Wealthy, Foreign-Born Parents Think US Public Schools Fine

The New York Times reports on an interesting statistic on the schooling choices of the wealthy. Contrary to native-born Americans, immigrants prefer to use the public schools of their adopted country. A study, which considered foreign-born US residents in large cities with a household income of at least $150,000 per year, found that 68 percent of this group chose to forgo the expensive private schools their American counterparts would choose.

Why is it that, among Americans, those who can afford private schooling for their children almost always do so, while for new US residents, the public school system is considered more than adequate? The Times carefully avoids proposing any explanation at all. I have my own suspicions. But first, in the comments section for that article, some members of the group in question have spoken up:

“Like my husband, most foreigners can’t conceive that there can be such a disparity between private and public — they come from places where there is less inequality between the two,” says one European-born mother.

“As a foreign-born parent (now naturalized citizen), who deliberately chose public schools for both my kids, I can say that I never liked the elitist environment in the private schools that I’ve seen. Race wise, those schools always lean heavily toward white, and they are very big on pedagogical ideologies,” says a different father.

But the closest thing to a consensus was several foreign-born commenters saying something like “The parents have confidence that their kids will bloom where ever [sic] planted and the primary responsibility for their children’s school performance rests with the parents not with the school or teacher.”

It’s this last line of reasoning, which appeared more frequently than any other, which I immediately jumped to on hearing this statistic. I’ve lived and taught in China where the children of the rising middle class experience significant academic pressure from their parents. Due to China’s One-Child Policy, most have no siblings, and since their parents are part of the generation that was first to gain wealth in China’s new economy, that means they also remember what it was like to be poor as children themselves.

Why does this translate into less willingness to invest in private education? Actually, the question is flawed. The American way of thinking, particularly among the wealthy, is that the way to ensure your children’s success is to throw more money at it. For parents in many foreign countries, both Asian and European, the way to ensure your children’s success is to invest time and effort. Perhaps to a manic degree.

Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” has been hotly debated. I don’t want to get sidetracked by the debate of Western versus Eastern philosophies of parenting and education, but what isn’t contested is that the children of these hyper-involved and ultra-strict parents tend to excel academically. Universities have even raised admission standards for Asian applicants, because most non-Asians can’t compete.

It’s no surprise to me then that parents who take the attitude that school success depends on their children’s effort, as well as their own, won’t therefore be overly concerned about the school they enroll their children in (so long as it offers the advanced programs they want). If there’s one thing American parents could learn from this, it’s that the surest path to success starts with instilling a powerful work ethic in your children. The most elite school in the world can only do so much with a student who won’t put forth the required effort.

Related stories:

Teacher Bonuses a Waste of School Budget $$$, Say Bill Gates & Arne Duncan

Alabama Senator: God Wants Teachers to be Underpaid

Teach for America: Doing More Harm Than Good?


Photo credit: Ericci8996


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Mapmy Study4 years ago

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Sarah M.
Sarah M6 years ago

I love the conclusion to this article. Thanks.

Chad A.
Chad A6 years ago

A large part of the "problems" with American public education actually has to do with inequality and poverty. When students have resources and attentive parents, they are able to take advantage of resources afforded them. When they go to school hungry, have schools that have no tax base to fund innovations or attract good teachers, this is an inequality problem.

Patrick F.
Patrick f6 years ago

Ignorance is bliss...

Lynn C.
Lynn C6 years ago

Ah yes elitism and prejudice - and it shows doesn't it?
Agree with Deborah L.! It's not at all about educating kids - it's about making good, little mindless robots of them, so they willingly go to work, become great consumers of crap, pay taxes, make more little potential consumers, tax payers, et al. - - - such a deal!
There's probably a lot more to the story than money.

monica r.
monica r6 years ago

As a public school teacher, if you can suggest a lesson plan for kids who break everything (a wall clock, two windows, bulletin board, both window shades, tv, projector screen, three phones, door kicked in what, like 7 or 8 times now, and even the floor got damaged) that is more engaging than sneaking into a locked room for blow jobs, I'd love to hear suggestions.

Parents who teach kids an education has value have kids who do well even here. The ones who don't, have kids who just want to play all day.

Only about 11% of charter schools are better than public schools. 17% perform the same. The rest do worse.

Rana N.
Rana Newbury6 years ago

While pressure from parents to succeed does help students having choices and course variety in schools is also important. This is why we have to stop taking money from public schools and giving it to charter schools. Charter schools are largely ineffective because they don't have to follow the same rules as public schools. Certified teachers needed? Yes in a public school, no in a charter school, testing requirements also differ.
Students who have choice within their school do better because they have some kind of control over their own education. Courses in the arts, higher level science and math courses as well as courses in agriculture, and shop gives students something to look forward to and often the thought of losing out on these classes in lieu of extra classes in the basics (if they are failing) will promote the students to succeed in all courses.

David L.
David L6 years ago

@ Deborah L.

How many Americans themselves believe in your "American Dream" these days ???

Other countries public school systems ARE usually superior to America's schools - including your "private" system, as well as the public schools - FACT..

NO accident that the USA has been out of the top 30 OECD countries for the past 30 years..

Sad but TRUE ~ and yet Gingrich, Santorum and Romney ALL promise to dismantle the USA education system further if they got in !!!

David L.
David L6 years ago

JUST goes to show that smart foreigners know the true vale of American private schools and their junk education standards...

Top "public" schools everywhere often match, and even outdo, the "private" schools..

(As for home schooling that's only good when the parents are intelligent enough ~ and properly qualified ~ to provide a broad all-round and balanced education..

No accident that the KKK/neo-nazi/fringe-religion/extremist groups also love their "home schooling" alternatives, is it ??? ).

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

Public schools in the US are being flushed by corporations.