Is Private School Worth It?

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10 Reasons to Choose a Private School

List of 10 items.

  • Educational excellence and high academic standards

  • Small class sizes

  • Excellent teachers

  • Strong student-teacher relationships

  • Individualized attention

  • Deep sense of community

  • Opportunities for learning in and out of the classroom

  • Preparation for success in college and life

  • Emphasis on social, emotional, and ethical development

  • Meaningful assessments

About Our Panel

Pamela Jones Clarke '62
Head of Doane Stuart School
This Shipley alumna has served as Head of four independent schools in the last 25 years, including The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, and Trevor Day School in New York City. Both her children were lucky to attend independent schools.
Alissa Fox
Current Shipley Parent and the mother of first grader Riley, who enrolled at Shipley in the fall of 2014, Fox is an attorney. Her two older children attend local public schools.
Maya Overton '16
Maya Overton came to Shipley as a rising freshman. While at Shipley, she played varsity basketball and was particularly interested in math and science. She currently attends Yale University.
The median cost of a Shipley education is about $32,000 annually. With some of the best public schools in the nation for neighbors, we know a lot of parents wonder, “Is it worth it?” We think so – especially at the elementary school level, when a highly individualized approach and strong academic program can help set a strong foundation for learning and future success. A Lower School parent, Shipley alumna, and recent Shipley graduate weigh in on the value of a Shipley education in this roundtable discussion.
We all know the value of a good education. At Shipley, we are strong believers in the return on investment for the cost of tuition. A Lower School parent, current Shipley junior, and Shipley alumna weigh in.
Q: What most distinguishes an independent school like Shipley?
Clarke: We are teaching leadership, and we’re teaching activism. In an independent school—maybe because we’re small—we ask the kids to do a lot. We ask our students to run clubs; we teach them how to make things happen, we expect them to do things. We cultivate agency. Our doing so doesn’t mean public schools don’t. I think it’s intentional at Shipley and other independent schools. Let’s put kids out there who will do important things.
Fox: The individualized attention, differentiation in the classroom, and the quality of the work. They’re not teaching to the test at Shipley. Teachers can be creative, and they have room to change the curriculum. One day at Shipley, my son’s class was reading a book about hearing noises outside and they went outside to hear the noises. That would never happen at his previous school. They just don’t do things like that. I think it’s so great that the students can learn about something and then go outside to experience it.
Overton: The environment. It’s a lot smaller, and everyone is willing to listen to what everyone else has to say. In public school, there’s not much room to raise your hand and share your opinion during an assembly or class. Shipley’s environment also allows you to show who you really are without having to be categorized. In public school, the way you dress and the classes you take are factored into how you are seen within the school. At Shipley, everyone knows that they have a place in the School, and I just think that’s amazing.
Q: What is the biggest difference academically at an independent school like Shipley?
Fox: The quality of the curriculum and the quality of the homework. I think that there’s a purpose behind it. It makes sense, and it’s well thought out. The quality of the work seems so much stronger at Shipley. They’ve been doing a lot of extra things for my son. I also love how Shipley incorporates character development and social issues into the curriculum.
Overton: The curriculum can be edited in a private school. When I came to Shipley, I saw that everyone was put in different levels that were the best fit for them. Teachers really get to know what kind of student you are and will edit certain things so that they make sense for every student in the classroom. Another big difference between public school and private school is the number of people you’ll see in a class. Also, I’m a math-science kind of student, and I’ve seen a huge difference in the kinds of classes you can take in public and private school. At Shipley you can challenge yourself knowing that you’re in a comfortable place where you can succeed. Your teachers and peers and everyone will support you in that.
Q: What differences do you see in the teachers and student/teacher relationships at Shipley?
Fox: We had been at Shipley for two weeks when we had our parent/teacher conference, and it was such a different experience than at my son’s previous school. Mrs. Giaccio really knew our son. She knew his strengths, and she knew his weaknesses. She had really taken the time to get to know him, and it had been only two weeks! There’s no way that someone with 27 kids in her class is going to get to know her students the way that someone with 15 kids in the class will. With too many kids, there’s just no time for that individual attention.
Overton: I can imagine how hard it would be to manage every one of your students when one class could have 30-40 of them, whereas the biggest class that I’m taking here at Shipley has 15. At Shipley, teachers really want to help you, and they have the time to do it. They’re willing to change and manage what they’re teaching you in order to accommodate how you learn best. Just by talking to your teachers, you can let them know how you learn best and show them your learning style. Not only will the teachers know how you learn best, but you will, too. That leads into how you study best and how you pay attention in class and take notes. That is so effective when you’re in a classroom trying to take exams. Not only are you learning the curriculum, but you’re also learning about yourself, which is helpful because another important thing at Shipley is the college application process. So when you go to college, you’re way more confident, because you know what kind of a student you are. All of that starts with the student-teacher relationships and how comfortable you are in the classroom.
Q: What is the greatest value that independent schools have to offer?
Clarke: I think it’s the opportunity to educate and influence the whole life of the student. It’s not just academics. It’s about living a productive life and getting educated for a reason.
Q: Why do independent schools cost so much?
Clarke: The reason independent schools cost so much is that, while we can’t pay our teachers enough, we do have a lot of them for the number of kids in our schools. It isn’t just small classes—it’s college advisors, coaches, deans, and counselors. There are many adults at an independent school—far beyond the classroom—and that’s good. We have to pay for that.
Q: What advice would you give to a student or family making the switch from public school to Shipley?
Fox: I think that some people are scared to make a change, because they’re worried about how their child will handle it. But I think that kids are so resilient—much more than we give them credit for.
Overton: You don’t have to worry about changing anything about yourself in the transition to make yourself fit in here. No matter what kind of person you are, there’s an exact place for you to fit in at Shipley. Even if you’re trying to figure out who you really are, wherever you start, there’s nothing wrong with it. Whether it’s academically or socially, you’re going to be integrated into Shipley perfectly.
Q: There is a stereotype that independent schools are snobby or pretentious. Have you found that to be the case here at Shipley?
Fox: Not at all. I think it’s a really warm environment. I think the families are welcoming and friendly. I haven’t found that at Shipley at all.
Q: Do you think that the investment in independent school is worth it?
Fox: I definitely think it’s worth it. Starting at a young age, you’re getting basic fundamentals that are being taught in a way that makes sense. Now is the time to invest in those fundamentals—at a young age.
Clarke: It’s definitely worth it, and if one can afford only one year of independent school, it should be Kindergarten. The first years are most important. If you can afford only six years of independent school, it should be Kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth, and fifth grades.
Overton: My parents are happy, because they see that I enjoy it here. They knew that I’d be in the right place. They say I’ve become a Shipley girl, because I like being here so much. They can see that this is where I really want to be and that’s all that matters, as long as I’m getting a good education and not having any social issues. I think that they’re definitely satisfied.
Q: What about your Shipley education has had the most impact on your life?
Clarke: [Former Headmistress] Miss Speer had a huge influence on me and the rest of my cohort. She told us about her work in China and about people who have less than we do, and she sent us into the city to build playgrounds on volunteer weekends. She always focused us on something bigger than ourselves and school, and certainly bigger than academics. She cared if you failed math, but she really cared if you told the truth. And if you didn’t tell the truth, she really cared. Miss Speer made sure we were dedicated to social justice and to living lives of purpose.
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.