Are you wondering whether private grade school K-12 is worth it? I am since I have two young children, one of which is grade school age.
During the pandemic, where many small businesses have been crushed, many families have decided private grade school K-12 is not worth it. As a result, private school enrollment is down. Instead, parents have decided to homeschool, as my wife and I currently have done since March 2020.
When there is eventually herd immunity, I’m likely willing to spend money on the best education possible. Spending the most amount of time with our children before they become adults and providing a great education are the best gifts. But for now, we wait.
The problem with sending our kids to private grade school is a debate about fairness. Are we really going to live in a world where the rich continue to hoard their multi-generational fortunes while the rest just struggle to get by? Will the playing field continue to be so uneven that the middle class and poor must work twice as hard to get half as much?
Is Private Grade School Worth It? Things To Consider
Costs Are Out Of Control
College is either going to be prohibitively expensive in 20 years at its current rate of price increase ($100,000+/year for tuition) or it’s going to be 100% free because society has changed the way we view the need for a college education due to technology.
What a cruel world if only the rich or super smart can afford college. Are the rest of us supposed to work 70+ hours a week as janitors in order to make $270,000+ a year? I’m banking on college being more accessible to all in the future.
Inflation is already running very high at over 8% in 2022. People are getting squeezed with higher food prices, gas prices, rent prices, home prices, medical costs, and now tuition. Your finances might not be able to handle rapid tuition increases.
You Might Not Find Happiness
What’s the point of going to college? To try and get as prestigious a job as possible to make as much money as possible to raise kids that do the same thing? Since most people are unhappy with their jobs, the system seems broken.
If your family is already well to do, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of purpose in pushing your kids to do things they don’t absolutely love to do. Isn’t it much better to just grow up to be a good person who does something useful for society instead?
You Will Feel Greater Pressure
What if you go to Harvard and end up doing nothing special? Was all the studying, stress, time and tuition all a waste? At my first job, we rejected kids from Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, Brown, Yale, Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown and Penn all the time. If you didn’t have a consensus approval, you were out.
My job as a financial analyst working in the Equities department was nothing special, unless you count photocopying 100 pages a day and getting coffee for my senior colleagues special. So imagine getting rejected from nothing special.
You Might End Up At A Public University
What if you spend $300,000+ on private grade school and then end up going to your state’s public university? Wouldn’t it have been better to just go to public grade school instead?
I’ve done research on where several private schools’ seniors attended, and the local state university is consistently in the top three schools for matriculation.
After typing out these thoughts, I’ve realized that I’m overly focused on achieving an optimal return on investment (ROI) as a financial blogger. After all, that’s what financial people do. I want everybody’s finances to never become a burden, only an enabler.
Let’s talk about the softer side of why going to private grade school might just be the better option than going to public grade school. I think the argument to attend private grade school is easier to make than attending private university.
Is Private Grade School Worth The Expense?
“If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.” – Abigail Van Buren.
I strongly believe nurture is the biggest determinant of who we become as adults. We can argue whether nurture plays a 51% role or a 90% role compared to nature. But it’s clear there’s a strong correlation between how we raise our children and how good of a citizen our children turn out to be.
Yes, we should look closely at the parents of bullies, rapists, terrorists and killers. We should also speak to parents who raise entitled brats.
If any one of us gets a traffic violation, we’ve got to spent eight hours going to online traffic school to atone for our sins unless we want black marks on our driving record and higher insurance premiums for the next couple of years. An immediate fine is also a guarantee. Why shouldn’t parents go through mandatory educational training as well if their kids do bad things before they become adults?
Given the importance of nurturing our kids, it’s logical to conclude getting the best grade school education possible before adulthood is a good idea. We’ve only got one shot at raising our kids to be outstanding citizens.
After they turn 18, whether they go to public college, private college, community college, or no college is up to them because we’ve already provided them the best education possible to decide on their own.
Related: Public vs. Private University? It Depends On Your Fear And Guilt Tolerance
A Look Inside Punahou, A Private Grade School In Hawaii
To understand whether private grade school is worth it, I decided to do some first hand research at Punahou, one of the best private grade schools on Oahu. Punahou is the alma mater to President Obama, my aunt and two nieces.
Relatively Good Value
While it regularly costs $40,000+ in tuition plus another $25,000 in room and board and fees at many private universities, Punahou is a relative bargain at $26,975 for grades K – 12 for 2022. If we divide the tuition by the nine months they are in school, we get $2,997 per month.
Given students are in school from 8am – 3pm on average a day, they are in school for roughly 140 – 154 hours a month. That comes out to $19 / hour. That’s pretty cheap given it costs $60 – $100 / hour to pay a licensed electrician or plumber to fix anything in your house.
I used to charge $70 / hour for a private tennis lesson, and currently charge much more for private consultation. Meanwhile, some teenage babysitters regularly earn $15 – $20 / hour.
If you compare the monthly or hourly cost of private grade school to day care cost, the cost is right in line as well. But while you’re in grade school, you should theoretically be learning much more in a class room than from your babysitter or day care professional.
Therefore, paying $26,975 to attend private grade school seems that much more worth it.
Teachers Who Seem To Care
Every teacher cares about their students, just to different degrees. At Punahou, it seems like the teachers not only really care about their students, they also feel empowered because their students respect them. Many of the teachers are alumni who uphold the traditions of the school.
Further, if you know your parents are paying ~$27,000 a year in tuition, there is this implicit assumption that you better try and learn as much as possible and make the best use of your time, lest you want to waste your parents’ money.
My wife and I were sitting at a library table resting from our tour of the campus when an English teacher by the name of Paul Hamamoto came up to us and asked if he could provide any guidance. He told us how the library was actually called the learning center because the school wants to share new career paths the students may not otherwise consider.
We loved hearing such out-of-the-box thinking because the world changes quickly. To hammer home the same old routine of going to college to become a lawyer doesn’t do kids justice. I never would have imagined living my current lifestyle when I was in school.
Paul taking the time to sit down with us was a great demonstration of care. It wasn’t just Paul who came up to us either. A number of teachers and administrators asked whether they could help us out and answer any questions we had about the school. More caring teachers should go a long way to raise better people.
Strong Alumni Network
Life is easier with a stronger network. We like to take care of people with similar backgrounds, or at least give them a chance to compete. Punahou is one of the largest private schools on Oahu with roughly 4,000 students from K – 12. Each year graduates roughly 400 students who attend universities all over the U.S. and the world. Therefore, Punahou should have an advantage over smaller private schools.
The most famous alumnus is President Barrack Obama. But also on the list of alumni are Steve Case (founder of AOL), Sun Yat-sen (politician), Kelly Preston (actress) and many more. The more recognized a school is and its list of alumni, perhaps the easier it is to get a job, raise capital for a business, or build your clientele.
Related: The Unhealthy Desire For Prestige Is Ruining Your Life
Larger Academic Curriculum
The very essence of school is to learn something new that will guide students towards a more fulfilling life. Private schools tend to have a wider array of classes because they have more flexibility and funding. If your kid wants to learn more about Ruby On Rails, laser cutting, glass blowing, or maybe even online media, there may be a deeper opportunity for your child to learn something a public school student may not.
I love art and guitar. But there weren’t many options for me to go deep into either field during grade school. I can always try and catch up now as an adult, but it’s much easier to learn as a kid.
One of the things I was thinking about was teaching an online media or blogging course in high school. Learning about how to make money on the internet working from home should be in huge demand thanks to the pandemic.
It would be easier for a private school to implement this new course than a public school.
Related: Why Do Smart Kids Make Dumb Decisions About Private School?
A Safer Environment
My biggest worry as a parent is that my kid will get bullied, beat up, made fun of, killed, or fall into a bad crowd. I got into fights several times when I was in public high school because I fought back against bullies.
I also occasionally hung out with kids who smoked, drank, did drugs, shoplifted and rode motorbikes illegally. As a result, I paid for my association and behavior with suspensions, community service, and more. OMG, I was a parent’s worst nightmare! Now looking back, I wonder how I was able to get through it all.
Parents who are willing to fork out $25,000+ in tuition must either care a lot about education or are simply rich enough to pay. They could be the most checked out parents ever, but for 8 hours a day, their kids are getting exposed to faculty who do care a great deal. Hopefully with more caring or wealthier parents, there will be less bad apples in the classroom.
If your classmates are poor, then they’re either attending on a merit scholarship or they realize the massive sacrifice their parents are making to send them to private school. As a result, both types of classmates are probably normal if not outstanding students. Of course there will be the occassional spoiled rich kid who doesn’t give a damn about anybody. But hopefully they are few and far between.
Related: Life After The Private Sector: Should I Get A PhD?
Private Or Public Grade School?
If you can’t afford private grade school, don’t worry! The public school system is good enough and regularly sends kids to some of the best universities around the country. Just check where your local public high school sent their graduates to see for yourself.
I went to a public high school, public college, and public business school. As a result, I am a big fan of the public school system. It’s good to get exposed to kids from all different socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s also good to not have your hand held every step of the way. You can always take accelerated courses if you want a challenge.
My best friend from McLean High School (public) got into Cooper Union and now works for a large non-profit. My other friend went to Virginia Tech (public) and is a cybersecurity engineer at a huge tech firm. Another friend also went to Virginia Tech and is CEO of his own cloud storage company.
My other public high school friend went to Georgetown and is now a radiologist who asks me to send him all my MRIs so he can provide his free opinion.
Our valedictorian went to Princeton and after spending time at Teach for America, is now a programmer. Our salutatorian went to The College of William & Mary like me, and is now a cardiologist.
I finished up a 13-year career in investment banking and decided to blog full-time starting in 2012. I think we all turned out just fine as public high school graduates.
Advice For Parents Deciding On Private Grade School
If you send your kids to public school, I recommend being more involved as a parent to make sure they’re hanging out with a good crowd. Instill in your children a work ethic that gives them the most opportunity to succeed, regardless of their level of intelligence.
As long as you’re present in your child’s development, I’m confident your child will turn out just fine. Besides, it’s hard to beat free tuition. You can use the money you would have spent on private school tuition on extra lessons after school instead.
If you can afford private grade school, you should strongly consider sending your kid for all the reasons I’ve stated above. Everybody has a different definition of what “afford” means. A good minimum level of household income to afford private grade school is probably ~5X private school tuition e.g. $20,000 tuition, $100,000 household income. But again, everybody’s expenses are different, so it’s hard to say. Let’s hope there are enough grants to go around to those families on the edge.
I had a wonderful time attending Canadian Academy in Japan, Taipei American School in Taiwan, and the International School of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia from K – 8. These were all private schools. The diversity of students was tremendous. I didn’t feel the quality of education drop off at all when I transitioned to public high school. There was plenty of room to grow because as a kid, I still had plenty to learn.
A quality education is one of the best gifts a parent could ever give. Why not pay up for a broader curriculum with dedicated teachers and a nice campus if you can afford to. Whether they go to Harvard or State U doesn’t matter so long as they turn out to be good people.
Preparing For A Move For School
I’m strongly considering moving back to Oahu to be closer to my parents. I want to be there for them in case they need anything (rides, food, handy work, tech help, gardening, companionship, etc).
Here are some steps I’ll be taking over the next five years to prepare for the option of sending my kid to private grade school:
- Do research on pre-schools.
- Do research on what type of testing private schools conduct on kids 5 and up.
- Understand the parental interview process
- Become a USPTA certified tennis instructor to potentially add value as an assistant tennis coach.
- Create an online media curriculum that I could teach at one of the private schools to add value.
- Create a personal finance curriculum to educate high school seniors about how to properly manage their money before becoming adults.
- Speak to alumni and parents of the private grade schools I’m considering.
- Build relationships with teachers, faculty and parents of the private grade schools I’m considering.
- Create a separate fund specifically for grade school tuition.
- Calculate all my pro forma expenses over the next 5+ years using Personal Capital’s free financial planner. The goal is to make sure I’m not putting my retirement cash flow at risk with this new potential expense. Here are some Income and Spending inputs I create. It includes paying $25,000 a year in private school tuition in 2023 for 12 years.
Private Grade School Is Worth It If You Can Afford It
If you make at least 5X the private grade school tuition per child, I think private grade school is worth it. If you don’t, then public grade school is a good choice as well.
The biggest thing parents worry about is regret. Parents fear their kids will grow up and not do anything with their lives. Then they might regret not spending more time with their children and spending more money on education.
However, think about how awesome you would feel if your kids went to public school, got into a great university, and grew a terrific career? You would feel like public school was the best investment ever.
We plan to try private grade school first by sending our son to a language immersion school for preschool. Then private language immersion school goes from Pre-K 3 to the 8th grade. If he likes his preschool experience, we’ll send up all the way up through the 8th grade. If not, we will apply elsewhere for kindergarten.
Buy The Best Personal Finance Book
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Forfeit The Enrollment Deposit For A Better School?
Navigating The Preschool Admissions Process
How To Get Into A Great Preschool Or Private Grade School
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Max Briggs says
I don’t think that private K-12 education becomes “worth it” or no based on how much money the family makes. In order to determine whether or not it is worth it, you need to determine if the private school you are enrolling in provides value over the public school alternative. Many people assume this is true because they look at things like average SAT scores or other nominal metrics. But this confuses selectivity and quality. Being selective raises your scores even if the school adds no additional value beyond the private school alternative. In my opinion no one should choose private school no matter how much money they make, unless the private school is able to demonstrate that they add sufficient value in producing the outcomes you desire and that their improvements justify the tuition. And it is insufficient to base it on raw scores, since the student populations in public and private schools are different. Check out how the wealthy students in your public high school did and compare their performance to private schools. Or ask the private school how well students from the same demographic background as your public school did. At least that way you’re getting closer to apples-to-apples. In most cases private schools will not be able to prove that they add value. They will hide behind raw scores, using their selectivity as a proxy for quality. And asking you to waste a lot of money to find out if they provide any real value
Punahou Grad says
This topic was just what I was looking for. I have a two year old with another child possibly on the way. I’m struggling with the dilemma of moving from California back to Hawaii (where I was born and raised) to help take care of my mother.
I attended Punahou during the 1980s. I agree with many of the previous comments about the school. In my opinion, it’s really all about the guidance each student gets from their parents. The school, at the time, did not offer me much direction in terms of helping me to truly compete with my fellow students, let alone students from other states in going for those coveted spots in the top tier colleges and universities. You really had to be a self starter and take the primary role in doing everything for yourself if you wanted to excel. The facilities are great, definitely the best in the state, so there is that.
The question I always had is whether it’s better to be the big fish in the small pond or just one of many “ok” students with the Punahou pedigree. In my day, the school was quite competitive in both academics and sports – so you really had to be one the top people in the state to get the A’s or to make practically any team in high school. When you are grading on a curve with a student body composed largely of the brightest and wealthiest students in the state, it’s obviously going to be very difficult to stand out. Yes, it’s great if you are a superstar student or athlete, but what if you’re just average to mediocre? Odds are that’s 80 to 85% of the entire student body – because you have to submit yourself to the curve. How does that look to the mainland universities when you apply? I think you just appear like any other average applicant. I don’t think having “Punahou” on your diploma does anything, by itself, to help you in college admissions.
This is the main drawback, I feel, in sending my kids to Punahou. Two kids, over 13 years, that’s probably $1.3 million to start, not counting for tuition increases that are sure to occur over multiple years. That’s such a huge financial sinkhole and could be better used to set them up for college tuition or seed money for their own business ventures.
In the end, I’d much rather my children have a childhood where they are not constantly having to compete at the highest level from the day they enter kindergarten. Not everyone can get the proper chance to shine if you’re always going to be in the shadows of people who are more talented or driven. I’m leaning towards public schools, though I realize how bad their reputation is in Hawaii. Life throws you enough stress and pressure as an adult. Not that I expect public school to be absent drawbacks (lack of facilities, disinterested teachers, bullying, ect…) just that there will be better odds that my kids will be able to excel there because of the lower level of competitive students.
Financial Samurai says
Good thoughts to consider. I guess we will know best based on knowing our kids strengths and weaknesses and doing our best to put them at a school that fits those strengths and weaknesses.
What if you go to Punahou and then end up going to University of Hawaii? A fine college, but wouldn’t spending $400,000 on Punahou be considered a waste?
What if you end up going to Harvard and graduate doing nothing special with your life?
At the end of the day, we parents probably should try and offer the best education possible and see what our kids do with it.
But if you don’t make at least 3X the annual tuition per child, private school really seems like a bad trade without any grants.
Note that historically, more Punahou grads attend UH-Manoa than any other college. That was even more true for the class of 2020, due to the pandemic.
And the UH Med School and Law School are both filled mostly with graduates of Punahou and ‘Iolani.
Financial Samurai says
Indeed! So it makes people question point of going to private grade school and spending over $300,000 when public grade school will do just fine to get into the University of Hawaii. What are your thoughts?
If you measure the value of your kids’ K-12 experiences solely by what colleges they attend, then you would likely be disappointed if your kid went on to UHM for undergrad (Med and Law school are totally different). After all, the majority of UHM undergrads are alums of local public schools.
But I think if you dig deeper, you’ll see statistical outcome differences between the Punahou grads and the public school grads who attended UH. E.g., when UH had a BS/MD program, Punahou (and Iolani) was disproportionately represented.
I highly value the K-12 experience as and end in itself. Punahou provides kids with many opportunities that are not available at public schools, that can make that experience much richer, and that is independent of what they do after high school.
Related to experience, but also going beyond it, is the peer group issue. As Punahou Grad notes above, there’s the fish/pond size issue to consider, and you need to be aware of the size of your kid relative to the various ponds available. IMO, it’s isolating and usually not enjoyable to be the only fish of a certain size; it’s much more enjoyable and socially healthy to have peers in the same size range.
Bottom line, I think you need to know your kid. Based on what you’ve posted about yourself and your family, my guess is that your kid would probably fit in better at Punahou than most public schools. If you did make the choice to send your kids to public school on O’ahu, you likely would frequently find yourself asked why you chose that route over private (while Punahou entry is selective, there are enough other private school options that pretty much any parents with the means and desire can find a private school for their kids).
And if you have the $300k or so to pay, and your kid(s) project to fit in well, I suggest you ask yourself what would be a better use of that $300k.
Financial Samurai says
“Punahou provides kids with many opportunities that are not available at public schools, that can make that experience much richer, and that is independent of what they do after high school.”
Do you have some examples?
I’m pretty sure my kids would enjoy attending Punahou or I’olani or wherever. Currently, my son is in a Mandarin immersion school in SF which seems fine. I just want them to learn, make friends, feel safe, and feel loved. That’s it! And spending money to make them feel this way is worth it.
What did you end up doing after Punahou? A lot of it is just an expectations thing. And I write about attending public or private school in my upcoming book, Buy This, Not That. I think you’ll enjoy it if you pick up a hard copy!
One example is a full range of honors and AP classes, which I believe is greater than most if not all public schools in the state.
There are others that some, but not all, public schools offer, like orchestra, speech and debate, and classes like glass blowing, music theory, and human anatomy. But I’m pretty sure no other school in the state offers the full breadth of learning opportunities that Punahou does, except perhaps Kamehameha, probably the richest private school in the country,
Punhaou Grad cited the difficulty making sports teams (and of particular interest to you, the tennis team is extremely competitive and has historically dominated states), but the flip side to that is there are so many teams that it is very possible for most kids to find some sports team they can join, and the school will create more teams for sports with high demand. Several sports have multiple varsity teams, and some have multiple JV teams. Some sports are no cut, albeit with not everyone being able to compete at all events (e.g., wrestling and Judo are no cut, but for many meets only one team member per weight class can compete).
I did not attend Punahou. I’m a public school grad, as are many parents of Punahou students.
I’ll also add a secondary consideration, that you and your wife are, IMO, more likely to find a group of parents like yourselves at Punahou than at most if not all public schools, especially if you did not have kids until you were in your 30s or later. After all, it’s your money, so it’s your prerogative to also consider what you’ll get out of it.
Financial Samurai says
Cool. Fun story. The teach I coached to two Northern California Sectional Titles played Punahou in LA at an invitational. We didn’t have our full squad, so we lost. But it was close!
Punahou Grad says
Correction with regard to tuition. The price tag for 2020-21 is about $27,000, with a new increase on the horizon announced a few weeks ago I believe. So without accounting for future increases, 13 years x $27,000 = $351,000 as a base, or likely as least $400,000 as you are projecting. That’s still about $800,000 for two kids. More palatable for sure, but still lots to ponder.
Punahou Grad says
What if you go to Punahou and then end up going to University of Hawaii? A fine college, but wouldn’t spending $400,000 on Punahou be considered a waste?
As a parent, I’d be really disappointed if it plays out like this. I’m sure most parents would say it was a waste of money. I attended college in the mainland but took summer courses at University of Hawaii. The science and math courses at UH were much, much easier compared to what I had at Punahou. Though to be fair, even though they were “dumbed down”, I have to admit that I quite enjoyed those classes and the learning experience much more at UH. The philosophy and Asian Studies classes were comparable to Punahou, as UH has a strong department in those fields.
I still feel that university should be a step up from high school in terms of level of difficulty to prepare the student for the job market, especially if you’ve committed such a huge sum to your child’s K – 12 education. In that estimation, going from Punahou to UH would certainly be a waste in my eyes.
I had some smart classmates that did go to UH with many financial incentives such a stipends or free tuition to make it more enticing, but I’d argue that they would have received that consideration even if they’d attended public school. The cream always rises to the top.
Punahou offers a perk to its employees in the form of free tuition for one kid. Admission is not guaranteed, but preference is given to kids of employees.
So of course, many students are the kids of employees, and many students’ parents try to get jobs at the school. And it’s not just faculty whose kids attend; the benefit applies to all employees, including custodial staff, groundskeepers, security guards, cafeteria staff, etc., so many of their kids attend as well.
Financial Samurai says
This is wonderful to hear, and as it should be. Is there free tuition for athletic coaches? I’ve been a high school tennis coach for three years and we went to three championships and won two of them :-)
IDK if all the coaches are school employees. The tennis program there is very competitive and for years has dominated states, so I imagine coaching positions are also competitive.
Financial Samurai says
Sounds like a match! My tram played them the other year in LA.
So what is it that your kids do now? It’s always interesting to see what kids do after getting a stellar education. Thx
I’ve come into this thread late, but Sam, you seem to be falling into a common trap, especially among those with financial foci, in looking at the public/private question.
The trap is ignoring your kids’ school experiences. For 13 years, your kids will probably spend more of their time outside of home at school than anywhere else. As a parent, it was a high priority for our kids to enjoy their childhoods, so enjoying their time at school was a big part of that.
Another thing to consider is your kids’ peer groups. As they get older, those peer groups will have increasing influence on their life trajectories as parents’ influences wane.
Our kids went to private school, and twice a year, before I wrote tuition checks, I reflected on whether our kids were enjoying their school experiences. One thing that was telling was that the threat they took most seriously , e.g. for misbehavior, was pulling them from private school.
We also had one other datum. Our firstborn had some public school experience, and we saw a huge difference between that and the private they both attended.
We could afford the tuition without a lot of sacrifice, so for us the answer was easy. After all, what better use did we have for that money than getting our kids not only good educations, but enjoyable childhoods?
IMO again, K-12 school choice matters more than college choice in life outcomes for kids.
BTW, your readers should also keep in mind that in Hawai’i there is only one public school district, so the public/private decision is much different than in much of the rest of the US, where housing prices are much more heavily influenced by the school districts, and thus the public/private choice can be inextricably tied to housing choice.
Financial Samurai says
Good points. I like to think deeply about these issues before I commit hundreds of thousands of dollars to one. I still have time to decide as my oldest isn’t 4 yet.
We can afford the tuition as well. But I also realize that my public school experience made me hungry and made me really want to fight hard. So who knows what type of experience my kids will have. I agree that the school environment is the most important factor. I would happily pay whatever amount of tuition if my kids were learning and happy.
May I ask what your kids are doing now?
You may enjoy this post: https://www.financialsamurai.com/what-if-you-go-to-harvard-and-end-up-a-nobody/
I always wondered why people split it as “private vs. public school.” I always thought it depended much more on the individual school than whether it was private or public. Maybe in San Francisco and the Bay Area, there are plenty of excellent public schools, so it’s not a necessity for parents to send their kids to private school for a better education.
It all depends on the family and individual, and less on public vs. private, or any school.
I had a pretty good experience in my earliest years in private schools, even if the school curriculum wasn’t all that. The kids at those schools just seemed way better behaved than the ones at the regular public schools I transferred to. Hell broke loose when my mom put me in the local public elementary school, where I suffered from rampant bullying, with kids at a variety of socioeconomic levels (less classy). So then she put my youngest brother in a private school through 8th grade.
The kids were super nice at the public high school I went to, but only because it was a selective magnet high school, and there was a good percentage of Asian American kids like myself.
I went to only public schools from most of elementary school through college. It seems if someone goes to public school, they’re most likely to keep going the public school route. And if they go to private school, they’re most likely to go that route. They’re just automatically filtered into that route – everyone around us are focusing on certain schools, so those are the ones we think about.
I kind of think private school students – even at lower-ranked, little-known private schools – can be a bit more refined because their parents had the money or cared enough to put them in a private school, even if there are decent public schools available.
But it does depend on a lot. I knew someone who went to an elite foreign high school, and was bullied for being from less rich family, and he didn’t have the expensive clothes or other markers of wealth that the other kids had. I believe he got in on financial aid or discount because he had a parent who worked there.
Vivian Black says
You made a great point about how you can get into a larger college and you can get a solid return on investment. My husband and I are looking to put our son into a private school, preferably a Christian one. We will keep these tips in mind as we search for a professional that we can send him to.
Private vs Public schools in largely about self segregating their children from becoming a minority in their school class. The only exception to this rule are Asian parents, where they’re willing to send their children to a white majority school. However, white parents will rarely want their children to attend a majority non-white school, public or private. Asian parents will rarely want their children to attend a latino or black majority white schools. It’s unfortunately, but part of life.
I live in SF Bay area with a 3.5 yr old and 1.5 yr old. We are exactly going thru’ similar decision making process. Couple of things which the original post could add is the yoy increase of tuition fee of between 3-5%. Apart from that, the kids needs to attend extra-curricular classes (dancing, Karate, etc) for ~$500. So per my calculation expense will be between $2500-$3500 per month per kid (which will just grow more). So the question now becomes that can I get the best school district in SFBay area for extra $5000-$7000 mortgage + property tax (> $1M mortgage on a 1.8M house) per month AND do both wife and I have the energy after our busy day of work to spend enough time to instill good work habits in our kids. Pls also consider that even if the kids are in public school, per kids extra-curricular expense would be $700 per month per kid. Lastly would our take home be increasing at 5% rate for the next 20 yrs AND would we have enough to saved up for retirement. Not a clear decision either way I think as economically public is always better option but the best thing we can do for our kids is provide them best opportunity aka education.
Old post but I was a punahou grad and had Mr. Hamamoto as my english teacher. Nice guy for sure. When I went to punahou, it was known as the elite school (along with Iolani) and the white or Haole school, though not necessarily accurate. Certainly proud to have gone there but also when folks ask, i’m not eager to blurt it out as there’s a certain stigma attached to it, which is more apparent in Hawaii where most identify by their high schools. Outside of punahou, few will ooh and aah over you, but more likely to give you a playful jab about it. Networking advantage is probably minimal, as everyone knows someone from Punahou and the islands are so small that everyone is separated by only a few degrees anyway. However, the punahou now is a bit different than when I went. From what I gather from adult friends trying to get their kids in, it’s more competitive and intense than before. Volunteering at carnival, donating, etc. before your kids are of age. Trying to get your kid into feeder preschools. It’s almost like the feverish obsession of Harvard. This seemed to peak in 2008 or so when Obama made headlines and Punahou was ranked #1 by sports illustrated or something like that. There’s a certain stigma and vibe to it that I’m not so sure I want my kid to be a part of anymore. If they get it great, but I won’t go out of my way for it. Inside the walls it’s probably not much different, but outside it just feels different.
It was a great school and experience, but certainly one is a bit sheltered there. The benefit of the school is that you’re surrounded by like minded students (or more so parents) with good homes, families. Lots of kids with rich parents of course. However, there were still some mediocre or below average students. Drugs and alcohol weren’t uncommon in social life, however due to the family dynamics of most students, it’s not a lifetime issue. The facilities are good and the teachers are nice and caring, are they more caring than other schools? Hard to say but likely not, based on other’s experiences and friends who are teachers elsewhere. Are the teachers better? I don’t think so. I didn’t think my teachers were particularly noteworthy, except for some. Certainly had terrible teachers too. College is well supported and built into the culture of the school, it’s sort of expected and a form of peer pressure. I’m not sure if college admissions success has much to do with the teaching/curriculum vs college counseling and culture. Ultimately, I think the biggest benefit you’re paying for is facilities and the environment (namely other students). I had a classmate who’s brother was valedictorian at their public high school in town and got a full scholarship to an ivy league. My friend didn’t. How much weight can we put on the school vs the parent, home life or individual kid?
Financial Samurai says
I concur with many of your thoughts! On Oahu, where life is relatively chill…. I actually wouldn’t want anybody to know that I went to an elite grade school or that my son goes there too (he does not). Oahu is all about being low key and humble in my opinion. Having the college admissions fever scandal on the islands seems completely COUNTER to the culture there!
If you want to go that route in NYC or SF, it seems more normal. But to go through the grind in Oahu seems off.
Really good food for thought.
See: What If You Go To Harvard And End Up A Nobody
Great discussion! I am shocked to see that nationally a private grade school only cost $20k/year while in New England where I live, it is $40k/year through 8th and easily $50-$60 in high school. Despite the high cost of private education and living in excellent public school districts, many parents still send their kids to private schools. I suspect it is due to “local comparison”. No matter how well your public system ranks nationally, you’d only compare your kids with your neighbors’ or your coworkers’, so parents would always ask what better or more competitive options/schools there are.
Even though many private schools offer financial aid, it will most likely go to the lower income family. The truly wealthy will not need it. So the cost become most prohibitive for the middle income family because that would be $60-100K/year of their income to afford these schools. And I wonder whether that’s the force keeping the public school districts strong.
Great post and discussions! I am really surprised that nationally a private grade school only cost around $20K when in New England (where I live), 4th grade onward would average $40K/year and by the time you get to 12th grade you are looking at $50-60K/year easily. But wages in NE aren’t 2X of the rest of the nation. Even so, I see a lot of families sending their kids to private schools despite living in excellent school districts. I would think even with your revised required minimum income of $300K, sending kids to private school would have a huge setback on family financials. While the truly wealthy families have no problem and the lower income families may qualify for financial aid, the cost becomes prohibitive for middle class families.
Another point I’d like to bring up is that, like “all politics are domestic”, school comparisons are also limited within the regions or neighborhoods. Parents often focus less on how good their public school systems are nationally, but rather “are there even better or more competitive options within my area”.
Sure. I am mainly looking at outcomes from high school- you are right, it’s really hard to compare grade schools. I don’t think my personal experience matters, so I will try and stick to objectives. I would happily advise anyone to attend Punahou, including family. But it’s not up there with other schools for reasons I shall elucidate below.
Kids from Punahou get into great colleges as they are the best educated in Hawaii. I attended college with several.
1. Remember that Hawaii is an island, so you just don’t have as big a population to draw from as, say, IMSA in Illinois or even Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, or the top tier private schools in New York City or Boston or DC or Los Angeles such as Brearley, Winsor, Harvard-Westlake etc.
2. Places like Exeter, Eton, Harrow, and Andover draw students from all over the globe, so the caliber of their student body is extremely high.
3. They have to accept a variety of kids due to the public school situation in Hawaii. An objective measure of outcomes would be percentage of National Merit Scholars, which is only 6.3% at Punahou. Many other schools have much higher percentages.
4. Few to no winners in major math or science contests.
5. Median SAT scores are lower at Punahou than at many other schools.
6. Lower percentage of top twenty/Ivy/little Ivy acceptances than many of the schools listed above despite the Hawaii advantage
7. Non need-blind admissions, so the school is probably missing some bright kids. Admittedly, this is true for most private schools.
Punahou is great, no doubt, and students benefit in exmissions from its location. But there are certainly schools that have more robust performance on many objective outcome measures. It’s mainly limited by its location, but that also helps with exmissions.
Financial Samurai says
Thanks for the feedback. Some good points.
What about you though? Where did you attend grade school and college and what do you do now for a living?
I’m a guy who questions spending money on private school, period. Hence why grading private grade schools on quality when they seem all pretty good is fascinating to me.
Here is the info I feel I can share publicly. I am an MD who attended some private school as well as public school, attended a top 10 or 15 private university and top 20 medschool.
Agreed all of the schools mentioned above are great, and I think that kids would have a wealth of opportunities at any of them. No school is perfect, and every child is different. Punahou is fantastic, and it’s also much cheaper than many mainland private schools. I didn’t grow up in Hawaii, but the few people I know who did all attended Punahou and it seemed o work well for them.
Having attended both private and public schools, I question the value of private also, but unless something has changed the Hawaii schools have a poor reputation for a variety of bizarre postcolonial reasons, and private seems very popular there, probably with reason.
I completely question the value in places like New York and Boston where there are so many amazingly good public schools that are often more rigorous than private. I don’t question the value in areas with really bad or limited public schools, such as the Mississippi Delta and maybe still Hawaii.
Mmmm…move to Hawaii. Mmmm.
Punahou is no better than Iolani, at the least, but I also have friends who went to any high school in Hawaii and have become successful adults. Also know some punahou grads who haven’t done much. I think parents, the individual, home life, etc. are much stronger determinants of academic success than high school name. Of course there’s a bit bias in this poster’s comment as maybe they’ve only been fortunate enough to run into punahou grads, Hawaii kids in general mostly don’t leave for college, and most stick to the west coast, and many are from Iolani or Punahou, but that doesn’t mean it’s because they’re better educated. Most go to State schools on the mainland, fewer go to ivy leagues, either by choice (too far away) or ability. Plus the college culture in Punahou is strong. But as the name spreads the bias continues despite no one really knowing what the school is about, they just hear it often.
Financial Samurai says
Would you say as a business owner who views college as a depreciating asset, that it would be wiser NOT to send my son to Punahou or I’olani? Are there more stealth low key schools to send your kid to in Honolulu? What are some of the best public schools on the south and south east side of Honolulu you think?
Finally, where did you go to college and what do you do? I find it amusing that lots of Punahou grads end up going to UH. Why not just go to public school.
Related: The Rapid Depreciation Of A Harvard Degree
Probably not the best person to answer on schools. I don’t know how good this schools truly are, but for private schools, Maryknoll and HBA are options. Damien and St Louis are as well. Midpac used to be so-so but heard it has gotten better. There’s UH lab, which I think is a charter school. For public, I’m even less sure. Moanalua has always been known to be good, but is probably outside your intended area. Kaiser seems good in a good neighborhood. Looking at greatschools, I didn’t realize Kaimuki was that bad or roosevelt that good. I know great people with successful careers from all those schools, of course they just may be the outliers or cream of the crop. I really do believe parents and peers likely play a more important role. I know people who got into wrong crowds at punahou/iolani and got in trouble, dropped out, or kicked out. Very few of them but not zero either.
I’d bet most parents don’t send their kids to private school expecting them to go UH, but it is what it is, maybe they don’t do as well or just don’t want to leave, thats ok too. Likewise it seems even sillier to go to some no-name expensive school on the mainland, just cause, when UH could serve your needs just fine. I know punahou kids that did UH and have successful careers and others who did ivy league not really establish themselves for awhile.
Also, my comments was for high school options mainly. However, my kids aren’t of that age so I haven’t looked into it much, just only have anecdotes and hearsay from various sources, which I don’t entirely trust either. For elementary I’m more than happy with public school.
Just read a research article on the topic and the conclusion was adjusted for household income, there is zero outcome difference for public and private school students. Kids from higher income households do better on standardized tests than kids from lower income households and there is a higher proportion of rich kids at private school. Rich kids at public schools equally well to rich kids at private schools.
While I believe students will perform equally well on standardized tests, i highly doubt social outcomes are the same. Public schools do not teach or emphasize emotional intelligence, social skills, or public speaking. Especially at mediocre public schools. No way my kid’s outcome in life will be the same if I send them to a mediocre public school versus an elite private school.
Hawaii has notoriously bad schools, so unfortunately I think it’s one of the places where you have to strongly consider private education. That having been said, while Punahou has a great campus and resources, the academics are just not on the level of many elite public and private schools in places such as Massachusetts, New York, and California .
But definitely the best choice in Hawaii if you want to be near your mom.
Financial Samurai says
Can you explain with some objective criteria why Punahou is not as good as mainland private schools?
My niece went on to attend Princeton, which is a pretty good school.
Where did your children go for a private grade school? What colleges did they go to afterward? And what are they doing with their lives now? Thanks
I answered- sorry, I didn’t mean to offend. If it works for your family, that’s all that matters.
The problem with university is that there is too much work. Fifteen years ago there were no cell phones that could do things like they can today, and no one keeps straight jobs anymore. A better way to do it is to take an online certificate at university. Just one will give you something and save the trouble of useless courses in the school itself
As someone who recently graduated from university with a dual-degree (Math & Statistical Modeling) while working nearly full time the last 2 years of school…
There is not too much work. There is too much wasting time and not enough focus (both students and faculty).
As a parent if you are going to spend so much money on education, then it better be worth it. The kids should grow up to have the best jobs. It’s a lot of pressure. RIGHT?
I’ve seen one set of parents who lived in the one of the best school districts in the state. People moved to their city to take advantage of schools. Property taxes reflected the school’s reputation. They decided to send their daughter to a private school, so she could get the best education. Today’s annual tuition is $30K per year. From an ROI perspective, she did not do well. She’s in her late 20s, living with the parents, divorced, dropped out of college, and working at a daycare (probably makes $30K a year).
There nothing wrong with being a daycare teacher. I have out most respect because she deals with kids 24/7.
However, on paper it just doesn’t make sense. Her parents spent hundred of thousands of dollars on her education. Maybe liking at it from a financial perspective is harsh.
However, as an adult I always value the financial perspective.
Both me and my husband are products of public schools and have had good and bad experiences. He spend his junior and senior years in a private military school after almost flunking out of public school. He loved his time there and credits it for turning him around. He didn’t complete his undergrad but is making a decent living in the SF bay area.
Our city (Oakland, CA) has some decent public elementary schools and some not so good ones so we wanted to give public a chance. Our son got into one of decent ones (great school score of 7), very diverse student body, ethnically and economically. But my son’s kindergarten teacher was not very good in our opinion. She seemed burnt out from managing a class of 23 kids with varying degrees of readiness for kindergarten. How can 1 person truly spend the time necessary to educate each student and pay them individual attention? Our son was one of the “troublemakers” in class after 1 week of class. There was a lack of classroom and parent support.
We pulled him out of the public school and found a private school that has smaller class size and fabulous teachers who are happy and excited to see the kids each day. The school’s philosophy on social and emotional development was important to us. They teach the kids to think for themselves, not teaching to pass tests but really developing a life long love of learning. The tuition is almost $25k this year not including after school care and activities but we were able to get some financial aid. We have a pre-schooler who I hope will also be able to attend the same school because I want her to have just as an amazing opportunity as her older brother. The elementary and pre-school costs combined are about 15% of our after tax income this year.
Financial Samurai says
15% is very affordable. What do you guys do for a living? Sounds like your husband had some interesting times growing up!
My husband works in IT at a tech company. I work in the creative fields for a big apparel company in SF and also dabble in real estate investing on the side. I am trying to turn the real estate thing into a full time gig so I can leave the 9-5 grind of “working for the man”. :)
Leanne – +100. We feel the public schools don’t emphasize social skills and emotional intelligence enough. The public schools seem to only push achievement on standardized tests. Bullying, harassment, and students disrespecting each other aren’t managed well by school staff and too much pressure is placed on test scores. The result is an ever increasing level of stress and anxiety in our kids.