I live in an inexpensive area (in the US) with a public school that is pretty bad by most measures (it gets low/failing rankings by most measures I can find online). I have a child who will soon be entering kindergarten, and I'm struggling with the choice of whether to send her to this school, or pay to send her to a private school nearby. The main reason I currently live where I do is to save money to move to a nicer area in 2-3 years (with a better school), and spending a bunch of money on private schooling will obviously hinder this goal.

My biggest concern is that she will be surrounded by kids that weren't raised with the same standards of behavior and discipline, and this will have long lasting negative effects on her perception of school. This is apparent to me when we frequently take her to play at our local park, and she is polite, sweet, and considerate of other kids. Generally, other kids at the park take advantage of that, and push her around (metaphorically speaking, but I wouldn't be surprised if she was literally pushed around sometimes if a parent wasn't present). She gets along great on play dates with friends, cousins, etc. Incidentally, many of her friends will be going to the private school we would like to send her to.

I'm looking to understand the effects of going to a bad school at a young age (research links?), or maybe just some anecdotes of personal experiences with this issue.

  • Welcome to Parenting.SE! What are some of the metrics you use to define bad: test scores, funding, few extracurriculars, etc.?
    – Acire
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 14:16
  • Hi, and welcome to Parenting. Unfortunately I think this question as it is currently stated is not answerable: it's not really possible for us to have a sufficient grasp of your priorities to make the decision for you, and while I think the second paragraph is leading to an answerable question, it's not specific enough still - books can be written on the subject. Can you get a bit more specific for what you're looking to compare here? In particular - do some research first, then you can likely ask a better-informed question that will be answerable.
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 14:35
  • 1
    Note that the terms "private school" and "public school" have very different meanings depending on which country you're in. From the context, I'm guessing this is in the U.S., where a public school is a government-funded school that costs nothing for the student, and a private school is privately funded via tuition and/or other means. Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 20:13
  • I think that the answer would heavily depend on the financials... does going to private school for a year cost meaningfully more, or less, or the same, as the margin of cost to move to a better location for you?
    – user3143
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 11:55

2 Answers 2


This is very country specific, for this answer I wills assume this is in the US.

I think this is really dependent on what metrics you use to define "bad". We had all of our kids go to public schools which most people in the area would probably refer to as "bad". Main reasons: lower income and less per-student spend, racially diverse, high percentage of special needs children from troubled environment. The town has probably the cheapest real estate prices in the area and that attracts people with money issues.

However we found the schools were run primarily by capable and dedicated principles/teachers that were personally invested and actually cared a lot. The racial diversity spawned some interesting programs: there was a pre-school program for kids who's native language was neither English, Spanish or Paortugues (large Brazilian community) which was great for us since we were neither. There also was a Spanish/English immersion program with half the kids being native English and native Spanish speaker and the instruction language alternating every 6 weeks or so. As a result two of my kids are fully tri-lingual. All our kids went on to to reputable colleges including MIT & Babson. So all-in-all it worked great for our kids although it clearly wasn't considered as good as the schools in the surrounding rich and predominantly white bed room communities.

I think there a few must haves: "kid must feel safe", "school must have a decent set of ethics, tone must be respectful", "culture needs to be positive and value academics and hard work" "no tolerance for sexual harassment even if it's done by the football team" . Personally I care less about "has a high tech broadcast studio setup" or "has top notch athletic facilities and won the Lacrosse state championship" "has a average SAT score that is 2.56% higher".

Obviously you have your own values. It may be a good idea to write a list of things that are truly important to you and your kids and than evaluate the schools against that list. Only you can decide what exactly a "good" or a "bad" school is.

  • Thank you for your answer, I will update my question with some of my primary concerns.
    – markdb314
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 1:05

My son went to a failing-by-NCLB-standards public school his first year and a few months of his second year. It went so badly he literally cried for the last hour or two almost every day. After we pulled him out to homeschool, I did quite a bit of research to determine what went wrong, in an effort not to repeat the problem. Based on that experience, I believe bad schools are caused by two main factors:

  • An inability to adjust the academic pace appropriately for the needs of individual students.
  • A disproportionate view that student behavior, learning, and motivation problems are outside the school's influence.

Whether these will be issues for your child depends on your child. If she is generally well-behaved and self-motivated, and academically meets the pace of most of her peers, I think she will do okay in any school. The farther she is from that ideal median student, the more the quality of her school matters.

My son is eight now and loves to learn. For example, this last week we watched a documentary and a press conference on the New Horizons mission to Pluto, both at a high school level or higher, and he enjoyed both of them. He doesn't have any noticeable effects from his first year at a bad school. If you ask him about it, he only has good memories, which to me is astounding.

Based on that, I don't think you're risking much by trying a year in your public school, assuming she's not already having issues like ADHD. However, I would caution against extending that experiment much longer if it isn't going well. In studies I've read, by about third grade, kids have formed deep-seated ideas about if they are "good at school" that are long-lasting and difficult to counteract.

  • 1
    Would you be willing to share those (or one) study? Thanks. Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 16:24
  • Unfortunately, since I read these for my own edification, I don't keep a bibliography that makes them easy to find later. Here's one article I found with a quick search that deals with forming attitudes about whether you're good at math. Commented Jul 20, 2015 at 16:35
  • You touched on my biggest concern (which I didn't fully realize until I read your answer), which is that this experience will negatively effect her perception of school for years. I updated my question accordingly.
    – markdb314
    Commented Jul 21, 2015 at 1:37

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