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Berkeley Public Schools vs. Private Schools
Dear wise parent community, we are just about to find out what school our soon to be kindergartener will be in, and not sure how much ''value'' to put in our public school versus private. We live in Berkeley so we have great small class sizes. Is it worth the money and driving time to go private?
We are basically deciding between the good Berkeley public schools (Emerson, Malcolm x, John Muir ) or the private school Prospect Sierra? We loved the small class sizes of the public school and the idea that we can walk to 2 of them from our house, but we loved the curriculum and philosophy of Prospect Sierra. The drive is at least 25 minutes each way though, besides the cost. But how do you put a value on an amazing education?
I would love to hear from other parents who have gone through this decision and how you went about prioritizing basically the unknown affects of teachers, schools, friends, lifestyle, etc.
thank you! Confused Mom
I also really appreciate the true diversity at our public school (ethnic, language, socioeconomic, learning differences, etc.), and feel it is helping my children become more empathetic, and better citizens of the world. Prospect Sierra (not the school where we went) seems like a wonderful school and I still have moments of jealousy when I hear about activities, projects or trips kids get to experience there. However, my kids are thriving, getting a good education from some great teachers (and a couple not so great ones), our PTA does support some of the extras you get at a private school and we can supplement others, and we are part of a really wonderful community that is in our neighborhood.
I actually regret the money we spent when we were at a private school and think there is much value in the ''good enough school'' as long as kids and parents are happy. Also, there is a lot of movement that happens in the first couple years of school and if what you choose doesn't work, you can always move. I would encourage you to give public school a try knowing that you can move if it doesn't work. Good luck w/your decision--I know how hard it is. happy in our neighborhood school
1. Many (most?) of the kids from Berkeley who go to PS, end up attending Berkeley High. Why not save the $$$ and have the added benefit of establishing friendships K-8? Your child at PS will make friends with kids who live in El Cerrito, Richmond, Albany. Are you OK with driving all over the East Bay for playdates, birthday parties, camps, etc. ?
2. I have not seen any evidence that the curriculum at PS is superior to BUSD's. We changed one of our kids to BUSD in 3rd grade from a private school comparable to PS, and found our kid was half a year behind in math and writing. So I wouldn't choose PS on the basis of a theoretically better curriculum. In terms of the school's philosophy, I am not sure how well PS implements it, but be aware that philosophy is the other main selling point (besides curriculum) for private schools and in my experience, just because they SAY they do it, doesn't mean they DO do it. Many of the hot buzzwords (like 'differentiation') are already well in place in the public schools.
3. When you pay for private school you are mainly paying for the peer group. You are not paying for a better education if you're talking about the BUSD. How important is the peer group to you? My kids would complain about the bad behavior of some of the kids in public school, and maybe for your kid this would be a deal breaker. We did change from public to private for one kid just for this reason - he couldn't deal with it. But that was more than 10 years ago and things have changed. In terms of BUSD peer groups, yes there are poor kids and there are badly behaved kids, but you will definitely find as much smarts, creativity, money, and achievement in BUSD as you will find in any private school in the East Bay. local mom
We are returning to Berkeley in April after ten years away. We have two boys 12 and 7. We would like the boys to be in school for two months, then we go to Europe for the summer, and will return in August to put them back in school. We are open to all ideas: so far we are inclining toward either MLK or Prospect Sierra, for the older boy and either Windrush or several public primary schools for the younger boy: Cragmont, Emerson, or Arts Magnet. Can any of you advise us? We could afford the private schools, though it would be a financial stretch, but only if they really were considerably better. Are the public schools much more crowded and do they offer less of a ''family'' atmosphere? Our first concern is that our two boys be happy in a kind and caring environment and secondly that they get a good education. We intend to rent a home for a year near whatever school we decide to put the boys in. Would be very happy to hear your experiences along these lines. JM
The public schools are not more crowded in the lower grades than most private schools. In fact, the K-2 classes may be smaller than private schools.
In April, your choices in private schools will also be limited, especially for your 7-year-old. If you have a school in mind you should probably inquire now whether there are any spaces before you go through the application process.
As to public vs. private, it's the age-old question. There are a lot of excellent private schools here. There is also a lot of support for the public schools. Good luck!
We are at a central zone Berkeley public school, and are very happy with it. [From what I understand, most of Berkeley's elementary schools have similar qualities.] Our school offers our child an enormous amount of support [he needs some extra behavioral support], and a curriculum that is right on target for his class level. His class has 19 kids in it, a teacher and an aide, and many parent volunteers. There are several kids who get regular professional and volunteer help for whatever their special needs might be [academic or behavior].
The overall school dynamic is quite cohesive: the principal has been influential in bringing families even more together than they already were, and it has really made for a welcoming atmosphere. There is a school-wide effort to foster respect and kindness, and the staff is trained in conflict resolution methods, so that the school can work with kids who show early signs of behavioral issues.
Even with the state budget cuts, I still feel very strongly that we made the right decision. Berkeley's public schools do an outstanding job. -fortunate parent
- At this time in the school year, openings for 7 yr olds (1st grade?) may be quite limited. There may or may not be openings right now at the schools you mentioned. And there may or may not be a different set of openings in the Fall. You can get into one school and be asked to be put on a waiting list for another. You should check with the BUSD Admissions and Attendance office ASAP if you have not already, and calmly ask them all your questions. They will find a place somewhere for your 7 yr old (nd 12 yr old). That is certain. Here is a link: http://www.berkeley.net/enrollment/ and http://www.berkeley.net/index.php?page=k-5 They are presently assigning kids for the Fall and I'm not sure how having your 7 yr old begin this spring will fit with that assignment process.
I have one child at Cragmont and one at King. What I tell you about these two schools is likely the same for other public schools in Berkeley.
Cragmont definitely does have a family feel and it would likely be a great way to put down roots in Berkeley. The parents are, generally, very involved in the school, with many volunteering during the school day (in classroom, on field trips), in the after school program (science class, sewing class) or for other activities and events through the PTA (diversity committee, cultural heritage events, fundraisers, emergency preparedness). Cragmont values diversity. The the school is diverse racially and ethnically (can see data on line or ask BUSD). Many families are of mixed race, a good portion of parents who were raised in other countries (Netherlands, Ireland, Mexico, Eritrea, Germany, Nepal, Korea). Family structures are diverse, too, with some kids having two moms, or a single parent. Cragmont's academic and arts programs (visual arts, dance & music) are good, kids are engaged in school and most kids do well on stnadardized tests.
My 6th grader at King is having a great year. The academics are challenging enough. The school does fine with test scores. Most kids from King are quite well prepared for the rigorous classes at Berkeley High. The school feels fun and safe. Athletics are quite well-run. Swimming afterschool is offered by the City of Berkeley at King Pool, too. There are several kids from Europe who are here in Berkeley for just one year or less while their parents are in town on academic sabatical. They seem to do fine and the American kids seem to enjoy having the new kids around. The kitchen classroom and garden classes are amazing (google ''edible schoolyard''). The new lunch building produces fabulous nutritious lunches that kids love (believe it or not). Seems like the school is big enough for each kid to find others with similar interests. By the way, in Berkeley, many private school kids opt for Berkeley High. The public schools in Berkeley work well for us, and leave us with money left over for travel. Berkely Public School Parent
We live in the Northwest zone in Berkeley and our daughter will be entering K in 2008. We're researching both public and private schools and have read with great interest most of the discussions on the BPN website about public schools. We've been able to chat with parents of current BUSD kindergarteners, and there is plenty of feedback available on BPN about the lower grades in BUSD. We don't know anyone with kids in higher grades, and we'd like to know more about the public school experience from 4th grade through middle school. Of great concern to us: the increase in class size at 4th grade and the BPN posts about the lack of a ''culture of learning'' in the classroom. Parents of current 4th-8th graders in Berkeley schools, are you happy with your child's experience? Are your kids motivated and engaged in the curriculum? Do you feel that your kids are receiving a great academic education? Our top priority is that our child go to school in a place that fosters a love of learning; will we be able to find this environment in BUSD schools in the higher elementary and middle school years? Obviously we have quite a few years before our daughter reaches 4th grade, but the classroom culture of the upper grades will be a factor in our decision process for K. Looking for a school where learning is ''cool''
I have been very disappointed by the upper elementary grades for BUSD. I think though, a lot depends upon your child's temperament and also the luck of the draw, in terms of whom they have as a teacher. There is no way to predict who your child's teacher might be 5 or 6 years down the pike. Also, it is hard to say about class sizes that far off in the future. Resources fluctuate and things change. At the moment, our experience of 4th grade has been only 22 or 23 children in each of the 4th grades. However, when my son was in 4th grade, there were 30 kids, and his 5th grade had 32. And although I would not say that learning is ''uncool'' in my 4th grader's class, the teacher is so unfun and angry that my daughter is counting the days to the end of school. What saved it for her (and us), was the BUSD music program. She learned to play the flute, and was challenged and engaged in learning music.
The sad part about this, was that it allowed me to see my daughter's potential for engagement in other subjects that was just not being tapped by her regular classroom teacher. So although her regular classroom teacher covered most of the required material for 4th grade, and my daughter ''did very well'' in all subject areas, I did not feel like this was a very positive year for learning.
My son's 4th grade experience was negative too, but in a different way, and for 5th grade he had a teacher who related very well to children of that age, but it was just too crowded for him. It makes me sad that those of us, who have limited economic options and must choose the public school system, along with those of us who believe that a strong public school system is essential to a functioning democracy cannot take for granted that our childrens' learning environment will be a stimulating and positive one.
PS: But my daughter's 3rd grade experience was just excellent.....! So we take it year by year.
PPSS: And my 7th grader is attending Berkeley Independent Studies, a BUSD structured, way to homeschool. And THAT has restored my faith in public education! --My son has had excellent, caring teachers and been exposed to another way to learn. Wishing Better for All Our Children
Hi, These questions are really about the private/public conundrum, and public schools in general.
We live in Berkeley, in the Le Conte-John Muir-Malcolm X- Emerson zone. We've gone to the public school fair sponsored by NPN, and were impressed with how parents at each school were excited about their choice. I'm so happy that parents at all four schools in our zone feel this way; you'd think it would make our decision easy...just pick one out of four!
However, for us, it's not that simple. My partner and I both had some pretty miserable times in our respective public schools, for reasons both institutional and familial. And private school is not a great option for us. So, I have many, many questions about public schools in general, and I'm hoping to find answers here, or even some information on where I can find answers.
California public schools are consistently ranked among the worst in the nation, though I don't know how Berkeley schools on their own rate. Does anyone know how to find out this statistic? And do these rankings mean it's a good school, or a school in a ''good'' area, or just that the students are good test takers?
I'm concerned that ''learning'' will become, for my son, something that someone shows him while he sits behind a desk rather than something he does for himself (can you tell what happened at my school?). I'm unaware of what pedagogy public schools follow. For example, I know his preschool follows an Emilio Reggiano approach, and I can read up on it. How can I find out about the educational theories behind how schools teach?
Also, is course content subject to political shifts, such as when a new superintendent arrives on the scene? If so, in what ways?
For parents who've been financially able to seriously consider both public and private, why did you choose against the rejected option?
This is more of a personal question: we live on a block with many children, all of whom are friends with each other. The schoolkids all go to Le Conte, but I'm not sure Le Conte is a good fit for us. Has anyone experienced something like this, where the ''gang'' is all at one school but your child is at another? Should I try and pair him up with some of his preschool friends if he doesn't go to Le Conte? Neither of us experienced this growing up, so we can't relate.
These are a lot of questions, I know! I look forward to hearing the answers. Jodi
This is what I have learned -- speaking as a white middle class parent, I would feel discomfort in a private school because I believe that my child's world would be too narrow and too homogeneous. Also, the comforting little private school class that one chooses for one's 4 year old is very confining when the child is 12.
On the other hand, the broad diversity of skills, income and race that is found in the public schools has its own discomforts. No problems that can't be solved at our dining room table, but there are some frustrations.
Overall, my kids have gotten a very good education with the skills they need to succeed academically and in their lives. I always felt that we could switch to private school if that became necessary but happily our whole family has benefited from being part of the BUSD community.
Now my son is applying to college so I get to revisit the kindergarten wisdom: there is more than one setting that will make your child happy. Don't lie awake nights waiting for the answer to be revealed by an oracle!
People often speak of the public school system as if it's this huge machine that's will process your child into some sort of canned conformist vegetable. That's not how it works.
Each school is a community, and there are ways of getting a sense of what sort of community it is - by visiting, by asking around, and by going with your gut feelings. My children were thrilled to have the ability to walk home from a local school by themselves, and when I had to go back to driving them across town it was a hassle, but the time spent in the car was a great chance to talk, so again there's good and bad. Sometimes it's good to have friends at a different school.
Most schools are very open to anyone that has the time to spend and a voice to lobby for what they want. Parents make wonderful things happen at public schools all the time.
The California system is very bare bones at the moment - but the teachers are the same teachers and in my experience they are great. They care about the kids they teach and have lots to give them. It's scary putting a little child into the hands of a stranger, but other people are watching and caring as well. That's what a community is.
If a particular school doesn't work for your child or you, you can move them. If their sport or music program isn't what you want, you can change it, and send your child to something after school while you work on it. If your child isn't reading well, you spend time working out what to do about it.
My kids have learned an enormous amount from being with other kids from all sorts of backgrounds. They're not going to have the shock I had when I was taken out of the hothouse. They haven't missed out on anything educationally that they might have got from a private school - as with any school you have to keep an eye out for your own child. If the situation looks bad you may have to change schools which is a hassle, but not a catastrophe.
Basically, it's good and bad. Your child isn't really going away from you into the mouth of the machine, but you do have to stay involved and keep supporting them and helping out every step of the way. Public schools rely on this. They are OUR schools, not THEIRS. Fiona
RE: Berkeley public vs. private:
I'd have to say that overall my experience with Berkeley public schools has been good. I think most people sending their kids to private schools are throwing their money away. The school may be quite good, but then so are the public schools. It is the few people that have negative experiences who tend to make the most noise, and then their stories get repeated and amplified. Take advantage of opportunities to visit your local public schools' kindergartens and I think you will feel reassured.
- LeConte parent
In general, Berkeley seems like a good place for kids to go to school. All the important bond measures for school improvements seem to pass easily, be it construction, smaller class sizes, enrichment programs, or whatever. A couple of years ago the music programs in the school were about to get the axe because of budget cuts, but the city rallied around, merchants contributed percentages of profits, etc. (I think one of the members of the Grateful Dead was involved in the campaign) and enough money was raised to keep the music going.
Another thing I like: public school really *is* tolerant of diversity. I didn't appreciate this until last year's private school experience. There, the kids were superficially diverse - they came in different colors and shapes - but on the inside they were expected to all conform to the same model - driven, obedient, and tidy. It's an awful thing if you have a kid that doesn't fit the mold. Sure I have to put up with some PC stuff in Berkeley, but I don't mind much anymore. (Except for my pet peeve Int'L Women's Day when all the kids are out of school while all us women still have to go to work.)
There is a lot of variation among Berkeley schools. Don't believe any printed raves published by the school or the district - find out for yourself. But also keep in mind that what I look for in a school may not make you happy. I hated the computer program at Emerson, for instance, but it's a big hit with most other parents. The single most important factor in my opinion: parent involvement. It can make or break a public school. Here are some things you can do to find out about the level of parent involvement:
- Talk to parents of school-aged kids in your neighborhood. Where do their kids go? Do neighborhood parents support the local school?
- Visit classrooms, including grades your kid won't be in.
- Take your preschooler to play on the playground on weekends.
- Drop by the office, pick up flyers, read bulletin boards.
- Find out when the school has fundraisers and open house and go.
- Is the PTA active? Find out when meetings are, attend one.
- Are there fundraisers & afterschool programs organized by parents?
- What kinds of other projects have parents initiated? (garden, theater, athletic teams, Shakespeare program at my kids' schools)
You don't have to like her as a person (usually a "her", in Berkeley) for her to be good at running the school. I haven't liked any of them so far. But does the staff like her? Or is there a lot of turnover in the faculty? Does the school seem well-run? A good principal wants parents to like and support the school.
Public schools are big. The school district is a lumbering bureaucracy. You have to stay on top of things or you and/or your kid may get lost in the crowd. This gets really important around the 5th grade. If your kid is at either end of the smart-challenged spectrum, then he/she will be noticed and receive extra attention. But if he/she is average, or not especially motivated, then it will be up to you to make sure homework gets turned in and progress is being made. Public school teachers have kids with Real Big Problems in the class, and your own average kid will seem problem-free by comparison. This can be bad if your kid is doing progressively worse and no one notices. My younger son made it all the way thru 4th grade with all E's and S's, still counting on his fingers to add, and not able to write a complete sentence, due to his skill at work avoidance and my failure to notice it. He (we) had to do a year of private school boot camp to catch up. Believe me we are all so glad to be back in public schools again this year!
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