Monday, November 17, 2008

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.

~Clarence Page

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%.


At 11/17/2008 3:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, Obama's elitist, and I would expect him to spend big bucks to send his kids to a private school. But not just any private school.

It would be interesting to compare the spending per pupil at the school chosen and the spending at the default public school.

More like apples and oranges than apples and apples.

At 11/17/2008 5:43 AM, Blogger 1 said...

According to the Heritage Foundation (September 8, 2008) the federal government WASTED $71.7 billion extorted tax dollars on elementary and secondary education pro­grams...

So will the pinko parasite send his children to a D.C. school that DC Education blog says: when it comes to their public school system DC residents are paying Ferrari prices for Yugo quality?

Forbes magazine in an article dated 07.05.07 ranks 97 public school districts compared in four categories...

At 11/17/2008 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Actually, entirely believable!

At 11/17/2008 9:59 AM, Anonymous pino said...

I agree that data pointing out that public school teachers send their kids to private school at a higher rate than the public is powerful. However, I suspect that teachers value education more than the general public. As such, the comparison may not be fair. More indicative of school teacher’s faith in public schools would be a comparison of teachers and parents who also value education.

At 11/17/2008 10:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is what I find absolutely appaling. How can a person state the importance of public education then send his children to private schools. Next is Universal Healthcare. I bet you he will use private services rather then his beloved Universal Healthcare System. As a society we are destined to two classes of people (the contacted and everyone else) just like the USSR. Oh joy.

At 11/17/2008 11:09 AM, Anonymous feeblemind said...

I suspect the Obamas' excuse for sending their children to private school will be to cite 'security concerns' for the daughters of a POTUS. It is the tactic the Clintons used to weasel out of sending Chelsea to public school.

At 11/17/2008 1:51 PM, Anonymous qt said...

Washington isn't exactly Mayberry, folks. It has some of the worst performing schools in the country as well as a reputation as a major centre for gunshot wounds. Several years ago, Washington was known as the "gunshot capital of North America" (not sure if it still holds this title).

Sending his kids to public school in Washington would be the dumbest thing that Obama could do.

Given the number of policies that Obama could enact with far reaching consequences on American society, whether he picks a private school or a private tutor is the least of our worries.

At 11/17/2008 2:58 PM, Blogger Paradigm Shifter said...

Mark, where is the original data for the graph at the top of this post? If you have multiple school districts' data, I would love to see you take the difference between the two population sets (teachers - general population without teachers) and do a one-sample t-test (Ha: diff > 0) to see if this is a general trend across the nation.

At 11/17/2008 3:00 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> What would you conclude about the quality of product or service X under the following circumstances?

There is, or was, a similar attitude towards Sprint cell phone service 5 years ago in the north Florida area. Many employees forwent their employee discount to use the services of other providers.

At 11/17/2008 3:03 PM, Anonymous Dawn said...

Well, as a mother and someone whom has worked in both private and public school system, I do not see a disconnect in believing in the importance of a quality public education system and beliving in providing the best to your children. My children go to private schools because I know what is going on with the alternative and I am not willing to sacrifice my kids future to prove anything to other folks...and I am what you may consider the working poor! I work two jobs, one to pay the bills and the other to pay for thier schooling. If public schools were as they should be, that is where my children would be. Yet, that does not mean I don't understand the need to work for a much improved public system. But until we reach that promised land, don't ask me to expose my children to outdated text books, leaky roofs, low expectation educators, and a system set up to perpetuate the poverty inflicted on this country's children's bodies and minds!

At 11/17/2008 3:03 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Unbelievable.
> Actually, entirely believable!

Indeed -- sadly believable, even.

At 11/17/2008 3:06 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Sending his kids to public school in Washington would be the dumbest thing that Obama could do.

Actually, with the secret service involved, along with the eyes on performance, you can probably bet that that school would, for a brief time, become one of the best and safest damned schools in the country.

What would happen to parents who realized just how utterly they and their kids were getting screwed would be... interesting.

At 11/17/2008 3:25 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> But until we reach that promised land, don't ask me to expose my children to outdated text books

LOL -- but you still support forcing OTHER parents to send their kids to lame, incompetently run, and vastly underperforming schools?

The solution is, and always has been, vouchers and semi-privatizing.

I'm sorry, I do not grasp the notion of resistance to making schools ACCOUNTABLE.

Any other attitude is worse than reprehensible, it borders on the criminal.

Teachers endlessly resist this idea without any rational justification but their own self-serving personal interests.

I'm not a teacher, but I've got both close friends and near relatives who are, and I've heard enough stories, and had enough personal experiences, to know why Public Schools Don't Work.

One word:

Vouchers take the basic advantage of public schools, which is spreading the expense about, and tie that advantage to the overall advantage of private schools, which is "voting with your feet" and thus general accountability.

A school which is not doing its job will lose business, and hence get new management, that WILL make it do its job. EVERY single complaint I've heard against that fact is utter and complete CRAP.

Even the best one, which is, "what about special needs children?" is easily handled -- specific enhanced dispensations for those students.

The best Constitutional one, "separating religion and state" (since many current private schools are religious schools) is also easily dealt with, requiring that the school not intermingle religious and secular funds, and that the curriculum taught to all voucher students must be secular in nature (excluding, perhaps, a HS-type survey course in Religion, such as currently taught in public schools already).

Anyone who votes against vouchers and a free-market system is either an idiot/fool or a self-serving charlatan (i.e., human pond scum)... and perhaps both.


At 11/17/2008 3:39 PM, Anonymous qt said...


It is highly unlikely with 2 salaries (one as a professional teacher) that you qualify as a member of the working poor. It is also highly doubtful that you could afford tuition for your children at a private school if your income was at the poverty threshold or 200% of the poverty threshold.

I don't question that you work hard and you want the best for your kids nor do I question your committment and passion for education.

Can we really take data on decisions by public school teachers in 2 of the toughest inner cities in the U.S. and extrapolate the data to be representative of all public school teachers in the U.S.? Is that really what the data tells us or does it merely support what we already know, namely, that inner city schools are among the worst in the U.S.?

At 11/17/2008 10:53 PM, Anonymous qt said...


"Anyone who votes against vouchers and a free-market system is either an idiot/fool or a self-serving charlatan (i.e., human pond scum)... and perhaps both."

..or perhaps, these folks are members of a union who actually are convinced that alternative schooling is reprehensible and irresponsible. It is possible that these folks believe that charter schools treat kids like lab rats subjecting them to their latest, screwball ideas about education and providing sub-standard, inadequately trained teachers.

Having come from a family of teachers I have heard these arguments. The vociferousness of the resistance goes beyond what one might imagine was a reaction to challenging a union monopoly.

Is it any different when you are dealing with a physician and mention off label drug treatments or you actually wish to try an alternate prescription medication for the condition he/she/it diagnosed because the meds he/she/it prescribed are giving you lots of side effects? If you deal with the medical profession, you can expect to be treated like an eccentric or a criminal for actually wanting to assess your treatment options. It is YOUR treatment and YOUR problem at the end of the day; you own the sucker.

Call it McMeddie or McEddie. The standardized service is valued for its consistency. McDonald's prides itself on being the same in Paris as it is in Chicago. It is a symbol of consistent mediocrity rather than high performance the world over.

Just like the patient, the student learns that to gain an education/knowledge requires a pro-active individual. No teacher is going to change your life; that my fellow traveller is your job.


At 11/18/2008 4:43 PM, Blogger @sethstorm said...

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.

There's nothing to be said about them being able to afford it at said discount. Never mind that Automaker Y could be the only possible thing they could afford despite wanting something from their own.

At 11/18/2008 4:59 PM, Anonymous Prometheus said...

I agree with most of what qt said, and giving people vouchers won't fix students' attitudes about education or learning. I would add that students with apathetic, unsupportive, or passive-aggressive parents will not receive the singlemost valuable educational resource any child or student can have - an adult role model from which to learn the fundamental social graces and work habits that form the basis of a "readiness to learn" in a school setting - any school setting, public or otherwise.

Clearly, as anyone who watched "60 Minutes" on Sunday can attest, Barack Obama's children do not suffer from this particular problem. As such, it is fair to say that those two girls of his will very likely excel at any school they attend, perhaps because of, or perhaps in spite of their teachers, their peers and the quality of their textbooks and other resources.

I do not agree, however, that "no teacher is going to change your life". Many people can name the teacher that changed their lives - for better (usually) or worse (occasionally) - and sometimes it is the aggregation of our teachers - and our mentors - that change our lives - one experience at a time.

Usually this is because the "change agent/teacher" can demonstrate the relevance of what was being taught, or could inspire a student to want to know more about something because they found it fascinating; compelling. At such times, a student takes control of their own educational agenda, and they are prepared to choose their own course of learning to further their interests.

Inspiration is not under copyright; it takes place in all schools - rich, poor, urban, rural, public and private. If teachers choose to send their own children to private schools, they must believe that those schools are better; probably because they have smaller class sizes, because they have teachers who earn more money and don't have to work at two or three jobs to pay their bills. Such teachers can then spend their time devising new, exciting projects for their students, or at least marking student projects and returning them in a timely manner. And the smaller classes mean that students get more personal interaction with the teacher; more feedback, more praise, more critical analysis, more HELP.

Is that an argument for more private schools? Is that an argument for vouchers? Or is that an argument for smaller class sizes and better paid teachers in the public system?

If you said "Yes" to all three, step to the head of the class!!

At 11/18/2008 6:45 PM, Anonymous qt said...


Excellent post. Completely agree with that the lifeskills passed on by a parent are critical to the child's development. The Sullivan sisters offer an inspiring example.

It is an overstatement to say that teachers don't change your life. In the case of my husband, the principle of the school got him into art school in England after he failed the 11 Plus ending up in a trade school rather than going on to Grammar school. My husband won every award in the school and the principle recognized that this student was in the wrong place. Gordon ended up getting into university through the backdoor. His life was also changed by a fellow student who encouraged him to apply to Harvard with him for a Fullbright scholarship. The two ended up with masters degrees in architecture. Our lives are touched by many people.

The idea of involving children in their learning is classic Piaget and it works. Kids learn when they are having fun and when the information relates to their own experience.

It would have been more correct to say that one should not pray for God to send you a chicken or in this case, an inspirational teacher. You cannot wait to find that one teacher of a lifetime. Meeting and working with an extraordinary person like Dr. Folkman or a Milton Friedman is a very rare privilege.

Instead, you must learn to develop your talents, to work hard, to handle reversals, to learn from others, to take responsibility, to set goals, to meet deadlines, and to work with people. Parents and teachers give you the raw materials which one uses to create a living work of art, your life.

Of your recommendations, I would only take issue with class size. There is a considerable amount of research which indicates that class size makes very little difference to student performance. Educational researchers have been telling us this for years but parents generally don't like this answer.

Generation X workers now hitting the workforce. It is interesting to see the effects of giving kids excessive praise. While this is a little one sided, it does raise some interesting questions about the messages that we give our children.

At 11/18/2008 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


your argument feels tilted in favor of the conclusion you want to reach.

You're right that this reveals that the education available in Chicago public schools is less than what Chicago school teachers would want for their children.

But is this any more offensive than the observation that McDonalds' franchisees probably don't take their family out to eat at McDonalds?

Wouldn't it be a more reasonable comparison if you controlled for income and education? Why not compare teachers behavior against that of other parents with similar education and income levels in Chicago? Perhaps teachers are just doing what most of their peers who don't work in schools do.

At 11/18/2008 7:05 PM, Anonymous qt said...

Pardon mille foix. Article concerns Millenials not Gen Xers.


Second that.

One might also pitch the story from the opposite perspective ie. teachers who choose to send their kids to the public system:

61.3% of teachers in Chicago and
73.2% of teachers in Washington, DC

Looks the majority from where I'm sitting.

At 11/19/2008 9:08 PM, Blogger One Brow said...

In the article you linked, teachers making 42K+ were more likely to use public schools than the general public, and those over 84K+ were much more likely to use public school.

Why did you leave that out of your article?

At 12/05/2008 6:05 AM, Anonymous Girls schools said...

There are so many schools that give education to the single sex. Girls private schools educate only girl students. These schools take care of the need of the students and treat them accordingly.


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