Is Private School Worth It?

The choice of school for one’s children is a very personal one, and is heavily influenced by one’s own childhood experiences. It’s probably true that most parents who went to private school themselves intend to send their kids to private school, and that most public-schooled parents intend to do the opposite. But leaving out for a moment considerations of prestige, status, diversity, and the like, is paying $20k a year for thirteen years of a top-notch private school worth it?

By the time a child is 18, that’s $270,000 in tuition expenses alone – and that’s if tuition increases only at the rate of inflation. If that tuition money were invested in the stock market, by the child’s 18th birthday that $270,000 would become $570,000! That’s a tidy sum, even for those with the money for private school in the first place.

The important question is, what does that $570k buy exactly? Does it have a major impact on the child’s future educational or career prospects? Does it have an $570,000 impact on the child’s future prospects? Unfortunately for private-schoolers, the answer is no. A study by the US Department of Education shows that after controlling for a student’s family income and education background, public school students actually outperform private school students! When parents of significant means and education send their kids to public school, they’re not dooming them to mediocrity at all. So much of a child’s attitude toward education is formed at home and through good parenting that the subsequent schooling environment has relatively little impact.

All this is not to say that private school has no positive impact on a child’s education at all – I mean, 20 grand has to buy you something! It buys nicer facilities, more obedient students, more extracurricular activities, and a host of other niceties. But all of that is white noise when measured against the lessons a child learns at home. Assuming that the public school options available provide a safe learning environment, the child will no doubt excel there.

If a parent has 570k burning a hole in his pocket, and wants to spend it on his child, there are plenty of more cost effective options than private school. Ensuring the child leaves college (and even graduate school) without debt is a nice option. A trust fund that pays most of their expenses for life? A Ferrari for their sixteenth birthday? Not my choice, but it still might be a better buy than private school.

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