Is opting for private multicultural schools a smart choice for multicultural households?

November 20, 2013 Comments Off on Is opting for private multicultural schools a smart choice for multicultural households?

Public or private k-12 is a common question in multicultural households, specially the ones with French or Latin components.

In Spain and Spanish America it is common to send children to private or charter schools (a mix of private-public)  before college if one can afford it. As it is in France, college education is thought of as mostly free or affordable. Professional masters such as MBAs, or LLMs are roughly equally expensive everywhere, and more academically-oriented graduate schools rely everywhere on fellowships and graduate student work. The hefty student-loan system that exists in the U.S. often puzzles and horrifies European and Latin American parents alike. Finally, a significant difference is that n the U.S. college students are doing a lot outside of schools in terms of community work, service-learning, internships, etc. which is not yet the case in French, Spanish, and Spanish-American environments, or not to the same extent.

If it is true that k-12 students in the U.S. are in average worse prepared in cognitive and behavioral aspects than comparable industrialized countries, and are lacking also in what liberal arts education seeks to offer college students, (see PISA and the OECD education reports for example), if that information is accurate, then is a hyphenated private school in k-12 and college abroad a possible solution for concerned multicultural households?

I do not have a definite answer, but I do have a few thoughts.

  • Cost. Private schools can cost a little fortune ranging from $15,000 to $30,000 per year per child in k-12. It is true that college in the U.S. is unbelievably expensive just shy of $50,000 per year sometimes plus room and board, but having a kid studying abroad is not completely free either.
  • Diversity. Because of the cost and in spite of scholarships, private schools tend to have low socioeconomic and cultural diversity in their classrooms. A slightly more diverse environment in terms of international students may exist. If we take French-American schools for example, the fact that French schools are public schools outside of France, implies that most of the cost is paid off by the French state, if you happen to be an expatriate. This of course is a valid example only for the French system and for the kids who happen to have a French passport, a negligible minority.
  • Family ties. If the family is multicultural and versed in the cultures serving as context for the education, it can strengthen family ties. If not, and not well managed, it may create a gap between parents and children, specially during their teenage years.
  • Network. School in general and college in particular is a space where one builds life-lasting networks and ties.
    Hyphenated private school in the U.S. often lack the critical mass necessary to accomplish this. Some children’s parents are  diplomats or  work in transnational corporations that require frequent mobility. While the relative homogeneity of the French-school system abroad offers a degree of transnational stability to kids, it is not conducive to the construction of life-long ties.
    These type of schools also have a pyramid of attrition. As students drop or move, other students cannot easily replace them because they cannot cope with content and specially the bilingualism and multiculturalism expected.
    While a negative for k-12 hyphenated private schools, network building is one of the big reasons why one ought to consider college in the U.S.
  • Location. Only relatively large cities have enough households potentially interested in hyphenated private schools to make them financially viable.
  • Integration. While long-term integration as part of the U.S. is important, it does not seem to be a concern for French and Spanish-American schools, as it is for other schools. The Cherokee-American school in North Carolina for example seems to be having more serious problems helping students fit in once they finish their k-12 education emphasizing Cherokee language and culture.
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