Proud to Be a Private Public School Parent

By 04/20/2013

2 Comments | Print | NO PDF |

Over the last few weeks, we’ve witnessed the spectacle of “outrage” at learning that two major figures in the school reform wars (Leonie Haimson and Michelle Rhee) send their children to private schools.

I’m not interested in rehashing all of the usual debates. I do want to point out that there’s public, and then there’s “public.” In other words, some of the people expressing indignation, I suspect, may send their children to “public” schools that are much more “private” than most private schools. And starting in September, I will be one of those parents (as anyone who has read my book knows already).

Yes, it’s true: Wood Acres Elementary, in Bethesda, Maryland, is a “private public school”—a term that Janie Scull and I coined in a 2010 report for the Fordham Institute. These are “public” schools that serve virtually no poor students. They are open to anyone—anyone who can afford to live in their catchment zones, that is.

We found 2,800 such schools in America back then; I suspect the numbers haven’t changed much since.

But here’s what you might want to consider: New York City, where Haimson lives, has exactly zero such schools. Nashville, Tennessee, where Rhee’s daughters live, has exactly zero. The greater Washington, D.C., area, where many of us policy wonks live, has about seventy.

So before we “public school parents” cast the first stone, let’s get serious. Public schools can be just as exclusive—often more exclusive—than private schools. Government funding does not bestow upon such schools or their clients any higher moral position.


-Mike Petrilli

This blog entry first appeared on Flypaper.

Comment on this article
  • Law Skool85 says:

    “The greater Washington, D.C., area, where many of us policy wonks live, has about seventy”…. don’t forget that some school districts such as DCPS has School Choice and conduct an out of boundary lottery which allows “poor” kids admission to the very few high performing schools in the district. As a “private public school” parent the only debate should be about putting all students first regardless of zipcode.

  • K.O. says:

    ….sounds like once again its another policy maker looking outside in, instead of inside out…I mean I went to a “poor” performing school and all I say was policy makers try to “relate” with me but they could not.. education is not a one size fits all. I would have love to have went to a better school but my mom( single-parent) could not afford…I am not crying about it but, with education policy every theory has to correspond to reality.

  • Comment on this Article

    Name ()


    Sponsored Results

    The Hoover Institution at Stanford University - Ideas Defining a Free Society

    Harvard Kennedy School Program on Educational Policy and Governance

    Thomas Fordham Institute - Advancing Educational Excellence and Education Reform