[Talk]: Homeschooling II

I must say, I’m still undecided regarding this particular issue. I however find, that private schools definitely have the potential (at least in my opinion) to be better than homeschooling, because these people (ideally all of them) really know what they’re doing. This also concerns the decision what to teach.
As for a reason that parents should not be allowed to apply homeschooling – there is no reasonable one. People should be allowed to choose what kind of education their children are going to get.

I’ve now read quite a few people stating that homeschooled children tend to do better compared to children that went to public school, which is understandable because of two points:

  1. Public schools suck! (At least most of them) Now, don’t get upset and let me elaborate: Public schools are run by the government, which means, that there is less competition, less competition means less interest in employing good teachers, less interest in the performance of their students and less interest to spend their budget efficiently. In short: Public schools suck, as stated above.
  2. Who would homeschool their children? Well there are two types of persons I could imagine:
    1. Fanatics. They want to indoctrinate their children and therefore will control the education of their children (like every aspect of their lives) as thoroughly as they can. These kids won’t do better than students of public schools, but fortunately there aren’t that much fanatics out there.
    2. Concerned parents interested in the best possible education for their children: Well, studies have shown, that children of parents who find education important are significantly better in school than other kids.

But the interesting question is: Are private schools better than homeschooling is? What do you think?

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12 Responses to “[Talk]: Homeschooling II”

  1. Dawn Says:

    In the context that it’s posed, I think it’s a false dichotomy. Homeschools vary widely. Private Schools vary widely. Even public schools vary widely. What makes one or the other ‘better’ should be which choices suits a particular family best.

  2. Umm Layth Says:

    There are no regulations for private schools in terms of credentilals as far as I am concerned, so I agree with what Dawn mentioned about it being a family choice.

  3. danielquenton Says:

    Of course it is a family choice, and always should be. Objectively speaking there should be one system that is better than the other two, which means, that there should be a system that educates it’s students better for less money/effort. (At least in principle) Now, which systems has which advantages and which one is ultimately better?

  4. Dawn Says:

    I think you’re off on the wrong track. You can’t speak objectively for instance when terms are so vague. What does better mean in the context of, “educates it’s students better”? Academic success? Good workers? Curious and active learners?

    Besides, you aren’t really after objectivity. You’re after generalities. Something that will give you blanket view of three approaches to education but I’d say that’s a completely wrong way to look at them. As soon as you’ve done that, as soon as you’ve lost the fact that what the best choice is completely depends on what the best choice is for a particular family, you’re lost. The family’s need ARE the measure. Some general assessment, although it’s the way society like to go about things, is false and useless.

    I just think the idea that one is ultimately better is absurd.

  5. Marcy Muser Says:

    Well, I disagree with Dawn on this issue. I believe (pretty strongly, too), that generally speaking, for most kids, homeschooling is better. Here are some reasons why:

    1) Homeschooling provides by far the best teacher-student ratio. This means kids get a more individualized education, and waste less time “learning” what they already know, and doing worksheets in order to keep them busy while the teacher tries to help someone else.

    2) Homeschooling takes advantage of a completely different format than classroom education. Kids learn science more effectively, for example, by experiencing the world around them – real gardening rather than bringing home little bean seeds in a jar that ultimately gets thrown away; catching a grasshopper in a jar and watching it eat before releasing it; bird-watching in the backyard or a nearby park; playing with soap bubbles and water to experience the properties of each; and so on. They learn history better by field trips to places where things happened, by reading biographies, original sources, and historical fiction in a comfortable, friendly environment, and then by discussing what they’ve learned with family and friends (rather than reading a textbook full of information processed and made dull by a committee, and then answering a bunch of questions about it). They get a much better foundation in math by cooking, sewing, helping remodel the basement, etc. – and they understand the relevance of it. They get more out of literature when they read whole books rather than just excerpts. And they learn art and music more thoroughly when they see it built into their parents’ lives rather than just as another class they have to get through. Private schools, no matter how good, simply can’t offer the advantages of the homeschooling format – real, whole books, life experience, field trips, observation of real life, interaction with and mentoring by many different people, time to explore, apprenticeship, discussion, and much more.

    3) Homeschooling teachers are far more invested in their children’s success than private school teachers can possibly be. After all, ultimately the responsibility for how the child turns out belongs to parents (even when they send their children to school). No one says, “Well, it’s no wonder that child turned out so bad – they had such a terrible third-grade teacher.” The buck stops with the parent, and in homeschooling, that’s even more true.

    4) Studies have shown that one of the top measures of a child’s academic success is their relationship with their teacher. Homeschooling parents go to great effort to maintain a good relationship with their children. There’s no guarantee that a child will have that kind of relationship with their teachers, even in a private school.

    5) Homeschooling allows the teacher to use any curriculum or format that fits a particular student, and to use different curricula or formats for each student. And when students outgrow the teacher’s ability (which they will in many areas – and which, incidentally, some students will do in a classroom approach as well), homeschooling allows the teacher to seek out a different way for the student to learn – whether an online or correspondence course, a college-level class, a book, a mentor or tutor, or some other approach.

    6) Homeschooling allows a family the flexibility to determine their priorities based on what’s best for them as a whole group. They have the freedom to put up their textbooks and take a six-day trip back east, as our family did last spring. (Dad bought a car in New Hampshire and we drove it back to Colorado, stopping to enjoy historic Massachusetts, a town in New York named after our family, and Niagara Falls, among other things. Our kids learned more history and geography from that trip than they would have learned in weeks of textbooks, and the learning is alive and real to them still a year later.) Or they can decide to do a bit extra during the summer so they can take time off when other kids are in school. Or they can skip math on a day when the kids are restless and bake cookies instead (a great lesson in fractions or multiplication, especially if you halve or double the recipe).

    In short, I think in general homeschooling is a much better option for most kids, if their parents are willing to make the sacrifice of time and energy necessary. Of course, there are some parents who do not have the self-discipline necessary to keep their kids on task; there are single parents who really can’t make the time to educate their kids; and there are selfish parents who aren’t willing to give up their own agenda to make their kids a priority during the years they are being educated. There are also kids who hate being homeschooled or who desperately want to go to school. Those families might be better off putting their kids in private school. But for parents who care about their children’s education and are willing to dedicate the time and energy necessary, home schooling really provides a much better education.

    There’s a reason why the Columbia Missourian online had this quote at the end of their article on homeschooling yesterday:

    “The dean of academic affairs at Columbia College, Terry Smith, home schooled his children and remains an influence on the recruitment of future home-schooled students. . . .
    ‘There are no home-schooled students at Columbia College that haven’t excelled,” Monnig said. “They are all really involved, and most are on the dean’s list.'”

  6. danielquenton Says:

    Now that’s what I’m talking about. Thank you for this great comment.
    I agree with all your points but I have few points to add:

    1. Private school teachers are very likely to have a better understanding of the subjects they’re teaching, and they are also very likely to be better trained in explaining their points so that their students can easily (or better, depending on the subject and student) understand it..
    2. The social aspect. In schools (as opposed to at home) the kids are in a different environment, they learn to cope with being away from home and they are amongst kids the same age as they are. They are able to work, explore and learn together, bond, form friendships and so on.
    Also sometimes a kid can explain a fact to another kid better than any adult could, because they’re much more on the same level.

  7. Marcy Muser Says:

    Daniel,

    Those are good points, but I think they can be answered. Here’s my first attempt.

    1) Yes, private school teachers may have a better understanding of the subjects they’re teaching. I’m assuming here that you’re especially thinking about junior high and high school classes; elementary classroom teachers don’t usually have to have a lot of classes in particular subject matter. (I had once planned to be an elementary teacher, and took the classes to do that – I wasn’t impressed with how little subject matter I was taught nor with my classmates’ knowledge of the subject matter we did study.)

    But most homeschool parents don’t try to teach complete high-school-level subjects on their own. There are many resources available to help homeschoolers who are ready to move into more complex subject matter.

    My own 6th-grader, for example, is studying pre-algebra now; I have enough knowledge of math to teach pre-algebra, but felt she’d be better off learning it from someone who knows more about math than I do. So she is taking an online video curriculum. Her professor in that class is a college math professor and stand-up comedian; she loves the curriculum and is getting a lot out of it. She watches the videos, reads the study notes, and then completes the exercises, getting instant results. If she gets stuck on a concept, she can email for help.

    She’s also learning art from a better teacher than I. She’s enrolled in a homeschool enrichment program through our public school that meets one day each week. Her art teacher is working on her master’s degree in art education, and is absolutely fabulous. My daughter is very artistic, and having this additional teacher to help has been invaluable.

    As I mentioned in my first post, “when students outgrow the teacher’s ability (which they will in many areas – and which, incidentally, some students will do in a classroom approach as well), homeschooling allows the teacher to seek out a different way for the student to learn – whether an online or correspondence course, a college-level class, a book, a mentor or tutor, or some other approach.”

    There are plenty of additional resources homeschoolers use to meet their needs in areas where the parents are not equipped. They can find a video or online curriculum or even a full course. They can enroll their child in college-level classes (in math, for example, as early as second-year algebra). They can send them to the local school for a class or two (this is allowed in many districts, though by no means all). They can enroll them in a co-op, or a homeschool enrichment program offered by a local school. They can hire a tutor for an area where they are weak, or can arrange for a friend, a family member, a co-worker, or another acquaintance to mentor their child. They can enroll them in a rec center class or the local chamber orchestra (if the area in question is sports or art or music). And a wise homeschooling parent (as most are) will take the time and effort needed to investigate the best way to help their child learn what is needed.

    2) The social question. Most homeschooling parents understand the importance of their child’s social development, and put a great deal of effort into making sure their children get their social needs met. We look for places where they are in a different environment, away from home; where they are among kids of similar ages; where they can “work, explore and learn together, bond, form friendships and so on.” My kids, for example, are involved in a weekly homeschooling enrichment program and in a co-op (one afternoon every other week). They are on the swim team, which meets three evenings a week. They also attend club and church every week. Not only that, but they know how to get along with adults and with kids of every age, because they encounter them on a regular basis (as in daily!). They understand that a sixth-grader can have friends who are fifth-graders, and that’s OK; they know how to gently guide a toddler to do what he should without making him mad (at least most of the time!); they are kind and polite to elderly people; they can carry on an intelligent conversation with a cashier at the grocery store or a fellow second-grader or next-door neighbor.

    I have worked most of my adult life in the field of education. I’ve worked in public schools, in private schools, and in homeschool enrichment programs. Without a doubt, the homeschoolers are at the top when it comes to social development: they have more real friends, they are more interactive, they are more polite, they are kinder with the people around them, they are more versatile and less deliberately obnoxious. (Obviously there are exceptions – but there are exceptions in every school setting as well.)

    I think the issues you bring up are valid, but if properly addressed (as most homeschooling parents do), they can end up as advantages to homeschooling rather than as disadvantages.

    Does that help?

  8. danielquenton Says:

    Yes it does. I always like new thoughts and ideas. Thanks a lot.

    Now, lets see:
    1) You make a valid point there. As much as I don’t find video curricula superior to a teacher in blood and flesh, which is more direct, concrete and interactive, you also point out other possibilities. I can see, that almost any level of education could be attained through homeschooling if extern measures are employed, but I still find, that this is a weak point of homeschooling, since, the level can indeed be attained, but much more effort would have to be put into it, to provide the matters necessary. But this weakness can be compensated to some extent and thus does not weigh that heavily anymore, I agree.
    2) You’ve convinced me.

    So I guess you’re right, homeschooling is, if done right and with enough effort, equal or better than private schools.

    But what about efficiency? (Yes we have to talk money now 😉 )
    What do you have to expect if you want to homeschool your kid, will it cost more (time and money) than a good private school (if yes, reasonably more)? What would I have to expect, to have to put into it?

  9. Marcy Muser Says:

    Daniel,

    I really appreciate your openness on this issue. So many people have already made up their minds, and refuse to consider all that’s involved. (I guess that’s true of a lot of issues, not just homeschooling, isn’t it?) 😉

    Quite frankly, I find homeschooling significantly less expensive than private school, even if you put a lot of money into it. The local private schools in the Denver area, where I live, cost a minimum of $3000 per year. The better ones cost $4000-$5000 – and that’s per child. My brother-in-law and his wife have paid about $5500/year to have their son in a good quality private high school.

    I’ve never heard of a homeschooling parent who spends anywhere near that much. I just got a catalog from one of my favorite curriculum companies – one that really, in my opinion, takes advantage of the homeschooling format to teach with real, quality books. If you bought everything they offer for sixth grade, for example – including history & geography, read-alouds, readers, language arts, science, math, Bible, and electives, you’d pay $935.00 for one child for the whole year. (Oh, and if you want to add the best foreign language on the market, it would cost you another $200.) Now that’s quite a bit – but consider a couple of things about it. First, it’s still only about a third what the local private school would cost. And second, when your next child gets to that level, you would spend only about $50, because only math and some parts of the language arts are not reusable. The more kids you have, the less it would cost per child.

    You can actually save a great deal over that total by taking advantage of used book sales and the local library, if you’d rather approach it that way. I have found many expensive books used for only a few dollars. If the book is good, my kids don’t care if it’s used or not.

    Homeschool enrichment programs vary greatly in cost. Our program is through a local school district (though it includes only homeschoolers), and costs us about $25 per child per year (not including field trips). Co-ops are also very low cost. A one-day-per-week homeschool enrichment program that’s independent of a school district might cost as much as $300 per semester per child – still a bargain.

    Other activities also vary greatly in cost. Rec center classes are cheap – sometimes as low as $30 depending on what you’re doing. Our USA Swimming swim team costs us about $65/month/child. Online courses from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln high school program cost about $400 each; the online math curriculum I use cost me $85 (not much more than a textbook would cost at this level). A tutor can cost $25-50 per hour depending on what subject they teach (but you likely won’t need them more than once a week and maybe less); a mentor may be willing to trade you for services. A fellow homeschooler who’s good at science or math might trade you tutoring for your ability to teach literature or history.

    The studies I’m familiar with suggest most homeschoolers spend between $600 and $1000 per child. That sounds about right to me, with the note that parents of kindergartners obviously spend a lot less on homeschooling, and parents of high schoolers generally spend quite a bit more, especially if they do it right. I know our expenses have increased as my daughter hit middle school.

    I realize that’s not a super-specific answer, but the truth is that your expenses for homeschooling will vary a lot, depending on the needs of your particular family. Pricing private schools is really a lot easier than pricing homeschooling. I will say that many (maybe most) homeschoolers initially choose homeschooling because they can’t afford private schools. (They often stick with it because they become convinced of the benefits – but they start because they won’t send their kids to public school, and private schools are so expensive.)

    Make sense?

  10. danielquenton Says:

    Makes sense to me.
    I have to say I wouldn’t have thought that private schools are that cheap in the U.S. In my country they cost around $10000-$15000, but then again, living is expensive here, so I guess homeschooling would be a bit more expensive, too. (but not that much more I assume).
    Thank you for your remarks. I will seriously have to consider homeschooling when I have kids.

  11. midmull Says:

    Okay, only caught up on your dialogue just now so I’ll add only two points:

    1) Social interaction. No one seriously questions that homeschooled kids get it – it’s more about what kind they get. Going to church every Sunday and meeting your parents’ friends isn’t what people are looking for – it’s more about “diversity”. That’s the real problem. Now, I’m not entirely sure but as far as I can tell most sports in the US are organised by the school – football, basketball (?) and so on. I don’t know whether it’s possible for homeschooled kids to get into those teams. At least scouts should still be available.
    The real “problem” here is that the aims of the parents and of those criticising are completely at odds. The critics want the kids to “broaden their horizones”, to be exposed to “different mindsets” – parents are usually, or at least sometimes, opposed to that – and that’s one reason why they consider homeschooling such a great option. Take your very case, Marcy, creationism probably plays at least some part in your decision – so do a host of other issues, from religion to abortion to underage drinking. This is what really at stake here. Obviously, I come down on the side of the parent in this case – they get to decide and there’s still plenty of time for the kid once they grow up to make their decision.
    In my case, I find homeschooling attractive for exactly the opposite reason (which might apply to others as well and probably does): I’d want to offer a kid MORE, not less – sure, give him the leftist, altruistic BS that he gets in public schooling but also give him so much more.

    2) Here I’ve got to be a little harsh because that’s some VERY dishonest accounting going on there, Marcy. I assume you know it but chose to ignore it. The major costs of homeschooling a kid aren’t books or paying tutors. Not even extra energy consumption plays any significant part. What’s really important is income foregone. By teaching your kid yourself, you’re forced to spend time that you could otherwise have spent doing something else – something that pays money. This is obviously where the strength of schools come into full force. You’ve got ONE person teaching MANY children – and all their parents are able to work and make money. On the one hand, this is a direct influence on your household income. On the other hand, it’s also a major influence on the economy at large. Losing a large number of adults who are no longer part of the workforce isn’t exactly a small thing.
    US data found here indicates a potential loss of either $42’261 (men) or $32’515 (women) (p.6, Table 1 cont.). Those are the real costs and they come up quite a bit more expensive than what you pointed out.
    Finally, $5’500 for a decent private school sounds REALLY cheap. Seriously. Compared to British schools, it’s peanuts. If you take Eton (admittedly, probably one of the “best”) you’re looking at $53’000 instead of $5’500.

  12. Marcy Muser Says:

    Midmull,

    OK, let me address each of the issues you brought up.

    1) Socialization. You have a whole spectrum of issues here, so let me try to sort out a few of them to address.

    First, you are right that sports in the US is generally organized by school. Many states require schools to allow homeschooled students to participate in sports programs, though not all do. Some private schools have significant enough programs to attract scouts, and many of those will also allow homeschoolers to participate for a fee. Sports are also organized by private associations and recreation centers, however, and some of those organizations are also prominent enough to draw scouts. Soccer (football in the UK), for example, is more often organized through rec centers; and my daughters participate in swimming through USA Swimming, which feeds directly into international competition without necessarily going through the high schools. In addition, professional sports in the US generally draws from college teams rather than high school teams anyway, so if kids can get themselves on their college teams without being on a high school team, they can still enter professional sports.

    Second, I think you are wrong about the differences between critics of homeschooling and homeschooling parents in general (at least those parents who’ve been homeschooling for a few years). I think the problem is that the critics see only one possibility for kids to “broaden their horizons” and be exposed to “different mindsets.” I happen to see sitting in a classroom with a group of 25-30 kids almost exactly like oneself (even the same age) as rather limiting to a child’s horizons. And honestly, at least in the US, the neighborhood school (which is what most of ours are) keeps the population of the school limited to kids much like each other. Usually this means they are of similar socio-economic status, and very often mostly of the same race and similar religious persuasions. This is even more true in private schools. In fact, my children are exposed to a far greater variety of people, because they are homeschooled, than the average child in school. They meet people from different races, socio-economic strata, and religious persuasions – and they also meet people of different AGES. They spend time with people who have all kinds of interests, and they get interested in things I’d never be interested in because they are making friends of different people. I also really value our homeschool enrichment group, precisely because it allows my kids to make friends of many different kids with many different interests. And I go to great effort to expose my kids to many different perspectives, because I think that better equips them to deal with the complex world in which we live. (Not only that, I’d say 95% of the homeschoolers I know take a similar perspective.)

    In short, I’d say I really agree with your last statement on this issue: “I’d want to offer a kid MORE, not less – sure, give him the leftist, altruistic BS that he gets in public schooling but also give him so much more.” I WANT my kids to be exposed to much more than they could get in the public school.

    2) I don’t think I agree that my accounting is “dishonest.” Certainly you have to consider the lost income; however, if a parent is going to be home anyway because they have younger children (as was the case for me until last school year, and as is often the case for parents with several children), the issue of lost wages is completely irrelevant. And many (perhaps most) homeschooling parents work part-time. I work myself – one day a week in our homeschool enrichment program, and two days a week teaching keyboards (piano) after school. Certainly homeschooling requires sacrifices; I was assuming Daniel was figuring in the fact that the primary homeschooling parent is usually not working full time. As for the economy as a whole, while it’s true homeschooling parents don’t contribute, there are two other facts to consider: a) Homeschooled children don’t consume the large number of tax dollars being consumed by school students; and b) Homeschooled children almost universally grow up to contribute materially to the economy themselves, which is more than can be said for many schoolchildren.

    At any rate, the assumption that it’s automatically better economically for one adult to teach a large number of children is an unsound one. Studies make it clear that the lower the teacher/student ratio, the better the students’ education – that means in order to get a good education system, you’re going to have to make some economic sacrifices. If economics were the only issue, why not put first-graders in “classes” of 50 or 100 per adult instead? After all, it would save a lot of money! No – we make the economic sacrifices of homeschooling (including forfeiting part of what I could make in the workforce) because we think the end result is a far better education for our kids (which in turn is better for society). In addition, studies have shown that the cost of the mother working can be quite high, when you take into account the cost of child care or private school, clothing, dinners out, travel expense, housecleaning, etc.

    As for the cost of private school, I went online and looked at the best-known private schools in our area. Keep in mind, these are not boarding schools, but private day schools. If we want to discuss boarding schools, we enter another whole arena, and it’s necessary to discuss the costs vs. benefits of completely removing children from their parents and leaving them to associate only with other children and a few select adults whose values are relatively unknown to the child’s parents. (Incidentally, I did look up Eton. The website makes it clear that fees are US$53,000 per year; however, as a boarding school, it is obviously going to cost FAR more than a private day school.)

    Here’s what I found for private schools online in the area where I live. The excellent school my nephew attends charges $4525/year for elementary students and $5425 for high school. My daughter has a friend who attends a nearby school which charges $5860 for middle and high school. Denver Christian School charges $6150 for elementary and $7980 for high school. Mullen High School (a private Catholic school) charges $8300. The Denver International School charges $10,530. And Kent Denver, perhaps the most prestigious private school in the Denver area, charges $17,890/year. So I suppose my original quotes (being a couple of years since I last checked on most of these schools) were a bit on the low side; still all of these come in way under Eton, and the majority are significantly under Daniel’s statement about the cost of British schools.

    Daniel, as far as the cost of homeschooling, you can purchase curriculum from American suppliers for the costs I mentioned in my earlier posts, plus the obvious additional cost of shipping to the UK. And I won’t argue with Midmull that there is also the cost of lost wages for the parent who stays home, for any years they are home that they wouldn’t already be there because of younger children, and excluding the additional costs incurred when both parents work. (I do think his reference to the economy is a bit much – and quite frankly, I’m not willing to sacrifice the welfare of my kids for the sake of the economy. It will just have to do without the benefit of the income I might have earned for a few years.)

    I hope this helps clarify where I stand on these issues.


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