Friday Freakout: Why Do Parents Send Their Kids to Private Schools

CNN Parents posted an article entitled “Public vs. private school: What’s with all the judging?” that explores the subtle and overtly hostile ways parents can treat one another based on where they send their children to school. The post has received more than 2,400 comments as of the time of this posting, and, you guessed it, this week’s freakout is one of them.


Well, Vicki here has blown our minds with this airtight argument. In all seriousness, no one reading this needs us to point out that her 90 percent figure was literally pulled out of thin air—not even a Google search with those keywords provides evidence to back up Vicki’s claim. But that exaggerated comment does speak to a more subtle, yet common argument we hear often from private school critics.

It goes like this: Private school parents come from either one of two groups—the rich elite who pay for the most expensive school to shelter their children from witnessing the struggles of real people or the poorer classes who, given the funds, blindly choose a school simply because it is private and/or religious.

Of course, a small percentage of parents do fit into the former category. That representation of a private school family is predominant in popular culture—see Gossip Girl, Ja’mie: Private School Girl, Tanner Hall, NYC Prep etc.—so it’s no wonder people like Vicki have the notion in their heads that all private school families must fit that mold.

The problem with holding on to that notion is it isn’t based on fact. The people who fit that profile are notoriously categorized as “the 1 percent” in America lately for one reason: There are very few of them.

The truth is, and the data support it, most private school choice parents are far from rich.

  • The largest tax-credit scholarship program in the country serves only children from families that qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.
  • More than 60 percent of all students choosing to use vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and ESAs in America come from very low-income families or have special needs, and that is a low estimate based on data from this report.
  • The other 40 percent or fewer? Most if not all earn middle-class incomes and often have multiple children and/or children with special needs.

Source: The ABCs of School Choice 2014 Edition

Furthermore, those parents report that they are willing to take several inconvenient steps to obtain key information about a school before choosing it. Parents’ top five reasons for choosing their private schools are all related to school climate and classroom management, including better student discipline, better learning environment, smaller class sizes, improved student safety, and more individual attention. We may be “over explaining,” but, ultimately, we thought this commenter summed things up best:


We agree. Everyone has had a unique personal experience with public, private, charter, online, home, or some other type of school. Be honest. What does judging friends’ or complete strangers’ school choices through the lens of personal bias really accomplish?