On countless mornings over the past year, I stood with my 3-year-old son, James, in our driveway, watching our next-door neighbor trudge off to fifth grade. As she'd disappear around the corner, I'd think ahead to the kind of school James might attend when he starts kindergarten in two years.
My wife and I are in our early 30s, living in Ann Arbor, Mich., where she is finishing up her training as a demographer. Over the next year we'll figure out where we're going to live for the long haul. Where we choose will depend to some extent on the job market, but it will also depend heavily on where we want James and his brother, Oscar, 1, to go to school.
We can't afford private-school tuition, so living in a city would probably mean chancing it on a subpar public school system. And although I loved growing up on the coast of Maine, the limits of my public high school education became clear when I got to college and immediately felt like I was behind. I would like my boys to be better prepared for college.
But if my wife and I wanted to do everything we could to give James and Oscar the best possible K-12 education, we'd have to make some big changes. We'd have to choose more lucrative careers than hers in academia and mine as a writer so we could afford urban private schools or a house in an affluent suburb where the public schools are better. But between the longer hours and the longer commutes such changes would entail, we'd see much less of our kids. James and Oscar might be in the best schools, but we'd rarely be home before bedtime to hear what they'd learned all day.