Private public schools

Public schools should be open to the public, writes Bob Maranto, a Villanova professor, in Opinion Journal.

“Hi, I’m Bob Maranto. I’m a parent who lives in [your school’s] attendance zone. My son will be old enough for kindergarten next fall. He’s actually right on the edge, so he could go next fall or the following fall, and I was wondering if I could come visit the school sometime.”

“We don’t have any visiting this year,” the administrator replied. “We’re doing construction and a lot of things are going on.”

“Could I watch a class in session?”

“No, even when there’s no construction you could not watch a class.”

“Well, could I meet my son’s teacher?”

“No, the teachers are busy teaching all day and then they go home.”

This is a school that spends $20,000 per student, Maranto writes.

Is this typical? My ex-husband and I were allowed to observe both kindergarten classes at the local public school before deciding to enroll our daughter. The teachers chatted with us for a few minutes during recess. Then we talked to the principal, who said he could give our daughter the teacher we preferred. (Both teachers were popular with parents, so the requests balanced out.) Not coincidentally, the school had tons of parent volunteers in the classroom.

About Joanne


  1. From the article:

    In fairness, as my local school administrators complain, parents are a pain. Some have a “gotcha” mentality, some are rude, and many try to get a special deal for their kids.

    I wonder if those administrators feel the same way about the kids?

  2. The following missive is posted in many businesses, particularly in sales and customer service orgnizations.
    Our Customers are the most important people in our business. They are important on the telephone or in person.

    Our Customers are not dependent on us. We are dependent on them.

    Our Customers are not an interruption of our work, they are the purpose of it; they do us a favor by giving us the opportunity to serve them.

    Our Customers are not outsiders to our business, they are our business.

    Our Customers are not cold statistics – they are human beings with feelings like you or me.

    Our Customers have particular needs. It is our job to satisfy these needs.

    Our Customers should always be treated with courtesy.
    A bit platitudinous, perhaps, but something that many educational administrators need to ponder.

  3. Steve LaBonne says:

    But a tax-funded monopoly would have to add:
    Our Customers are forced under penalty of law to give us money whether we serve them well or not.

    Kind of takes the edge off the other items, doesn’t it? 😉

  4. My school regularly takes parents on tours of the building, usually led by the principal. He’ll also stop by various classrooms to see them in action.

    I just can’t fathom a school or administrator telling interested parents “no.” Ridiculous.

  5. I don’t have kids, but I know that as soon as I had a conversation like that, the very next thing I’d be doing is scheduling visits at the local private schools. A school that doesn’t want parents to visit is trying to hide something.

  6. Steve…”But a tax-funded monopoly would have to add: Our Customers are forced under penalty of law to give us money whether we serve them well or not.”

    Very true, and that’s why I belive that charter schools and vouchers are necessary to create an element of competition, along with achievement testing to hold public schools accountable. But there do exist some tax-funded monopolies that do a good job of serving their customers. My (Maryland) state DMV clearly works very hard at customer service, and in general they do an amazingly good job at it. And at the Federal level, I think that–despite all the complaints–the FAA air traffic control system does, in general, a very good job.

  7. Ross the Heartless Conservative says:

    Nice comment.

    As Steve points out, you pay for the public schools whether you use them or not. If you just take your child to a private school you don’t get your money back (unless you are in one of the rare areas that have vouchers).

    The public school my children attend is very open. Parents are welcome to stop by anytime and most days there is at least on parent in the classroom reading to the kids, supervising an art project, or doing various other support activities.

    Whatever they are doing seems to be working because the standardized test results are some of the highest in the nation.

  8. superdestroyer says:

    Anyone who thinkgs that private schools bend over backwards for the parents is a fool. When you have 3000 kids applying for 400 starts in a freshman class, the private school does not have to give a damn about the parents. The parents will do (and take) whatever it takes to get their kid in the right private school.

    The schools that suck up to parents are the ones with open spaces and need students like the corner Christian school.

  9. Ross, as a homeowner without kids, I’m aware that I’m paying for public schools I’m not using. That’s something anybody who sends their kids to private schools needs to consider. Clearly, though, enough people think it’s still worth it to send their kids to private schools. My point is simply that a school that is going to discourage me that much from visiting it must have a pretty strong reason to discourage visitation and that just makes me wonder what they’re trying to hide. In all fairness, it could just be laziness or a disinclination to deal with parents, but those are lousy reasons. And I suppose my first call would have to be to the superintendent’s office. After that, if I didn’t get any satisfaction, I can guarantee I’m going to go looking at private schools or consider home schooling.

  10. Steve LaBonne says:

    superdestryoer, your generalization applies to only a relatively small number of schools with a lot more applicants than spaces. Quite a few good private schools are struggling to raise or even keep up enrollment. I know this for a fact since I have personally dealt with such schools when in the past I was considering private schooling as an option for my daughter.

  11. Sue wrote:

    My point is simply that a school that is going to discourage me that much from visiting it must have a pretty strong reason to discourage visitation and that just makes me wonder what they’re trying to hide.

    Oh, I don’t know. I think mundane arrogance is an adaquate explanation. Good reason to beef the offending party to whoever they might report too and, possibly, a reason not to send your kid to that school.

    But evidence of something to hide? Not in and of itself. If it were then our state Department of Motor Vehicles would top the list of suspicious organizations.

  12. Mike in Texas says:

    A public school that spends $20, 000 per child?

    I find that very hard to believe. Actually, I find the whole episode hard to believe. My school is open to parents anytime they want a tour or to visit a classroom.

    I wonder what the principal and supt. would have to said when asked for the rest of the story.

  13. Mike writes:
    $20,000 per child? I find that very hard to believe

    not hard to do primary research:
    Lower Merion was in the byline of the article
    here is the Lower Merion school budget

    2004/05 budget $139.52M (page 2)
    2004/05 enroll 6,730 kids (page 6)

    $/student = $20.7 K

  14. Jack Tanner says:

    In Boston there is a school lottery and there are open houses that parents can go to to get misinformation re: the schools. Last year the BTU forbid teachers from attending the open houses because they didn’t want the teachers to influence parents in the choice of schools. My son has SPED needs and we asked to meet with his K2 teacher before the year started and she told us no.