Moving kids from public to private in middle school

I appreciate the Get Schooled readers who helped AJC reporter Gracie Bonds Staples with her story on families who pull their children from public schools to enroll them in private middle school. Several of you called to say that you never saw the story so I am running it here.

Again, I appreciate the assistance on this and other stories as reporters on deadline often need to find “real” people fast. Increasingly, education writers are asking me to help find people off the blog, and I thank all those who come forward and respond to these requests.

Here is the story:

It used to be kids matriculated from one neighborhood public school to the next, until years later, they graduated and headed off to college.

Nowadays, in an effort to find the right learning environment to suit their children’s individual learning styles or ensure they reach their highest potential, parents are increasingly choosing a mix of public and private school.

That’s what Jim and Jill Burns decided to do when their daughter Samantha entered middle school and her grades started to plummet. So, too, did Mari Stilson of Atlanta, Bill and Nancy Boyk of Alpharetta, Dick and Linda Eydt of Buckhead and what seems to be a growing number of other metro Atlanta parents.

The trend in a lot of ways mirrors a changing educational landscape that gives families the power to choose the right learning environment for their children.

And while no one keeps numbers on how often this mix occurs, educators and parents agree it happens a lot, particularly in the middle school years when parents typically move from public elementary schools to private middle schools and sometimes back again.

Still, officials say, the vast majority of the 73,000 students enrolled in Georgia private schools come in the early years and remain there until they graduate. Only about 35 percent migrate in and out, some because of job transfers and family change and some because their public school didn’t meet parents’ expectations, said Jeff Jackson, executive director of the Georgia Independent School Association.

A handful of metro Atlanta private schools are reporting an increase in interest at the same time public school systems in Atlanta and DeKalb are facing accreditation issues and school systems in Cobb and Fulton are looking for new superintendents. February is when parents seeking to send a child to private school apply.

“It’s a different world than when our kids were in school, ” said Diane Starkovich, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. “Today, parents do their homework. They check websites. They take time and are reflective about the school that will best meet their child’s needs.”

For increasing numbers of public school students, however, the reverse seems to be true.

Burns said that he and his wife, Jill, a former public school teacher, never thought they’d be sending their kids to private school.

“We’re big supporters of public education but thought private school would be the best option for our children, ” he said.

Like most parents, the couple made their decision based on the perceived needs of each of their two children.

Their son, Jake, has attended Pace Academy since starting middle school , while daughter Samantha attended Fulton County public schools until the middle of seventh grade, when they moved her from the neighborhood school in Alpharetta to the Atlanta Girls’ School.

The move was so important to the Burnses they sold their home and moved into a Buckhead apartment to be able to afford the combined $45,000 cost of tuition and expenses.

“Our kids are average to above average, ” Jim Burns, 43, said. “They always had all A’s in public school but we felt they would blend in going into middle school, drift and fall off the radar screen because the classes would be larger.”

He said that they also noticed Samantha’s grades dropping and she had become more interested in socializing, “impressing boys and being popular” than studying and applying herself.

“The same things still go on [in private school], he said. “The difference is because of the smaller number of students, teachers and administrators are able to see it and address it in a timely fashion.”

Instead of enrolling her daughter in a public middle school, Helen Ensign of Atlanta also opted for private school but made the switch back to the Atlanta Public Schools for high school.

“She was really frightened of middle school, ” Ensign said of her daughter, Willamae, who was recently accepted at Reed College. “It was so much larger than her elementary school and the two school visits her fifth grade made were both bad experiences for her.”

Ensign said the public school students booed Willamae and other visitors, but during her visit to the Friends School of Atlanta, students told her things they loved about their school and took her on a scavenger hunt.

“Our goal as parents in making this choice was to make sure our child got out of middle school with a secure sense of who she was, so that she could do well in high school and beyond, ” Ensign said.

Anastasia Gavalas, a mother of five and parenting educational consultant, said she gets asked often about whether mixing public and private schools is a good thing.

The short answer is, “It is a very individualized decision and one that needs to be made together with your child.”

If a child is in a place where teaching is not child-centered or meaningful to them, she said parents have options and should make changes.

Gavalas said, however, parents should also be aware of the pros and cons to combining private and public school education.

“The pros are that parents can custom-create an educational experience for their child … that supports their individual learning styles and philosophies, ” she said. “The cons are that this may cause anxiety, academic and social-emotional delays from the inconsistency.”

Despite the inconsistency, many parents argue these are reason enough to make the switch.

Although two of his children attended Fayette County schools, including one who recently graduated, Scott Bodkin of Tyrone said his daughter, Ashlyn, opted to attend Our Lady of Mercy in Fairburn after middle school.

“It was her choice, ” Bodkin said. “As kids get older, they tend to deviate from their innocent nature. I think that bothered her to the extent she was ready to make a change.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

76 comments Add your comment

Dr. John Trotter

February 28th, 2011
11:52 am

Just think, Maureen. In this article, we are talking about parents who can foot the financial bill to send their kids to private schools. These kids were already going to the best public schools. Can you imagine how bad the situations are in the ghetto schools? The bullies would not just boo the kids; they might actually jump on the kids. It’s all a matter of perspective.

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atlmom1

February 28th, 2011
12:29 pm

Right, Dr. Trotter – people with means have choices (always, including for schools). Yet, for some reason, people don’t think that school choice is a good option for our children.
What is happening these days in our education system is HORRIFIC. We spend trillions of dollars a year (there’s a dept of ed in each state, plus one at the federal level) – and yet, our schools are not good from top to bottom. If all parents had more choices, things would be much better.

Edugator

February 28th, 2011
12:46 pm

As soon as private schools admit all students who apply regardless of skill levels, and as soon as they raise class sizes to 30 or more kids, I’ll be a big fan of private schools. Until then, I’ll take the public system.

Economic Laws

February 28th, 2011
12:58 pm

Edugator – Yes, as soon as private schools take on all the worst aspects of the public system you will like them. Heaven forbid a parent be forced to take some interest in their child’s education, spend time with them, read to them, and do the kind of things that make them someone a school would be proud to have as a student. And of course, screw the kids who are already in the school, working hard, caring about education, listening to their parents, and putting the appropriate efforts into the process. They should just have to put up with the unqualified, disruptive, uninterested child that has now applied for admission. They should be punished for the egalitarian wishes of clowns like you.

I find it so pathetic that parents care more about everyone else’s child than they do their own. They would just assume lock their children in a rat-infested hole “that admits everyone” than put them in a situation where they are rewarded for both the child’s and the parent’s hard work.

Yes, as soon as today’s private schools are as big a failure as the government schools I will be happy. Let’s not bother to find out why government schools are a failure, let’s just tear down those that know how to do things correctly and show success.

Over the Hill

February 28th, 2011
1:00 pm

@Edugator you are correct. The level of the playing field is different when not only the parents get to make a “choice” but the schools also have this “option to choose”, as do private schools.

Kat Mandu

February 28th, 2011
1:03 pm

Dr Trotter is correct. Middle schools are like a jungle, all the new kids have to be challenged and the pecking order has to be established. The Bullies rule in middle school and the administration of these schools seem to accept these conditions as normal.

We can do better for our kids, but there is such a strong lobby for the status quo, nothing will change anytime soon. Those who are upset and have the means just move their children to private schools. With no one left to push to improve the situation, the poor and middle class kids are left to develop skills allowing them to survive the jungle.

Common Since

February 28th, 2011
1:14 pm

Private schools are just modern day Jim Crow.

Tychus Findlay

February 28th, 2011
1:21 pm

Is this really news? Private schools’ largest increase in matriculation typically occurs in the 6/7th grade.

chuck

February 28th, 2011
1:29 pm

As the statistics apparently show, Maureen, this is a non-story. Parents are not moving students to private schools for the middle school years in significant numbers, in spite of the 6-8 attempts you have made to insinuate such over the past few months. Parents are not any more dissatisfied with middle school than with any other type of school.

I think what dissatisfaction there is with middle school stems from the fact that students are going from a smaller NEIGHBORHOOD school where they know everybody, to a larger school that is farther away and where the other students don’t look like them. They get used to this by the time they go to High school so there isn’t as much of a traumatic transition from middle school to high school as there is from elementary to middle.

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
1:32 pm

This can’t be a REAL question can it? Prison or a Job? Govt. schools are a JOKE and teaching there has become life threatening. Instead of it being like the 50’s-60’s of Black/ White segregation it is now Money/the public poor. If you want your kids safer and educated PRIVATE school is the best answer. Jails don’t make people better and public school it the same. The more time spent in the gutter the more gutter you become.

theodore kennedy

February 28th, 2011
1:33 pm

As soon as i was kicked out of public high school, Peachtree to be exact, mummy and poppa enrolled me in private school, which shall remain anonymous, however it’s a Catholic school. The only difference I noticed in my four years of almost perfect attendance, was, I got a better class of drugs!!!!!

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
1:37 pm

C students in Private schools are b students in public school. Private school students have 200 times the manners a respect than do public school students.

Dan

February 28th, 2011
1:43 pm

Lets also acknowledge it is not just luck that determines “the means” to send your child to private school. You will find many families make hard choices regarding nicities vs necessities, and yet they are still forced to help pay for a system that is poorly run and wastes billions a year.

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
1:43 pm

Funny thing. If all you can afford is a YUGO then you buy a YUGO. It is up to the parent to SLAP the child and make them hold their head up while they ride in the YUGO. Too many parents don’t make their kids do right in school. The money spent on educating worthless kids is just wrong. Some kids just want to be STUPID and LAZY. PARENTS are the at fault reason this happens. LIL Johnny is going to be the next great football, baseball, or basketball player so he don’t need to be good in class.

Cant Believe It

February 28th, 2011
1:50 pm

Edugator, are you really trying to make that argument? Try substituting religion in the place of education. Or even restaurant or entertainment for that matter. You can’t possibly think removing the freedom of choice makes it any better for anyone. I went to a Catholic HS and appreciated the fact that everyone was there because they wanted to learn and were sick of putting up with hooligan kids like yours.

chuck

February 28th, 2011
1:51 pm

The funny thing is that this argument is NOT about the quality of education. It is about who our children are educated WITH. There is NO SIGNIFICANT INCREASE in standardized test scores in private schools as opposed to public schools. When demographic groups are compared apple for apple between public and private, test scores are essentially the same.

One of the things that parents should be aware of is that private school teachers are not always certified in the areas that they teach. As long as they have a degree, they can teach in a private school. How effective do you think a teacher with a degree in art history is going to be when teaching chemistry or trig.

Katrina

February 28th, 2011
1:55 pm

I think the major difference between public vs. private is simply the level of parental involvement. A parent who is footing the bill for tuition is much more likely to be involved vs. one who isn’t. Multiply that by the # of parents in a school and the fact that the school can ask you to leave…and you end up with an environment that doesn’t have to deal with little Johnny disrespecting the teachers or little Nicole coming to school without supplies.

I’m a fan of public school (I’m a public school teacher) but I sure did put my Kindergartner in private school vs. our neighborhood public school because there are more involved parents per capita. The families are by no means rich…but there’s a vested interest in their child’s education. I can’t say that for my neighborhood school (based on speaking with other parents and visiting the school firsthand.) If I could put my child in a public school that had a high level of parental involvement and a low level of disrespectful students…I’d jump at it.

David

February 28th, 2011
2:00 pm

This is a primary reason that Conseratives are for a school voucher program. Families who can make the choice either make large scarfices in their lives, are well off, or a combination of both. If you had a voucher program, more people would be able to make these types of choices for their children, education as a whole would improve.

dougzzz

February 28th, 2011
2:01 pm

Chuck—NO difference in test scores? You are wrong about that. Where did you get your information?

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
2:02 pm

CHUCK
Please! You really think there are Science teachers in private schools that have a History major from UGA? UGA produces the most teachers in this state and their DEGREE is in TEACHING not a Math, Science, History, or English. Many teachers in public schools learn to be teachers not learn to be scientists.
My sicence teacher was Major Toomey and he held more than 50 patents. He taught at Riverside Military Academy because he loved to teach and use his lab to develop items to make life better for the public and his students. My Bro in Law is a great Public school Math teacher, but he never wanted to be a teacher. He was in the private sector and felt a calling to help students find a passion for MATH like he has.

RJ

February 28th, 2011
2:05 pm

I’m a parent that did the reverse. I had one in elementary school, however when we moved her school was too far away so she went to the public middle school. As a middle school teacher I wasn’t excited about this decision. She hated it. Today she’s in high school yet she reminds me how much she hated public middle school and frankly doesn’t care for public high school. She just doesn’t feel like the teachers care as much. She hates that some of the students are so wild. We’ve wrestled with keeping her there, but right now we don’t have many options. My youngest will not attend the public high school. I have made the decision to do whatever it takes to put him in the best school that I can afford. I search every day and will be visiting and speaking to current parents.

I went to public school and I just don’t remember a lot of what I see today. The fighting has gotten out of hand. Schools hands are tied due to potential lawsuits and AYP. I still believe in public school. I know that good ones exist. I’m just not that pleased with the one in my neighborhood. I’ve taught private school and the real difference is parental involvement. When parents send kids to school to learn, learning happens. Students were disciplined in my school. Yes we had kids act out, but it was so vastly different from what I encounter now. Once discipline is instilled and parental involvement is required we will see real achievement.

involved parent

February 28th, 2011
2:05 pm

Education is very personal – some children can do well in a public school setting and others need more individual attention and less distraction. Our son was in the latter camp. We sent him to private school because we knew the parents would be involved, the children motivated (by parents and teachers) and the classes smaller. My husband went to private school and I’m a public school graduate – so we both had experiences to share and discuss. We had to give up some things to put our son in private school, but it was well worth it. When he went to college he said he was so much better prepared for the classes than the public school graduates that it became apparent to him how important it was to go to private school. You can succeed in public school, I did. I will say your chances of succeeding in a private school are better and we wanted to give our son every chance to succeed.

Carl

February 28th, 2011
2:07 pm

“How effective do you think a teacher with a degree in art history is going to be when teaching chemistry or trig.”

I’d venture to say an art history major from an Ivy League school would be more effective at teaching chemistry or trig than a math/science major from a diploma mill like UGA or Auburn.

Private School parent right now

February 28th, 2011
2:08 pm

I don’t agree that the majority of parents with kids in private school are more involved because they are paying. I was an involved parent when my kids were in public school. I think a lot of kids are in private school BECAUSE they have involved parents who see that many public schools (not all) are lacking. After a while, it’s too much of a struggle to be one of the handful of parents who are willing to be involved. The peer pressure on parents now (in a lot of public schools) is to NOT be involved, not expect the students to be disciplined, or to be lazy and just not put forth much effort to participate.

Robin Williams

February 28th, 2011
2:15 pm

It really depends on the Public school.
City of Decatur for example- great model.
City of Atlanta- not so much.

Tychus Findlay

February 28th, 2011
2:17 pm

Does anyone else remember the whole busing fiasco of the late 80’s and 90’s? It offered strong evidence that taking a student from an under performing school and sending them 90 minutes away to an above average school made virtually no difference other than the length of their commute.

And the kids that were scheduled to be shipped to the lousy inner city schools all went to private schools instead…

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
2:20 pm

When I arrived home one day(from 6ht grade at Sandy Springs Middle School) and told my mom I wanted her to buy “Suffer the Children” because I wanted to read it. She asked how I knew about that Horror book? I told her that my teacher would have the lights turned off and let the students lay on the floor while SHE read the book to us. HAHAH SHE READ THE BOOK TO US. If nothing the teacher should have made the students read the book aloud. I was enrolled in Holy Innocence the next year. I later CHOSE to attend Military boarding school at Riverside. I never tried drugs until I left high school and went to college and joined a FRAT. The first I knew of DRUGS in school was when I was in 1st grade at Woodward Elementary(Public) in DeKalb county. I was approached with drugs in Private school but it was not an issue if you said NO. Yes, rich kids could get drugs, but if was not a pressure to be cool if you said NO.

chuck

February 28th, 2011
2:25 pm

Yep Carl, I’m sure there are TONS of Ivy League Art History graduates teaching in private schools in Georgia. Go to some private school websites that have qualifications of teachers listed and I’m sure you will see what I am talking about.

@KimZ’spackage…Did you actually read my post? First I never mentioned UGA at all, but I can garauntee you (from personal experience) that a good number of private school teachers have degrees that do not REMOTELY match the subjects they are teaching. Outside of the few “elite” private school, most are barely surviving. They don’t pay as much as public schools and typically end up with teachers who ran from public schools because they had no classroom management skills.

The private school that my kids attended for ONE YEAR, had just as many problems as the public school in which I teach. Prenancies,drugs, etc. Those are the facts.

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
2:29 pm

CHUCK have the baltz and say the private school so we can look up the teachers and their qualifications.

chuck

February 28th, 2011
2:30 pm

@dougzzz

Here is a qoute from the NAEP study that examined this very subject:

In the first set of analyses, all private schools were compared to all public schools. The average private school mean reading score was 14.7 points higher than the average public school mean reading score, corresponding to an effect size of .41 (the ratio of the absolute value of the estimated difference to the standard deviation of the NAEP fourth-grade reading score distribution). After adjusting for selected student characteristics, the difference in means was near zero and not significant.

Mathematics
In the first set of analyses, all private schools were again compared to all public schools. The average private school mean mathematics score was 7.8 points higher than the average public school mean mathematics score, corresponding to an effect size of .29. After adjusting for selected student characteristics, the difference in means was -4.5 and significantly different from zero. (Note that a negative difference implies that the average school mean was higher for public schools.) In the second set, Catholic schools and Lutheran schools were each compared to all public schools. The results, both with and without adjustments, were similar to the corresponding results for all private schools.

NOTICE THAT WHEN THE RESULTS WERE ADJUSTED FOR DEMOGRAPHICS (AGE, SEX, RACE, SOCIO-ECONOMIC) THAT PUBLIC SCHOOLS ACTUALLY HAD HIGHER SCORES THAN PRIVATE SCHOOLS.

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
2:32 pm

Chuck
I had a best buddy whose brother and wife teach in Gwinnett county. The majority of the teachers hold degrees from ON-LINE colleges. AHHAH Boy they are ROCKET SCIENTISTS for sure. Phoenix on-line is something to be proud of.

chuck

February 28th, 2011
2:39 pm

@KimZ’spackage

THAT IS A LOAD OF CRAP. There is not one school in Gwinnett County or any other county in Georgia that has a majority of teachers whose degrees are from “on-line” universities. First, regardless the University one graduated from, in order to teach in a Georgia school, the degree must be from an ACCREDITED UNIVERSITY. There may be some whose degrees were primarily achieved on-line, but all EDUCATION DEGREES in Georgia require student teaching and other “field” classes in schools.

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
2:41 pm

My sisters(6 years old) came to the US not speaking a word of English. They were behind. They both graduated on time. One at Greater Atlanta Christian and the other dropped out of Lovett and won a Presidential scholarship to college.

BehindEnemyLines

February 28th, 2011
2:42 pm

@chuck — Guess my son’s private school must be “elite” (although I don’t think we’d usually go into the absolute upper tier I think of when that word comes up).

I check the faculty list, just to refresh my memory a little bit, there’s a UGA M.F.A. teaching MS drama, a UGA PhD teaching HS Art, MA’s from Vandy & Florida teaching HS History (got an MA in Victorian Studies too), English Lit majors teaching MS English, and so on and so forth. In the lower school I see the generic education majors pretty frequently but beyond that the large majority of our faculty are not only in their field but advanced degrees in their field. Go figure.

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
2:45 pm

Chuck
don’t you remember the SCANDAL of teachers holding Higher degrees for Higher pay that they got on-line? You do know substitute teachers in Georgia don’t have to have a degree to be in the classroom.

chuck

February 28th, 2011
2:50 pm

@KimZ’spackage, I have no doubt that you spend MOST of your time in that particular “activity”. That’s probably why your response was so immature and …well, let’s face it…STUPID. You aren’t helping your case when you make inane comments like that.

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
2:54 pm

So Chuck if the highest grade on a teat is an 83 then you want to ADJUST the grades so that 83 is a 100 and do the bell curve for the rest of the students right? HOPE is a JOKE because many teachers GIVE grades of ADJUST grades. Don’t adjust the grades a GRADE is a grade.

chuck

February 28th, 2011
2:58 pm

The reason for the scandal is that the graduate degrees that they held were NOT from accredited universities. At the time there was no system for checking those things out. Now there is. That had NOTHING to do with the UNDERGRADUATE degrees which were used for teacher certification. It was ONLY about the fake M.ed and Ed.S degrees that got them higher pay.

SBinF

February 28th, 2011
3:00 pm

“Private school students have 200 times the manners a respect than do public school students.”

Uhhh….I work at a private school, and I very much disagree with this sentiment.

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
3:03 pm

Chuck
Ranger school—- Pass Fail—Graduate—-school pass fail—- your surgeon that has you on the table did he PASS or fail the class he is about to preform on you? Public school is a JOKE for 80% of the students and 90% of the parents. Govt. schools teach that the US is a Democracy. Before WW II the military field Manuel put Democracy in the same category as Communism, Markism and Fascism’s. The US is a Representative Republic.

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
3:04 pm

SBinF
What School? Tell us. Step outside from behind the computer and tell the NAME.

Archie@Arkham Asylum

February 28th, 2011
3:06 pm

Public schools to private schools at any level puts me in mind of Murphy’s Golden Rule and I quote: “Whoever has the gold, makes the rules.”

SBinF

February 28th, 2011
3:17 pm

“What School? Tell us. Step outside from behind the computer and tell the NAME.”

That’s a silly request. My point is that generalizations serve no purpose. Perhaps in her experience, private school kids behave better, but it’s purely anecdotal. there are private school terrors and exemplary public school students.

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
3:42 pm

SBinF
Don’t even try the Private school terrors. I went to Military Boarding School. Whatever happens in a public school is not close to what could/did happen at Riverside. There is no PEER Pressure to be a GREAT student and be good in class in public schools. Funniest thing I saw at Riverside was this kid Bray run his mouth to a teacher. The Teacher picked the desk (with Bray in it) and threw him in the hallway. Bray decided to run his mouth in class again 2 days later. Mr. Bray was visited in his room that night and he never ran his mouth in class again. A BLANKET PARTY fixes somethings. Did he deserve what he got? Hell yes. Should it have happened? No, but Mr Bray didn’t understand the RESPECT he learned that night. In a public school if students stand up for the teacher they are looked down upon and they fear the other students.

chuck

February 28th, 2011
4:17 pm

@KimZ’spackage

You really have NO CLUE what you are talking about.

another comment

February 28th, 2011
4:28 pm

@KimZ if you went to Riverside it is because you got kicked out of someplace else. It is the school where rich kids with problems are sent to be straightened out.

Edugator

February 28th, 2011
4:30 pm

Some of you really need to get a grip- calling my public school children hooligans! I’m insulted!

Most public school kids, their parents, and their teachers are good folks. There are public schools with challenging kids, parents who are not doing the job they should, and teachers who probably should be greeting folks at Wal-Mart. But the bulk of our public schools are good, and often succeed with overcrowded classrooms and the handicap of not being able to choose their students. Perhaps a better alternative is to fund our public schools so teachers see classes of 20, and provide some decent alternatives for kids who disrupt the regular academic classroom.

Private schools do a great job with the kids they choose to educate. Public schools are committed to educating everyone, an idealistic and impossible job. But I’ll take that over some of the elitist nonsense I read here. If America truly wants to maintain its status in the world today, we’ll start recognizing the need to educate all our citizens effectively, and that’s not going to happen without strong, public education.

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
4:45 pm

Another comment
You are STUPID then. There a many students at Riverside that never had a problem in other schools. Educate yourself some. You need to look at the Alumnus and rethink your statement.

KimZ'spackage

February 28th, 2011
4:50 pm

Edugator
FUND Fu..KING FUND to public schools more? Are you kidding? The US spends more for education per student than the rest of the world and we get less in return. Throwing money is not the answer. Those of us that like Private school have Thrown more money at the problem but the money is focused. Govt. schools are a massive wast of money for the majority of the students. Spend the money on Govt. education today and still build more jails tomorrow.