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My values clash with my wish for private school

DEAR CAROLYN: I'm facing a (very privileged) decision that I could nonetheless use some help framing. We live in a neighborhood with a so-so public school option. Most parents do their best to lottery into other public or charter schools. Some go private.

We applied to and got into one private school, which we can afford, but it'll make money tighter than we are used to. I feel like my values supporting community and public school are at war with my other value of providing my child with an excellent education. We could move to a better school district, but have deep roots in our existing community we'd rather not cut.

How to approach a choice like this?

Values at War

VALUES AT WAR: You start with the easier of your decisions: You stay in your community. You don't cut deep roots if you don't have to. Your child will be out of school before you know it, too, but your community will still be there.

Plus, more important in this context, your money stays put, too — supporting your local system even if your child attends private school.

As for which you choose: Kids need parents, not ideologies. You can believe fiercely in public schools on principle and have a child who is not well-served, in practice, by your local ones — due to any number of potential mismatches between what your school offers and what your child needs. They can involve the curriculum, the fellow students, the physical plant, the teaching and learning style, anything.

I am skeptical, though, of "so-so" as any kind of useful measure of how well a school will serve your kid. One "excellent" (by reputation) school did not work well for mine, and one that served them beautifully had low neighborhood enrollment because so many families opted for private.

And, of course, not all private schools are good — or good for your particular child. I hope that goes without saying.

You don't give an age, but it looks as if your child is just starting school and you applied to the private one before trying public. You also don't say how competitive the admissions are at the private school — meaning, whether it's now or never for this slot. If the details line up right, then why not give the public school a year (at least) to show you how it does for your child, and how your child does there?

This is where your beliefs do belong at the center of your decision — when there are no certainties to contraindicate what your values tell you to do. Try to honor your values on both fronts unless and until you have proof the two are in conflict. So if your values say public, and if you're not working with any decisive facts or experiences that say private, then give public a chance.

Better: If your circumstances permit (I know not everyone's will), then choose to be a big part of that chance yourself. Get informed, get involved, get invested — including with some of that cash — and help a "so-so" school improve.

For a deep look into this whole issue, micro and macro, read Nikole Hannah-Jones's memorable, unsparing New York Times Magazine piece from 2016: bit.ly/SchoolSeg. Yours is every parent's challenge, even as the details vary for every child involved.

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