“School choice” is all the rage. Thus, modern parents are faced with a harrowing set of decisions about which schools will best serve their children. This is especially true in cities where, we are told, “bad public schools” lurk around every corner, and “good public schools” are in short supply. With so few spots to go around, parents who choose to apply to “most requested” schools may worry their child will find themselves without a school in the fall.

Private schools… the “easy” choice?

Talking with families, it is not uncommon to hear nightmare stories about confusing public school application processes and “Byzantine” lottery systems. Many families tell me public school enrollment is so daunting, they have opted out of the process entirely and have chosen to enroll their child in private schools.

When I hear these horror stories, I often wonder how private school parents can talk about their schools as if they are the “easy option” while glossing over the many hoops parents must jump through to apply.

Recently, I read an interesting article exposing the lengths to which some families will go to to secure enrollment in elite private schools. In Private School Parents Confess: Scheming, bribing, brown-nosing—parents of toddlers and teens alike confess the absurd measures they’ve taken to get their kids an elite early education parents, enrollment staff and admissions consultants counter the claim that getting into a private school is somehow easier than landing a spot in a “good” public school.

Case in point, a quote from a Brooklyn Heights mother awaiting admission serves as a great example of the stress parents endure in applying to private schools:

“There’s a never-ending, intense dialogue [from other parents] about how hard it is to get in. There are no spaces for boys, or too many girls applying. My heart starts racing and my hands sweat whenever I even see another mother who’s applying now, too.”

Nonetheless, despite the reality that private schools pride themselves in being selective about who they choose to enroll, we hear over and over again that families are “forced” to choose private schools because of a “broken public school” enrollment system.

getting into private school

Getting into private school is SOOOOO easy… Said no one. ever.

For all the whining about SF’s school lottery (which could definitely use a makeover, thank you!), private school enrollment is NOT for the faint of heart. Private schools can require applicants to take academic and intelligence tests, undergo interviews and observations in “play dates”, and submit recommendation letters. (We’re talking about THREE to SIX year-olds people!) It is not unheard of for parents to try to tip the odds in their favor for spots in coveted schools as they tutor, bribe, network and name-drop their way to the top of the list. (!)

Considering astronomical Bay Area housing costs and private school enrollment of up to $30K a year per child, it’s hard to understand why so many families would characterize private school as an “easier” choice.

And don’t even consider applying for some schools if your child is autistic or needs emotional support, or is an English learner, or doesn’t have a computer to fill out online applications, or isn’t a “good fit”…

So, tell me again… Why do we consistently perpetuate the myth that applying to getting into a “good” public school is so difficult? You’ll have to ask yourself… Who profits from this narrative?

A Manhattan private school application consultant who charges $15K per child to help students gain admission to elite private schools shared these words:

“Parents will pay their last dime to get their kids into Dalton or Trinity or Horace Mann. It’s a nightmare. Sometimes I feel like a war profiteer.”

Well… That helps clarify things!

The fact is, public school enrollment doesn’t have to be stressful or painful or hard. In fact, as far as SF is concerned, MOST families get into their requested schools.

So, why do YOU think the narrative that public schools are “broken”, “stressful” or “hard” comes from? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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About alimcollins

Ali Collins is an educator, community organizer and mom. She lives with her husband and twin girls in San Francisco, CA.

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