There’s No Such Thing As a Smooth Transition From Private to Public School

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ClassroomListening to other parents before my daughter started kindergarten — and struggling with the decision of where to enroll her — I heard over and over again that once your kid started in private school, it was all but impossible to transition them to public. The curriculums were too different, the standards were too inconsistent, the atmospheres were too varied. I wondered if the chasm was really that big, particularly because some moms are private school elitists. You know, snobs.

When it comes to our kids’ education, hear some of us tell it, no other institution could possibly be as great as St. So-and-So Academy or This, That, and The Other Prep. There are those of us who have a tendency to turn up our noses at public school when, in actuality, some of those classrooms are just as good as the ones we’re shelling out thousands and thousands (and in my case, thousands) of dollars for our children to attend.

I’m not sure what to believe anymore. Heck, I’m a product of public school. I just absolutely cannot believe I’m shopping for high schools for my little girl. My baby. My pooter pie. I know I sound like every other nostalgic mama but I remember kindergarten so vividly that I can hear her little voice telling the girl next to her that she liked her lunch box, which ultimately led to her first friend in school. I remember how her hair was braided that morning and how I was the one who ended up in the principal’s office being consoled as I cried into a box of Kleenex. I’m a crier. We’ve learned that over the years.

Seems like time has been on fast forward. Now this is her last year in middle school and we’re getting brochures to rifle through our options for the oodles of high schools in the D.C. area. All-girls or co-ed. Big, sprawling campus or small, intimate building. Predominantly African-American or multicultural. And of course, Catholic, private, or public.

She started in a private Christian school in a teeny, tiny, three-story building in a bad neighborhood in West Baltimore. She got one heck of an education there, but it was just so darn expensive. Most of the parents there were in their mid-30s, married, and established. I was in my early 20s, single, and barely out of college, which is a nice way of saying I was turning being broke into a fine art.

To get some relief from the $6,500 tuition — which I’m still paying back in monthly loan payments, might I add — I moved her to a public charter school in Washington, D.C. It was new, the principal was young and ideological like I was, and I was confident that the switch would be a smooth one. She reassured me of it, as a matter of fact.

That ended up being the worst decision I could’ve made for my child’s education. Two years there was more than enough (one to test and one to confirm). I ran back to what I thought was the certainty of a private institution, this time taking the Catholic school route. But I haven’t been all that impressed with the curriculum and the standards in this school, either. 

Now that we’re preparing to make the big jump into her last four years of secondary school (oh clutch the pearls!), I’m once again at a crossroads, trying to decide whether to try another public school or continue weathering these massive tuition payments — which will actually be even bigger because the two private high schools we’ve narrowed it down to are a cool $9,500 a year, not including uniforms and books.

With prices like that, you may not only see my posts here on The Stir, you may also spot me on the stroll or dangling from somebody’s seedy strip club pole, provided there’s a demand for portly, out-of-shape dancers who can barely get midway up the apparatus.

But I’m not one of those moms ruling out public schools just because they’re public. I just need the education to be quality — especially, especially if I’m paying for it. I need her to be challenged. I need her to be learning things in 9th grade that I wasn’t learning until the 11th. But I also want the school to have extracurriculars that will round out her experience. Dance would be nice. So would theater. I don’t care if it’s public or private, and I don’t believe that the transition can’t be smooth. I just want whatever we decide to work for her.

Is there really that big of a difference between public and private school? 

Image via Michael 1952/Flickr

back to school, education, grades, elementary school, high school, middle school

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meatb... meatball77

Charters are frequently deficiant.  There are some good ones out there but there are far more that are filled with inexpensive young teachers and run by administrators who don't have the skills that regular public school s do.


Have you tried your neighborhood school?  Provided you live in a decent neighborhood it's probably just fine.

nonmember avatar Skittlepies

Well, coming from someone who is also a proud product of public school (say that ten times fast) I remember being a kid and wondering what the difference was other then price. My family was NOT religious AT ALL and the only private schools were catholic, so public school was the only option. I loved NOT having a uniform. Our school was like any other public school, some shady kids from the bad side of town, some middle class kids, and some upper class kids from the nicer areas. Every school has good and bad teachers, good and bad students.

Jessica Moseley

This was a good article. I died at the stripper pole comment. I don't think there is THAT much difference personally. I've been to both. There curriculam was about the same BUT the private school had a few more options. Though, I think public school prepared me for life alot better than private EVER did.

hanna... hannahsmom238

We're doing the catholic school thing. The public school in our neighborhood isn't very good. It was also really importaint to my parents that she get a Catholic education. Importaint enough that they offered to pay half her tuition.

kisse... kisses5050

Westwood High School in Round Rock , Texas is in the top 50 in the nation and it is a public school the schools that feed it are public schools. It is in a "mixed demographic" neighborhood. Money does not make a school. Teachers and parents make a school.

camor... camorris27

I've done private, Catholic and public schools and have founds that I get the most bang for the buck at Catholic schools.  Certainly, there exist good public and private schools, but in the city I live in, the public schools are horrendous and there aren't very many other good private schools.  However, I have found the Catholic schools in my city to be wonderful and my children have had a wonderful experience thus far.  

PonyC... PonyChaser

I believe that there is, yes. But I also believe that it is relative to where you live. Not far from where I grew up, one of the public high schools was in the "top ten nationwide" all through my high school years. (no idea where it ranks now, but I suspect it's still up there). And also, not far from me, was one of the worst. So I think they run the gamut. I think that you generally won't find the "worst" among private schools, simply because they require more parental involvement, but that's not to say that they are superior by default. Same goes for the charter schools that are out there.


Best advice? Look at the ones near you, make the best decision you can, and continue to support your daughter as you have. With that kind of structure behind her, she can't go far wrong.

LKRachel LKRachel

I went to a private elementary, public middle, private high school. I'm really glad I did and will probably do the same for my daughter depending on where we live.

miche... micheledo

I was in private school until half way through the 3rd grade.  Then my mom pulled me out to homeschool me for the next 7 years (and that was before homeschooling was common).  I went to public school the last 2 1/2 years of high school.


I think the transition really depends on your daughter's personality.  I am a quiet person, but pretty confident in who I am.  More of a nerd!  I didn't care if I was popular and quickly found friends that I could hang out with.  It was hard for me - but not terrible.


The other thing that was interesting, is that an excellent education in the public school is VERY possible!  I was motivated, loved to learn, and wanted to be challenged - those types of classes were available for me to take.  The thing is, those 'higher level' classes are available, but not required and the majority of kids want to skate through school.  So if your daughter is motivated, and the classes are offered - she could get a very good education.

Peajewel Peajewel

Everyone I ever knew in school that came to our school from a private school were huge party people and drank a lot.

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