By Tim Parker
It's an election year and that will likely mean a lot of talk about the American education system. Politicians will surely talk about the fact that America's schools are only ranked "average" compared to the rest of the world, and that includes ranking No. 35
in math and No. 29
in science. For parents making key choices about the future of their children, these statistics don't make public schools look attractive, but is homeschooling a better option? Private schools may cost more than a family can afford, and homeschooling requires a parent that doesn't work. If you're looking for the best way to educate your child, and one parent can stay at home, should you consider homeschooling?
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Public schools, despite all of their bad press, are still the most popular way to educate a child. Like most services consumers deal with in their daily lives, there are outstanding public schools and those that receive a failing grade. Students attend school for the primary purpose of learning and that's what any school should be judged on most heavily. Looking at the average performance of the nation's public schools, they don't appear to be providing an A+ service, but comparing a public school to the other options isn't entirely fair.
Public schools are charged with educating all students and may have class sizes of 25 or more students. Homeschooling is only as high as the school age children in the home, but that doesn't mean that public schools are in desperate need of help. Even those who believe strongly in public schools concede that a lot of work remains to bring America's schools up to levels that will allow the schools to compete on the international stage.
However, public schools offer more than academics. Homeschooling doesn't offer the same opportunities in the arts, athletics and other activities that students get in public schools. A study in Chicago found that students who participate in the arts achieved higher test scores than those who did not. Although these types of classes and activities are offered in the private and homeschooling environments, they aren't offered at the same level of many public schools.
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There's no doubt that research speaks very kindly of homeschooling. Not only is it cheap compared to other education options, but the results are generally better. Most parents who homeschool spend less than $600 per year compared to the $10,000 average spent per pupil by public school systems. However, parents who homeschool are still paying a portion of that $10,000 expense. Surprisingly, spending such a low amount on a child's education produces impressive results. One study found that the average homeschooled student outperformed the average public school student by roughly 30 percentile points.
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The largest drawback mentioned by opponents of homeschooling is that kids are lacking in socialization once they enter college, but studies have found that in all markers of social and psychological health homeschoolers are no less socialized than other children. Just like public schools, the quality of the homeschooling experience depends on the drive and motivation of the teacher. It takes a disciplined, motivated and intelligent person to homeschool his or her child.
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The Bottom Line
Just as private schools require money, homeschooling requires a family that can invest the amount of time needed to homeschool effectively. For those families with a parent that doesn't work, studies appear to indicate that homeschooling produces impressive results when compared to public schools. However, public schools might be more appropriate for children who want to take more advanced coursework or for those who are gifted in athletics or the arts.
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