Parents with school-aged children are faced with an abundance of choices on how to achieve the best education for their child. Private schools are often prohibitively expensive, homeschooling can seem intimidating and the quality of public schools vary greatly from town-to-town. To obtain the best education for your child research into your local public school system as well as research about homeschooling will help you to make a decision that makes sense for your own family. It is also important to ask yourself some difficult questions.
- Can we afford to homeschool? Will we have to give up one full-time income?
- Are we confident that the local public school will provide a well-rounded, safe learning environment?
- Which type of education produces the most college-ready students?
- What are the specific laws in my state regarding homeschoolers using public school resources as needed?
- Does my state have a virtual public school we can use at no charge?
Time, Money And Resources
As a taxpayer, you are already funding your local public school whether your children attend or not. Since school taxes are a tax everyone pays, public school is essentially free. Or is it? Parents of new students are often surprised at the hidden costs of attending public school.
- Elementary schools frequently have one day a week where children are encouraged to wear their school t-shirt. $15-20
- Some schools have a uniform code, usually khakis and a school polo shirt. Week of clothing $100
- PTA dues can run from $5-20
- Schools generally have a mandatory list of supplies to be brought on the first day of school. These supplies, once turned in, belong to the school and are simply shared with your child. $20-$60
- Parents are often surprised to learn they must send in snacks periodically, contribute to holiday parties and contribute to teacher’s gifts. This can add up over the course of a year. $20-100
- School pictures and year books (yes, even elementary kids have year books now) $25-$100
- School fundraisers can also become costly. Many schools host activities like skating night, restaurant nights and book fairs once or twice a year. In addition, children are often sent home with fundraising kits. They are asked to sell things like wrapping paper, cookie dough and light bulbs to your neighbors and friends. $25-100+
These costs ($200-400) are per child, per year. As children get older, parents will find themselves paying for field trips, music endeavors, sports uniforms and fees and more.
Homeschooling offers more flexibility in terms of money spent. Homeschoolers must still pay their local and state school taxes and homeschooling costs are not tax deductible. The cost of homeschooling a child varies dramatically from family to family. Many homeschool expenses (reference books, maps, globes, computer software) are one time purchases and can be used repeatedly with siblings. Some families make heavy use of the library and internet to teach their children resulting in low out-of-pocket expenses. Other families include traveling, extensive personal libraries and individualized curricula for each child. As kids get older, the cost of homeschooling and outside activities (music, sports, art, dance) do increase. The range of the price of homeschooling one child falls between $100-$1000.
Social Pros & Cons Of Public School vs Homeschool
The majority of today’s parents attended traditional public schools. To them the idea of spending the bulk of one’s school career surrounded by as many as 25 other kids all born in the same year seems like the “normal” thing to do. Their expectations of school for their children are generally no different. They expect their children to be taught to get along with everyone – even bullies, to stand in lines quietly and to line up to do things like going to the bathroom, going to lunch, and attending assemblies. After all, that’s what they did and their parents before them. When parents of children in traditional school settings hear about homeschooling, they often question how those children will be “socialized.”
Homeschool children spend their time with children and adults of all ages rather than a limited group of their immediate peers. They don’t stand in line during school time just as they don’t raise their hands to ask a question. While they are encouraged to get along with those around them, homeschoolers rarely experience bullies and when they do, a parent is there to step in immediately to resolve the issue.
As a rule, if you witness a large group of kids playing together you will not be able to pick the homeschooled kids out from the kids who attend public school. There is a lingering stereotype of nerdy homeschoolers but the reality is there are weird kids in every school situation. It is likely these children would be unusual in any type of educational setting and the odds are they will grow up to become adults who march to their own drummer.
Quality And Qualifications
There is debate about the quality of education and about who is best qualified to teach children. The jury remains out with the final verdict.
Public schools, particularly now with the implementation of Common Core Standards, tend to teach the same things in each grade throughout a state. All seventh graders might study early American History or Earth Science. Each year public school children are subjected to standardized tests to measure their achievements in comparison to all other public-schooled kids. Upon reaching high school age students are usually separated into those who take advanced placement classes and those who are less likely to pursue a four-year college degree. They continue to take standardized tests administered by their state and they usually add several rounds of SAT’s and/or ACT’s.
Teachers in public schools must be certified by their state to teach their grade and/or subject. Additionally, teachers are required to occasionally take courses to keep their certification up to date. New teachers graduate college with a background in courses based on things like classroom control, following federal standards, legal issues pertaining to what teachers may and may not do and, possibly, a few classes on a specialty subject. Teacher’s unions are strong throughout the United States. Once a teacher has worked for a minimum period of time, they cannot be easily fired even if their performance is shoddy.
Homeschool regulations vary from state to state but no state requires that a parent be a certified teacher to teach their own children. Homeschooling parents have a vested interest in seeing their children succeed and usually take advantage of the vast amount of resources – online, homeschool groups, private tutors – available to them to best teach their children. Studies have shown no statistical difference in test scores of homeschooled children taught by parents who were certified teachers and homeschooled children who were taught by parents without teaching certificates.
Homeschoolers in certain states are required to take whatever standardized tests public school children take. On average, homeschooled children (K-12) score roughly 30 points above their public school peers. A 2009 study shows that homeschoolers are, on average, in the 84th percentile for all subjects on standardized tests. While homeschoolers are free to choose what their children study and to adjust cirricula to best serve a child’s learning style, they tend to follow school trends to ensure their children are equipped to take the SAT’s and/or ACT’s in high school.
Obviously, homeschool parents cannot give themselves performance evaluations. However, most homeschool parents are acutely aware of their shortcomings and rather than have their children suffer for their lack of knowledge or skill, they seek other means of providing the subject matter.
Test Scores And College Readiness
Homeschooled students have been shown to have higher average scores on the ACT test (26.5) than their public school peers (25). Homeschooled students also enter college with an average of 14.7 college credits compared to just 6 college credits for other upcoming college freshman. College freshman who were homeschooled have an average GPA of 3.37 compared to a GPA of 3.08 for others. Seventy-four percent of adults (18-24) who were homeschooled have taken college courses compared to just 46% of 18-24 year-olds who were not homeschooled according to the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. Finally, homeschoolers graduate college at a rate of 66.7% compared to 57.5% for others.
Given these statistics, it is no wonder that universities actively seek out homeschooled high school graduates. Among those schools are Brown, Dartmouth, Belhaven, College of the Southwest and Nyack University. Some of these schools even have scholarships available specifically for homeschooled students. According to a Dartmouth college admissions officer:
The applications [from homeschoolers] I’ve come across are outstanding. Homeschoolers have a distinct advantage because of the individualized instruction they have received.
Ultimately, parents must decide what will work for their family. Homeschooling is an appealing and proven choice for success however, parents may have to give up income in order to accomplish this. Public school, despite its drawbacks, continues to be the preferred choice for millions of families. Many families have great success using a combination of public school and homeschool. Parents who actively research their school choices tend to remain highly involved in their children’s educations. This involvement, no matter where a child ends up attending school, is a strong indicator for future success.