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Public vs. Private School?

I know it's naïve, but I was a little bummed when the Obamas recently chose a pricey private school for Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7. I don't know, I thought that maybe with a national campaign based on CHANGE, we wouldn't see a repeat of the not-my-kids syndrome. I'm talking about the rich power elite who "believe" in public schools, but would never think of sending their own children to one.

Even with all this talk of change, apparently one thing never does: The deep schism between those who have money and those who do not.

It's a simple arithmetic lesson kids learn early. Despite the "just like us" paparazzi shots of the rich and famous doing everyday thinks like pumping gas and buying over-priced coffee, the rich, my dears, are not like us. Make no mistake - your kid's school is not just about academics. Along with your child's education, that campus has just as much to do with who their friends are, who they marry and what job they'll later land with what connection.

Yeah, I know the Obamas have a lot of security concerns and public schools don't offer the same protection as most private schools. But let's be real. This was not the deciding factor in this choice. It didn't stop Jimmy Carter from sending Amy (and a strong message) to public schools in the 1970s. The truth is the Obamas' choice, Sidwell Friends School, stands in sharp contrast to the struggling D.C. public schools, long ago deserted by the affluent and influential.

For one, Sidwell has an astonishingly low 9-to-1 student-faculty ratio. Its teachers are given quite a bit of autonomy in creating their class curriculums and they don't have to deal with a revolving superintendent whose mandates change with each school board election. But the major difference is that tuition at Sidwell runs $28,442 to $29,442 a year. Despite what school choice proponents say, no voucher payment offered to a low-income kid will even dent the annual bill for this place.

It's no secret that research shows the most important determinant of school achievement is family income. In a school with motivated teachers, strong leadership and solid academics, motivated students can do well, regardless of the overall test scores of the school itself. The irony is that affluent kids, whose family circumstances could probably compensate for public school inadequacies, go to the best schools, while poor kids who need the most help have to make do with the least.

The worlds grow further apart. Or is that farther? Don't ask me. I went to public school.