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School Preferences: Public vs Private

Just a couple days ago, OPB was airing a story about how students seem to be disappearing from public schools and moving to private education.  I've always liked to think that no matter what, I would send my children to public school, unless it was detrimental to their health or well-being.  Of course my eldest is still a pre-schooler so I don't know for sure until the time comes what will be the right choice for our family.  One local mama, Laura, asks this question:

We have a year to decide where our child will go to school. We are debating on whether to send him to Portland Public Schools (we're not impressed), private school (expensive) or move (flee) to the burbs. Any thoughts?

For us, our neighborhood is non-negotiable.  We love where we live and it is our community.  So for now, we are planning on sending our child to PPS.  How about you?  Have you thought this through, and what decision works best for your family?


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I think it's a bit presumptuous to condemn an entire city's schools. Yes, there are schools in Portland I would never let a child of mine set foot in (Ockley Green Middle, for example). And there are terrific schools here, as well. I think it behooves any parent to take a good look at the choices out there and which of those choices might fit their kid. And sure, if none of them do, and if they have the luxury of doing so, private school certainly offers other options.

Personally, we love our neighborhood school. Sunnyside Environmental is nurturing, creative, chock ful of dedicated teachers and has a terrific, involved parent community. My son is thriving there. We live three blocks away, so we never considered an other option.

I went to private schools almost my whole life, and I'll admit it: I had a bias against public schools. Before I had kids, and before I had much experience with public schools, I really couldn't imaging tossing my children into the gaping maw of consumerism, tedious worksheets, bullies and conformity that I imagined public school to be.

And yes, if we lived in a neighborhood with a lousy school and didn't make it in the lottery, I suppose we'd figure out a way to scrape together tuition for the cheapest alternative (which I suppose would be Catholic school - opening up a whole 'nother can of worms for this Jewish mama...)

As it is, I've become a real supporter of public schools. We're fortunate to have a great one in our neighborhood, but I want to work more to ensure that everyone in Portland can say the same.

I am in Vancouver, so for the most part, our Public schools are pretty good. But we live downtown, and while downtown is up and coming, the schools are still about 5 years behind, and "not so great" I am sure with budget and things our child and future children will be making the trek to Public school, Hopefully, we can get them into the art school.
Ideally, I want my kids to go to Catholic school, but my husband does not feel that is so important, Plus Private school = $$$
I guess there are up and downs to everything.
I guess getting involved in your neighborhood and local school would be good.

Also, doesn't oregon do charter schools now?

It seems like whenever I have a question that I'm thinking of emailing to urbanmamas...I open up the site and there it is! I just love this resource!

I'm having a similar dilemma. I have twin boys with very different needs: one is on the autism spectrum and will need serious hands on from a teacher to stay directed in school; and the other is probably going to excel wherever he goes, but has a disorder linked to ADD - which we won't know if he has until he's a little older. I want them to be together, but wherever it is, it really needs to serve both of them.

Our neighborhood school, Vernon, doesn't seem to be that place. Nor would a school that we might otherwise be attracted to, like Trillium, which emphasizes self-directed learning. We like the sounds of Winterhaven, but we're aware of the lottery risks with two.

So we're exploring private schools, specifically Class Academy and Holy Redeemer. But we're curious what other schools anyone might suggest based on your experience, public (much preferred) or private. (I'm particularly curious what experiences other a-religious families have had with Holy Redeemer.) Wherever it is, it must be a very inclusive environment; partly b/c that's what we want our boys to know, but also b/c it has to embrace without blinking our two mama family structure.

I know there are great public schools in Portland - I just don't know which ones they are! Thanks.

as someone who grew up in the portland montessori community -- with a parent as a montessori educator -- i am a HUGE advocate of their philosophy. when i was a toddler i couldn't wait until i could follow my older brother to school, and i loved it from day one. i credit montessori with fostering my lifelong love of learning and exploration...

later, when we moved and i had to attend a public school for a few years, i was appalled. the other children seemed so rude, the material we worked on in class was boring and rigid, and i thought it was weird how everyone was forced to work at the same pace, at one desk, with cheap materials.

for Anne: i've since worked in a number of montessori schools, and one of the things that i admire most about them is their ability to provide individual attention, making them an ideal environment for those with ADD, etc. as well as accelerated learners (and, on the flip side, those who may need a little more time).

all of that said, not all montessori schools are created equal, just like anything, and i do think it's important to thoroughly investigate the school of your choice. they do carry the private school tuition, but all of the schools i've worked with offer generous programs to help families so that it's not just the wealthy who can attend (we certainly weren't!), in keeping with montessori philosophy.

in case this post is just not long enough (!) and anyone is interested in more information or specific school recommendations, feel free to contact me directly! and good luck to us all...

I have two boys in a Montessori school(preschool level, and first grade level) and am considering a switch to public school next year. Although I know my kids are thriving, we are barely able to afford the tuition and I have had some concerns about some administration decisions. I can't help but wonder if the grass is greener, or at least more diverse, on the other side? Vivian, I'd love some recommendations, but I couldn't click through to your email.

Last year, when we were looking for a first grade for our daughter, we were considering a PPS Charter School (Emerson) and a Montessori Elementary School (Childpeace). Thoughts and some comments here:

Ultimately, we decided on Emerson, a PPS Charter School, and we couldn't be happier.

We have had great success and appreciation for Montessori programs. Our first daughter went to Providence Montessori for 3 years from preschool through kindergarten. Our second daughter is starting at Childpeace in the fall and we anticipate her being there also for 3 years (the primary program).

Here in Portland, we feel extremely lucky to have the Portland Public School system. While there are certainly the "higher achieving" schools, what we really appreciate is the array of alternative options. There are magnet schools, which includes the language immersion programs and the special-focus programs (math & science, arts, creative science). Within the Portland Public School system, there are also charter schools, which are intended to be learning laboratories and are ultimately chartered to help the district identify some 'best practices' in learning/education.

In all, I think public is a great choice in Portland. Not only do we have great neighborhood schools, but we also have other alternative school options that are still within the Portland PUblic School system.

We are going with public schools until and unless they prove detrimental to our kids. Aside from the tuition expense issue, we chose this house, in this neighborhood, because of its proximity to good schools.

I think it's a given that public education has changed a good deal since my husband and I went to school (both of us in suburbia, in comparatively affluent school districts), but I still believe in it in principle. Public school, in my opinion (and bear in mind that my oldest kid is not yet 3 so I reserve the right to eat these words), is valuable precisely because the kids there may be different from my kids, across a range of variables. Different needs and abilities, different families, different cultures.

My perception (overly simplistic, I'm sure) as a public-school kid is that private schools tend to draw kids from like-minded, socioeconomically similar families and that may insulate them from the rest of 'society' a bit. I have a hard time separating my conviction that kids need to learn to be citizens from the notion that the best place to do that is in public school. That's illogical, I know, (certainly there are great citizens who went to private school!) but it's part of my thinking.

Put another way, I think the public school experience can be valuable because it is flawed - it's NOT perfect, so it may challenge us as parents, and my kids as learners, to overcome some obstacles that will prepare them for how complex life will be later. Geez, am I really suggesting they're good because they challenge kids to learn *in spite* of the flaws inherent in the system? Maybe. I'll have to think on that some more. When do the challenges beyond curriculum become too much to bear? Where's my tipping point where what's best for my kids becomes more important than participation in society through their education? I don't know.

I also absolutely believe in doing what's right for your family and your kids, however, so this is a very individual decision.

I always boggle at criticism of Portland schools. They may not be perfect, but they're sure better than Georgia. (Sorry I'm so long-winded.)

Betsy: Your comment about choosing a home with a good school struck me. I have to admit, we chose Concordia without really thinking about the schools - though we didn't know much about the kids' needs then.

While I appreciate the challenges associated with public school and that these can be good (they were for me!); I am not willing to gamble my son's future ability to cope as an autistic person on them. His first few years are critical in helping shape his learning style.

So I'm wondering, does anyone out there have a kid with autism and thinks their public school meets those particular needs really well? Which school is it? (Please email me privately if you'd rather not advertise.)

We might just move there!;)

Well, I've always been a champion of public schools, but I was a public school teacher for 7 years, so I'm biased.

My son is in PPS, in a bilingual Spanish immersion program, and he loves it. I like the fact that the class is racially, economically, and linguistically diverse, something I rarely saw at the private school in which I worked. It is studying in an environment with this kind of diversity that, in my opinion, provides the best education.

I love the PPS options: the magnet programs, the new public Waldorf school, the different Kindergarten schedules--I imagine there is something for everyone!

I am interested in finding out more on the public Waldorf School here in Portland. I am trying to find out information on it, and am not having any luck! Can you share what you know about it?

While growing up in Portland, I spent 6 years in the Beaverton school district and 6 years of private school. My parents pulled me out of public school in the 4th grade, because of 2 years with teachers who were overwhelmed with class size, and not enough time to focus one on one. Yes, this happened even in the early 80s here. I attended OES for 2 years and thrived both educationally and socially. But, as my teenage years approached, I decided to return to public school, of all things, so that I could go to high school football games!! When I went back to public, I was a full year ahead in science and math.

In the 7th grade, I visited St Mary's Academy and knew this was my calling. My family wasn't even Catholic or that religious. I just knew this was a school where I wanted to be. My four years at St Mary's were typical high school with their up and downs. Yes, it is a Catholic school, but the empowerment I learned there from being in an all female environment has been crucial to becoming an adult. One which taught me to be an independent thinker. We also learned about different religions and cultures that I know I would not have learned in a public school environment. And yes, there were many girls who came from wealthy families, but there was a significant group who came from families who were scraping by so that they could give their kids a fabulous education. Ok, now I'm going to sound like I'm a walking advertisement for SMA, but the latest newsletter, I received said that the enrollment is half-Catholic, half-other religous affiliations.
Now, as a parent, I really struggle with where to send my son or any future children we have. This has been a serious debate between my husband and me for several years. My husband spent all 12 years in PPS. I think though that we have come up with a reasonable solution. Our neighborhood elementary school has received good marks, but the middle and high school are poorly graded. So he'll go to public elementary and then on to private middle/high school. Provided we can afford it, when the time comes.
The bottomline is that we all want our children to have the best education possible. If you don't have the financial ability or desire to send your children to private school, and your own schools aren't up to your standards; then provide additional educational resources from home with you. We are their best teachers and influencers, and it rests on our shoulders to pay it forward.

The public Waldorf school is Portland Village School at http://www.portlandvillageschool.org/.

We're excited about it!

Great discussion...and once again, the UrbanMamas tackle a potentially volitile subject with no anger and judgement. Right on!

As a veteran preschool teacher here in Portland, I have been planning and dreaming about what elementary school my children would go to for over 15 years, (long before they even existed!) Watching and helping families make this choice over and over for all that time, I wondered what I would someday do. Then I got some experience teaching in the public schools, obtained my teaching certification and education degree, and finally had my own children. Now my son is 5, and it's my turn to make a choice.

Making this decision was so overwhelming, the only way we could handle it was just to focus on our child and his needs. I kept getting really stuck in philosophy, politics, and frankly, appearances. (What will the neighbors, preschool parents, my fellow teachers think?) The only way I could begin to approach this is to just think about him, and then it was easy. (Well, easier.) He is at Cedarwood, and we are very happy there. Our choice was really grounded in this child, this place and time. I wouldn't say we believe in private over public, by any means. We just feel that this particular school is the best enviornment for him at this time in his life, and it happens to be private. I make no apologies, nor feel any superiority about it. I just feel good about listening to what he needs, observing what makes him thrive, and honoring that. I hope we can continue to do that for him, and do it for our daughter in the same way when her time comes.

We bought our house in North Portland a year ago with the understanding that we might have to investigate other options for school if we still live here when our kids hit school age. Frankly, we could not afford the homes that we liked in the neighborhoods with better schools and we didnt want to be outside of the city. Many of the families on our street go to the neighborhood elementary school and a few have chosen other options--private or otherwise, and they all seem happy with their choices.

I went to private (Catholic) school for 13 years. Although I didnt always appreciate it (uniforms, religion classes, going to school with kids from all over the city as opposed to from my own neighborhood) I do think I got a better education, and a better foundation for my life. One difference that I perceive is that parents in private schools take a much more active involvement in their children's education because they are paying for it. My sister in law teaches 4th grade in a public school, and I'm saddened by the stories she tells of begging parents to show up for parent teacher conferences, and to call her back when she has a concern about one of her students. It was good for me to be surrounded with kids (from all different financial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds by the way) who's parents cared about their education as much as mine did.

We homeschool. In fact, one of the things that brought us here was the great homeschool community. There seems to be many good choices here.

Wait, please. Before we go congratulating ourselves for a discussion without judgment, take another look at the very first comment. Ockley Green is MY neighborhood school. I volunteer there. Our neighbors love it.

Not trying to start something... just wanted to point out that one person's "no thank you" could be another person's only option. And they may find out that the option isn't that bad after all.

The reason parents seem more involved in private schools is because, people with more money often have more leisure/free time. It is not always that they care more but that they are fortunate enough to have the resources of both time and money.

Yeah, I see what you mean. I didn't mention the name of my neighborhood school for a reason. It might be better not to mention schools by name at all (?) I'm not sure.

As for the "congratulations": It stands. (So far, anyway!) This topic falls squarely under my "not to discuss in public" category because it can become so totally intense for people. Forget religion and politics, school choice seems to trump all in terms of taboo discussion among mothers right now...I do commend UM for taking it on. It's not an easy one.

Good point Allison. Tread lightly please mamas!

Allison, I apologize for the comment about Ockley Green. I subbed there quite a bit when I first moved to Portland in '98 and found it similar to the chaotic, troubled school I taught at in Baltimore. I should have considered that schools can and do change before mentioning it. I'm really glad to hear that OG is not the place it used to be.

We were faced with this decision for the fall, and it was not been an easy one. My daughter is in 2nd grade at our local Beaverton public elementary and she loves it there, but we chose a private school for my son for kindergarten partly because it is an all-day program. He, of course, loves it there, but we have a newborn, and the drive every morning and afternoon to shuttle both kids to school, instead of just taking the bus, has been a huge burden. Not to mention the completely different vacation schedules, days off, conferences - it's enough to make you crazy! But, I worry that I am making decisions about my childrens' education primarily based on convenience... I also wonder how much the public school is challenging and encouraging my daughter - sometimes it seems like all they do in class is are activities that are rewarded with candy. I guess when it comes down to it, I feel like I am compromising something no matter what I pick.

I think it's really important to remember that great teachers often make a great experience for a young mind, not whether or not you choose public or private. For example, the above comment mentions candy at every turn. That is a choice of the teacher (and I'm actually suprised, considering Beaverton's wellness initative discourges this especially at the elementary school level) and has little to do with whether the school is public or private. With that said, there are certain institutions that are predictable in public school and which cannot be for the very nature of private schools. Well, perhaps if the private school uses a strict interpretation of one of the philosophys of education such as Montessouri, Waldorf, Emerson etc. It's important to remember that not all schools, classrooms, etc are created equal.

I think that the main thing that most private schools can offer that most public schools usually cannot is a smaller class size. I am a public school teacher and looking at numbers for next year makes me ill - an average size of 33 in a high school science class...akkkkkk!!! It's no wonder teacher burn out rates are so high.

I believe that teacher quality is probably equal - teachers in public schools often have better benefits and pay than those in private schools which attracts new professionals to the field. I know some teachers who retire from the public school system, then go teach at a private school during their retirement. So in that case there would be experience on the side of the private school.
**The rest of this post is for those interested in knowing about special education programs and laws**

I have a child with a disability (hearing loss), but he's only 10 months old. So far, I feel that the public school system is better equiped to deal with children with disabilities because there are clear roles within the school - ie: speech language pathologist, special education teacher, autism specialists, case worker etc.

The implementation of the individuals with diabilities in education act is different in public schools than in private schools. A huge part of the law is FAPE (free and appropriate public education) which does not apply to private schools because the parent elects to send their child there. Private schools must have service plans put in place, but I'm not sure how that whole process compares with the services that a child receives in the public school. I would say that if your child has disabilities it would be VERY important to investigate exactly what is done at the particular private schools you may be looking into.

Another part of the special ed law deals with least restrictive environment. This means that a child should be in classes with students of all abilities as much as possible. To me, this part of the law was intend to benefit all children by exposing them to the widest variety of individuals possible. I would hope that private schools that I might consider would also take this approach.

Mainly, I would say that if your child has special needs, it would be a great idea to investigate both the public and private schools to find out how they are implementing these laws.

Remember, public schools get a third more money per student that is identified as qualifying for services under IDEA. Private schools get the same amount for each child (tuition). Schools are required to spend this extra money on special education, not on the general population, so your child should be getting more individual attention etc.

I am currently in this dilemna of looking for an affordable house in a neighborhood where my baby will eventually get a good education. In our family, the important factor is that she be in an immersion program. My husband speaks Spanish and that is the language we speak at home. Atkinson seems wonderful, but it is a very expensive neighborhood to find a house in. I have heard that there will be more immersion around Portland in the coming years. Does anyone know anything about that? What about Beach Elementary? I know they have Spanish immersion, but haven't heard much about it. I have also heard about the lottery to get into immersion, but that also seems like something that we couldn't count on winning.
I also wanted to say that I appreciate the comments above about the imperfections of public schools and teaching our children to be tolerant of differences. We also feel that about our daughters education and for that reason want her to be in an immersion program that is culturally diverse and if she doesn't get into immersion that she be at a school where she will have many different types of friends.

Hola, Emily! We looked at Beach when we were comparing Spanish immersion programs. It's very well-organized and emphasizes native speakers of Spanish teaching.

It's very popular and does have a lottery to get in, so be sure to note on your form that there is Spanish-speaking adult help at home, because sometimes English-only parents pull their children out of the program (4th, 5th) when the Spanish-language homework gets too hard!

I ultimately chose Clarendon (soon to be Portsmouth) over Beach, but my reasons are probably why most parents would choose Beach. I thought Beach was a little too organized, and not laid-back enough. I wanted a more playful, less stringently academic environment. You see, what many people mean when they say "good" schools merely has to do with higher standardized test scores, and I am not as interested in that measure.

FYI There's a group of people working on starting a Montessori charter school in PPS for 2008. We're really excited about it! You can get more info at theivyschol.com They're having a public meeting soon also. I don't remember the exact date but the website probably has that info too.

Whoa, i cant get past this comment from lauralye:

"The reason parents seem more involved in private schools is because, people with more money often have more leisure/free time. It is not always that they care more but that they are fortunate enough to have the resources of both time and money"

Lauralye-I would say you are a little off base. As someone who grew up in a higher income family and now is a higher income earner, I would say we have LESS leisure and free time, b/c we are always working so hard.

I am sorry if I was not clear in my original comment, but . . .

I think you are forgetting about a large sector of the population wherein both parents work but earn low wages. These parents often must work odd shifts and/or more than one job. Moreover, they are not allowed flex time to volunteer at school, etc. Many do not even have medical benefits, creating inordinate amounts of stress.

My experience in the PPS district is that the schools in more affluent neighborhoods have far greater Parent involvement. I have lived in and around Portland for 38 of my 41 years.

My husband and I are fortunate in our jobs, his full-time and mine part-time, to be able to leave if our children get ill or to schedule time off for parent-teacher conferences. However, I see all around us people with less education and/or less stable employment who are not offered the same sort of flexibility.

I work hard--but I also realize I am one of the lucky ones. A lot of people work very hard, cannot afford private school, and wish desperately that they could provide better for their children.

What I said was not meant to be offend, but rather to remind that not everyone has the same choices or resources, but most parents dearly love their children.


i just have a quick question:
how many families actually get thier lottery choice?

I hate to throw a wrench in, but I'm here to say we are in one of the most affluent schools in the district and I have been shocked about how little parent involvement occurs. I think the school is in a low energy transition right now and because of that I am looking around at other options.

After lying to get our child into a very afluent school. (The same one I attended and where my business is located)We came to realize it wasnt all about the school...It was definately about TEACHERS and how they taught our child and her learning style. We were happy with KDG. Not happy with first grade,happy with second and chose to leave during third ....charter for fourth and fifth it closed,so privte on through high school. I have to mention that when you find the right school as we did ...we would get a second mortgage, due without cell phones and cable and vacations.drive beat up cars,to pay for PRIVATE but the choice can be made for the sake of education. Dont rule out private if its what your child needs!!!!! Just wanted to put the idea out there that we have choices even on a single income!

My original comment meant to address a statement implying that parents of private school students "care" more than those whose children attend public school.

The median income in Portland for a family is around $50,000. Those families falling below this mark, especially with more than one child may care very much for their children but even in doing without, they may not have the ability to pay for private school--even after cutting out extras.

By all means, if you can afford it and private is the best for your child, go for it. But, to imply that someone with fewer choices cares any less for the education of their child does not seem even-handed.

For a PPS option that promotes critical thinking skills, creativity, and problem-solving featuring the Storyline method, and a curriculum that engages children with a variety of learning styles, check out the Creative Science School. My daughter is now in first grade there and we are having a wonderful experience. The kindergarten teachers have taught as a team for twenty years and founded Portland's first Constructivist (Piaget) school program. The entire teaching staff is so energetic, innovative, and supportive of kids, parents, and one another. By the end of the summer we'll have our own building where we'll move for 2008, and will continue to expand to a K-8. We have many involved parents and a broad spectrum of income levels.

Sorry, let's try another dot:


This is a great discussion, and one on which I can provide lots of "professional" as well as personal observations.

I spent kindergarten-10th grade in private schools (on the East Coast). K-6th was at a very traditional, old-school academically excellerated Episcopal school. I got a great foundation in the "basics" and I feel the small classes (never more than 20)allowed teachers to focus on each student. For middle school, I went to a tiny performing arts school and while it was not academically rigorous, I got to study theater, several forms of dance, and vocal and instrumental music during the school day. I also got to "skip" some of the awful social aspects of those challenging years. When I did go to a public high school, I was much more self-aware and able to ignore much of the BS involved.

Okay, now as a teacher, I never envisioned myself working in the "traditional" middle or high school. That said, through my education, I've learned that most neighborhood public schools at the elementary and middle level are moving toward more child-centered teaching and experiential learning. Class size continues to be a serious problem that impedes the ability of the teacher to do his/her job effectively. I did want to work within the public school realm (albeit one open to progressive methodology). Much to my dismay after 4 years here I have been unable to find work.

For the past 3 years I've been teaching in a small private K-8 school in Wilsonville, about an hour commute from my home. I do believe I can provide my students with a better education in some areas such as the writing process and literature studies because there are so few of them. I think the lack of resources, diversity, and students (in a small school) limit the school's ability to provide a socially and culturally rich environment for kids, especially those entering their teen years.

Since we live outside PPS boundaries in the Parkrose SD, we have no choice in where our daughter will attend school. We simply couldn't afford to buy in Woodstock or other neighborhoods where the local elementary was excellent. Fortunately, having subbed quite a bit in the area, I knew Parkrose schools had reasonable class sizes and appeared at all grade levels to provide a better educational experience than some of the other smaller out-lying districts.

I do have a wealth of knowledge about schools (both public and private), philosophies, and what to look for when seeking the right place for your child. I would be happy to help anyone who is overwhelmed with this important decision. Feel free to email me anytime.

Laurelye, thank you for your comments. I taught in a lower income inner city school and parents worked graveyard shifts, lived in shelters, were in recovery, were in English classes, and were overcoming many, many challenges and doing well by their beautiful children.

They cared very much about their kids and often checked in with me at school or calling me at home, but they certainly could not always make the PTA meetings or give money for a school fundraiser.

Working with these parents, I feel we created a positive educational experience for their children using the assets of a public school--diversity, community involvement, dedicated teachers--to their best advantage.

Earlier in the thread, someone addressed this better than I could: before you choose a school, look at the teachers. If they are warm and creative, they most certainly can handle the majority of challenges that arise in the course of a school year.

We're not even close to school age yet, and I always thought I would want a public school for my kids, but now I'm kind of repulsed by the thought of my child having to sit through days of standardized tests, tests and more tests to satisfy someone's ideas of "school reform" and "accountability." Can anyone who has school age kids in public school tell me - are they as bad now as I think they are? Do private schools manage to escape this?

And by bad, I mean the tests, not the schools.

Cat, I don't know how bad the tests in public school are (my kid's only in 1st grade). But I do know you can opt out of them. No one's going to force you to send your child to school on testing days. I am leaning that way, myself.

I've been following this discussion w/ interest. We live in a neighborhood whose high school has NOT benefitted from school choice, and this is where I always stumble in my thoughts.

I completely understand how school choice came to be, and the ills it attempted to cure. Unfortunately, while it may be the best solution, it is still an imprefect solution. In a perfect world, a school would enjoy both transfers IN as well as see transfers OUT. But our neighborhood high school (I'm not gonna name it, but you can guess) has mostly seen transfers OUT. I'm not going to try to guess (because that's all I'd be doing: guessing) why that is. But it's a discouraging reality, one that doesn't bode well for that school.

I'm just adding this post because I thought someone needed to say that school choice doesn't work for all neighborhoods. My child isn't even preschool age yet, so in a sense all this discussion is "academic" (pardon the pun), but it pains me to think that at this rate my daughter won't have a neighborhood high school to even consider attending. I guess you can say that if the school is performing that badly, and both historically and consistently that badly, then that's the only justifiable conclusion, but it's still sad.

When we were looking to buy our first house in Portland we knew that we couldn't afford to live in a neighborhood with the highest rated public schools. What we came to find out after touring 15! kindergartens is that we found the charter/alternative/magnet schools to be a better fit for us than the schools in the most affluent neighborhoods. We ultimatley chose Metropolitan Learning Center and are amazed everyday at what a well rounded education our child gets. Not only academically but socially and emotionally as well. One of the main focuses there is building positive character traits. The teachers are wonderful and parents are very involved.

One of our concerns for our daughter was that she had tested into the TAG program and we weren't sure that an alternative school would be academic enough for her.
It has been perfect. They are learning so many subjects through experience (electives are started at 1st grade, so far she has done nature journaling, dance expression, swimming, science.) When I toured some of the schools in the most affluent neighborhoods I was suprised to see kids watching videos and doing worksheets in class. I chose MLC mostly for the emotional and social education I hoped it would give my daughter but truly believe that she is getting more academially too.

To answer the previous question about lotteries. I think for most of the charter/magnet schools it's about a 50/50 chance. We applied to MLC, Emerson, and Buckman and got into two. They are all seperate lotteries so you can apply to all separtely. Keep in mind though that a lot of people do this and use one as a back-up so if you are way down on the waiting list you might still get called after people get their other choices. We were 30th on the emerson waiting list and still got called.

Good luck! I think Portland is a very rare city with all the choices it had to offer in addition to traditional public schools. When friends move here I make sure they know that they don't have to buy a house just for the school.

jen, can you provide any info on resources for homeschooling in portland (websites, contacts, etc?) we're thinking about going that route and I'd like to learn more about the homeschooling community here. thanks!

To clarify on my comment about parents with kids in private school caring more than parents with children in public schools...By no means did I intend to say that parents with means care for their children any more than those without the resources to pay for private education. And I was not necessarily talking about parents volunteering at private schools either. My parents put 5 kids through private school--my mom didnt spend her afternoons volunteering at our schools. I guess I was just trying to say that in my opinion, there is a different kind of accountability in private schools than in public and that reflects at all levels--between parent and child, parent and teacher, school and teacher, etc.

The concept of school choice is new to me, so this discussion has been great. In cities that I grew up in and have lived in, it's been the case that you either go to the neighbhorhood school, or you go to private school--period. But the notion that you can have a choice between public schools has obviously added a level of complexity to the decision about where our kids possibly will end up.

does anyone have more detailed info about the soon to be montessori charter school in ne?

Here is the link to The Ivy School:

They have a planning meeting on Tuesday June 5 at 7pm. This is the first I have heard of The Ivy School, but it looks like their goal is to open 2 lower elementary classes (each class probably being a mixed group of grades 1-3) in Fall 2008. The school is looking for space in N/NE.

does anyone remember that democracy is built upon public education? the very fact that people have this conversation - whether to send children to public school or private - is a fundamental problem. ideally, we'd all live within a stone's throw of schools where teachers were delightful and invested, where funding wasn't an issue, and where the peers of our children were raised with similar values, character, and dedication as ours... Right?

Public schools don't get the funding that they need, so some parents bail out. Public schools are hit as the place where "standardized tests" and low achievement are seen as the norm for a child's day... The real issue here is that parents need to not only demand quality public education for their children, but follow through and PAY for it - through taxes, time, and experience. Public education is the cornerstone upon which our society is built. And no one earns the right to silmultaneously complain about the system and look for a private school.

Keep your children in public school. Be a part of the school community. Put your time in. Raise money (not ideal, but for now, it is what we have) while you support measures and the politics that give us a path towards stronger public schools.

Even if the school itself doesn't offer the best in education, your child will be better educated by parents who invest their energies and time into a community, into our democratic principles, into their children's education and into an effort that speaks more loudly of cooperation and values... than pulling children from that rich tapestry into a created, narrow slice of life where things are "easier."

Life is much richer for putting the effort into something bigger than just one child.

And yes... I practice what I preach. All three kids are in public school at the closest neighborhood school, I chair events, and participate in PTA and foundation activities. We are both full time working parents (a blended family) and most def NOT rich! We manage to create a close knit community at our school, and we let our children know that not only are we looking out for them, we're looking out for everyone at our school, and I think our kids are more experienced for it.

I attended public school here in Portland - and my children are fifth generation NE Portland residents.

Life is what you make it, mamas. If you bail on public school, what message does that send your children? Enroll them. Then show up.

Emily, I know that your post represents the way MANY people feel on the subject. I would agree with you that democacy is built upon education...but I wouldn't consider that exclusive to public education. People are all trying to provide their child the best education possible, which involves myriad choices, public school, private school, homeschooling, unschooling, and maybe more I don't even know about! Due to the current state of our government (screwed up beyond belief) that provides public schooling, for some of us and our children, that education will probably not be in the public school system. I think there is more than one way to educate children to become critical thinkers who are compassionate and value democratic principals. And I do hope that someday we return to the ideal that you described above...and to achieve that we will need a society of well educated, well informed people that can rethink (or overthrow) the values of the current administration entirely. In a way we can't even conceive of now. And they'll need to be able to work together, without infighting. So again I make my plea: Stop judging other people's choices. We have a common enemy, and it is NOT each other.

The Montessori Charter school for NE PDX is not a sure thing. It's in the planning stages now and needs public support to get approved by the school district. I don't know what they need beyond letter writing for support but they can be contacted at info@theivyschool.com if anyone is interested.

Someone asked for more information about the new Waldorf school in Portland, which is the Portland Village School, a public charter school opening this fall.

The website is: http://www.portlandvillageschool.org/

Professionally I'm a charter school geek and happy to be a resource to other mamas, so feel free to e-mail.

Based from experience, the private schools really offer better quality education compared to the public. The private schools have complete facilities, carefully selected instructors, and many other advantages over the public schools. I think its higher tuition fee just compensate the kind of instruction the students receive and enjoy.

@Starner Ling - depends on the private school. While there's no question your child will receive a superior education at say, Andover or some other truly elite private school, the same cannot be said about a public school versus a local Catholic school.

Really, in PDX, there are two superior private schools: OES and Catlin Gable. All the other ones don't offer anything especially superior in any way.

There's nothing wrong to send our children to private schools as long as we, the parents can afford to pay for the expensive bills. If not, why send them to public school? Anyway there is no perfect school we can look for but basically private school is better than public school when we talk about the facilities, instructors, the class size, etc. As what I have experienced, I was a product of a public elementary and seconday schools but God blessed me I am now a successful teacher. Thus, the success of the children's future doesn't matter on their school whether public or private, what is important is the determination to succeed. Good luck!

Again, you're ignoring my entire point: the average local Catholic school doesn't offer anything better than the average local public school. If anything, they frequently spend less per pupil and offer less in math and science. An elite private school, absolutely----but a mid-range parochial school? No.

In fact I've known quite a few kids who transferred from private schools to public ones and were a full year behind (or more) academically. So I would answer your question of "if you can afford private school, why send your kids to public school?" with "if public schools are largely as good, why would you waste your money on private school?"

Speaking of which: I attended a Midwestern public school and had friends in NYC attending a mediocre, but somewhat famous private school (Nightingale-Bamford). Their math and science classes were at least two years behind mine (and I wasn't in honors), with pathetic lab facilities.

Even in the same city (New York) if you sent your child to one of the 13 public magnet schools, NOW they'd receive a more rigorous academic education over Nightingale and it would be free, versus $39K per year.

Oh also:

@Betsy (on your post that will be 6 years old tomorrow!!!) - I agree about considering even possible children when you buy a house. Part of why we bought the house we did was because it came with decent schools (though I wound up fighting to get my daughter into Da Vinci for middle school, but that wasn't about academics).

I'll frequently find posts from moms talking about all the sacrifices they made to send their children to private schools because their assigned schools were so terrible. Had they simply chosen a smaller home or paid maybe $20K more (which on a 30 year mortgage still works out to a lot less than private school tuition) or paid a bit more in rent (again, still cheaper), they would've been in a better district and wouldn't have this problem.

What a good conversation here. Very educational and insightful. Thanks for sharing.

I choose public school over private because I believe we are all in this together. We are a village raising our children.

Public schools are for...the public! If you, as a parent, have concerns about instruction, class size, curriculum offerings, you can make a difference and join the PTA, meet with the administrator, organize a group of parents to suggest or question pedagogy, discipline, standards, etc... This is all part of your rights as a parent! And, this kind of involvement benefits ALL students enrolled, even those without mamas checking the blogs for the latest and best parenting information.

My perspective on testing is that there has to be some sort of accountability (we are paying for public education one way or another if you participate or not- in our property taxes!) and for the moment, this is the best we've got. There is a true achievement gap - and when stable, committed families leave public education the gap widens.

We tried PPS. We went to our neighborhood school, and I tried to like it. I really did. But looking ahead, I just couldn't stomach the poor graduation rate and acceptance of mediocrity. My husband and I both went to private universities, and we want our kids to have that option if they choose. I don't think the local public options have that reputation with admissions counselors, so we left for a different option where 100% of kids graduate and there is a high percentage of kids accepted to ivy leagues. My kids may not make that choice, and that's OK, but if they want to make that choice, I want them in a school that would prepare them as such.

@Anotheranon, perhaps you just had issues with your specific neighborhood school? Because in the case of PPS high schools only a couple are weak academically, the rest run from a low of 8 out of 10 to 10 out of 10. For example, after reading about Cleveland I determined that it would actually be too difficult for my more arts focused daughter. There are no shortage of AP classes available, as well as the opportunity to take classes at Lewis and Clark among other universities.

Also, the only private schools here with a high percentage of graduates (and even that's debatable) attending Ivy League schools would be, again, very elite schools like Catlin Gable or OES. Not to mention, the high school you attend would have far less to do with admittance to an Ivy than would your child's actual abilities and academic performance (and even then, much could be supplemented by Kaplan SAT and ACT prep courses).

Oh lastly, our graduation rate:

A) if you're really that concerned with academic performance, I can't see your children being drop outs

B) once you factor in that we score kids who've moved to alternative schools against our grad rates (versus most districts marking them off their books as "transfers") and that we are a large, urban district with some deep poverty issues, we actually have quite good numbers.

C) Obviously a small, expensive private school (with a graduating class of probably less than 100 kids, maybe as few as 20) will have a better graduation rate than a district serving 40,000 students. Just saying.

Zumpie - the neighborhood high school we would have gone to was known as "one of the best" in PPS. But even there, kids are sitting in 90 minute study halls and can't get a full class load. More near term than that... we were at a k-8, which had not received all of the things promised by PPS when that model was approved. Electives were lacking, there was no option for advanced math, there was no science lab, technology was so so... even the library was woefully inadequate (as it had been a k-5 library for so many years, they just didn't have the money to fully buy for the 6-8s). Could we have made it work? Sure. Would our kids end up drop outs? Probably not. But they wouldn't have the education that they deserve, either. So, we looked elsewhere. And thankfully found an option that works for our family.

I was and still am the mom who volunteers, gives to the foundation, brings extra supplies when teachers are running low, etc. I've even written letters and gone to Salem to advocate for oregon public schools. But, until the state of oregon fixes school funding, and until PPS puts their priorities where they should be, I decided that my efforts and money would be better spent at a school that could give my kids the education they deserve NOW. We have one chance to get it right with our kids, and for us, a move from PPS was what felt right.

oh, and despite the high rating in oregon, the high school we would have attended was on the federal watch list for doing poorly.

That's not the kind of school I want on my kids' transcripts when they are applying to college.

I dunno, I still disagree---unless your kids go to a truly elite school like Andover, there really isn't nearly the difference you think there is. In NYC I attended a public honors school, we saw more Ivy League attendees than any private school in the city.

As for "one chance" not really. An ivy league education is no guarantee of future success, let alone happiness. And it's certainly even more the case with high school. It's actually never too late to start over!

Oh also, as someone who attended an Ivy, I'd think you'd already know that they don't really care what high school you attended, just the other elements. If anything, since they seek to have a balanced student body, they're MORE likely to accept a child from a public school than a private one (kinda the same way it's cheaper for middle class families to pay for ivies, because of their endowments).

Unless, of course, you're insanely wealthy and from a hugely influential family, but again, then you'd be talking about the boarding school your children attend on the east coast.

Zumpie - you are comparing apples to oranges. You went to a high performing public high school in NY. I also went to a high performing public high school, and there were plenty of ivy leaguers from our school. I am a public school advocate, for sure. And, we tried very hard to make our local public school work. Unfortunately, if you look side by side at the public and private options in Oregon, you don't see the same performance. Even the highest performing schools in PPS are on the federal watch list, and that combined with the low graduation rates, inability to get full class loads, etc., will put the kids at a disadvantage when applying for college. We experienced our local public option, and we moved to attend a different option, and I can tell you that their are VAST differences in the education my children are now getting.

And, I am certainly not saying that a good education leads to happiness. However, our family values education, and our kids will not have a choice as to whether to attend and complete college. What I want is that their high school will be a college prep environment that will give them the opportunity to realistically compete to attend any school they wish (public, private, state, ivy, or whatever). I didn't feel that our previous public option put them on that path.

Federal watch list is just one metric, and based entirely on test scores. I actually have compared private schools to public schools in Portland, both based on stats and actual attendees.

Annnnnd I remained spectacularly less than impressed with what private schools here offer. Again, only moderately impressed even with Catlin Gable and OES. Everything else was very typical parochial school---which is NOT impressive.

Zumpie - every family is different. PPS wasn't for us (we tried it!), and we found an option that works much better for our kids. I am glad that you found something that works for your kids within PPS, but it wasn't for us.

Education is not a one size fits all solution, so what works for you may not work for someone else and vice versa.

I for one am glad that we have different options here.

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