A Look at K-12 vs. K-8 vs. K-6: Options For L.A. Private Schools by Sanjay Nambiar

School Decisions


Dear Readers:

I’m so excited to publish this excellent piece by Sanjay Nambiar. Along with his wife, Priya, Sanjay runs Nambiar Advising and they are parents at PS1 Pluralistic School in Santa Monica. The decision to apply to K-12, K-8 or K-6 can be confusing and a lot of parents end up applying to more than one of these educational models. That’s what my own family did. But what happens when you have to choose between a K-6 and a K-12 for example? What about leaving a K-8 or K-12 before graduation? Read on! Sanjay breaks it all down for you. –Christina


Tough Decisions! Should I Lock in the Next 13 Years Now, or Should I Allow for Change?

A Look at K-12 vs. K-8 vs. K-6 Private Schools

You’re ready to apply to private school. You’ve done your research regarding traditional versus progressive pedagogies. You have a good idea of the type of setting where your child will thrive.

Now, should you apply to K-12 schools and be done with the process forever? Or maybe K-6 is a better strategy? And what about K-8? A few schools offer Developmental Kindergarten.

As if worrying about tuition and application essays were not enough, we also have this K-12 vs. K-8 vs. K-6 debate. It’s enough to make any parent pull his or her hair out!

Okay, deep breaths. We can do this. We will do this.

When it comes the grade structure of a school, each option offers a bevy of pros and cons. Ultimately, it’s about finding the right fit for your child and family. What works for Johnny might be the opposite of what’s best for Jennifer. There is no right or wrong strategy.

But there is solace in this. As long as we try our best – and do our research – we’re doing right by our kids. And that is always priority number one (at least in our opinion).

So, let’s jump in . . . Below is a check list of the some of the pros and cons for each of these school structures. This list focuses just on the nature of the grading groups. It doesn’t delve into the specific academic approaches of any school, which often are the biggest determinants of what constitutes a best-fit for a child. Nonetheless, these are a few elements to consider as you’re exploring various schools.


K-12 Pros

You don’t have to do this again.

Applying to private school can be a grueling and anxiety-inducing process. From understanding the various school philosophies to the essays, interviews, school tours, and financial aid applications, it’s often overwhelming for even the most prepared families. With a K-12 school, once you’re in, you never need to do this again.


Starting at 5thgrade, students need to take the Independent School Entrance Examination (ISEE) when applying to private school. (Think of it as the SAT for private schools.) But if you’re in a K-12 school, your child doesn’t need to take this test. Ever. That’s a decent amount of stress and studying to avoid.

13 years of consistent families & friends

Many K-12 schools have a special sense of community. Your child can be with the same cohort for up to 13 years. It becomes like family, and those bonds can last a lifetime; some schools even call these kids “lifers”. If the fit is right, this consistency through adolescence and the teenage years can be wonderful. But there’s also another side to this . . . (see below).


K-12 Cons

Kids change

Developmentally, we often don’t know the details of a child’s learning style until about 3rdor 4thgrade. Moreover, many kids change significantly during their tween years (10- to 12-years-old). As a result, the academic approach of the school you chose when your child was in Kindergarten might not be a fit when she is in 6thor 7thgrade.

13 years of consistent families & friends

If you don’t love your community in elementary school at K-12 school, you might be out of luck. Your child could be in a peer group that he or she doesn’t connect with, and likewise you might not connect with other parents. And this varies from year to year. The classes above and below your daughter’s might be delightful, but she unfortunately might be stuck with a crew that doesn’t totally fit her – even if new students join the school in 6th, 7th, or 9thgrade. It’s random and sometimes can’t be anticipated. Moreover, as your child changes in the tween and teen years, he might want (or need) a new and different group of friends. Changing at 6thor 9thgrade could be a refreshing move that leads to more success. Further, this change can help prepare kids for the big transition on the not-too-distant horizon: going to college.


K-6 Pros

A focus on elementary education

K-6 schools tend to be experts on elementary education. They know the pedagogy and philosophy incredibly well. They know this age group incredibly well. It’s what they do, and all of their resources are devoted to this one aspect of education. There’s no diversion of resources into middle or high school.

An opportunity to change

At 6thgrade, you’ll have a much better idea of how your child learns and in what type of setting he or she will flourish. That means you can apply to great options at 7thgrade, both private and public, that could help foster your child’s academic, creative, and social potential. And that school might be very different from your current K-6 school, and that’s okay. Also, a child can have a special opportunity to change his or her environment in 7thgrade. It’s a time to learn key life skills: how to move to a new setting, how to adapt to new people, and how to cope with change, all with the benefit parental support.


K-6 Cons

You’ll have to do this again

As mentioned before, applying to private school can be stressful on many levels. Also, your child will need to take the ISEE (or perhaps another entrance exam, depending on the school) as part of the application. If you’re at a K-12 school, you get to avoid this process.

Change can be hard

Although learning how to adapt to new environments is an important life skill, for some children this type of change can be overwhelming. Combined with the typical trials and tribulations of puberty and early teenage years, switching to a new middle school can be a stressful experience, even if it results in personal growth.


K-8 Pros

Easier transition to middle school

K-8 schools enjoy the K-6 pros mentioned above. Additionally, they provide the benefit of a relatively seamless transition to middle school (7th& 8thgrades). This can reduce the stress of changing schools and make those awkward early teenage years a little easier for students, especially those who may be a little shy or vulnerable. Also, 7thand 8thgraders in these schools have an opportunity to be leaders, while delaying the move to another school simultaneously keeps them young. In fact, researchers in one study compared K-8 schools to traditional 6-8 settings and discovered that K-8 students earned higher SAT scores as well as higher GPAs in 9thgrade[1].


K-8 Cons

Family attrition

K-8 schools also encounter the same K-6 cons mentioned above. Additionally, some families transition out of a K-8 school at 7thgrade, for a variety of reasons. For example, some K-12 (and 6-12 or 7-12) private schools have fewer openings at 9thgrade than at 7th. This results in 7thand 8thgrade classes at K-8 schools that are thinner, as families apply out sooner. The smaller class sizes can be a bonus, but this attrition also can affect morale, change the culture of a class, and result in fewer resources for these grades.


Keep It in Perspective

No matter where you choose to send your child to school, success has a myriad of factors beyond the K-12/K-8/K-6 debate. When a student thrives, it’s about educational philosophy, peer circles, access to creative endeavors, family dynamics, and so much more. Perhaps knowing this can make the research and decision about K-12/K-8/K-6 a little less stressful. Because, ultimately, the educational journey is a long one. And regardless of what type of school structure your children attend, they can forge a path that harnesses their potential and joy for learning.


Priya and Sanjay Nambiar run Nambiar Advising, a consulting practice that shepherds families through the private school admissions process, from helping clients find the best-fit schools for children to application support, essay editing, interview preparation, and more. Priya has spent more than 20 years in education and was the Associate Director of Admissions at the Brentwood School in Los Angeles. She earned a B.A. in Education from Brown University and an M.Ed. from Harvard University. Sanjay is an entrepreneur and professional writer who has written several award-winning children’s books. He earned a B.A. in Economics and Neurobiology from U.C. Berkeley and an M.B.A. from UCLA. To learn more, please visit www.nambiaradvising.com.

[1]Look, K. (2009). The great K-8 debate. The Philadelphia Education Fund. www.philaedfund.org/notebook/TheGreatK8Debate.htm


Keep up with the latest L.A. private school news and events on Beyond The Brochure’s Facebook Page.

K-6, K-8 or K-12: Which Private School Model Is Best?

School Models

When you’re applying to L.A. private schools, it’s common to apply to a mix of school types. Geography and the lack of an abundance of private schools make it necessary. If you have a kid entering kindergarten it’s difficult to envision him/her as a middle or high-schooler. Deciding on a high school based on the school’s kindergarten or elementary school can be taking a leap of faith.  As my kids have gotten older, I’ve learned first-hand about the various school models. Each one has its benefits and, in some cases, notable drawbacks. There are solid education theories that support each school type. For example, in a K-6 school, educators believe that students should have the opportunity to be on a campus without the influences of older, more mature middle school students. Proponents of the K-8 school model argue that a small nurturing middle school on the same campus as the elementary school allows kids to move from the starting as the youngest in the school to become middle school leaders.

School Types

Here are my thoughts about each school model:


K-6. Some of L.A.’s best private schools are K-6.  This is a familiar school type for many parents…a lot of us grew up going to K-6 elementary schools, either public or private. The idea of their child attending a small elementary school and then transitioning to secondary school appeals to a lot of parents. There is something very sweet about a school that is built to fit young kids. By the time kids graduate, they’ll be ready to move on to middle school. The K-6 schools take placement for 7th grade seriously and offer their assistance to families. Don’t be worried about applying to middle school from 6th grade. As long as you’re aware of what’s involved in the middle school admissions process, you shouldn’t rule out a school because it lacks a middle or high school.


K-8. For some kids, the K-8 model is wonderful. A small middle school where the often bumpy transition to a new school isn’t required at a very sensitive age sounds good to a lot of families (and kids too!). At most K-8 schools, there will be some new students entering for middle school, but the school won’t have a huge influx of students like the 7-12 schools.


For our family, the K-8 model didn’t work. By the time our daughter got to 6th grade, she was ready for a bigger environment with an academic middle school. She wanted to make new friends. She wanted opportunities like journalism and French. After all, she’d been with the same kids since kindergarten, with only a handful of kids joining her grade over the years. There is a very strong expectation in the K-8 model that families will remain there until 9th grade. The economics of the K-8 model necessitate that students remain through middle school.  Once a kid leaves, it can be difficult for the school to replace that student. Some schools, like Curtis, closed their middle school several years ago due to declining enrollment.


Applying out for 7th grade, in our case, wasn’t easy. We did not have the support of the administration. This is NOT true at all  K-8 schools. Support is necessary –or at least a neutral tone by the school–and it wasn’t forthcoming. But, we made applying out work because it was in the best interest of our daughter. It’s what she wanted and what we wanted for her. Luckily, we ended up with a true win-win situation for both our kids that wouldn’t have been possible if we’d had the support of the Willows administration.


K-12. We’re now a family at Viewpoint School, a K-12. With our daughter in middle school, I’m learning that the middle school is preparing her for Viewpoint’s rigorous high school. The middle and high schools are located in different buildings, but it will still be a transition. And, new students will be entering at 9th grade to add to a larger class. If you’re thinking about a K-12,  take a look at the middle school, if possible, because it might help you decide whether the school is right for your child. Of course, a small number of students leave K-12 schools for various reasons.  Sometimes, it’s related to academics. Other times, the reasons are social. While K-12 schools want their students to remain at the school for the duration, it seems like the K-12 schools understand that K-12 is a very long time and in some cases, it might be necessary for a family to change schools. The economics of the K-12 school model also account for—and anticipate– these changes. Ultimately, whether your child remains at a K-12 for the entire 13 years, there’s a comfort in knowing your kid won’t have to change schools until college. And, you’ll get to see where the school’s graduates attend college.