A teeny public schoolhouse and I’m still ok


This was my middle school for a year. The other was condemned and torn down.

3 rooms.

6th, 7th and 8th grade.

Amidst corn fields.

There used to be chickens on the porch.

A tiny town of 3,000 farmers and mill workers did not create a great tax base for schools.

The middle school is now a place with many pickup trucks and may soon be featured on an episode of “Hoarders! Buried Alive!”…


We had no music program aside from the time Brent Sawyer did a fully clad lipsync and hip-swiveling dance to “YMCA” at Halloween. We had no art or science fairs.

It didn’t really bother me until I went to grad school as a geologist without a “pedigree” and it would be years before I admitted to attending school in this town only because, in later years, “Jesse Pinkman” did. He’s cool, so now Emmett, Idaho is too.

East of the Rockies, it suddenly became all about Ivy League and private schools.

Even private middle school.

Is there true advantage to private school or can one do well in life with public school and some grit?

I can tell you that nothing stopped me from becoming a scientist. In fact, several beacons lit the way:

*A mom who taught science and kept sheep eyeballs in the fridge

*A dad with an analytic mind

*A biology teacher, Mr. Hyslop, who had a funny way of saying “paramesthium” and challenged me to memorize animal skull classification

*Watching Jane Goodall on TV at 14

*A loving stepmom who had no idea what a ternary diagram was but listened to me anyway.

*A scientist stepdad encouraging me at 16 and giving me a second chance at college at 20

And I had a great career and created a comfortable life.

And now with my husband, have been able to help others in their science education journey.

Wouldn’t I have LOVED not to put up with disruptive kids in public school? Yes! Even with a the small class-to-teacher ratio I had, it only took one kid acting up to garner all the attention:

Ronny, the chatterbox who was finally ducktaped to his chair and gagged to the cheering delight of all the other first-graders?

The “Poison” wannabe disrupters who never had paper and pencil and talked during class?

It just made me want to get OUT of high school and into college sooner at 17.

Grit. Determination.

I wondered, is there an ROI, or Return on Investment of private middle and high school?

Is it worth it?

In attempting to Google it, all I could find were ads for private schools: “we will coddle your child while robbing your bank account.”

Woa. That’s a pretty serious accusation.

You bet it is.

In doing the math I found a very poor ROI vs. free public school. There is NO ADVANTAGE that can outdo work ethic and determination.

It turns out, that the more important issue was Opportunity Cost– the cost of NOT employing that money elsewhere.

In my example, it costs these 2 parents $7 MILLION! (see the math at the bottom-it’s gruesome).

Handling money is very emotional and many people play at the appearance of wealth and are romanced by prestige, but don’t truly have it: A leased Lexus, a 30 year mortgage refinanced several times, private schools, 7 year car notes…

The real issue-Opportunity Cost:
What about the parents?

In my example, they send 2 kids to private school for Jr. high and High School. Each kid cost $30,000/year for 7 years.

What else could they have done with that $420,000?

Do they have enough for retirement?

What if they had invested that $ for private middle and high school in mutual funds for 7 years instead?

They would have
$738,000 in 7 years assuming a 12% avg return.

And, if they let that grow for 20 years?

“But you CAN’T put a price on education…”

Actually, you can.

And most presidents attended public school.

And Dave and Sharon Ramsey rented in a good public school area to NOT send their kids to private schools.

Is a padded pedigree so important?

Not in the private sector.

Academia pays about 1/3 the salary of the private sector in science.

Most well-paid scientists I knew, went to public school all the way through.

Prestige and appearance is EXPENSIVE!

It cost these 2 parents $7MILLION!

So, if your child’s middle or high school includes chickens over music, don’t despair.

They’ll probably be just fine.


ROI and payout date exercise:
*Assume that the jobs out of college are available to both the public and private school kids(true).

Let’s be Spock for a little while and look at the cost of sending 2 kids to private school then college.

At $30,000 per child per year for private school (I’m just as horrified as you), does it make good sense?

Grades 6-12 (not elementary school)
Assume $30,000 per kid, 7 years, no inflation to keep it simple.

A typical American family has an income of $50,000.

A year of private school for 2 kids is $60,000.

We’ll have to assume the parents are not typical but are quite wealthy and can afford this.

$60,000 for 7 years


Before college.

Now, MATH (Oh, God, no! Not MATH! The horror!)

It’s OK.

I’m patting your hand.
Let’s walk through this:

ROI =($income- $ cost)/$cost
          ($income – $420,000)/$420k

Each kid cost $210,000
before college.

One child chooses 1 year of vocational school instead of college.

The other chooses 4 years of college in a state school (because the kids’ parents finally discover Dave Ramsey..)

Each child’s education cost now:
Vocational             $220,000
Grad Science        $290,000

2 starting salaries post tax:
Vocational                           $30,000
Graduate School science $75,000

Let’s assume an average 8% raise per year for each. How long does it take to see a return on the private school investment?

I’m going to add the salary in a cumulative way to find the break even and first payout date.
$44,000 year 6 break even $220k
$48,000 year 7 let’s check ROI

ROI =($income- $ cost)/$cost
ROI =($268,000-$220,00)/$220,000
ROI = $48,000/$220,000=0.22

Pretty abysmal. Most companies will not touch a project without an ROI of at least 1.2 or 20% return in 5-10 years.

How about our more expensive grad student with a better-paying job?

$94,500 breakeven during year 4
$128,000 year 7, let’s compare

ROI =($income- $ cost)/$cost
ROI= ($797,500-$290,000)/$290,000


Much better.

Some names were changed for privacy.
Photos modified from Google Earth.


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