By Christina Tynan-Wood
What supporters say
- Learning is for real. When you learn something because you want to know the answer and through real-life experience, you remember it. Those facts your student crammed into his head the night before a test? Not so much.
- Family bonding is sweet. Instead of fighting over homework, attendance, grades, and getting to school on time, you can argue over philosophy, take a day off to go to the park or a museum, feel real pride in your child’s knowledge and abilities, and start your school day at a time that suits your schedule.
- You can travel. Instead of cramming all your vacations and family relaxation time into spring break and summer, travel when it suits you. There is no better way to learn a language, geography, or about different cultures than visiting foreign lands — or touring your own land as a foreigner. Money may limit your adventures but school schedules will not.
- Homeschooling allows you to share your values. You may not like the values your child is bringing home from school. Homeschooling allows parents to raise and educate their children according to their own values and/or religious beliefs. Or the school's climate may not foster the emotional, social, and academic approach you do. At home, you set the tone.
- Homeschoolers do well academically. According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), home-educated students typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on standardized academic achievement tests. NHERI also claims that homeschoolers score above the average on the SAT and ACT tests.
What critics say
- Homeschooling is for those on the fringe. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 36 percent of parents in 2007 cited the need to provide religious and moral instruction as the most important reason they homeschool. Other reasons — concern about the school environment, dissatisfaction with academic instruction, family time, finances, travel, and distance — made up the remaining 64 percent. And according to NHERI, most families have more than one reason for choosing the homeschooling route.
- Homeschooled kids are antisocial. There is no doubt that a school with classrooms full of other kids offers more opportunities for social interaction than staying home. But in some schools, those social interactions can be overly negative. This may account for the NHERI research that finds homeschooled kids are doing above average on this measure. But homeschooled kids and their parents do have to look elsewhere for social engagement: clubs, sports teams, and homeschool support groups.
- It’s hard work for parents. If you have three children under ten and decide to homeschool, you will certainly have your hands full for a few years. Even having one teenager at home all the time can wear a parent down — especially if that parent also has a job. Without a doubt, this is a decision to put your child’s education before your own career and free time.
- Homeschoolers don't do as well academically. While critics say that homeschoolers aren't getting the quality education they'd receive in a traditional school, statistics on low achievement among homeschoolers is hard to find. (Conversely, student achievement among homeschoolers that is not funded by homeschooling organizations is also hard to come by.) Additionally, there is relatively little regulation for homeschool parents. Only 24 states require standardized testing or some form of evaluation; 41 states don’t require homeschool parents to meet any specific teacher qualifications, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.
Is homeschooling right for my child?
Whether this is the right way to educate your child or not depends on a lot of factors and can change from one year to the next.
If your school is failing your child and you have no other viable options (such as a quality private school), homeschooling might be the best solution. But if your child craves a group to belong to and resides near a friendly public school full of friendly faces, he might do better there. If your school has a bullying problem or your child can’t fit into the social environment, though, socializing there will probably do more harm than good. If you don’t have the time and can’t afford to take the time, then creating a successful home school might put more strain on your family and its finances than they can take. But if you are home and able and want to spend more time with your children, this might be the thing that frees you from some of the strains and difficulties that traditional schooling can present, like homework battles and predetermined vacation days.
A final word of advice
If you decide to leave your child's existing school and begin homeschooling, do so gently and politely. Tell your child’s school you want to try this and don’t point the finger of blame at the school. If you are reacting to a bad school situation, you may decide in a year that your child wants to go back to that school. Or you might want to ask if your child can attend one class there, be in the school play, or play on a sports team. Don’t burn any bridges. And remember, you aren’t stuck doing this forever any more than you are stuck going to the school your child is districted to attend. You can always change your mind and send the kids back to that school.