Public vs Private
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The pandemic threw a wrench in education plans for countless families. With public schools closing and shifting to a virtual curriculum, many parents felt stuck between becoming the part-time instructor themselves or finding alternative options, like independent schools. And while the sudden shift toward independent institutions happened quickly, it could prove to be a transition that sticks around for the long haul.

A Shift to Independent School

Since the pandemic began, public school enrollment decreased by 3%, or ~1.5million students according to the US Department of Education. Those 1.5 million students turned to other options like homeschool or independent school.

For many families, parents realized they couldn’t simultaneous be teacher, parent, and employee. Sending kids back to anywhere holding in-person classes felt necessary, regardless of the price tag.

The Cost of an Independent School Education

The average cost of an independent school education in California is $15,298 per year. For high schools, that average jumps to $20,840, while pre-schools are $11,328. These are averages. Some tuitions are up to $55,000 per year for independent high school.

Independent schools favored in-person learning while many public schools remained virtual.  Families began to see the added benefits of sending kids to independent institutions, like smaller class sizes, better technology, and more engagement opportunities for students. These benefits contribute to the belief that the cost of independent school education is well worth the investment.

The investment is significant. For a higher end independent school, the lifetime projected cost of kindergarten through 12th grade is approximately $500,000 per student.

Alternative Options?

Independent school isn’t the only option. Families can also look to:

Especially for young kids, virtual learning is essentially homeschooling. Sitting next to your child on Zoom for hours while the learn can be painful and feel very unproductive. Parents may as well take the plunge and teach themselves. Homeschooling means finding appropriate curriculums, planning lessons, and being the teacher.

It also means greater flexibility in scheduling, vacations, and pace. Parents are free to determine what type of education works best within their family and not within the broader cultural context.

In-home tutoring service
Bringing in a full-time or part-time tutor is another option to consider. Older kids are much more capable of independent learning. They can meet with a tutor for a few hours per week to answer questions and work through issues.

Younger children may need a more full-time tutor helping guide them through assignments. Like homeschooling, in-home tutoring gives children personal attention but allows parents to work.

The cost of a tutor varies by location, level of experience and expertise. In general, hourly rates range from $25-70 per hour. The number of hours needed weekly for a private tutor for homeschooling also varies. Five to 12 hours per week would cost from $350 to $840 per week. For 36 weeks of school per year (least amount for California) the annual cost is $12,600 to $30,240.

A learning pod gathers a small group of students to learn and socialize under adult supervision. Pods most often occur in neighborhoods or communities near one another. Children can socialize and help each other learn. These costs average $1,500-2,500 per month per student in the Bay Area. With preschools and public schools back open, and the virus on the down swing, most Pandemic Pods dissolved for the 2021/2022 school year. However, pod schooling existed prior to the pandemic and still continues as it offers a personalized co-op form of homeschool with socialization.

What Next?

The pandemic forced the hands of many parents to pursue alternatives to public schools. We lived in France during the first year and half of the pandemic. After six weeks of virtual learning, students returned to in-person learning with masks. The US was a different story.

Many of my clients switched to independent schools because it was the only way to keep everyone sane. Some have chosen to stay in independent schools because they don’t want to disrupt their children’s lives. They also want to protect themselves from future public school closures. This comes at a cost. Financially, buying a more expensive home in a great public school district is better than paying for independent education (which doesn’t quantitatively appreciate like real estate). Emotionally, finding the right fit for your child outweighs the financial aspect of this decision.

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