“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6, ESV)
Choosing the Best Educational Option for Your Family
Where and how we educate our children is of the utmost importance. These young people are tomorrow’s parents, teachers, doctors, clergymen, senators, presidents and decision makers. Within about one hundred years, almost everyone now living on the face of this earth will be gone. They will be replaced by an entirely new generation. How and where we educate our children is crucial not only for our families but for our world!
How do we select the best option for our children, our family, and our budget? There are a plethora of options to choose from. Below is a general overview of current educational options.
Let’s start by looking at some education statistics. Currently, about eighty-seven percent of school-age children in the United States attend public schools. About ten percent attend private schools and about three percent homeschool.
Differences Between Public and Private Schools
Generally, the biggest difference between public and private schools is the cost. Public schools do not charge tuition. They receive funding through federal, state and local taxes. Private schools, on the other hand, have to generate their own funding. This typically comes from tuition, private grants, and fundraising efforts.
Public schools admit all children to their local public school. Districts with “school choice” policies may ask parents to enter a lottery to gain admission. They also may add their name to a waiting list for their child to get into a particular “choice” school. At the high school level, many districts in larger metropolitan areas offer specialty schools. Enrollment is generally competitive, based on students’ GPAs or artistic portfolios.
Private schools are by nature very selective. Because of this, the admission process often involves in-depth applications. These may include multiple interviews, essays, and testing. Private schools often select students based on more than their scholastic achievement. They may also take into account a student’s ethnicity, religious background, and the parents’ assets.
Most public school teachers have an undergraduate or graduate degree in education and are either state certified or working toward certification. This ensures that they have gone through the training required by the state, which typically includes student teaching and course work.
Teachers in private schools may have subject-area expertise and/or an undergraduate or graduate degree in the subject they teach. Private schools do not always require their teachers to be certified.
Public schools must follow state guidelines that set out specific standards and assessment procedures for curriculum development. Different curriculum materials may be used to meet the same basic standards for key subjects. Private schools can choose the curriculum and assessment model of their choice.
Special Needs Students
While many public schools are equipped to handle children with special needs, some aren’t. This can make enrolling a child with a learning disability or other special need a more complicated process. Public school teachers who specifically serve the special needs population are certified in that area of education.
Private schools can choose whether or not to accept a student diagnosed with a “special need.” A small number of private schools are designed for children for unique educational needs. However, most private schools do not have special education programs or teachers trained to work with that student population.
Many states have provided funding to help keep public school class sizes small from kindergarten through third grade. In large school districts and urban schools, class size tends to grow bigger as the students advance to higher grades.
Many private schools provide small classes with low student-to-teacher ratios. However, Catholic schools often have even larger class sizes than public schools.
There are many advantages to attending public school. School bus transportation is typically free, as is the education itself. Breakfast and lunch are typically either free or extremely low-cost. Students are placed within a large demographic, allowing them to relate to a wide variety of students. Students are able to build ties within their local community, as students generally attend schools within their neighborhood. Course options are generally diverse, and schools offer a wide range of sports, arts and music programs.
There are some disadvantages to public schools. Students often have little school choice due to zoning. Access to learning materials and classroom technology can be limited in poorly funded schools or districts. Also, textbooks may be outdated or worn out. There is typically a heavy emphasis on standardized testing.
Public school classrooms are often filled to maximum capacity, resulting in less individualized attention. In addition, classes are typically geared toward a mid-learning level. The result is that struggling students can get lost in the multitude while more advanced students may lose interest.
There are many advantages to enrolling your child in a private school. Middle and high school curricula are usually more focused on specialized topics that prepare students for careers and higher education in a chosen field. Coursework is more challenging, and class sizes are generally smaller. This allows for a lower student-to-teacher ratio.
Most private schools have access to better books, supplies and classroom technology. Private school students generally have higher graduation and college acceptance rates and earn higher degrees by their mid-20s. In addition, private school teachers show more satisfaction with their school and its educational climate than their public school counterparts.
Due to their independence from governmental involvement, many private schools can be highly specialized, offering differentiated learning, advanced curricula, or programs geared toward specific religious beliefs.
Private schools can have disadvantages as well. There may be a smaller range of subjects students can pursue. There is a higher tuition cost than the free public school. Students usually must pass an entrance exam for admission. Private schools are less regulated by the state. This means that teachers aren’t required to hold teaching degrees, and special education programs may be lacking.
Alternative Educational Options
Of the 8,000 Montessori schools nationwide, most cater to preschool, kindergarten and elementary students. However, some also extend through high school. Montessori schools typically foster environments in which children become independent learners and problem-solvers. Montessori education costs vary geographically, with an average estimate of about $10,000 annually per student.
These are private schools whose goal is to produce morally sensitive children who work and play well with others. The hands-on approach to learning involves such things as having elementary students plant a vegetable garden on a local farm, learning about the science of weather and plants, and how much food costs. An average estimate is approximately $11,000 annually per student.
The Waldorf education website shares that for the Waldorf school student, “science, math, and language arts are not simply subjects to be studied, ingested, and tested. They are experienced. Through these experiences, Waldorf students cultivate a lifelong love of learning as well as the intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual capacities to be individuals certain of their paths and to be of service to the world.”
The homeschool movement in the United States began growing in the 1970s when popular authors and researchers John Holt and Dorothy and Raymond Moore started writing about educational reform. They suggested homeschool as an alternative to public school.
An ancient traditional educational practice that a decade ago appeared to be cutting-edge and ‘alternative,’ homeschool is now bordering on ‘mainstream’ in the United States and around the world. Homeschooling allows parents to educate their children at home instead of sending them to a traditional public or private school.
Homeschooling may be the fastest-growing form of education in the United States. According to the National Home Education Research Institute, there are now more than two million children homeschooling in the U.S. The percentage is rapidly increasing by seven to fifteen percent each year.
Home-based education is legal in all fifty states and has also been growing around the world in many other nations. Some of these are Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Belize, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Surinam, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.
Requirements for Homeschooling
Legal requirements for homeschooling in the United States vary from state to state. Some states have few or no requirements. Others ask for portfolio reviews or standardized testing at certain intervals.
According to Holt, author of the best-selling book Teach Your Own, the biggest requirement parents need in order to homeschool their children is “to likethem, enjoy their company, their physical presence, their energy, foolishness, and passion. They have to enjoy all their talk and questions, and enjoy equally trying to answer those questions.” For the majority of parents who homeschool, the only prerequisite is the desire to do so, along with a dedication to the educational process.
Reasons for Homeschooling
Families choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons. Some of these include dissatisfaction with the available educational options, or different religious beliefs or educational philosophies. Families might crave the flexibility of not being tied down to a calendar year. They may also believe that their children are not thriving or progressing within the traditional school structure.
Other reasons that many parents choose homeschooling might include wanting to:
- customize the curriculum and learning environment for each child
- accomplish more academically than in schools
- use pedagogical approaches other than those typical in institutional schools
- enhance family relationships between children and parents and among siblings
- provide guided and reasoned social interactions with youthful peers and adults
- provide a safer environment for children and youth, because of physical violence, drugs and alcohol, psychological abuse, racism, and improper and unhealthy sexuality associated with institutional schools
- teach/impart a particular set of values, beliefs, and worldview to children and youth
How Do Homeschooled Students Do?
Let’s look at how homeschooled students rate compared to their traditionally schooled peers. Studies show that home-educated students typically score fifteen to thirty percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests. This is regardless of their parents’ level of formal education or their family’s household income.
Academic achievement results among homeschoolers do not vary depending on whether homeschool parents were ever certified teachers. They also do not vary based on the degree of state control and regulation of homeschooling. Colleges and universities increasingly seek out and recruit homeschooled students.
Social, Emotional, and Psychological Development
Home-educated students typically score above average in their social, emotional, and psychological development. Research measures include peer interaction, self-concept, leadership skills, family cohesion, participation in community service, and self-esteem.
Homeschool students regularly engage in social and educational activities outside their homes. In addition, they spend significant time with people other than their immediate family members. Common homeschool activities might include field trips, scouting, 4-H, political drives, church ministry, sports teams, and community volunteer work.
Success in the “Real World” of Adulthood
The research on adults who homeschooled as children continues to grow. Studies indicate that these adults participate in local community service, vote, and attend public meetings more frequently than the traditionally schooled general adult population. They also graduate from university at an equal or higher rate and internalize the values and beliefs of their parents at a higher rate than those who were traditionally schooled.
Will Homeschooling Work for Your Family?
You may be thinking, “Just wait a minute! Not everyone has the flexibility to be able to stay home with their children.” You are absolutely right! Every family is different. We are simply presenting the options, what we believe are the pros and cons of each type of educational system. It is up to you to decide which option will work best for your family after consideration.
There may be a plethora of doubts in your mind right now. You may feel you’re not organized, creative or smart enough to homeschool. Maybe you need to work full-time, or you have a debilitating illness that slows you down. However, we want to encourage you that if you really want to homeschool your children, you can figure out a creative way to work things out financially. You will succeed!
Is Homeschool Right for My Child?
We suggest that you visit several different schools in your area and ask the teachers lots of questions. You can also read school profiles on GreatSchools.org. This offers a compilation of the best schools nationwide, based on parent ratings, reviews, and test scores.
At the end of the day, the best school for your child is a highly personal decision based on your family, your values, and the individual make-up of your child.