Paying for a Good Education in the Beginning or the End?

When I was in graduate school, I met a man who was Puerto Rican and spoke Spanish. 

His wife was Korean and spoke Korean.  When they had a daughter, they made the conscious decision to only speak English to her so that she wouldn’t be confused by the languages.

I still look at that situation and mourn the tremendous opportunity to learn three languages that this child missed.

Imagine the job opportunities for a trilingual speaker who speaks Spanish, Korean and English!

My husband is Japanese, and while I speak a bit of Japanese, I am by no means conversational.  (Just ask my husband’s mother; I still panic when she calls because I only know a few conversational phrases.)

We determined when we married that we wanted to raise our children to be bilingual; however, that is difficult when mom doesn’t speak the language and dad is at work 10 hours of the day.

We decided to pay tuition to send our children to a private Montessori Japanese language school.  We resolved to invest money in our children’s education upfront, fully aware that the money we spend now is money we won’t have available when they go to college.

Why Invest in Education Upfront?

  1. The skills learned at a young age will be easily learned again.  My son went to Japanese school for five years; he has a strong foundation in the language, and we are confident that if he spends part of his summer in Japan and studies Japanese in high school or college, he will be able to more easily pick up the language than if he had never studied it.
  2. Learning  another language improves cognitive problem solving skills.  According to Therese Sullivan Caccavale, president of the National Network for Early Language Learning (NNELL), “Foreign language learning is much more a cognitive problem solving activity than a linguistic activity, overall.  Studies have shown repeatedly that foreign language learning increases critical thinking skills, creativity, and flexibility of mind in young children.  Students who are learning a foreign language out-score their non-foreign language learning peers in the verbal, and surprisingly to some, the math sections of standardized tests” (ACTFL).
  3. The children will have a strong educational base.  Both my husband and I believe that if young children receive a strong educational base, they will be stronger students throughout their lifetimes.  If reading is enjoyable and easy, children are more likely to read frequently.  The more they read, the stronger they become as students, which helps them excel.  It is a positive cycle.

Of course, we are taking a gamble.

We hope that our children will get scholarships to college, but we know that scholarships are harder and harder to come by.  In eight years when our son is going to go to college, the projected costs for a four year, in state, public college education is $130,686.  There is no way we will be able to pay that, especially when most of the money we could put away for his college fund is being used now for his and his sisters’ current education.

Still, my husband and I both love reading and learning and were good students who worked hard in school.  We want our children to also experience that joy.

Public School Education and Cash for College

invest in education early

What do you think of investing in a child’s education early?

Many people who understand our rationale for paying for an expensive language program for our children now don’t believe it is the best use of our money.

These people believe it is better to save money for college instead.  They argue that a free public school education will be good enough for their children or that it provides a strong enough foundation.

I do agree that a public school education can prepare a child for college.  I attended a public school in kindergarten and then for grades 7 through 12, and I was able to get admitted to, and graduate from, a Big Ten university.  One of my high school classmates was accepted to, and graduated from, Harvard.

However, the quality of public school education varies greatly based on where you live.  

While I grew up in a fairly small town with a good education system, we currently live about a mile from a great school district.  Our school district, however, leaves much to be desired.  In addition, the schools are so large that I prefer my children attend a smaller, private school.  I am willing to pay more for the quality of education now with the intention that they will be stronger students overall than if they attended our mediocre school district.

In an ideal world, parents would be able to give their children both a primary and secondary education as well as a strong college education.  However, many people are unable or unwilling to pay for private primary education or to live in an expensive school district.  Others would like to help their children with their college education but must instead save for their own retirement.

Ultimately, the parents must decide what is best for their children. 

We have taken a gamble by investing in our children’s education at the youngest age, but we feel it is worthwhile.  They may choose to not study Japanese again, but if they do want to, they will have a strong foundation in the language.

Do you think it is worthwhile to pay for a quality education in primary and secondary school, or is it better to save for a college education?

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Published or updated March 28, 2013.


  1. Actually, as a teacher I’ve found that more often than not, public schools provide a better education than private ones. I grew up going to public schools, so I was shocked to find this out. Last year, I taught at a private, boarding-school high school where the tuition alone was over $40,000 per year per student. We had little to no resources, the library was nothing but old books donated from other libraries, we had three (THREE! out of 25) working computers for student use, and absolutely no modern technology in the classrooms – seriously, not even those old-school overhead projectors. PLUS, the pay for teachers was so low it was almost criminal. One of my close friends interviewed for a position at another “good” private school where the pay was a mere $18,000 per year. For 40 hours a week, that’s somewhere around minimum wage.

    So, like any smart career person – any teacher worth anything wouldn’t stick around long and would prefer the public school system. Basically, these places have a really smart business plan – teachers that only stick around a year or two so they don’t have to invest hardly anything in raises or benefits.

    However, I totally understand wanting your kids to learn another language – but maybe tutoring or online language schools would be a much better investment? I’m bi-lingual & I don’t have kids yet, but I imagine that’s what I’ll do.

    • I wonder where all the tuition money went at that private school! Our private school has a much better environment and educational standards then the one you described. I don’t blame you for leaving. I have heard from teachers, though, that public schools often pay better.

  2. There are many interesting topics woven into one post.

    Learning a second language is very valuable (especially Japanese), but is better learned when young, and reinforced via conversation. Private school costs are hard to justify when a free alternative exists.

    I took two years of Spanish in high school, and two in college. The only time I ever got to use the skill in business was on a sales call in Mexico City. The business owner who asked me to run the meeting said “Senior Kevin, in English please – very slowly”.

  3. I could see the argument for teaching a language at a young age but I think public schools are fine. If a kid doesn’t want to learn or wants to learn it wont matter if it is a public or private school. Obviously this would depend on where you live but I would think most of the time public.schools are fine.

  4. I believe it greatly depends on where you live. I find what goes on in many public schools in our area to be scary. Bullying, Fighting, Cussing, Disrespect, and other things I can’t write. It doesn’t seem that the schools care too much about education. They care more about being PC.

    Private schools in 0ur area do have technology and dedicated teachers. The one my kids to go has teachers that have been there for 10, 15, and even 20-years. The dedication and skills my kids are learning will carry them through high school (we selected a smaller charter school) and college.

    I think the investment now will pay off in the future. It has already in high school (they go to a private school through 8th grade).

    cd :O)

  5. I think a combination of all three would be best. However if I only had to pick one I would say up front as thing are easier to grasp at and earlier age especially other languages. You build a foundation from the ground up and I believe this with education. Of course a lot of this depends on your child as well and what they want to do when they are in high school. I have seen children in the best schools be the laziest and do nothing and children in sub par schools excel.

  6. My children (2) had the benefit of private education and public university. They are successful adults! Since I did not want to experiment with my children we decided it was worth the money.

  7. I undestand how you feel uponlearning that the couple did not teach their child a second or third language while the kid is still young. Moreover, studies show that it it easier to learn second or third language when you start at a younger age. my husband and I speak Filipino, our native language, and we teach our kids the language we use since we were young. We speak Filipino at home so that they can practice it. We believe that they can also learn proper English from their playmates, classmates, teachers, and friendly neighbors so there is nothing to worry about their communication.

  8. Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager says:

    I think I’m going to be saving for college education before my future children even start kindergarten…

  9. I prefer sending my child to a private school for her primary and secondary education. I believe that at an early age, I need to equip my child with a strong educational foundation which will help her in the future. I do hope that she gets a scholarship for college, but if not, I think that I would have saved enough funds to send her through college by that time.

  10. James Petzke says:

    I’m a huge proponent of public schools. You pay for them through taxes whether or not you take advantage of them, so that is one reason. Also, public schools will typically expose children to more diversity and other aspects of life than a private school does. In my opinion, that is more important than the academics in most cases. In private schools, you’re kids are only going to be exposed to other families who are also wealthy enough to pay for that luxury, and they miss out on social opportunities because of it.

  11. A Japanese Montessori school sounds awesome. I’m a huge fan of Montessori. My kids went to a Montessori preschool last year and we loved it.

    We’re also sending our kids to private school. I taught in the public schools in our town for 7 years and decided years before we even had our kids they would go to private school. Of course, we live in a very poor state in the South that invests almost nothing in public education. If we were to move, I would might be open to other options.

    My child has 15 kids in his K class compared to the 28-30/class in the public schools. His teacher is experienced and holds a masters degree. She probably doesn’t get paid as much, but avoids many of the problems she might face in the public schools, so I guess it’s worth it to her.

    As far as diversity, there are African American, Caucasian and Asian kids in my child’s class. I think people assume that parents who send their kids to private schools are wealthy and that’s just not always the case. My husband drives a 13 year old Toyota. My Honda is 5.5 years old with 100,000 miles on it and I plan to drive it until the wheels fall off. We rarely eat out. We buy furniture second-hand and refinish it. We aren’t wealthy. We’re not poor either. We are a middle class family that has made a conscious decision to invest a large portion of our income in our kids’ educations.

    As of right now, we’re also saving for college and hoping to pay for that as well. I don’t know if it will happen, but we’re trying. I’d love for them to get scholarships, I’m planning on footing their college bills, but hoping I won’t have to. One can dream, right?

  12. getting a good education is essential. unfortunately, it has become a luxury to be able to complete a degree DEBTFREE.

What Do You Think?