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Diversity in Private Schools

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Truly socioeconomically diverse private school?

March 2014

I am not sure that such a school exists, but maybe you can enlighten me. My husband and I have taught at private schools in the Bay Area, and in the process have seen firsthand how so many of them are ''pressure cookers'' filled with kids whose parents earn astronomical amounts of money. Though this is not the case for all families, and I do not begrudge them their fortune, it is not the type of environment we would like to send our own children to. On the other hand, we have been equally unimpressed with the public schools in our city (we live in Oakland) and cannot afford to live in Berkeley, where I have heard that some are slightly better. And we do see that for the most part children tend to get more individuated and creative instruction at private schools (not a reflection on the teaching capabilities of public school teachers, just a matter of time and resources differences). So we are researching private schools in the area, but are really wanting to find one that is sincerely committed to economic diversity. Where it is not just a way of marketing their commitment to diversity, but rather an integral part of the school's philosophy and raison d'etre. I guess that would mean either exceptionally low tuition or exceptionally high amounts of financial aid? I'm not quite sure, and we are still in the nascent stages of exploration, but can the BPN community enlighten me here. I know we are not alone in a) barely making it financially in the Bay Area and b) being appalled at the rising inequality between the ''haves'' and the ''have nots'' in the world and this region in particular and c) wanting a stimulating social-justice-oriented and *reflective* environment for our children to thrive in intellectually and socially.

Your instincts are correct...there are no truly socio-economically diverse private schools in the east bay (the exception being parochial schools, perhaps?), because in order to do that they could not survive. Do you REALLY value socio-economic diversity as part of your child's educational experience or just theoretically? Because if you REALLY do and you are sincere about 'b' and 'c' of your post, then donate the $25K+ a year tuition and your time/resources to your child's public school and truly change the lives of dozens of children. You are obviously very well educated. You are just the sort of person our public schools need. Please get involved in changing public schools. Please speak for those who can't.

Sorry to sound so harsh, but I'm just tired of people in the east bay wanting it both ways -- i.e., getting an educational experience catering to their child's every need, while easing their conscience about the inequity inherent in sending their child to private school. Give your public school a chance!

While we don't have experience in the OUSD, I would encourage you to investigate your local Catholic Schools. One thing you said really struck a chord ''wanting a stimulating social-justice-oriented and *reflective* environment for our children to thrive in intellectually and socially'' - that is truly at the heart of Catholic education - and while some of the schools may be more homogeneous, MANY of the Oakland catholic schools are incredibly diverse. Catholic schools educate the whole child, and that sounds like it might be a good fit for your family and worth investigating. I would encourage you to research some online and make an appointment to see them - you can visit to find out more. Best to you! Happy Catholic School Parent
With all due respect I think when you visited the schools you may have seen a beautiful campus and kids with name brand clothing and parents with name brand cars - what you may not have seen are the individual children. You did not see my daughter, for example, when you visited the campus. If you had truly seen my daughter you would have noticed the 1999 Saturn wagon we drive so that we can afford for her to be there. You would also see 5 - 15 year old Hondas driven by parents and teachers alike.

My daughter attends one of the ''beautiful schools'' with ''wealthy'' families. What I know is that we are on a 75% scholarship. Many of the teachers teach at and are committed to the school so their own children can attend with a large reduction in tuition. Our daughter has friends and classmates that live in multi-million dollar homes, but it may be that the overwhelming majority of the families at the ''beautiful school'' give up family vacations, drive old cars with over 100,000 miles, eat pasta rather than steak, make due with older clothes and shoes because they value the educational opportunities their children are given.

The scholarship committee asks us every year to provide the information needed to grant our scholarship. Every year as we decide to go camping for a week instead of staying in a hotel, we are grateful for the opportunity our daughter has been given. When we see the foreign languages, the arts classes, the depth of the English classes with rich discussions because all students have arrived prepared and ready to discuss the material, the science labs and the depths of knowledge in history and current events we know we have made the right choice.

And like many other families who have made similar choices we would sell our home and live in an apartment to continue to give this experience to our daughter because in the end we know the difference. Our daughter was in one of the ''hills schools'' in Oakland in which the PTA raised hundreds of thousands of dollars and yet nothing compares to being in a class in which every student is working hard to his or her full potential and is prepared for the material that is presented. Nothing compares to having teachers who know the material they teach with such depth and complexity that they do not have to think about differentiating, it is just a natural part of the learning process for all students.

So before you take a wide lens through the whole school, take a magnifying glass instead. Look at my daughter and the boys and girls she plays soccer with at lunch. Watch as they sit not 'three under a tree for the diversity shot'' but their knees tucked up as they sit in the floor in the hall and discuss life in South Africa's apartheid and then tell me what you see. Four Languages and Five Science Labs for my Daughter

If you are open to being outside the East Bay, check out Live Oak School and San Francisco School (both in SF). I'm partial to Live Oak because my daughter went there - it is an amazing, nurturing place with a strong commitment to social justice. They give tuition assistance across a broad spectrum so their range of socioeconomic and racial diversity is wider than most private schools. I'm pretty sure SF School is even more diverse in both aspects but don't have first-hand experience with them. We still found that most families were above our income level (teacher and social worker), but nothing like what you see at many of the private schools, including the high schools where our kids go now. Even if SF is not an option for you, it might be worth a call to them to talk about the issue. The head of school at Live Oak is Virginia Pak. Julie
You say you are ''appalled at the rising inequality between the 'haves' and the 'have nots' in the world and this region in particular''. Private schools charge appalling amounts of money to provide an education that all students should be entitled to in a functioning democracy. No school that charges significant tuition is going to be ''committed to socioeconomic diversity.'' It just is not. Private schools are enclaves of privilege. Most will claim to offer lots of scholarships and value diversity, but they have a bottom line. I don't think there are any that have a need/blind admissions policy.

Public schools actually are committed to socioeconomic diversity. They are filled with teachers and parents who are committed to providing the best education possible to kids no matter the resources of the child's family.

If you are truly appalled, I recommend you do not feed the economic disparity monster. I love our neighborhood elementary school and have worked shoulder to shoulder with a great group of parents for years to keep it going strong. I am now in the midst of watching a big chunk of the students in the top economic crust of our local public school peel off and head to private middle schools. It is painful. It seems obvious to me that private schools are not just a symptom of the increasing economic disparities in our society, but a significant driver of these disparities. I advise anyone like you who is appalled at the rising inequality to jump into a public school and be the change you have been waiting for. Involved parents and families drive the improvement of our public neighborhood schools. Within our communities we have great power, if we choose to use it. Buying a path out of the public institutions may appear to be in the short term interest of your child, but I believe the long term interests of your child and my child and of all children are better served by parents who use their resources to help build functioning local institutions and who model a commitment to the whole community. Public Primary Education Fan

I don't know of any specific schools, but I have some ideas for questions to ask admissions directors.

1) How many children at your school would qualify for free or reduced lunch if this was a public school? If you're from a family of four and earn under 43k, you can get reduced lunch, 30k income makes lunch free.

Income guidelines here:

For reference, BUSD schools, which are very balanced, have between 30 to 60 percent free/reduced-lunch students.

2) Is there diversity of parental education level? If there is socioeconomic diversity but everyone's parents are college graduates and above, there won't be as much of a climate of diversity.

3) Does the school have students who are English Language Learners? Does the school provide materials to parents in Spanish or other languages?

Have you considered Catholic schools? They seem to be way more diverse than the independent schools I'm familiar with, and of course tuition is dramatically lower. -A mom

It would probably be a geographic stretch for you, but I think the school you are looking for is Crestmont School in Richmond on the El Cerrito border. It is a parent coop; we have accredited teachers and a director, but other than that parents are in charge of keeping the school functioning. The coop model allows us to keep tuition much lower than is typical of private schools. Like other private schools, we offer financial aid to help make Crestmont accessible to low-income families. But as opposed to most other private schools, Crestmont tuition is doable for many middle class families -- those who would not qualify for financial aid but would still be hard pressed to pay a typical private school tuition. Crestmont also offers families opportunities to offset part of their tuition, for instance by serving on the board or participating in the classroom. Our school is committed to economic diversity and has a structure that allows us make this ideal a reality. Crestmont parent
Dear Apalled - If you are truly apalled by the lack of diversity at private schools, then I would strongly recommend that you go the public route. We are so blessed with numerous options in this area, so there is no question of needing to fit a square peg through a round hole, so to speak. My two kids went public for elementary and are now private middle school. I chose this route for various reasons, all of which were the result of my own children's individual needs, which I won't detail here as it's not relevant for you. It has been a good decision, and has worked out better than expected. It is also a stretch, financially. Of course, I do wish the schools were more socio-economically diverse, but as a realist, I understand that is not their mission. Their mission is to provide the best education possible as well as to remain viable financially, and to do so means charging a lot of money and that knocks a lot of people out of the running. Don't blame the private schools, blame our lack of public funding (prop 13!).

I'm not a public school booster, like so many people I know, who would only see the good in public school and the bad in private school. I see the good and bad in both. And c'mon, there is good and bad in both! But seriously, I don't think public middle school in Oakland (where I live) is terrible. Quite the opposite. I know many kids having positive experiences there. But if the economic diversity is a top value to you, and I 'get' why, then private school is probably not best for you. Give public a try first, it might pleasantly surprise you. Public/private, can't we all just get along?

You mention 3 things where you know you are not alone: a) barely making it financially in the Bay Area and b) being appalled at the rising inequality between the ''haves'' and the ''have nots'' in the world and this region in particular and c) wanting a stimulating social-justice-oriented and *reflective* environment for your children to thrive in intellectually and socially. Well, guess what, in Oakland, you can be barely making it financially, be appalled at rising inequality (and DO something about it!!!), and have a stimulating social-justice-oriented environment for your children to thrive in. And you can do it in public school, right here in Oakland. I know because I've got 3 kids in public school here. I can't speak to all of the elementary schools in Oakland and I won't tell you the name of ours because I value my anonymity, but there are lots of schools in Oakland that you would fall in love with and then quietly say to yourself, Sheesh, I can't believe I was ready to pay thousands of dollars for something I can get for free! One responder explained very clearly why one cannot find truly socioeconomically-diverse private schools: it's just not their model. Period. And as to the sad state of public funding: remember that every single child who enrolls in private takes valuable resources out of the public school pot. Yes, public funding in California is an embarrassment to all of us Californians, but every child who enrolls in private rather than public is sending California public education further into crisis. The money leaves the public school with the departing students. And the departing students are almost always the ones with financial resources as well as higher test scores and personal connections that would lift up almost every student in public school, including those who come from homes where no one has attended college. Parents with means donate to the PTA, and every kid at that school benefits from music, art, social/emotional education, field trips, etc, even those whose parents didn''t contribute a dime. Even children in poor families deserve to be enriched. For every child that goes to private school, there''s another field trip not offered, another art teacher given a pink slip, and another school psychologist who is asked to reduce her hours and carry a heavier load.

I AM a public school booster, but I also do see the good and bad in both private and public schools. My children attend public in Oakland (elementary and middle), but many of our friends are in private. Yes, we do all just get along, but that doesn''t mean I agree with their decision to educate only their own children, while everyone else fights for diminishing resources. My middle-class white children will survive, go on to college, and be productive members of society, but what about those kids with far fewer resources than mine? Truly, the BEST solution to rising inequality between the ''haves'' and the ''have nots'' in the world and in this region in particular is PUBLIC EDUCATION, but only if it is supported by all of us. anon

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