I have a son who is nearing school age. My wife and I have been considering all the options for his education from normal public school like I had, to private schools and even homeschooling. I have found that there is a huge controversy between homeschoolers and public school advocates.
There are numerous arguments against the public school system. The oldest of them come from religious extremists who have been taking their children out of public schools for decades. While I have difficulty taking these people seriously, I feel it important to point out their views. They believe that the public education system indoctrinates their children with anti-Christian philosophies that undermine the mental and moral health of their children. They claim that public schools are no longer teaching and simply trying to create a dependant and religiously apathetic public.
More rational arguments have begun to surface since the 1980’s. Public schools are becoming more and more dangerous places to send our children. Police officers are now common to see walking the halls of many of today’s schools. Many schools have metal detectors at all the entrances to avoid finding their school on the national news for the latest school shooting or other violent crime. Teachers no longer feel that they have the power to enforce rules in their classrooms. Illegal drugs run rampant in our public schools, which has lead to zero tolerance policies that punish the innocent. The most common reason today’s parents have for not sending their children to public school is that they feel that public school is no longer a place where children can obtain a quality education. 48.9% of parents in a survey stated that their reason for wanting an alternative to public school was that they could give their child a better education at home. Another 25% gave the reason that public school offered a poor learning environment and another 11% say that public school did not challenge their child (Bielick).
There are many reasons that show how homeschooling can give children a better education. Parents who teach their children at home will naturally take a greater interest in the student’s progress. They also have a much stronger relationship with their student than any teacher in the public education system could ever have. Students who are homeschooled overwhelmingly out perform students from public schools on tests and in academics. The home is a much safer place to learn than a public school. Homeschooling parents are many times less likely to be confronted with a violent situation and drug abuse is almost non-existent among homeschooled kids. Parents who object to certain material on a moral basis are free to instruct their children in accordance with that family’s beliefs. For example, many schools are required to teach “safe sex” in health classes while homeschooling parents can teach only abstinence if that is what they wish.
Public school advocates argue that the biggest problem with homeschooling children is that they miss out on socialization. They claim that by not being involved in the classical classroom environment, they miss out on social skills that are second nature to kids from the public schools. Homeschooling parents who wish to give their children good social skills must go out of their way to expose their children to social situations where they can learn these skills.
Many public school administrators say that parents lack the necessary skills to be able to teach their own children and have passed legislation that requires parents to pass some level of certification with the state or local school district before teaching their children at home. The state also complains that they have no way of knowing if the homeschooled students are being taught the necessary curriculum and might be missing important material
Public opinion of homeschooling is changing. The homeschooling population in the United States has grown from some 10,000 to 15,000 children in the late 1960s to over one million children in 2001 (Bielick). Homeschooling is currently growing at about 11% a year, and it’s no longer confined to a conservative fringe that never believed in the idea of public education anyway. Some colleges, like Kennesaw State University in Georgia, aggressively recruit homeschoolers (Cloud). The stereotypical religious fanatic that was once synonymous with homeschooling no longer comes to mind for much of the public when asked about their views on homeschool. Parents who homeschool their children are more likely to vote, contribute money to political causes, contact elected officials about their views, attend public meetings or rallies, or join community and volunteer associations (Smith and Sikkink 1999). This holds true even when researchers compare only families with similar characteristics, including education, income, age, race, family structure, geographic region, and number of hours worked per week.
Parents who homeschool do have some notable differences from the mainstream population though. In a study by L. M. Rudner homeschool parents had more formal education than parents in the general population; 88% continued their education beyond high school compared to 50% for the nation as a whole. The median income for home school families ($52,000) was significantly higher than that of all families with children ($36,000) in the United States. Almost all home school students (98%) were in married couple families. Most home school mothers (77%)did not participate in the labor force; almost all home school fathers (98%) did work (Rudner). This may explain why homeschooled students outperform the public schools students on standardized tests and academic competitions like the National Spelling Bee.
In 1997, the winner of the National Spelling Bee was a homeschooled student. Every year since then, the winner has been a homeschooled student. This year, the first and second runners up were also homeschoolers. The first place winner, 12 year-old George Thampy also placed second in the National Geography Bee and has written for the Wall Street Journal. In Rudners study, almost 25% of home school students were enrolled one or more grades above their age-level peers in public and private schools. The median scores for every subtest at every grade (typically in the 70th to 80th percentile) were well above those of public and Catholic/Private school students. On average, home school students in grades 1 to 4 performed one grade level above their age-level public/private school peers on achievement tests. Even with a conservative analysis of the data, the achievement levels of the home school students in the study were exceptional. Within each grade level and each skill area, the median scores for home school students fell between the 70th and 80th percentile of students nationwide and between the 60th and 70th percentile of Catholic/Private school students. For younger students, this is a one-year lead. By the time home school students are in 8th grade, they are four years ahead of their public/private school counterparts.
Homeschool students did quite well in 1998 on the ACT college entrance examination. They had an average ACT composite score of 22.8, which is .38 standard deviations above the national ACT average of 21.0. This places the average home school student in the 65th percentile of all ACT test takers. And the average homeschooler scored in the 75th percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills; the 50th percentile marked the national average (Rudner). The average SAT score for homeschoolers in 2000 was 1100, compared with 1019 for the general population (Cloud).
According to Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a leading developmental psychologist, peer interaction has become more of a problem than an asset. Instead of peer interaction facilitating the process of socialization, it is now more likely to lead to the premature replacement of adults by peers in the life of a child. Such children become peer-oriented rather than adult-oriented and are more difficult to parent and teach. Furthermore, peer-oriented children fail to mature psychologically and their integration into adult society is compromised (Neufeld). A parent who is truly interested in his child’s education and not just kicking against the system, can easily find ways to give his child the socialization skills that will make him a better member of society.
In my opinion, homeschooling can be the best option for a child if the following conditions exist: the home provides a suitable learning atmosphere, the parent is capable, the child is receptive and the option to homeschool exists. These factors include the enabling of parents, the emotional health of the child, interest and curiosity, the socialization of the child and the teachability of the child.
Bielick, Stacey; Kathryn Chandler; and Stephen Broughman. “Homeschooling in the United States: 1999.” NCES Technical Report, 2001-033. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2001. <http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2001033>
Smith, Christian, and David Sikkink. “Is Private Schooling Privatizing?” First Things 92 (April 1999): 16-20.
Rudner, L. M. (1999). “Scholastic achievement and demographic characteristics of home school students in 1998”. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 7(8). [Online]. <http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v7n8/>
Cloud, John and Jodie Morse. “Home Sweet School”. Time.com. Aug 27, 2001. <http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101010827/cover.html>
Neufeld, Gordon, “Homeschooling”. Home Page. <http://www.gordonneufeld.com/homeschool.html>