How We Do School: A Guest Post from Cathy

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How we choose to educate our children can be as varied as what we each serve for dinner each night. For me and my family, we’ve chosen to homeschool, as has my friend Joy. On the other hand, my friend JessieLeigh has chosen the public school option. I have my reasons, and they each have theirs.

All of life is learning! And there’s so much we moms can learn from each other — even once our formal education has ceased.

This series is designed to show how different families approach schooling choice for their children. Today, Cathy from Chief Family Officer shares her story and how her family chose the public schooling option.

Photo Source: striatic

Cathy’s Story

— Describe your family (# of children, boys, girls, ages, grades)
I have two boys – the oldest starts kindergarten this fall, and the youngest is still in preschool.

— What state do you live in? California

— What’s your educational background?
I went to a mix of public and private schools growing up, and have a post-graduate degree. Same for my husband.

— What were “must haves” for your children’s education?
The single biggest key is safety. Parts of Los Angeles have serious gang problems, so I wanted to make sure that there were no gang issues whatsoever at my son’s school. High academic expectations were another priority, along with a larger size school. We crossed a lot of private schools off our list because they were too small. My husband and I decided that homeschooling wasn’t an option that we were comfortable with (and I would never have even considered it for a moment if not for all the bloggers I respect who do homeschool their children).

— How did you research your decision?
I started researching schools three years ago, when my son was just two years old. I already knew the names of the big (read: most expensive) private schools that were within reasonable driving distance of our home. I studied their web sites and especially their tuition rates, because our decision was going to be based largely on economics. I asked everyone I knew about other private schools, and researched them as well. I went to open houses, talked to my son’s pediatrician, and gathered information from every source I could think of.

Our pediatrician was actually quite positive about our public school, which turned out to be one of the best in our part of LA. One friend who lives about a mile away graciously invited me to join her neighborhood playgroup, which included three kids a year older than my son. That allowed me to meet some moms who were also thinking about kindergarten, and they all ultimately sent their children to our local school, which has given me a chance to see how they like it there.

— How did you come to that conclusion?

Between open houses, talking with dozens of people, and reading everything available on the internet, I reached the following conclusions:

First, we simply could not afford the top private schools. Tuition at these schools is over $20,000 in fall 2010 – at a couple, it’s close to $30,000. Even if we could afford it for my five-year-old, we couldn’t afford it for his younger brother. And even if we could afford to send them both to a top private school, I’m not sure that it would be worth the $400,000 each that it would cost for K through 12. In a way, I’m glad I don’t have to make that call right now.

Second, there weren’t any “second-tier” private schools that I liked within the geographical area I was looking at. Most were too small and not academically rigorous enough to warrant the tuition.

Third, our local school is pleasantly great. The test scores are good; there’s an active PTA that provides lots of “extras” that the district no longer provides because of budget restrictions; and the administration appears committed to excellence. I really couldn’t ask for more, especially when there is no added financial burden to our family.

So, after three years of research, I arrived at the conclusion that most people reach without any thought at all: my child will attend the local public school.

Photo source: Conspirator

— What benefits are you now reaping from your decision?I’ll let you know a year from now. 🙂

— What advice would you give to families considering or reconsidering this decision?

Start researching early, and glean information from every source you can. The private versus public school debate is one that’s quite common among my social circle, so I learned a lot from other parents.

Cathy blogs about family finances, parenting, and cooking at Chief Family Officer. While she’s comfortable with her choice about public school, she’s still nervous about her baby starting kindergarten!

How much weight does the opinion of others, like pediatricians, family, etc. carry with you in choosing a schooling option for your children?

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  1. Over the years we have both sent our kids to public schools and homeschooled… In addition to the consideration of the public school we chose (academic integrity, while having an extremely vibrant music program, in the middle school) we have also found that knowing our child is important as well…

    Both of our boys have been homeschooled; our daughter never has been homeschooled–the boys have benefitted greatly from brief spurts of study, combined with a lot of flexible time exploring the world, while our daughter thrives in a very structured schedule. That said, you really want to get a lot of information from other families and up close scrutiny–I have found the public schools are more interested in marketing than they are in really representing what they’re like.

  2. Honestly, while I think our pediatrician is a wonderful doctor, her opinion about how to school my children is not very important to me. I don’t know enough about HER children to know if what she would say would be relevant for my family. My family’s opinion matters to me, but it’s not the be-all and end-all either. My brother sends his daughters to a parochial school while I chose public school… but we certainly still love and respect each other! I respect how much research you put into your decision, Cathy– we all need to “do our homework” before making such an important choice, I think.

  3. I never talked to our pediatrician about our school choice. We didn’t really talk with our family either, since none had direct experience with the public school or 2 Christian schools we were considering. We did consult with God. Every time I prayed seeking guidance, he gave very clear answers that our local public school is where our children should be. Having attended Christian schools K-12, this was difficult for me to accept as I wanted the same for my kids, but I trust God to put them in the right place for them. I think there are pros and cons to most schooling choices – you have to find what fits your child(ren) best and just be involved.

  4. My husband and I made the decision between us to home school our kids (now aged 3 and 1 years). At the time we didn’t know anyone who home schooled – we just knew that it was out there, and that it seemed right for us. It was only after we’d decided to go for it that we told our family.

    I was a little wary of telling my husband’s parents as they’re “old-school” (no pun intended!) and my mother-in-law teaches grade seven and eight students in a public school. Luckily, some co-workers she respects home school their own children (kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?) and those parents paved the way for us and she concedes that some people can do a great job teaching their own children. I suspect, though, that she pictures us buying a boxed curriculum and following the manual or maybe registering with a long distance program of some kind, so she may be in for a surprise there!

    When it comes right down to it, these children are our children and my extended family can like it or lump it. At least I know they love my kids and would have the class to be subtle about their disapproval should it come to that!

    PS Iit has never even crossed my mind to even consult my family doctor about this decision.

  5. @Kerry – You make an excellent point about needing to do what’s right for each individual child!

    @JessieLeigh (love your name, it’s so beautiful) – Thanks so much for your kind words. I don’t think I would have the kind of peace I have about our decision without having done the research!

    @Kellie – Our pediatrician was a great resource for us, but our situation is probably unique to our area. As I mention in the post, at least for our socioeconomic group, private vs. public is a real struggle for most families so it’s something our pediatrician is very aware of.

  6. Hi Cathy! I’m in the throws of making this very decision for my 4 yo daughter now, and I don’t even know where to start doing the research. I do know that the public elementary school in our school district is WAY below our standards for education, so we are considering moving to another part of town to be in a better district. That being said, how did you go about doing your research on schools? Are there websites that grade them or tell you about how they do things? Thanks so much!

    1. @Tara,
      First, my response is not meant to be argumentative, just a different perspective.
      I agree with you completely that education whether it be public, homeschool or charter school should be “graded.” Why are HS/charter schools so afraid of a tracking system or being graded? So many HS advocates have said the “standards of public school are so far below.” What are the standards of HS?(aside from the common answers I’m reading “because I know what’s best for my children.) What measures are in place to proctect our children if , heaven forbid ,we do fail them but are unwilling to recognize it until it’s too late? Is that when the family and friends are there at the pricise moment we wish they would go away because “nobody is going to tell me what to do.”

      1. Heidi, I think your comment comes a little out of left field, or perhaps I don’t understand what you are trying to communicate. I don’t think Tara was expressing an opinion about homeschooling or charter schools in any way. Could you help me understand? Thanks.

        1. @Jessica Fisher, Oh my goodness, I had no intention of starting such a conversation! I was simply asking how to do research on public schools to determine which ones are doing well and which are doing poorly based on state standards. My husband and I have not yet made any decisions on how we will school our daughter and are exploring all the options available to us – public, private, charter, and homeschooling. I am definitely not judging anyone’s choice for their family, as this is a very important and very personal decision that each family makes based on their situation. I just needed to figure out how to get more information on the options that I have, and that’s it. I apologize for the confusion!

      1. @Jessica Fisher,
        Please accept my apology. As I commented, this was just another perspective to consider and certainly not to judge another’s character or family or start an argument!
        I understand your frustration in “below standards” and trying to find information/ “grades” on public schools. As I expressed in my comments, I find it very difficult to find any ” grades” on HS. I was hoping for responses from other moms to comment on both “grading systems.” Therefore helping not only the two of us, but many other moms searching for answers. That’s all I was trying to do. I’m sorry.

  7. Tara, I don’t know how helpful I can be unless you live in the LA area. There is a web site called that has reviews/ratings, but I found them rather, um, incomplete. The best way to learn about schools is truly word of mouth – talk to as many people as you can about schools. Assuming other parents feel the same way you do, at least to some degree, there should be a good pool of knowledge there. Oh, one last thing if you’re in LA, there’s a book that’s basically a directory of all the private schools here – I can’t remember what it’s called because I only looked at it once years ago, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find. It may be out of date, but should still help you find schools that you’ve never heard of before. Good luck!