The Problem With Public School

“Jack, you can’t send your children to public school. It is not like it was when we were kids. The schools were good then, but now they aren’t. They are scary places where gangs roam the halls, kids get high and there is sex in the bathrooms.”

That is not an exact quote, but it is pretty damn close. At least I think it is, but who knows what I really remember from the days before my son entered kindergarten. What I know for certain is that more than one person said it to me and at the time I agreed with it…in concept that is.

That was before we made the decision to sell the house and search for greener pastures. Of course that first house was never supposed to be anything more than a starter home. I was making a boatload of money then but decided that the smarter move was to buy a smaller place just in case things changed.

I figured that it would help protect us and that if things happened and income changed dramatically we would be protected. Well, things happened. 9-11 happened. The recession happened. The housing market exploded. I changed jobs. My partner stopped taking his pills and went crazy (that is a true story, not exaggerated) and I had to adjust the plan.


That house was great, albeit small, but the neighborhood school wasn’t good enough. Not enough parental involvement, too many kids who didn’t go to preschool and a host of other reasons were enough to push us in a different direction.

Private school.

I was a public school kid and had never thought about private school for my children, but things change and we adapt. There wasn’t as much money in my wallet as there had been but there was enough and education is of paramount importance. So we sent Little Jack off to private school and marveled over the education he received.

Time passed and he was joined by his little sister. It certainly wasn’t any easier but I just tightened my belt and fought harder to find ways to make it happen. In between I wrote posts about the struggle to keep it going and searched for alternatives, but didn’t like the options.

The housing market was still crazy and though I had plenty of equity it wasn’t enough to get us into a house that offered bettered opportunity, or so I thought. Since the overwhelming majority of the family lived in town we didn’t want to leave. Two sets of grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins- all here.

But things happen and you have to adapt.

Middle School Approaches

The boy who at birth weighed an even eight pounds is more than ten times that now and almost finished with 5th grade. Middle school starts in 6th grade. Decisions have to be made.

His current school only goes through sixth grade so at best he has one more year there. But the thing is that I don’t know that I have the cash to keep it up. Not to mention that I have his sister to think about too.

I want her to get as much as he has gotten. I want her to have the same opportunities. I want to be fair. But I am not sure that I can make that happen and the guilt weighs upon my conscience.

There are decisions to be made and I don’t really know what will happen/.

A couple of good contracts and all is good. A couple of deals and I can put them both through another year but I don’t know if that makes sense. I am tired of fighting this battle year after year.

If I was a boxer and private school were my foe I would have a winning record, but I would be battered, bloodied and bruised. And for what?

Good Public Schools Exist

Good public schools exist but if you don’t live in the district there aren’t any guarantees that you will get in. It is a lottery and though the odds may be better than the state lotto there aren’t any guarantees.

We can move but…

Good public schools drive up the price of homes in the area. Rents are affected too.

I ask myself what I would do if money were no object and I have an answer but it doesn’t make me happy…

(Visited 466 times, 1 visits today)


  1. gem January 8, 2013 at 10:58 am

    I found you on yeahwrite, by the way. I post there on and off.

    Anyways, I agree with you completely here. I am kind of scared as where I live, there is one school district. One middle and one high school my child can attend. Sure, he’s only two and sure, I attended these schools. We have a lot less gang problems, but we have drug problems. We have plain old learning/teaching problems. I could go on forever. Heck, I am “writing” a book on schooling…I say “writing” as I have been on a 9 month umm…sabattical…hiatus….lzy break, whatever. But if you are interested in my education ramblings, email me or send me a msg via my blog. I have another separate education blog.

    Oh and I like your blog thus far two posts in.

    • Jack January 13, 2013 at 11:02 pm

      Hi Gem,

      I suppose the good news for you is that a lot can happen between now and the time when you are child is old enough to attend middle/high school.

      But it is a challenge and a rough road to hew sometimes, that is for sure.

  2. Chris Hatchwell April 24, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    This is a so much struggle for a parent. You know, you can’t trust public schools anymore unlike the quality of education we had during our generation. People have become rude and indolent in their studies, and I’m so disappointed with kids today.

  3. Jens P. Berget April 23, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    The school systems is very different to Norway. We only have public schools (more or less), so we don’t have a lot of choice, but on the other hand, there’s not a lot of difference between schools either.

  4. Trey Burley April 23, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    My wife is a big fan of public school, but I am not. We moved to a good school district, but I’m keenly aware that the schools could be redistricted at any moment. I wish that schools had a voucher system or at the bare minimum more charter options. We live in Georgia and they just made charter schools a bit more difficult to form, not at all motivated by politics I’m sure. I am a big fan of what Louisiana has done with their schools post Katrina. Essentially they’re all charter schools now and the scores are going up.

    • Jack April 23, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      Hi Trey,

      Schools change over time. Some of them manage to keep going, others fall down and others get pulled up. I always look at the parent teacher organizations because generally if the parents are really involved good things happen.

      It is such a crazy thing to me. I have some friends whose kids go to charter school and they love it. I am really not familiar with Louisiana, but it sounds like it is worth reading about.

  5. Allie April 23, 2012 at 8:55 am


    I could talk and talk about the public schools here is CA. The thought that they could be so much better. The budget cuts and how they are hurting the future children of this state. Etc…

    I grew up in the LA school district but I was fortunate enough to attend private school. My parents refuse to send me to public school there. And I am glad. I did move onto UCSD and soon realized even my private schooling didn’t match up to what the kids from back east were getting. I still talk to friends who were educated in public schools in Iowa, Minnesota, or Massachusetts. I am jealous of what they had.

    It is so sad that a state like CA can’t provide more. I know we can be the best schools in the nation, we have the resources. The people running things have screwed it all up.

    Why are our children not important to them? Don’t they want intelligent voters for the future? I guess not.

    As for your question. Yes, if I could my kids would be in private school. Even if we had great public schools nearby. I believe our public schools (high school) have become unsafe. Many kids have no respect for authority or other kids. Bullying is horrible and yes, there is sex going on school properties. This is not to say all are like this but I know it happens and it scares me.


    • Jack April 23, 2012 at 4:31 pm

      Hi Allie,

      I grew up in the Valley and went to public school throughout my school career. It was different then. The state and city weren’t broke. I always felt like I matched up well with whomever I encountered.

      Now I look around and listen to stories and it is disconcerting. As you said there is no reason why we can’t have the best schools but it is not happening.

      It is really frustrating. I know of some good public schools. I have friends that teach there and friends whose children attend so I feel good about them. But the cost of housing in those areas is ridiculously high.

      I don’t blame you for picking private school. It is not foolproof, but…

  6. Jeff Wise April 23, 2012 at 8:39 am

    Some of the typical reasons for not sending kids to public school are real and exist but that’s not the main reason I won’t be sending my kids there. The main reason is because the education stinks. It’s all about getting high test scores for funding. It’s about training my kids to become 9-5 cubicle workers instead of truly training the mind.

    “Each year the child is coming to belong more to the State and less and less to the parent.” Ellwood P. Cubberley, Changing Conceptions of Education 1909

    • Jack April 23, 2012 at 4:26 pm

      Hi Jeff,

      I think that is true of many schools including some of the private ones. It is one of the things that I have often been irritated by too. I want my kids to think and to learn how to use their minds.

      They shouldn’t always be required to regurgitate information.

  7. seattledad April 23, 2012 at 5:58 am

    We drank the private school koolaid here and discounted that we do have very good public schools in our neighborhood. Elementary schools at least. Now we are debating, and we are probably going to wait another year (redshirt) and send Lukas to Public school next year.

    I didn’t read the comment thread, but if moving were an option for you that might be a way to solve your dilemma.

  8. Rizwan Sultan April 22, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Hey Jack

    Good Topic indeed School really matters on your full life I get basic education from Birds Public School and it’s hardly I am able to write and read any thing there.But Mom dad Good decision to switch to Boston House Public School and thanks God they dressed me like a real man and now I am Qualified Engineer and glad to be part of professional world.

    • Jack April 22, 2012 at 10:59 am

      Hi Rizwan,

      I agree with you about the importance of school and its impact on your overall life. It makes a big difference in what happens and what you do. I wouldn’t characterize it as the sole predictor of success, but it plays a huge role.

  9. Judy Dunn April 22, 2012 at 10:32 am

    Hey, Jack,

    If I can offer the perspective of someone who taught in the public schools in Washington state for 20 years, I know that there are good schools and bad schools. There are good teachers and bad teachers. So the public school educators who defend ALL public schools irritate me. But I will just say that lately, in my state anyway, the state and federal level budget cuts have decimated our schools. I think until our society begins to make education, and the funding thereof, a top priority, we will continue the downward spiral.

    I think that parents also need to look at each of their kids individually, at different phases of their education, and think hard about what they need. Even though I was a public school teacher at the time, and got a lot of criticism from other teachers for it, I pulled by daughter out of public school in 8th grade and put her in a private school for two years. She was very bright but was having a very tough time socially (bullying from a group that might have been in the recent movie Mean Girls). In addition, classes were huge and she was falling through the cracks. Those two years did wonders for her self-esteem and I transferred her back to a public high school in 10th grade. I just needed to do what I thought was best for her.

    She recently, rather belatedly, she decided to go back and finish coursework for her college degree. She is a junior, soon to be senior at Smith College in MA and, in fact, got a full scholarship to go there. This figuring out what is best for our kids can be a challenge. Nice to see a parent who so obviously loves his kids and wants to do what is best for them.

    • Jack April 22, 2012 at 10:56 am

      Hi Judy,

      We have been hit by similar cuts here. I really don’t understand why education isn’t given a higher priority. It makes a significant difference for everyone. That has been part of my concern here.

      When I see classrooms that have 40+ children I wonder how much time a good teacher has to spend with their students. And I have to imagine that if you are falling behind or getting ahead you are stuck because there are so many other students to worry about.

      My oldest really needed a smaller school when he was younger. I think if he had been put in that public school that we lived by he would have been eaten alive. But age and maturity have made a real difference so I am not as concerned about moving him.

      What frustrates me the most is how limited our options are. I understand why, but it still irritates me to no end to have to accept teaching to the lowest common denominator.

      Congrats on the full scholarship. That is something to be proud of. You and Bob have to get some credit for her success.

  10. Danny Brown April 22, 2012 at 9:31 am

    It’s funny – I was fortunate enough to go to one of the most “decorated” private schools in Edinburgh for three years, George Heriots. There was bullying there, and weird sexual things going down in the swimming pool area, and contraband exchanging hands behind-the-scenes.

    A school is a school is a school – it’s the teachers that make it, and the authorities that allow those in charge to make it the best they can.

    Nice post, sir.

    • Jack April 22, 2012 at 10:49 am

      Hi Danny,

      No doubt about that. A good teacher can work their magic almost anywhere and bad teachers, well it just doesn’t matter.

      I don’t think that private schools solve all of the problems or answer all of the questions that I have regarding public education.

      But I would be lying if I said that I am not trying to give my children the best opportunities to succeed.

  11. Bill Dorman April 22, 2012 at 4:45 am

    Tough choices indeed, but even in public school you can structure their curriculum to maximize what is available; it worked for my kids.

    Good luck, I’m sure you will figure it out my friend.

    • Jack April 22, 2012 at 10:43 am

      I think you are right. I am a public school grad so I haven’t any doubt that people can get a very fine education through them.

      Parental involvement makes a huge difference.

  12. Greg April 22, 2012 at 3:26 am

    Good Topic Jack
    I attended The Royal Hospital School,Holbrook UK for 5 years.A n excellent private boarding school
    The experience went on to shape me as a man.Besides the excellent education it taught me to be self reliant and not rely on weeping to my parents
    It gave trmendous inderpendance and self reliance
    I left in 1980 and went to sea in the Merchant Navy achieving my Captancy Ticket in 2001
    Iam etremely thankful for the opportunties the school offered and how it shaped me in to who I am today

    • Jack April 22, 2012 at 10:37 am

      Hi Greg,

      Thank you for the background. I haven’t met many people who attended a boarding school so my knowledge about what happens there is very limited. They sound interesting to me but I have often wondered whether I would be willing to send my kids to one.

      I would have to think that those who do well there obtain the sort of independence and self confidence that you mentioned in your comment.

  13. Stan Faryna April 21, 2012 at 1:50 am

    Have you ever thought about Israel, Jack? Three or four years there might do you and the kids some good. I’m just throwing out a wild idea. I mean no offense and if I come off stupid, well… I’m not terribly bright. But I mean well.

    • Jack April 21, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Hi Stan,

      Every day. I think about it every day. I can’t tell you how close I came to doing it and then things changed. Now the primary reason I haven’t done it has far more to do with my not having been able to find a way to make it work so that the whole family would come too.

      So I can make it happen, but unless something changes it means leaving the kids behind and seeing them quite infrequently.

      I wouldn’t say it will never happen, but it is a work in progress.

  14. Annie Andre April 20, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Jack i know and feel your pain. we lived in San Jose california when the kids were small. i couldn’t afford to put the kids in private school so we decided to move to a better neighborhood up the peninsula in a small bedroom comunity acalled Belmont California. the schools were good but the rent was almost 4K a month. and this was considered good for the area.. after the recession we had to move around 2010 and here we are in France now. The kids are in french public school right now and it is ROUGH by our standards or what they are used to. It took some getting used to for them to not be in a privileged area with privileged kids in a great school but they adjusted and are doing fine now. I just follow them closely and make sure they are ok and check in often.

    So i think if money were no object i might have stayed in our little bubble. Our picturesque quaint suburban home in California that overlooked the san francisco Bay from our backyard. Yes it was nice but the upside to changing is a little diversity is good for the kids and they are learning to adapt and overcome..
    Good luck Jack, i know how heart breaking it feels to not be able to give the kids what you want but kids arr really resilient..

    • Jack April 20, 2012 at 10:11 pm

      I know San Jose and Belmont. You have to make a couple of bucks to be able to live around there- housing is still crazy. My friends up north pay a boatload of cash for little homes.

      I know what you are saying and I agree, but I am still irritated by it all. It is just wrong. This fercockteh public school system is shameful.

      • Annie Andre April 20, 2012 at 10:38 pm

        It is very wrong isn’t it? It’s one of the reasons that drove us out of California. Granted we moved further than we had expected but when we got to the east coast we thought wow, lets go even further. I still own my home in San Jose, but i would not send my kids to the school that is that district. Sounds ridiculous but it is what it is.. I know plenty of people who moved to Oregon from our town in Belmont. Or close to Sacramento. It’s truly shameful that good schools cost so god damn much money…
        Good Luck to you. you have some tough decisions to make.

        • Jack April 20, 2012 at 10:44 pm

          California used to have one of the best public school systems in the nation. I am a native. I went through it as did my sisters and tons of friends, Now we look at it and wonder what the hell happened.

          Have you made any definitive plans to come back?

          • Annie Andre April 20, 2012 at 10:57 pm

            What the hell did happen?
            good question?

            lets see, if money were no problem i might come back to CA but I would have another place to vacation and get away to for part of the year.. I know, i sound so bourgeoisie but i grew up that way and lived in lots of places with a home base of San Jose.

            I absolutely loved Belmont and if i go anywhere i would go there but it’s more about quality of life now. for us now, experiences are more important and if we move back to california we could not be able to afford to do some of the things we are doing now. It was ok back before 2007 when i was making six figures and my husband was making six figs too but even then there was hardly anything left because our rent was close to 4k a month.
            So No. no plans to move back. If we do move back to the US, we will go to the east coast to one of the coastal cities. Not sure where but it will be between Montreal and Maryland. My family is in Montreal and my husbands family is in Maryland.
            For now we’re staying put in France while i build my empire and the kids get an international education.. A lot is riding on our trip abroad and everyday our savings gets lower and lower but i’m determined to make something happen. Complacency is not one of my problems for sure..

            • Jack April 21, 2012 at 11:55 am

              I understand. LA will always be home to me. I am not against leaving for a better quality of life and experiences but I will always come back to it.

              It is funny that you mention 2007 because that is a year that many of my friends and I look at as being a point in time that distinguishes the time of being flush versus not so much.

              It is also a good reminder about how that six figure income isn’t always as much as people think it is. I was there too so I know from experience how quickly it can be swallowed up by mortgage/rent/school etc.

              I love the idea of building an empire- that just sounds awesome and well worth doing to me.

  15. April 20, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    As you know, I sympathize. Because I know you are out here in Lala land I can tell you that so far so good at CHAMPS High School. It’s a charter school and in a lees than desirable neighborhood, but they have security in place and my daughter is so far getting a great education. As for my younger one, she is at a performing arts middle school in the valley and I’m not all that impressed, but then my other daughter was at the other nearby middle school and that was hit and miss too. I wish you the best of luck with this. It’s agonizing, I know.

    • Jack April 20, 2012 at 2:08 pm

      It is pretty nutty. I know of CHAMPS but didn’t know anyone who had kids there. I hear you about hit and miss.

      So much is contingent upon which teacher(s) they get and what students are around them too. Lots of variables, but we have to push hard, or we risk not getting what we want. Irks me because it shouldn’t be this hard.

  16. Vanita April 20, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Ya know, I don’t know if I’ve ever come across in a post whereabouts you live Jack, but I can tell you I live in NYC in the BRONX of all places. the home of hip hop and a grazing place for gangs like the Bloods and the Crips. My teens, go to public school. The oldest is in a public high school in manhattan and doing brilliantly. my youngest teen is graduating 8th grade this year and starts high school in the fall. she’s another brilliant child of mine…ya know, like their mama. we’ve been in the bronx maybe 5 years now? never had any issues at our local bronx public school that had student from k to 8th grade. there are bullies yes. but my girls know when to stand up for themselves and when to go to the dean. my girls have heard of stories of gangs nearby and where they hang out. they’ve had boys in gangs ask them out. but they refuse. there have been pregnant girls in their grade, even a girl with a 3 yo son. there have been kids suspended for smoking weed in the bathrooms. my girls know these stories, they’ve shared them with me. but they don’t get sucked into it. they’ve got their goals. they know what can and will screw up their lives and they make good choices. would i send them to a bronx high school? hell no. not because i don’t trust them to hold on to their goals, but because bronx high schools stink. my point is, i think i’ve raised them well enough for them to make the right decisions. i don’t worry about them smoking weed in the bathroom or having sex in the halls. they know better and i’m pretty darn sure your kids know better too. when i was moving to the bronx, i did a thorough search on schools, third party reviews of them and the graduation rate and test scores – all available online for nyc schools – maybe your school system makes that info available so you can investigate it too? have a tour of the schools you’re zoned for before paying for another year of private school? eh, just my nosy 2 cents. 😉

    • Jack April 20, 2012 at 9:52 pm

      Hi Vanita,

      I live in Los Angeles and I do all the research. Every year I have done the research, gone on tours and agonized over this.

      It is part of why I am trying to change things up because it is ridiculous to do this every year. Ultimately we have to rely upon our children to make smart decisions because there are potential issues at every school.

      It just irritates me to no end to see so many issues with public school. It is simply ridiculous and it shouldn’t be like this. I deal in reality so I understand that though I don’t want it to be as it is, this is what is going on.

      So we’ll do our best and go from there- but damn…

      • Vanita April 21, 2012 at 3:22 am

        ha! i did 3 months in a L.A. public school before we moved to Yuba City for another 4 months (then back to nyc when my mom decided her 3rd husband was worthless). i remember 6th grade in LA was nicer than 6th grade in Yuba City. at least i remember the kids being nicer.
        i know how stressful it can be Jack, i can’t tell you how it freaked my out to learn that there were 14 year olds in my daughter’s 8th grade who were pregnant. but to be honest, i gotta say, i blame parenting or lack of for that and i believe those of us who have a stronger involvement and influence in our children’s’ lives can help them stay clear of the madness. since you’ve been doing all the research I’m assuming that the schools themselves probably stink. this is why i won’t allow my girls to go to a bronx HS. I’ve conducted the HS research twice in the past 3 years and always refer to it as rocket science and both times have chosen for my girls to apply to schools in Manhattan. Good luck Jack. I’m looking forward to reading what you decide on this coming year and how it goes.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

You may also like