Private or Public School for the Obamas? Public School Teachers Go Private @ Higher % Than Public
Choosing a new puppy? Ha! The Obamas face a much tougher public relations dilemma: Are they willing to put their school-aged daughters where daddy's political promises have been?
The education world is waiting to see whether Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10, will be sent to private school while their father continues to oppose tax-supported programs that offer a similar choice to less-fortunate parents. The question of vouchers as an alternative to public schools crosses color lines, but it is particularly appropriate for the nation's first African American president.
Black students disproportionately find themselves in under-performing schools. In fact, opinion polls by think tanks like the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies have found black parents favor vouchers by larger majorities than white parents do.
Yet teachers unions lead opposition to such alternatives, even though studies like a 2004 Thomas Fordham Institute report find big city public school teachers to be more likely than the general population they serve to have their own children in private schools.
In Obama's hometown, Chicago, for example, 38.7% of public school teachers sent their children to private schools, the Fordham study found, compared to 22.6% of the general public. In Washington, D.C., 26.8% of public school teachers sent their children to private schools, versus 19.8% of the public (see chart above).
Michelle Obama offered a clue to what her family's choice will be. She flew to Washington this week (Monday, Nov. 10) ahead of her husband and toured the private Georgetown Day School. Another clue: Their daughters currently attend a private school in Chicago.
As I wrote in 1995, in the article The Educational Octopus:
What would you conclude about the quality of product or service X under the following circumstances?
1. The employees of Airline X and their families are offered free airline tickets as an employee benefit. The employees refuse to travel with their families on Airline X and instead pay full fare on Airline Y when flying.
2. The employees of Automaker X are offered a company car at a substantial discount and they instead buy a car at full price from Automaker Y.
3. Employees at Health Clinic X and their families are offered medical care at no additional cost as a benefit and yet most employees of Clinic X pay out-of-pocket for medical services at Clinic Y.
In each case, the employees' willingness to pay full price for a competitor's product or service and forgo their employer's product or service at a reduced price (or no cost) makes a strong statement about the low quality of X. What makes the inferior quality of X even more obvious is that the employees at Firm X, since they work in the industry, would have better information about product (service) X and product (service) Y than the average person. What then should we conclude about the quality of public education in the United States given the following facts?
Public school teachers send their own children to private schools at a rate more than twice the national average--22% of public educators' children are in private schools compared to the national average of 10%.