Should we stay or should we go?
You’re married, career progressing, living the life in an urban city you moved to just out of college. It seems like three life times ago. Because now, with kids entering school age, you and your spouse face the age-old dilemma of urban living.
Should you move to the suburbs with better performing public schools or stay in the city you love and pay for private school?
You expect your kids to go to college. College may not be the end-all be-all for some others, but you expect your kids to go. But the public high school graduation rates in your city is scary. The percentage of kids who are ready for a four year university in urban school districts, is often less than 50% of graduates.
While the graduation rates of public schools in outer lying suburban school districts is much better.
You get one shot to educate your children and prepare them for adulthood. But as you consider staying in the city or moving out to the suburbs, you can’t help but feel your own love for urban living competing against the best interest of your children.
So, should you stay in the city you love or move out to the suburbs so your kids can go to better public schools?
I. School comparison
Below is a list of considerations when choosing between suburban public schools and private schools in urban cities.
City: There are lots of education options in urban cities. On the public school side there are traditional public schools, magnet schools and charter schools. These schools are free but you may have difficulty enrolling your Child because many other parents are seeking to do the same thing. Make sure to check out the test performances. These scores may be difficult to find. You might find inconsistent or even inconclusive results.
At any rate, you don’t trust the public schools in your urban city. And so, if you stay in the city you have decided to pay for private school. You want your child to be fully prepared to enter college after high school.
Below are issues to consider when choosing between staying in the city and paying for private school or moving to the suburbs for the primary purpose of sending your kids to high performing public schools.
Private schools in urban cities is another alternative. There are many types of private schools. Single-sex or coed. Independent schools. There are religious-based schools: Catholic, Christian, Episcopalian, Jewish, Armenian, Quaker and many others. Sending your child to one of these will merge your family values with the school curriculum. Read the Why Private School? article.
Suburb: These public schools are free and traditionally out perform urban public schools. In addition, suburban schools are usually within striking distance of the test scores of students who attend private schools. The key is to do your due diligence and find what are the test scores of suburban schools.
City: Tuition ranges on the low-end for Catholic schools $3000 per year to up to $40,000 per year for an independent school. Many private schools have tuition assistance where a family would pay only a portion of the full tuition cost. So don’t let the high ticket price scare you away from investigating private schools.
City: Single sex or coed. Religious or independent. Progressive or traditional.
Suburbs: One. Traditional public school.
City: Catholic schools range 22-26 students per teacher. Independent schools range between 10-13 students per teacher. A low student/teacher ratio provides more flexibility to address student needs. Can accelerate or slow down. Small class sizes allows more time for deeper analysis, practical application, collaborative projects and weaving topics between multiple subjects.
Private schools are not guided by test score results. Consequently, they can teach students how to think and not teach to answer test questions that are on the horizon at the end of the school year.
Suburbs: Class size can range between 28 to 35 students per teacher. Despite larger class room size, students with similar abilities are grouped in classes. Student and parents must make an effort to connect with teachers to avoid being lost in the large numbers in public school.
City: Class atmosphere is orderly in private schools because students can be kicked out. There is usually a close partnership between parents and school administrators to ensure student behavior is not a distraction.
Suburbs: Class atmosphere can have more distractions in public schools. This is due to a larger cross-section of students with varying levels of concentration and discipline.
City: Teaching proficiency at private schools is usually consistent from grade to grade. There is no tenure or unions so poor performing teaching are dismissed. Job security is based on performance and connecting with students and parents.
Suburbs: Teaching proficiency can be inconsistent from grade to grade at public schools. This is due to teacher’s unions and tenure who must protect poor performing teachers.
Orientation of performance
City: The autonomy of private schools allows them the flexibility to teach through the values and mission of the school. Private schools can teach students how to think because they are not influenced by test score performance.
Suburbs: Performance and local/state/federal funding is often controlled by student test scores. Schools who’s students perform well will receive more money. As a result, there is a higher priority on teaching to the test. This also leads to teaching students rote information at the expense of in-depth analysis.
School type co-ed or single sex
City: There are more options for single-sex education in urban private schools. Research shows that there are benefits for school curriculum that are orientated to the strengths and weaknesses of how boys and girls learn differently.
Suburbs: Public schools are almost always co-ed.
Connection to school
City: Many private schools have have a life long fidelity with classmates of their private grades school and high school that lasts for a lifetime. This connection to the school is often based on the consistency of students who attended grade school together k-8.
Suburbs: Lifelong friendships are created at public school as well. But not at the levels of private schools.
City: Private school administrators and teachers are responsive to the needs of parents and their children. Essentially, private schools are small businesses that must have high levels of customer service in response to parent expectation from their tuition. Private schools will often have a list of special educational professionals they recommend. They also are flexible working with these specialists with the student’s school work. Parents must pay extra for these services.
Suburb: Public schools often have specialists in the district who can address special education and emotional needs of students. These services are free. To take advantage of these services you must advocate for your child and navigate the school district bureaucracy. But it is do able.
Infrastructure is the second group of considerations when deciding whether to enroll your kids in private school in an urban city or move to a suburb with better performing public schools. Infrastructure are the extra things you need for your kids outside of school.
City: By staying in the city your office will likely be within 30 minutes of the school. For many parents, this proximity adds more peace of mind in the rare case of an emergency.
Suburban: Assuming an average commute of 60-90 minutes, for some parents this distance adds anxiety that takes some getting used to.
City: All private schools have childcare that extends beyond the school day to 6 pm. This is an extra expense on top of tuition. Usually, it’s easy to get to with the school being in relatively close proximity to your office.
Suburban: Depending upon the distance from your city, some suburban schools will have extended childcare until 7pm or later. After school childcare can be free or come with a nominal cost.
City: Urban cities often have after school programs through the parks department. Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCAs are good resources for youth programs.
Suburban: Youth programs at local community centers and parks department can be very good with comprehensive lists of activities. Suburban municipalities can be very attentive to the needs of families with children by providing interesting and well run programs.
City: Allowing your kids to play outdoors depends on the safety, traffic density, number of kids in your neighborhood who are your kids age, proximity to a park, among other considerations. Urban living requires heightens sensitivity to security.
Suburban: Usually, kids can play outside their homes and with neighborhood kids. Neighbors know each other and look out for all of the neighborhood kids. Parents have peace of mind when their kids leave the house to go play.
City: Urban cities are rich in extra activities for kids: museums, music, art, theater and sports.
Suburban: While families usually have to travel into the city for cultural activities, suburban communities have excellent programs for families and children. Without the added expense of tuition, families have more disposable income for tutors, vacations, enrichment programs.
III. Adult stuff
The third group of considerations affects you as parents. The importance of these subcategories vary from family to family
City: As your family grows the size of your residence may need to increase as well. Increasing the size of your residence (moving from a one bedroom condo into a 2/3 bedroom detached home) can come with sticker shock. A one bedroom condo is sufficient when it was just you and your wife. You made it work until your child became three years old. But now you need a larger residence. Housing cost is often the leading factor in choosing to stay in the city or move to the suburbs with people choosing the leave for more space.
Suburban: Suburban residences are more spacious per capita than dense urban residences. Suburban residences usually come with a backyard for kids to play. Suburban homes have family rooms, full dinning rooms, individual bedrooms for kids larger bedrooms for parents. Space to spread out is a luxury over smaller urban residences.
City: Living in the city your commute may be walking distance to 30 minutes. This amounts to hundreds of commute hours saved which can be used for family time.
Suburban: Commute times between 60-90 minutes. While the commute time is unavoidable, you can make it more efficient with audio books, doing work on the commute, napping etc.
City: For some families private school tuition creates added financial stress. Embracing the extra expense of tuition depends on if you appreciate the value in the advantages of sending your child to private school. People will pay for what they value.
Suburban: Since public schools are free there is no direct financial burden.
City: In the city, we all have our favorite restaurants: burrito spot, sushi bar, seafood place, exotic ice cream shop and pizza parlor. We have our crew of basketball buddies and yoga girlfriends. It took a long time to find the right mechanic, hairstylist, tailor, dry cleaner, among others. The thought of finding these service providers again in the suburbs is daunting. How important are these services to you?
Suburban: There may not be as many exotic restaurants as in the city. Applebee’s and Olive Garden maybe the best you can do. On top of that, you will have to decide if you are going to keep your regular doctor for you and your spouse but find a new pediatrician closer to home. This is so, there is less interruption in your kids lives. Yelp!! But over time, you will find a new group of professions and they will likely be less expensive than in the city.
City: You get to keep all of your old friends.
Suburban: You’ll make new friends from parents of your kids classmates, neighbors, and even commuters.
Cost of living
City: Urban living is notoriously more expensive than suburban living. Rent or home prices, restaurant meals, and the hourly rate of service providers (mechanic, plumbers, etc.) tend to be higher in urban cities.
Suburban: Rent or housing prices can be 10% to 20% less when compared to urban centers that are just 30 miles away. This savings adds up but should be factored against the increase in commuting costs (gas, tolls, parking and wear and tear)
This is often overlooked when comparing urban and suburban living.
City: You are already familiar with the political landscape of your city which tends to be politically liberal.
Suburban: keep in mind that suburban communities tend to be politically conservative. This is true even when they are in close proximity to liberal cities.
The political landscape of a city may be important if you are a non-traditional family, family of color, single sex family, family with special needs children. Etc.
In cities you will find more people who are similar to you. Whereas in the suburbs you may not find as many people who look like you, see the world in a similar way and have the same family values.
Overall, it’s a difficult choose between staying in the city and paying for private school or move to the suburbs for a quieter lifestyle and better public schools.
City or surburbs: It is a deeply personal choice.
We would like to hear how you came to that decision. Please leave a comment if have had to make that choice.