Americans love to debate what, exactly does it mean to be rich.  This is probably because we don’t have a handy divider like the British class system.

Do you see this Lego person as rich? Did you say yes? You are right:

Which goes to show that when it comes to rich, it’s hard to define but we know it when we see it.

Yet still, we fret about even the middle-class label for ourselves.

As a career coach I talk to tons of people who earn $80K and feel like they are not going to be able to support their family. But I want to tell you something: That is more than the median income in the US, which is $60K. And it’s more than the threshold psychologists and sociologists have put for attaining happiness, which is $75K. So look, if you make $80K, you make enough money. Not for NYC or San Francisco. But $150K is not enough to raise a family in those places, so if you are concerned about money, you should just move out of those exorbitant cities and live like the rest of middle-class America, which is what you are.

Now that we know what rich means in this country, I would like to suggest that it’s immoral for families with an income of $80K or higher to send their kids to public school. Probably the number is lower, but just for argument’s sake, consider this:

We would never accept someone earning $80K using food stamps. We would never want a single mother earning $80K to be drawing welfare. We’d say that’s cheating, unethical, maybe immoral.

When the World Trade Center fell there was tons of money to be distributed by the Red Cross. There were also tons of well-off families affected by that event. I found myself somewhere in the middle and I was acutely aware of the moral imperative to not take money from people who were in tons of trouble financially because of 9/11.

Why is there not that same moral imperative when it comes to using public funding to accommodate rich kids for eight hours a day?

The reason we can’t fix schools in the US is because there are too many large groups of powerful people who benefit from schools the way they are. And, of course, kids have no power in the US power equation. I could list self-serving teachers’ unions, or the greedy politicians hiding behind a shroud of reform, or the textbook companies pushing for inane standards their books adhere to. But instead I’m going to point to the parents who are well off financially.

Look: we have literally no idea how to make public schools work is a society as culturally diverse as the US, we have no limit to how much money we waste in whiz-bang reform efforts that actually serve only to shield us from the reality that school functions as a babysitting system rather than an education system.

However there is a lot of evidence that if you make schools less diverse, by taking rich kids out, the rich kids will not suffer—because success in this country is so overwhelmingly linked to parental income—and then, with less diversity, our schools could perform more effectively, similar to more homogenous public school systems.

The US spends more per student on education than any country in the world, yet our educational system is not better for it. There is no correlation between increasing spending and increasing performance. But there is a correlation between family stability and increased performance. So school reform should start putting money toward keeping disadvantaged families together.  We know the following services work to keep parents with children:

Free babysitting 

Free food

Free social work  

Free mentoring 

The biggest barrier to providing these services through schools is not money. We have plenty of money. The biggest barrier is that rich people are taking the school money, which they don’t need, and don’t even benefit from and there is not enough left to help kids in broken homes. This is why I’m starting to believe that it’s immoral for rich parents to put their kids in public school in the same way people believe it’s immoral for people who don’t need food stamps to take food stamps.

93 replies
  1. Karo
    Karo says:

    Is it still immoral for rich people to send their kids to public school if they donate large sums to the PTA and school related fundraising activities that benefit all the children in that school?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      First of all, our schools are funded with property tax, so the rich already fund the schools disproportionately. But second, more school funding does not improve outcomes for poor families, and PTA money seldom goes to programs like social work which disproportionately benefit kids whose parents probably do not run PTA meetings.


        • Amy K.
          Amy K. says:

          This is true in most cases because our schools are so segregated along income lines. Many poor schools don’t have a PTA at all. In the rare truly diverse schools like the ones my kids used to go to, we did fund basic stuff like field trips, books for the library and art classes… a benefit to all kids regardless of parental income level.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        This makes me wonder if all states fund their schools differently.

        In my state of CA 57% of funding comes from our states general fund, which is garnered through state income taxes that we pay. That’s a lot from us, coming from our paycheck that we aren’t using! 29% comes from property taxes, which are very low here, only 1% of the purchase price of the home, and through the Feds about 14% which we also pay into and aren’t using. The rest is all earmarked or from other sources.

        I call it our charity because it’s SO much money that we are paying from my spouse’s income, yet we opt out of public school.

        • Amy K.
          Amy K. says:


          I read on a local newsletter that in one affluent town near me, 30 percent of funding comes the town’s educational fund. Further proof that many schools in CA are already quasi-private.

  2. Amy K.
    Amy K. says:

    I don’t want to post a bunch of links but it seems to me like the US ranks middle-to-high in cultural diversity. Or you could call it ethnic diversity–again, towards the front of the pack, but hardly alone. We rank at the top for income inequality in developed countries.

    I’m just wondering if you think there is something so different and special about the US that your idea of ditching public school for the wealthy applies only to us, or would you recommend it for other diverse nations like Canada, Brazil, the UK?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      There is pretty strong evidence that public school works best with either a homogenous population (Sweden, Japan) or homogenous education goals (turn of the century in the US).


      • Amy K.
        Amy K. says:

        I find your view to be a fascinating but untenable mix of libertarianism (dismantle public education) and progressivism (strengthen other areas of the safety net).

        On the school front, your biggest ally would be Ron Paul, don’t you think? He is pro-homeschooling and anti-public education. But I think he’s anti-public school for all, not some. Plus, the libertarians are anti-safety net so if you could snap your fingers and elect an anti-school president & congress, do you think they’d go for strong public service programs for everything besides school?

        • Daniel Baskin
          Daniel Baskin says:

          I find your reply to be a fascinating but untenable implication that we should seek to discard individualistic, nuanced political beliefs in favor of “picking a political party, dammit!”

          History is great record of how popular beliefs are often destructively the ones the prove themselves wrong.

  3. layla bb solms
    layla bb solms says:

    on mentoring – yes! i agree. i am a mentor; not with bb&bs, but with Kids Hope USA. our little school and community are full to the gills with families who are struggling to keep all the plates spinning – some through no fault of their own, some because of moronic, selfish choices with consequences that spill over to their kids and grandkids.
    when the school day is viewed (by parents and kids) as the only actual learning time for a child only problems can ensue. maybe instead of leaving such a long comment on your blog, i should write my own post on my own dang blog.

  4. layla
    layla says:

    i had a friend in hs who was an exchange student from germany. astrid told us all about how in her country school kids were tested and then identified and encouraged/sorted/?? to pursue a “skill” such as electrician, plumber, hair dresser, crane operator, etc. and only a few were selected to pursue education beyond the high school diploma. granted that was 20 years ago. I remember feeling very angry that the powers that be could mandate and tell kids what they could and couldn’t pursue in life. Now i wonder if trying to mold all kids into one type in our public schools isn’t just a ridiculous endeavor. don’t get me started on “college go week” have you heard of this?

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I had the same experience with exchange students from Germany. I thought it was awful.
      But the truth is, just because we are not “forced” to go a specific career path doesn’t mean that we’re not forced to go certain career paths.
      The way things are right now, kids end up either floundering or taking jobs that don’t fit well and they are stuck.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        this is incorrect. The correct version is that there is a so called three tier school system, and kids are tested in terms of school performance in 4th grade and the attend one of the three tiers with one leading directly to a high school diploma which is the entry card to university, the other tracks used to lead directly to what is called an apprenticeship, albeit it still includes a school education targeted to the future profession. In the 50s or so this system was less flexible but has changes significantly in the last 40 years and switching between tiers has become rather common, as switching to another high school to get the diploma for university entry. And, effectively, only two tiers still exist. I do not support the ties system, but it still does not mean that you are tested and then someone else decides your future profession – that was never the case in West Germany, although the socialist former East Germany was a very different situation.

  5. Jeff T.
    Jeff T. says:

    Hi Penelope,

    It’s a very interesting blog/idea, and a very appealing outcome. Our reality would be absolutely turned on its head if the rich believed it immoral to send kids to public school.

    I think you might be a little disingenuous, though, because you probably don’t believe school to be good for poor people, either. It’s immoral to make anyone go.

    (I apologize if I’m putting words in your mouth)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I think if you took the rich kids out of school, then we would, in effect, be admitting that the said goals of school are vapid, and no one needs to have those standards.

      Then we’d have the whole education budget to use toward keeping at-risk families together, and helping them rise out of poverty.

      For example, putting poor kids in school to start reading when they are four is not fair to them. It squanders their play time and essential areas of learning. But putting poor kids in school so they have top-tier babysitting while their parents are working long hours, well, that seems like a productive and fair use of public money.

      If we are going to use our education budget to level the playing field then we need to get low-income families into higher income brackets. And we know the way to do that is to take care of the parents and the parents and help the parents take care of the kids.


  6. karelys
    karelys says:

    I normally have no desire to argue what’s immoral and what’s not.

    I clicked the link because I feel like I am a part of this community of commenters. But I really had no interest in debating the moral aspect.

    But you’re such a good writer that I was engaged and on board from the beginning.

  7. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    I don’t believe it’s immoral. Part of the social contract of public schools is that it is for everybody. Food stamps aren’t intended for everybody, and we all know that.

    And the way our political system is now, it is better for poor kids to have rich kids using the same system, it allows the resources to easily flow towards public schools (albeit with little return, the resources do flow). Use a parental income cut-off and whoa!, the paperwork to prove you are needy enough for free-schooling would probably be a 40-hour a week job itself, or possibly you would need to hire a lawyer to get your kid into public school.

    Overall, I believe public school should be for everyone. The trick is how to tailor it to each childs needs.

    • Amy K.
      Amy K. says:

      I agree with all your points, Jennifa. Public school for all, with the freedom not to access it if you don’t want to! That is what we have now.

      I think it just makes PT crazy that more of her people (upper middle class educated people) still use the public schools for their kids. She has stated as much and I appreciate it.

        • Penelope Trunk
          Penelope Trunk says:

          What makes me crazy is that rich people are taking money from the education budget when it’s clear that whatever education rich kids have, the rich kids will be fine.

          So let’s stop spending money on them. The parents should take care of them on their own. I want the whole education budget to be for needy kids. Let’s try that. Let’s see if we can make school the best babysitting system ever and call it that and stop offsetting rich people childcare costs.


          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            Do you worry about who will advocate for students if all the educated parents are removed?

            It’s hard to get low-income parents to school board meetings. Low inc

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            Oy, sorry. Serves me right for writing on my phone.

            Anyway, I found low income parents struggle to be involved with schools, whether at the school site or at the district level. And voting during off-years, when school board elections might be held, are really low. So while I find your ideas intriguing, I guess I don’t have confidence that a system only for the poor wouldn’t be full of corruption.

            We have a school board election soon. Try as I might, I find that now that my kids are out of the system, I don’t give two shits about who wins.

          • Jennifa
            Jennifa says:

            The words sound nice and utopian, but I cannot picture it really working.

            Poor people have pride too, and everyone will be aware of what is going on. Nobody wants to be left in the welfare schools.

            I can think of numerous other reasons this just is such a bad idea, but I am not good at articulating quickly, so won’t expound.

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      I think you are mistaking “morality” for “legality.” Not all things that are immoral are or even should be illegal, and not all things that are illegal are or should be considered immoral.

      Unintentional straw man argument.

      It is a universe apart to say that public school should *legally* be only for poorer families than to say that rich families should morally volunteer to opt out.

      The trick to tailor school to each kids’ needs is to group kids with similar needs. Oh look, Penelope’s post addresses this!

  8. T Miller
    T Miller says:

    The amount of money you make is also relative to the number of children/dependents you have. We earned more than what you’re calling”rich” but we also raised 5 children and supported our parents financially. When our kids wanted to go to college they didn’t qualify for the usual financial aid because we were supposedly “rich”. ha! There’s no way we would’ve been able to put them through private schooling much less pay college tuition for each of them once they graduated.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      What I consider poor is not having enough to cover your needs. And being rich is having more than enough for needs and then luxurious wants.
      So adjusting what your needs are is pretty key.
      We have only one kid right now and another in the way. We own a 2 bedroom 1 bathroom 1200 sq ft home that we plan to keep for as long as possible. It’s being rented out right now and we moved into a 2 bed, 1 bath single wide mobile home. The living expenses are like 1/3 of what it was before. The square footage is reduced significantly. All it signals to us is “Hey! less time cleaning, more time doing fun stuff!”

      I grew up in a family of 5 in a tiny house. We were cramped and annoyed at each other often because we had no idea how to do emotional boundaries. But it worked. My mom stayed home while my dad worked in the fields picking fruit.

      All I am saying is that you can be poor with a “rich person salary” if you have 5 kids and make it a priority to buy a house that gives most of the kids their own bedroom. I know I sound like a crazy person but there are ways to get around this and still give people appropriate living quarters.

      But I guess 5 kids eat a lot and food is expensive. Still, I see a lot of Mexican families making it work just great with a much smaller salary. And I see a lot of American families frazzled and stretched out with a bigger salary and similar family size (or smaller).

      I only bring the cultural difference into the comment because I think it’s relevant in the sense that it shows how people are willing to bend the preconceptions of what is an okay lifestyle to have and not pity yourself and consider yourself poor. And that is a big deal when you need to stretch your income to live a happy family life.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I get the same cliche advice from every successful wealthy person that I have ever known and met….live BELOW your means, not at or above it.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Exactly right! The advice is really good and is shared uniformly by wealthy/successful people when I speak with them. There is a reason for their success, and cliche or not, it’s simple enough for everyone to do.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      Your children can qualify for financial aid if they are considered “independent” students.

      A student who is an emancipated minor, married, or age 24-and-up are all considered independent by FAFSA. It seems that families like yours could save a lot of money by using that to their advantage.

      I honestly don’t get why more people don’t.

  9. CeeBee
    CeeBee says:

    I would argue that it’s more immoral to bring children into the world & not care for them & teach them. I think you’ll find that the burgeoning burden is not so much families down on their luck but lazy people who expect the government to do everything for them. And I’d like to point out that rich people pay more in property taxes because they tend to live in nicer houses, so how can it truly be immoral for them to use the services that they are paying for?

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      I agree that it is wrong of people to bring children into the world if they cannot care for them without government assistance. It’s incomprehensible to me.

      Public school exists for everyone who feels they need it regardless of what other say about your need. Period.

      ***HOWEVER***, rights and responsibilities are completely different subject from moral choices. Everyone has the right to use public school, and it is government’s responsibility legally (as the law currently stands) to provide it to everyone. AND–no one should shame anyone else for using public school regardless of economic status. BUT, the whole point here is that, from a global perspective, things would work out best for everyone–including rich people–if, as individuals, families with the economic means to opt out of public school opted out.

      It is actually in the best interest of rich people (even if they don’t see it that way–money distorts empathy, look it up in hundreds of sociological studies) to solve inequality issues.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I’m intrigued by your posts, Daniel.

        I agree with that last statement. I just finished reading a third article on how rich people are less altruistic than poor people, it’s evidenced, glaringly, in the area that I live (wealthy LA suburb).

        I’m not sure what this implies in regards to public education. I’d be interested in any opinions.

  10. Daphne Gray-Grant
    Daphne Gray-Grant says:

    Such an interesting argument! In Canada, where I live (also pretty heterogeneous), people WANT the rich in public school rather than private school (where rich people tend to send their kids.) I just think the whole idea of conventional schooling is so crazy that no one should be going to it!

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      Teachers like teaching rich students because they tend to be smarter (poverty mindset impedes even kids’ ability to focus on tasks which seem irrelevant in relation to just trying to get by), and it feels more fulfilling to teach students who are ready to learn. Also, teachers can use rich students as an example for other kids, and an excuse to push other students as hard as the rich kids can be pushed.

      In my experience in the classroom, all this does is alienate poor students and invalidate their problems. It happened in my classroom when I was a teacher as I tried to even just teach to the middle of the group.

      • Penelope Trunk
        Penelope Trunk says:

        Daniel, I love when you talk about front-line experience in the school. You alway show a fresh perspective. Thanks


  11. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    The question, though thought-provoking, is mathematically absurd.

    If we are generous and consider about 5% of Americans rich (all it takes is a 200K+ income, or 2M in assets), then the half or two thirds of such kids who go to public school are less than 3% of public school kids. If they all left public school en masse, it wouldn’t create a very big dividend for the rest of the kids.

    Here’s 3%, don’t spend it all in one place! Except… it would be.

    Consider that most of those “rich” public school kids go to school in districts that hardly even have poor people (and, conversely, most poor kids go to school in districts with very few rich kids).

    The rich kids in public school in Scarsdale, NY aren’t taking anything away from poor schoolkids in Scarsdale by their presence. The 26K per student school budgets are easily covered by 31K per house real estate taxes. The couple dozen poor kids in Scarsdale are not suffering from the presence of rich classmates.

    Likewise, the poor kids in Barbourville, KY aren’t going to see their per-student school spending go up to 8200 dollars if a rich guy in Scarsdale decides to send his proj to Horace Mann instead.

    A better question might be whether it is immoral that public school kids in Scarsdale and public school kids in Barbourville are served so unequally.

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      (Yes, I’m commenting a lot on this particular article.)

      Commenter–I appreciate that your conclusions follow your premises. (The coherent-ness is refreshing).

      However, I disagree with your premise that only families grossing over $200k should be considered rich–even if that is the definition of rich by some “authority.”

      In reality, it is already within reach of many Americans to have a single-income home and not suffer more than the absence of luxury. I consider this as a better definition of rich, and so would the rest of the world–of whom most live on a few dollars a day.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        Daniel, I make no appeal to any authority in considering who is rich in our society.

        Personally, I would rather define rich as deriving more wealth from appreciation on capital than from ongoing labor. The folks at the point of our pyramid – the rich – don’t get most of their income from paychecks; salary is irrelevant except in unusual cases. Somewhere on the way up, even compensation gets switched to capital-based tax dodges like stock grants.

        However, for the purposes of a public schools argument, our upper middle-class is sufficiently rich. I’d say that starts nationally at around 200K per year (as they say, the new 100K). The better definition would leave so very few public-school children that it wouldn’t at all be useful.

        A comparison of middle-class American wealth with world standards of living is likewise irrelevant, in that impoverished third world children rarely have any access at all to our public schools, and could neither be harmed nor helped by anybody’s decision to participate. It’s true that we’re all very rich compared to a beggar in Calcutta, but that fact has nothing to do with our public schools, either coming or going.

        I agree with your sentiment, however – I’d love to see more Americans realize that most people in the rat race lose, and more tangible benefits of middle-class-dom, like a paid-for house and a stay-at-home spouse, can best be achieved through frugality.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Similar to one of my above posts (I think I have Daniel beat on most comments), I wonder how differently each state funds schools?

      I listed above how my state of CA receives its funds, but it also gives poor students, esl students, and poor districts a larger share of the money! Some states fund every school exactly the same. Some states, apparently, are funded only by property taxes from the state they live… There doesn’t seem to be one way of doing things further complicating public education funding.

      For instance, I have no clue how Boston funds its schools or where the money comes from to even be able to discuss this with you! It seems complicated.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        YMKAS, the Boston School District derives the overwhelming majority of its (close to a billion dollars in) funding from the General Fund, derived from local property taxes. In a prosperous city like Boston, residential property taxes are relatively low and the lion’s share of city tax is paid by businesses. State and federal grants add about 15% to that, which proportion is declining. The state has little to do with it.

        The schools are funded with most of this budget according to a weighted formula that pays individual schools more for kids who need more help and less for kids who aren’t disabled, illiterate, or poor. Because of this, the lowest funding rate in the system is for the exam high schools.

        The demographics of Boston Public Schools don’t reflect those of the city at large. When busing started in the 70s (it hasn’t really stopped yet, they just call it “choice” now), most white and middle-class kids left the BPS (and even the city), and they haven’t come back in significant numbers, leading to a district that is more than 75% black and hispanic in a city that is mostly white. Fully 26 percent of kids in Boston don’t use the public schools – including almost everybody who meets my generous definition of “rich” above.

        I’m not sure if the billion-dollar failure of the BPS is the result PT was hoping for.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Wow. I don’t even know how to respond to those numbers, I mean, i don’t know what that represents, really.

          In my area it’s the same thing you describe, busing in. What’s amazing here is that statistically my area is majority white and Asian, but that isnt reflected in the schools. I looked at all the elementary schools in our district and it does not reflect the population until you get to the high schools. But at the same time the schools get super high marks across the board and awards for being distinguished schools.

          What is an exam high school? I’ve never heard that term.

          • Amy K.
            Amy K. says:

            Exam school refers to a selective school that you have to pass an exam to get in to. Examples: Boston Latin, Bronx Science or Lowell in San Francisco.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Thanks Amy! I guess it would be similar to auditioning to a performing arts charter school nearby me. You have to pass the audition to get into this school, people apply from all over the place even outside CA. But its a charter school! Is that similar? Or is it just like entrance exam type stuff? This is crazy to me!!

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            YMKAS, the exam schools, including Boston Latin, which is the oldest public school in America, are so called because entrance depends primarily (grades are also taken into account) on an exam. You can google general information about it if you want, but I can give you some local perspective.

            Boston Latin provides a classically-based curriculum, with four years of Latin required, required Declamation, etc. It is considered to be both rigorous and uncaring, with a sink-or-swim atmosphere in which many are allowed to sink. It is sometimes considered to be the best high school in Massachusetts.

            Harvard, the joke goes, was invented so Boston Latin graduates would have someplace to go. It was founded the year after Latin, and took the first graduating class, and still takes more students from Latin than from any other school in the country (Andover runs second).

            The exam schools are restricted to Boston residents. Over the years, there have been many shenanigans related to entrance. People sometimes move into the city at the end of sixth grade, or rent fake apartments to establish residence, or have their kids “live” with relatives. A fraud makes the papers just about every year.

            A lot of kids enter Boston Latin having never set foot in a Boston Public School before. Some local private schools only go to sixth grade, so the kids can then test into Latin. I also know a number of people who homeschool their kids through sixth and then send them to Latin in seventh. Some people move out of Boston if their kid doesn’t get into Latin. When all the smart kids go to the exam schools, it leaves the other high schools (e.g. Boston English) in a miserable state.

            For a couple of decades, racial quotas were used, until they were thrown out in court in 1996. Now the school has the predictable student demographic – roughly the same proportion of whites as the general city population, a lot more Asians, and fewer blacks and hispanics. The joke is “Why are all the English kids at Latin and all the Latin kids at English?” Racial issues rise up perennially, but there is no legal way to restore quotas.

            Back to funding, now. Because the district uses weighted funding where dollars follow the students, and extra funding is allocated to students who are poor, do not speak English, have physical or mental disabilities, etc., the lowest funding level in the whole system is for its flagship school, Boston Latin.

            I am not a homeschooling absolutist. If my son wanted to go to Latin (as some of his friends will), I’d let him go. But he’s unlikely to, and I expect he would hate it. I would have loved it, but so much of good parenting is recognizing that our children are not ourselves.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Thanks commenter! I know I could easily go and Google, but then I would miss out on this great conversation we are having.

          Totally fascinating history behind the high school origins! I wonder about Boston a lot because even though we are committed to here for another few years, my husband keeps getting recruiters calling from that area. I just have it SO easy here in CA as a registered private school and I have seen that MA is more difficult for homeschoolers, is that your experience?

          I’m also not an absolutist, but I do tell everyone who asks how much better Unschooling is for our family and demonstrate how my kids are thriving. Traditional school is anxiety producing for my oldest and the way things are going she will more than likely skip several “grades” anyway making her a young college student….we will see.

          • HomeschoolDad
            HomeschoolDad says:

            In my opinion, Boston is the worst place in America to homeschool. We moved away from Boston to New York explicitly for that reason. This isn’t to say that there aren’t decent homeschooling pockets here and there (though there certainly wasn’t any near us on the South Shore) nor is it a statement on the regulatory environment. Boston is really the “most schooled” part of the country. You’ll routinely see 45 year olds walking around with backpacks and notebooks because they are STILL learning from institutions, still in search of more “credentials”. Homeschooling is tough(er) there because it’s a bastion of provincialism and closed-mindedness. The weather sucks too.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            YMKAS, homeschooling couldn’t possibly be easier than it is in Boston unless they paid you to do it.

            YMMV in other places in Massachusetts, but nobody in the actual city of Boston gets a hard time about it. They seem perfectly happy not to have your kids in the schools.

            You fill out a form (or write a letter and include it with the pencil-whipped form, like I do) at the beginning of the year. They send you a letter saying okay. Then at the end of the year you write a report saying your kid did great and you’d like to keep doing it, and they send you next year’s form. As someone who has done both, it’s about ten times as easy as registering your kid to go to school here.

            There are hundreds of kids homeschooling in the city of Boston now, and I’ve never heard of a problem here. Sometimes I hear of a super in the ‘burbs giving pushback; things can be are very different from one town to the next in MA. In general, urban districts have better things to worry about.

            Boston isn’t for everybody. It’s cold and snowy in the winter – you have to take up skiing or skating just as self-defense against seasonal affective disorder. It’s not quite a real metropolis. People can be snooty, provincial, and prejudiced. And real estate can be horrifying for anybody not from New York or California. But I love it here, and it’s an excellent place to homeschool.

            Yes, employment opportunities are also great here. That’s why I moved here in the first place, that’s why we stay here, and that’s why I want to raise my kids here. I grew up in Podunk, and I won’t inflict it on my own kids.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I really don’t like how these conversations get cutoff! On my iPad i can’t even really tell how I’m responding or that I’m responding to the right post.

          But I wanted to say thanks to commenter and homeschool dad. You have both scared me away from Boston! Jk, I’m sure that an LA hipster would do ok there I guess. As long as it was indeed that easy to homeschool. I would just need a creative outlet, but I actually love snow. The one thing my husband pointed out when he flew there to interview was, forgive me for offending, “it’s too white there”. We’re used to being in a melting pot.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            YMKAS, it’s true that Massachusetts and other New England states are more white than California, certainly than LA. Boston – especially in certain neighborhoods – can also be very provincial. If one is part of a mixed family like mine, one might prefer a more diverse neighborhood (like mine).

            That said, many folks have an impression of Boston formed without actually going to Boston. Remember that the busing debacle of the 70s caused white flight from the city to the surrounding suburbs. It’s not quite Detroit, but there’s a difference between the city itself and the surrounding suburbs. Using one’s experience in the burbs past 128 or on the South Shore to form an impression of Boston might be like using one’s visit to Newport Beach to form an impression of LA.

            One thing I haven’t seen here in Boston is the outright hostility towards Hispanics I’ve seen in California and the Southwest. Nobody gets stopped on the street here and asked for their papers.

          • mh
            mh says:


            I lived in Phoenix nine years, during this entire “your papers, please” so-called scandal.

            Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the local lawman, has a despicable habit of raiding workplaces and indiscriminately arresting the Spanish-speaking employees. This should be a nationwide scandal, but he gets away with it.

            And BECAUSE he gets away with it, the fake “stopping brown people on the street for their papers” nonsense gets credibility. Of the cases I have read of personal accounts where this has supposedly happened, it either happened to a Daily Kos “activist” who set out on purpose to provoke an arrest, or the account was unverifiable through arrest records.

            Check your sources. I have no love for Sherrif Joe, and not much for Phoenix, but you always seem a rational person and repeating salacious non-truths does not seem fitting.

            Sorry to interject.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            Interject all you want, mh. I love conversation. But I think you’ve mistaken what I’m talking about; I’m not referring to a particular law in a particular city, but the racially tense atmosphere of a whole region.

            I have seen surprisingly casual hatred directed towards Hispanics in public in Southern California, New Mexico, and Texas (I’ve never been to Arizona). I’ve had people yell at me and friends of mine for speaking Spanish in public. That doesn’t happen in Boston.

            My brother has been pulled over more than once for “driving while brown” in California. He’s not even Hispanic, just a Hapa who looks kinda Salvadoran. But he’ll never leave the house without ID even if he’s walking. That doesn’t happen in Boston.

            I’m not saying Boston is free of racism, but it’s targeted differently and expressed differently. My brother does dislike visiting here, because people just won’t stop asking him where he’s “from.” But nobody drives down the street yelling out the truck window at Hispanics or gets all red in the face because people are speaking Spanish in front of them, or gives hotel guests the third degree because they have Hispanic surnames.

            I expect that some people could live out there and would never experience or notice the sort of problems I’m talking about. I’m happy to hear that you never had trouble with the hostility I and other members of my family have experienced in the Southwest.

            But based on my experiences and those of my family, I consider the entire Southwest region comparatively inhospitable to Hispanics and I’d never move there with my family.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I think my post may have started this misunderstanding, which is totally typical for me as I am often misunderstood, I’m sure it’s my fault.

          I have nothing negative to say about Boston, the whole “wow it’s white here, ” from my spouse was just the initial just sort of culture shock. He had a lot of nice things to say about the actual city. So I apologize if it was coming off as a criticism vs an observation. I guess it’s hard not to stereotype an entire region based on a few people or a few instances, like what I’ve heard of Boston, and this is just meant in fun, but that they are horrible drivers, bad road rage, and when they talk it’s… Well, it sounds like a different version of the English language. :)

          The provincialism I have heard of, and that doesn’t just occur in Boston, but many parts of the Midwest as well. The thing that I like about CA is that pretty much any lifestyle is going to be accepted…yes some instances it won’t be, but in my area we are cool with everyone.

          On another note I feel like this is a better conversation to be had in person over coffee instead of here…. Oh well.

          Mh, I like when you interject too! Don’t stop. :)

  12. Amy Scott
    Amy Scott says:


    You wrote, “The biggest barrier to providing these services through schools is not money. We have plenty of money. The biggest barrier is that rich people are taking the school money…”

    Schools would have better outcomes if they only had access to the money the rich people took? How is that working in Washington DC public schools?

    The problem with the poor is not money. It is culture. It is attitude of entitlement, of wanting something for nothing. It is expecting the government to do for you what you ought to do for yourself.

    As a homeschooler, you know that homeschooling produces a better outcome than the government for a fraction of the price. Why are you advocating more government when the government does nothing but FAIL and then ask for more money to do it even more? How many billion dollars does the government need to build a healthcare website? Is there a cap? Is there a limit? Is 50 trillion enough?

    As a business owner, I can’t believe that you would advocate throwing more money at something without any way to measure outcomes or success. And what is success in this instance? If you were trying to build a house and get the best bang for your buck, would you hire the government to do it for you?

    Successful children come from homes where families eat dinner together at the table, homes with involved parents, and home where parents value education. That has nothing to do with income level. This is a cultural problem that money can’t solve.

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      Yes, and when rich people opt out of public schools it makes it easier for schools to target the needs of poor families–which, I agree with you–is cultural in nature.

    • Daniel Baskin
      Daniel Baskin says:

      You are right, though, this sentences that you quoted, even in context, isn’t logically coherent and probably needs and edit.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I wish you were right because then it’d be as easy as targeting the “poor people culture” to make a change and then no one would be poor. The school curriculum would be about changing people’s minds so they don’t think like poor people and stop being entitled.

      But if you were the one person working minimum wage jobs in CA with CA level rent then you’d know that no matter how boostrappy you are the problem would always be “I don’t have enough money or energy to do more than what I currently do.”

  13. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    I don’t think you could’ve brought this idea up at a better time. I think a lot of affluent parents think they’re somehow enriching their kid’s educational experience by sending them to public school when they could afford private or homeschool. Just look at this article that was posted recently:
    I think this guy has a very self-congratulatory about what he’s doing but I would be very interested in seeing what other people think of it.

  14. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Immoral? What’s your definition of morality? Mine is simple, to determine if something is moral or not you first ask yourself, is someone being harmed by this? If someone is not being harmed by my actions then it is moral.

    The only time I would use this post as a reference would be to counter some ridiculous point being made that says it’s immoral to remove rich kids from public school.

    My Unschooling doesn’t harm anyone. Putting my kids into traditional private school caused them harm. My kids come first before some other societal progressive goal.

    Debates on wealth I can jump into. Debates on the morality of education choices for the wealthy? Uh…hmmm.

  15. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    We’ve enrolled our kids for a local private school with good reputation (we are in Sydney, Australia). At first, I only considered the fact that the “quality” of the teachers are more consistent in private schools – what’s good for us. And now after reading your post, I start to see the bigger picture and the good we do for the society as a whole. Thank you.

  16. Oran
    Oran says:

    I believe it’s immoral to promote the idea that rich kids shouldn’t attend public school. There’s already a concerning trend of segregation by income in society today. It seems very wrong to explicitly encourage the acceleration of that trend, especially pushing it so early in people’s lives.

    Removing the rich kids from public schools reduces the diversity of friendships and connections that can be made by both rich and poor, resulting in missed opportunities in both directions. To me, that’s the true value of public education.

    • marta
      marta says:

      Amen, Oran.

      Segregation, as it happens in really diverse countries (income-wise, as well as culturally-wise) as Brazil, Mexico and the Phillipines, for example (the 95% going to public schools and the rest going to private) only deepens the gap between the very rich and the very poor.

    • jessica
      jessica says:


      While the morality issue is one thing I’m not willing to tackle (I believe keeping my kids out of harms way and being better educated for them is morally correct), I will say that what you are writing, without morality, is already occurring. In the US, of all places, each family can do whatever they want. It’s up to the individual and family to go in the direction that suits them best, it’s not up to the neighbor or organization around them. This is very libertarian leaning.
      Back to your comment: Rich have been going private for decades. P is talking middle class who thought public was an ok idea. Most upper middle class live no where near these poor you speak of, they are already segregated amongst themselves in communities throughout the US.
      This really comes down to a social policy issue. We can spend more to help the poor kids in need and less on the kids that parents are available to them. We can enact civil rights measures such as paid maternity leave for a realistic time frame (6 months+, not 6 weeks unpaid) to give these kids and families a better start (EARLY intervention is best on every front). We can invest in skills classes just as we invest in infrastructure.

      The middle class is a relatively new blip in the span of history and it is disappearing just as fast as it came, due to the exponential growth of the poor class. It IS imperative to tell it like it is and expose where the funds are going and WHERE they should go to enhance our individualistic society, not hold the next generation back because we were too blind/ignorant/self denying of the real situation.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        “Oh, baloney” I’m going to start using that instead of what I usually say… It’s so much nicer and kind of quirky! I like it!

  17. Starr
    Starr says:

    This would require a huge change of policy and mindset, and I don’t see it happening that way. Instead, I would predict that most systems would suffer the same fate as Kansas City, MO, a system the wealthy have abandoned, and as a result, pretty much everyone else has, too. The schools slide in and out of accreditation, and “saviors” swoop in and out as well, closing and consolidating schools, combining and separating different age groups, and when those relatively minor changes don’t improve things (or make things worse), the saviors abandon their posts for another failing system somewhere else. Or they bring in loads of inexperienced Teach for America kids, many of whom don’t even make it through their first year of teaching.

    With schools getting funding per student, with the relatively rich kids leaving, the funding would plummet, so keeping the money there to provide those services you talk about would be a big battle. I already constantly hear from friends in KCMO about getting nothing for their state tax and local property tax dollars–even the super liberals aren’t willing to really help out if it’s not their kids benefitting (they don’t get that their kids will be just fine).

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Don’t go bringing reality into this, Starr. It takes all the fun out of theoretical outrage.

      I agree with you that the future of public education failure in America looks like an endless game of edu-grifter roulette.

      However, one should take into consideration the fact that the rich are few and have long since left the schools that are full of poor kids.

  18. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Thank you for your first every, politically sort of palatable education reform idea!

    Honestly, if you have a tiered payment system starting at median us income (like 60K), then people could pay for their specific child to utilize resources if they wanted to. It’s like reverse vouchers.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      This was Steve Jobs idea for reform: give the average 6k back to the family and let them get creative with schooling.

  19. Rachel G
    Rachel G says:

    Still waiting for you to address the problem of work…. You say school is babysitting for parents who must work. Poorer parents are presumably working more. (I think, Amy Scott, that you will find this is the reason they are not having dinner with their children, not some mysterious cultural difference.) So isn’t the problem inequality and an unfair economic system for adults, which leads to the necessity of the school/babysitting system? After all, families are made up of adults and children. Why are you so eager to direct public money to these families, yet you don’t mention the cause of the problem?

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      The cause of the problem is lack of time. Rich people have more time. Poor people have no time.

      In the US we do not have many rights that give extra ‘time’ to the middle or poor unless you work your way up.

      My thoughts are that we need mandatory holiday time without risk of job loss to give these people a break for family, for the kids. We don’t need to rush (we are already extremely productive as a society now). We also need more women’s rights, as they aren’t equal to mens. I think this would be a good start in the US.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I don’t think there is one single cause. I think lack of time is definitely one of many causes. Lack of time, lack of proper resources, lack of education, lack of opportunities, lack of proper parenting, lack of good health, lack of intelligence, lack of work ethic et al. We could address one or two of these but it still wouldn’t solve the problem. It’s a very large problem that we’ve been trying to solve for decades here through social programs. I don’t think social programs have been very good at solving the problems on a large scale. Sure they help people, but it hasn’t solved any of the underlying issues.

  20. mh
    mh says:

    Illegitimacy and female-headed households are strongly correlated with poverty in America.

    Is it immoral not to teach this correlation in

  21. laura
    laura says:

    I feel like with this model the poor kids once they are done with school will have no useful social connections and will not be able to fit in with rich people because they will never have had a chance to interact with them and see what rich people do differently. Above all, I feel like keeping kids more separate than they are now could lead to the tendency to blame the world’s problems on people who are not like you are send to regard them as less human. I know both rich and poor people who seem to want to wipe the other group out for the good of humanity. I feel like only personal exposure to people different than yourself can give you a feeling for how we really are the same. In some sense aren’t students teaching each other as well as being taught? I feel rich and poor kids have things to teach each other that couldn’t be learned in other ways.

  22. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Speaking of British class systems & handy dividers, have you seen this – an updated divider for ‘modern’ british class systems in the form a handy quiz. I was amused to find I was in the category called ‘Technical middle-class’ meaning I’m middle class, but only have friends who are in the same field as I work in…

  23. HomeschoolDad
    HomeschoolDad says:

    Hah! A handful of years ago I had some dippy girl, a Harvard Graduate School of Education student, at a fancy bar in Brooklyn Heights, tell me that the only reason government schools aren’t doing well….is because “rich” people won’t send their kids to them.

  24. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    Don’t know much about morality, but:

    1. The rich left the building years ago.

    2. Homeschooling is the middle class getting the hell out too.

    3. The poor think of the school system as a jobs program. See Rhee, Michelle, former Chancellor of DC Public Schools.

    4. Reform is a mirage, because government doesn’t reform anything. It just piles on more money.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Excellent points! What I have noticed is that the rich, and I actually mean wealthy, return to the public school system for high school. The COO of my husbands company used the public high school for her kids before sending them to stanford. It’s the same in my affluent area. I just wonder what it is about high school that changes things? Even celebrities send their kids to the public high schools in Santa Monica.

      • Commenter
        Commenter says:

        YMKAS, the answer is tracking.

        In Boston, as I’ve mentioned, the top track will go to entirely different schools. In your affluent area, if the school itself isn’t selective, they might be at the same school, but they won’t be in the same classes, as the poor and unmotivated.

        In Boston, tracking starts in fourth grade. It’s typically run as a ‘school within a school,’ where the “Advanced Work” kids may have little or no contact during the day with the standard track, different lunch hours and everything.

        Only the smallest and most rural school districts in America won’t have some form of tracking by high school – above and beyond the segregation provided by catchment areas.

        Local high schools sometimes also have a reputation of being (and the connections to be) feeder schools to Ivies. Going to a high school like Gunn, Lynbrook, or Menlo would improve a kid’s odds of acceptance to Stanford.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I don’t consider palos verdes peninsula high school to be any sort of feeder school. Her kids got into stanford just because of who she is coupled with her own kids academic work I’m sure. My guess is that the private high schools aren’t comparably better in the area. But since that’s a ways off for me and we may do high school in less time I feel disconnected.

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            YMKAS, they’re probably not the only kids from Palos Verdes Peninsula who got into Stanford.

            PVPH is considered one of the best public high schools in California and the country. It’s a high-pressure, high-performance, high-score, high-income school and a feeder to the Ivies. They post a college acceptance brag sheet on the web every fall. Only 2.5% on free lunch and more than 98% to college? This is not a typical American school in the least.

            As you say, the kids probably went to Stanford based on their work and their parents’ connections. On the other hand, they also went to school with a lot of other kids who do amazing work (science fair winners, etc.) and whose parents have connections. Not that there’s anything wrong with connections; half the magic of college is making connections.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Makes you want to move here now, right?? Right? :)

          I did know about everything you mentioned except the feeder school part.

          I’m sure my kids and your kids will stand out even more through homeschooling. Stanford has a separate application process for homeschoolers that is meant to make you totally shine and stand out. A lot of these schools are now recruiting homeschoolers. Beats having to endure an intense competitive four years with no guarantees. Our kids will also be fine with the path they are taking. Right?

          • Commenter
            Commenter says:

            YMKAS, I don’t think I’d like the weather in Rancho Palos Verdes. And it’s even whiter than Boston. ;P

            I’d bet that if you are still in PV when your kids are high-school age, none of your peers will understand why they’re not in the high school. But there really are other good choices.

            I’m not a believer at all in the ‘kids should go to school to get used to suffering’ perspective. My perspective is that kids learn the most and the deepest when they engage in activities of their own choice. After all, I’m not preparing my kids for a lifetime of suffering but a lifetime of choice. If my kids choose to go to school, I will support them in that choice. If my kids choose not to, I’ll support them in that choice.

            I feel certain that right now my son is better off, happier, and learning more homeschooling than he would be in BPS fifth grade. I project that his self-reliance, inquisitiveness, discipline, and depth of study, which currently impress me, will only increase from here. Right now he says he wants to go to MIT and be a mechanical engineer when he grows up. There’s more than one way to get there. He’ll go to school if and when it suits _his_ purposes. If he’s still homeschooling in HS, he’ll have a lot of area resources to support him, and it will be his responsibility to put them together.

            As someone who went to a lot of different schools (6) and a lot of different colleges (7), I can say that I think college is more like homeschooling than it is like school. If you can get there from homeschooling, I think you’ll be better prepared to succeed.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          You seem very in tune with your children! I appreciate everything you are saying.

          My oldest also wants to be ME like her dad, she already says she is one and goes around finding things to take apart and put back together. She wants to pilot people to Mars, and since it seems like it might actually be something she can do, I sort of lean all my suggestions to her strictly in stem type of stuff. It’s also good that we have connections for that being in the space industry.

          I really can appreciate what you and your family are doing. We are probably more unschool than you, from past comments I’ve gleaned, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from eachother.

  25. Jo
    Jo says:

    This is a rather strange proposition. Sure, rich people are more fortunate than poor folks, but how does this change the fact that rich people also pay taxes to fund public institutions such as schools?

    They also help fund roads–shouldn’t they build their own roads, too?

    Just because we have publicly funded services, such as food stamps and housing assistance, that are reserved for emergencies, doesn’t mean all, let alone most, services fall into that category.

    You’re wrong that school exists to educate children in subject matter alone; in any highly civilized society, schools exist to maintain order by indoctrinating (used here in a neutral sense) the population with a certain set of values and to keep the machinery running smoothly. And that’s why kids of parents with an 80,000 dollar salary need to be educated in that system as well.
    Nah, education is indeed working as it’s intended. Most jobs are so easily learned on the spot, there is no need for an entire childhood spent learning future job-related skills nearly every wake hour of the day.

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