IIRC most of the ISL schools (Exeter, Andover, Concord, etc.) start in nineth grade. It's still not easy to tell in nineth grade, but it's a hell of a lot easier than at age five.

And you'll find a lot of parents -- the ones who do everything to get their kids into the right pre-school, because they honestly believe their kid's future is screwed without it -- who really do believe in those Age Five Evaluations. One of my (Harvard) ex's mothers told me all about my ex's pre-school evaluations, and how well he did, and how nicely he'd shared his truck and interacted with the other applicants. And I hadn't even prompted her for the story to embarass him. (Although it did, which is why I'm staying anonymous here.)

David Klecha | April 4, 2006 08:03 AM

FWIW: the Catholic high school that I attended was one of the least expensive in the Detroit area, but listed as one of the best in terms of education quality by US News & World Report. One of our more expensive (and one might say more prestigious) school the next suburb over just closed their doors last year, while my alma mater continues to waitlist scores of kids per grade level. And as it stands, the school is keeping at a technological/infratructural level of the richer suburbs' public schools. (Not quite a laptop for every kid, just yet, but they're getting there.)

Oh, and to add to the comments on Catholic curriculum... that's where I first learned about evolution, most other world religions, and even (yes) contraception, including extensive discussions of the various pros and cons to each method.

So, not positing an argument, just tossing out some observations.

CoolBlue | April 4, 2006 08:04 AM

Having put four children through k-12 and in some cases beyond and having been a consumer of educational services, here's what I think about the education system: It should be far more advanced than it is.

Look, in my lifetime we have gone from computers that took up a whole room to one that sits on a desktop. In that same period, what advances have we made in information delivery?

Actually a lot in the academic arena, but almost zilch in practical.

But I don't rely on the likes of Chomsky because I have seen the results of Howard Gardner's Project Zero and his theories of Multiple Intelligences and wonder why these information delivery technologies haven't been implemented.

From my point of view, the difference is that in the computer field, there was competition and consumers.

In the education arena there is no competition and the teacher's unions are primarily in the business of acquiring more teachers to join, not educating kids.

The model for teaching kids that was developed
during the Industrial Revolution still treats people as widgets on an assemply line.

From my point of view only with educational
competition can you begin to develop advanced technology for information delivery. And only with educational competition do poor kids, slow kids and smart kids have a chance.

One thing I found is that in most public schools, smart kids are in as much danger of dropping out as slow kids because "tracking" is no longer considered politically correct and new technologies are unavailable outside of a
few schools and acedemia.

And now we find out that males are in danger of failing

To my mind, school choice is a multi-faceted solution.

WizarDru | April 4, 2006 08:37 AM

All I know is that it seems that my children are getting a manifestly better education than I did at their age, from my perspective. Which isn't to say that I think that I received a poor one. They have teachers who appear quite dedicated. They have a much more ethinically diverse set of classmates.

One public middle-school history teacher taught me more in one year (9 months, that is) than the next decade's worth of teachers would accomplish. One public high-school teacher taught me more about civics in one year than I would learn throughout my entire college career.

Home schooling? Fine for some, I suppose; but I recognize that I haven't got the training to be a teacher. We've wondered about private schooling, but many of the private schools in our area are, like John's example, in the college price-range. I know they may provide an excellent education...but whether it's worth that MUCH more for that money, I don't know if that's true.

Hao | April 4, 2006 09:02 AM

Another option is to see what kind of GT/Magnet programs are offered in your area. I've been in GT/Magnet programs from 4th grade and the quality of education is significantly better. I also think it's a better implementation than sending kids to community college or the local university to attend classes, because in the case of a magnet program, you're still in a public high school, but you take classes with students who are all very smart, and from teachers who are highly qualified to teach their subject. I don't really agree with the idea of a magnet program, because it does get special funding and the benefits don't carry over to the rest of the student population like they are supposed to, but the fact remains that they do exist, and you can take advantage of them. (The school I attended, Montgomery Blair High School has the magnet program integrated into a regular high school, so that students who attend the school normally can take magnet classes if they have the proper requirements. This seems fair, but generally you don't have the requirements unless you're already way above average. For instance, you can't take magnet multivar. calc unless you've completed magnet single var. calc or the regular ap calc. Of course, this makes Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology seem all the more unfair, because the entire school is magnet. As a side note, the magnet program was originally started for the purposes of making Montgomery Blair High School more diverse by bussing in kids from the other side of the county.)

I actually think homeschooling is an excellent option, but comes with its own headaches. I know Caltech is relatively open to homeschoolers, but other colleges definitely don't run admissions the way we do. Plus, there's the whole issue of not being equipped to teach all subjects at an equal level. Personally, I think I could probably cover a regular high school education in all the sciences, but if my kids are anything like me, I doubt I'd be able to keep up in anything outside of math, cs, or bio once they started hitting more advanced topics. Also, I don't have the fancy lasers, spectrum analyzers, optics, chemicals, fume hoods, centrifuges, etc. for a complete laboratory experience. Homeschooled kids also miss out on "normal" high school social life which ,admittedly, might be a good thing.

anonymous | April 4, 2006 11:42 AM

But I don't rely on the likes of Chomsky because I have seen the results of Howard Gardner's Project Zero and his theories of Multiple Intelligences and wonder why these information delivery technologies haven't been implemented.

Eh. From grades 3 to 5, I was taught according to Gardner's curriculum. (It was a public school, but we were in a gifted "AAIM" class of 8.) And while I really, really enjoyed grades 3 to 5, and we did a lot of neat and enriching stuff, I can't recall learning anything that was fundamental to my later education and development as a person. And I've kept up with my seven elementary-school classmates, and while we're all very ambitious and successful college kids at the moment, we don't exactly stand out as glorious geniuses amongst our other public-education peers.

So: Gardner's cool, but he's not a magic bullet. (If anything, I think the best part of that experience was the tiny class size.)

CoolBlue | April 4, 2006 12:44 PM

Gardner's cool, but he's not a magic bullet.

I agree. My point was, I hope, larger. Technology advancement with regards to Information Delivery have not kept pace with the advancements in fields that are competative. The research Gardner is doing is just an example of how this stuff stays mainly in academia.

PeterP | April 4, 2006 02:14 PM

A common thread in all of these debates seems to be the scourge of teachers unions. Are they really that bad, or is this just the usual anti-union rhetoric? Put another way, I don't remember many teachers who didn't obviously enjoy what they were doing, or who were "just there for the money". So whats the issue?

Alina Adams | April 4, 2006 03:57 PM

I quote - "because in the case of a magnet program, you're still in a public high school, but you take classes with students who are all very smart, and from teachers who are highly qualified to teach their subject."

That is SOOO adorable. What school district do you live in? Because in NYC being in a G&T program means you're still in a public school, but you take classes with students who are white and middle-class and scored well on a single test when they were 4 years old and now their parents think that entitles them to special priviliges, and from teachers who have degrees in Education and not the subject they're teaching and can't be fired even if they molest or smack a student because of a teacher's union that makes the Soviet Union look non-centrally planned.

And btw, my husband was a scholarship student in a school that, to put it in a social, financial cotext was the school the kid in "The Nanny Diaries" went to. Not because my husband's parents wanted to rub shoulders with the rich and famous, but because he was a Black kid in Harlem where the public schools... see above. And as for the quality of education, my husband tells me what he learned in K-8 basically got allowed him to coast through MIT.

Thirty years later, our son is also on finacial aid at the same school. To be honest, John, I don't understand your assertion that Athena will only go to a top school if you can pay the whole way, so as to save a spot for a more deserving student. Why exactly is a theoretical poor child more deserving of a good education than your own child?

John Scalzi | April 6, 2006 08:23 PM

Alina Adams:

"Why exactly is a theoretical poor child more deserving of a good education than your own child?"

He's not. However, I have the wherewithal to make sure Athena's education will be good regardless of where she goes; others may not.

Rich Jerk | August 9, 2006 08:04 AM

Well I suppose the whole idea is to have a better education for the higher amount you pay for fees. If you find that the level of education vs the fees you pay aren't worthwhile it would be silly to continue, unless you consider your child or yourself to have an additional benefit of hob nobbing with you the upper classes.

SweetDavid.com | January 5, 2007 03:07 AM

Funny, interresting, nice, ... this is your blog http://sweet-david.ifrance.com/

Big Red | March 23, 2007 09:33 PM

I think you have failed to learn more about current boarding school life. Many people have, because it as changed very much. At my school, Exeter, 40% of the student body is on financial aid, and 10% receive a full ride (~$40,000). Almost all 50 states and about 40 countries are represented (internationals are 9% of the student body). Only 13% are legacies. The vast majority of students really are normal kids. Well, except, they're extremely smart and talented and love to learn (they wouldn't survive if they didn't). I can't seem to think of anyone from my school who I would call "snooty."

Your statements don't seem to reflect someone who has attended a traditional or modern prep school. It seems to me like you've been fooled by bourgeois, glamorized movies and fiction novels.

Another misconception I noted was particularly ignorant. Going to a competitive high school of any kind -- public, private, or Catholic -- is a DISADVANTAGE in the admissions process. Why? Because the ivy's are also trying to diversify; they don't want kids from just a few schools. Also, admissions are extremely competitive these days; nationally-ranked soccer and clairinette players featured in Time are repeatedly turned down. It's a total crap shoot. They could fill half their incoming freshman class with Exeter and Andover math geniuses, tuba prodigies, Olympic rowers, and published poets, while getting the funding and everything else they want. But they only choose the best of the BEST of the best, pre-selected candidates who gained admission with a 20% acceptance rate to famous schools at age 13. But there are 300 of those at Exeter alone. World-class students fit for any Ivy. But of those, they're going to choose the kid who is not only the third best junior tennis player in the world, but also has a 3.99 GPA taking college-level classes (e.g., "Land, Liberty, and Limits", "Islam Existentialism", "Molecular Biology", "Number Theory", "Nabokov", "West African Drumming", "Ornithology", etc. 300+ total.. not things like English III and Precalculus), and started an orginization to clothe the homeless. Kids who would have been a shoe-in at public high school (into the Ivy's) are now downright denied from Exeter and Andover. Everyone there is over-qualified, but only the top 30% get in (mind you, the bottom 30% are extemely accomplised geniuses as well); they can't take everyone! They're NOT feeders (that stopped a looong time ago.. started to slow down in the 40's..was really gone by the 80's).

I hope you don't call such bigotry journalism.. or even humble blogging. Did you even research before you started pounding away at the keyboard?

Just So You Know | April 2, 2007 02:19 PM

Snobbery is inevitable.

After all, if a parent helps a child gain admission to a selective school, what child won't conclude that the school is somehow better than other schools, and that he or she is somehow superior to children who were not admitted, or whose parents did not even bother to try?

And having drawn that conclusion, what child will be able to supress the pity and condescension that turn a belief in one's superiority into snobbery?

Also, for all your supposed education, you folks seem to be steeped in ignorance about several issues. Perhaps I can help:

First, John, the term "parocial school" refers not to a Catholic school, but to a parish school of any faith -even Jewish.

Second, not all Catholic schools are parish schools: many are independent academies.

Third, Dave, only a tiny fraction of the teachers in Catholic schools have taken vows of poverty. Parish priests don't take those vows either.

Fourth, Cool, the plural of "Jesuit" is "Jesuits", not "Jesuit's."

I could go on.

Post a comment.

Comments are moderated to stop spam; if your comment goes into moderation, it may take a couple of hours to be released. Please read this for my comment moderation policies.
Preview will not show paragraph breaks. Trust me, they're there.
The proprietor generally responds to commenters in kind. If you're polite, he'll be polite. If you're a jackass, he'll be a jackass. If you are ignorant, he may correct you.
When in doubt, read the comment thread rules.

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)