If you have school age children, investing in your children’s education is one of the wisest investments you can make. There is no greater investment for your children’s future than education. However, education is also one of the most expensive decisions you can make. There are seven reasons why physicians spend tens of thousands of dollars a year to send their children to private schools despite the high costs.
In today’s world of increasing college education costs, is the cost of private school for your children worth the investment? Like most financial decisions, the answer is, it depends. Let’s look at two young physician families with three children at home.
Our first family is the Tutelage family. The Tutelage family is a few years out of residency. They recently purchased a house and are still paying down their medical school debt, now about $150,000 combined. They have three school-aged children, ages nine, seven and five. Mrs. Tutelage went to a private religious school and would like the same experience for their children. The Tutelage family firmly believes in investing in a good education and make many sacrifices to send their children to the best private school in the city. Luckily they don’t live in New York City and the private school in town is a bargain at around $20,000 per year per child.
Despite private education for their children costing over $60,000 per year, the Tutelage family continues to prioritize their children’s education over other luxuries. With a combined income of $320,000, The $5,000 / month they have to save just for school is a considerable outlay, almost 30% of their take-home earnings each month.
Can a school really be worth 30% of your take-home income each month? For the majority of Americans, the choice of public vs. private doesn’t even enter the equation because they cannot afford the tuition. The question for us today is, are physicians in that group?
The Reasons You Send Your Child to Private School
Private schools have been the educational option for those individuals with the means to afford it since the founding of America. In the eyes of others, where you choose to send your kids to school can symbolize your values and worldview.
Nationwide a surprisingly small segment of the population attends private school. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only about 10% of the students in the U.S. attend private schools. Once you get to an income over $200,000 per year, that number jumps up to 25%.
Some of your physician colleagues might be quick to pass judgment on the choice to send your children to public school when you have the means to send them to private school. When you say your kids go to public school, you can almost hear them saying “Your children are worse off because they don’t go to private school.”
They may have a point. Here are seven reasons that physicians should be sending their children to private school.
#1: There Is Compelling Evidence That Small Class Size Works
The smaller class sizes of private schools compared to public schools allow for more individualized attention and better resource allocation. Private school teachers know the students well and are in tune with more than just academics. In some public schools, the class sizes may be the same, but there is just better control and discipline in the classrooms of private schools.
Interestingly it’s the better control in the classroom and the inability for children to hide in the back that makes up the majority of the gains from small class sizes. The most persuasive class-size research in the United States comes from Project STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Ratio) which was conducted in Tennessee between 1985 and 1989.
This study found students in small classes outperformed students in larger groups, even when teachers had the help of an aide.
The fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic remain the foundation of any solid education. College prep gets all the glory, but without a strong foundation in the basics, success is hard to obtain.
#2: Private Schools Have Better Access to Educational Advances
Not only are the class sizes smaller but special classes and enrichment curriculum can be more diverse depending on the school. Private schools tend to have increased access to technology and innovation which puts children with the aptitude in position for extraordinary success.
Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book Outliers that one of the factors leading to Bill Gates’ success was his having unique access to cutting-edge computers at his private Lakeside High School.
Most private schools will have better facilities depending on the public school district building plans and maintenance.
#3: Private Schools Can Teach Successful Life Skills
Many Private schools emphasize the learning for the sake of intellectual curiosity and to explore and collect information. By teaching how to be a lifelong student, they prepare children for the changing landscape ahead.
Research shows that teaching kids things like perseverance and self-control can improve their health, academic achievement, and happiness in life.
Private schools also emphasize more of these soft skills as well as drama, debate, and presentation. The confidence that comes from good presentation skills can carry forward for years.
#4: Private Schools Have Healthy School Communities
Healthy school community can build lifetime friendships. This type of community happens at many public schools as well. The small community can be welcoming and warm, or it can be stifling. Each school has its style, and for some families, it might not be the right match.
Outsiders may view this community as elitism. Every school is different, Don’t lump all private schools with a snobbish prep school stereotype. The vast majority of private schools across our country are welcoming and open to new families.
As with everything in life, first impressions count.
It is true that many but not all private schools lack the same ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of public schools. Private schools counter this through acts of altruism and community involvement.
Though private schools may lack diversity, the students themselves interestingly tend to be more tolerant and accepting of minority students than public schools. They also tend to be more prepared to combat bullying and other social infighting that occurs in school.
This community is likely one of the reasons children who go to private school are more apt to go into certain professions. The expectations of success and social networking circles that involve other professionals likely contribute to students career choices and may lead to networking opportunities later in life.
#5 Parental Involvement Is a Major Factor For Success
The success of any school revolves around the parental involvement. Parents at private schools tend to be more involved, and the students perform better as a whole as a result. Many public school districts are better than some private schools for this very same reason.
Many private schools families have high expectations for their children. As long as these expectations are not unrealistic and overbearing, the overall higher expectations can help raise the bar of achievement for the children.
Often these same involved parents of private school students can afford additional tutoring if the child is in danger of falling behind with school work. The extra help and the fact that private schools start with fewer under-achieving pupils leads to better test scores on average for private schools.
#6: Playing Sports Makes You More Successful
Private schools provide the opportunity for some students to be big fish in a little pond. They can often allow students to enjoy participation in varsity sports that would not be possible on more competitive public school teams.
While they allow for more participation, the sports programs of private schools can be limited and any sports played will typically be in a lower division than in a public school. For students with high athletic aspirations, private schools often don’t allow athletes to compete on as high of a level if they went to a comparable public school.
Many parents realize this and understand that their children’s ” ball skills” will not be paying the “bills” when they get older. However, they still want them to enjoy the satisfaction of being a teammate and what it means to work together.
Two recent studies published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies found that the 43 percent of high school students in the United States who have played sports tended to have more leadership, self-confidence, and self-respect.
There is evidence that playing sports in environments where athletes practice the transfer of skills needed to succeed in sport leads them to success in other domains. Traits such as goal-setting, confidence, discipline and leadership skills, are also necessary to succeed in business and life.
#7: Economic Insecurity is The Real Reason Parents Send Their Children To Private Schools.
The uncertain economic times and global competition of today’s world raises the stakes for the next generation of children even higher. It used to be that if you went to a good public high school you could go to a good college which will get you a good job. That sequence of events doesn’t exist today. Career paths will continue to become more amorphous and require students to demonstrate a history of accomplishment.
College educated and better-paid professionals have less leisure time today than they did in the 1960s. Part of this is because professionals are more likely to identify with their careers and enjoy what they do for a living. The other reason is job insecurity which looks to grow in the future with advances in computing and artificial intelligence.
Parents also have more insight into how children develop and have more tools to groom children for adulthood. Many healthcare professionals are starting families later in life. These well-educated professionals are usually in a better financial position to make an investment in their children.
The best way to ensure the prosperity for your kids has morphed into providing the education and skills needed to get ahead, especially since talented human capital grows ever more essential for success
This is why professionals spend so much time worrying about public vs. private schools and chauffeuring children to resume padding activities.
Those seven reasons, no matter how persuasive, come with a hefty price tag.
Let’s look at our second family, the Prudent family. As two primary care providers, their combined salary is less than the Tutelages. The Prudent’s too, have three school-aged children aged nine, seven and five. Mrs. Prudent had attended public schools her entire life and felt that public schools offer plenty of opportunity for her children.
The Prudent’s know you do not get a free pass on the math, no matter how much you want to send your children to private school. They rather use their cash flow and savings for college or professional school which is increasingly becoming necessary for well-paying careers today.
The private school in their town where they would send their children has a tuition schedule that looks like this:
- Toddlers/Nursery (5 days) $7,500
- Pre-Kindergarten $12,300
- Kindergarten and Primary $14,100
- Middle School $15,150
- High School $15,500
IF the Prudent’s send their three children to private school, they are looking at post-tax tuition bill of $7,500 + $12,300 + $14,100 = $33,900 per year. This is the equivalent of $2,825/month. It’s not as much as the Tutelage spend each month, but it is still a significant outlay for any family.
The kicker is that the cost is only going to go up. Tuition increases each year slightly with inflation. As the kids all get to high school, the Prudent’s would now be looking at a tuition bill of almost $50,000 year.
This princely sum of money could do many other things:
- Invested for 25 years, it could be an extra $1.6 million or more for retirement
- It buys a $500,000 vacation home somewhere nice
- A month in Europe each year
- A Trip around the world each year
If you do some back of the envelope math, that same money invested for 12 years with a 5% return from a low-cost index fund would be around $600,000 or about $200,000 per child when they graduated from high school.
Public school isn’t a free lunch. The school district with the new facilities, small classes and involved parents is of course very popular in town. The homes in that district are about 30% more costly than homes in other less desirable school districts. If they had a single child, one could argue that it may be cheaper to send the child to private school. However, with three kids, they are better off paying the premium to be in the better school district.
She knows however that even the best public school districts in the USA don’t compare well to public education internationally.
She even compares her local school district using a tool from the Global Report Card
Other Factors To Consider
Traditionally, private schools do not off support for children with special needs. These schools tend to want to be known for college prep, not remedial work. They want to say that 99% of their class goes to college. Therefore, there is some selection bias.
In many public schools, nothing is given to you, teachers may not be of high quality, and larger class sizes can mean increased competition. These factors can help some children build resilience. Teaching kids responsibly and how to manage their education will serve them well in school and beyond.
By swapping between public and private, you can help your kids appreciate the privileges and assistance that private school brings.
Swapping schools later can lead to a less challenging academic environment or vice versa. Swapping schools will offer a more challenging social environment no matter the grade.
Some public schools like charter schools offer the independent, flexible curriculum of private schools without the cost of tuition. Some communities offer magnet schools with high academic standards and competitive admissions like a private school.
One Good Reason Not To Send Your Children To Private School
With rising education costs, if your child doesn’t pursue a well-compensated career, it might not make financial sense to devote so many resources to traditional education.
Some families defer retirement savings to send their children to private school.
I would argue that choosing to send your kids to private school often starts the cascade of small decisions that ends up inflating your lifestyle and cutting into your savings.
Everything has a price. Many physicians are competitive, and like most parents they want their child to do well or better than they did.
All this work giving your children a material advantage might be doing more harm than good.
People have been arguing about the benefits and drawbacks of private school for years. Part of what makes this such a hard debate is that while they both have their advantages, one isn’t necessarily better than the other
Some physicians may have reasons other than academics and athletics. There is a religious aspect for many people. In fact, 80% of private schools are religiously affiliated schools.
Some parents may want the difference a single-sex education brings to both boys and girls.
For others, the extracurriculars and extended day options for physicians stuck at the hospital are better than the corresponding public schools.
Your child’s educational outcome is likely more dependent on what you and the child put into their education than which school they attend.
What about you? Preparing our children to succeed is the best way to transfer success and privilege from one generation to the next. If you have children, do you send them to private school? Is it worth spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a product with variable outcomes?
Warnings & Examples
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