Mangum: To homeschool or not to homeshool?

Jeff Mangum
Jeff Mangum

By Jeff Mangum, "School Maze"

I have two preschool-age children who will start kindergarten soon. A couple of friends have decided to homeschool their young children instead of sending them to public school. I keep wondering whether I should consider doing the same. Is homeschooling more or less effective than a public school education?

Asking whether a homeschool education is good or bad, effective or ineffective, is like asking whether the public schools are doing a good job — the answer depends on the school and the needs of the individual child.

Some homeschoolers do a very fine job. For others, there is far too much “home” and not nearly enough “school.”

I remember one homeschool family who epitomized the best that homeschooling has to offer. The parents were completely dedicated: They had a strong, carefully planned curriculum, devoted sufficient time to the school day, and made teaching their children their highest priority. Their obviously gifted children were academically advanced, thoroughly engaged in learning, and obviously having a wonderful time. The 8-year-old boy proudly showed me the website he had designed to announce his political endorsements.

By contrast, I witnessed firsthand the legacy of poor homeschooling in the life of a foster child who lived with our family many years ago. He had been out of public school for several years and supposedly had been homeschooled. But in reality, he had not been “schooled” at all. When he came to our home, he was two to three academic years behind his peers and had to be placed a grade behind his chronological age. Even then, he struggled to keep up.

Obviously, most homeschool experiences fall somewhere between these two extremes. And the reality is that no one really knows how well homeschooled children do in comparison to their public school peers. While all public school students are tested each year, homeschool students are not — the homeschool community has strenuously opposed mandatory standardized testing. As a consequence, there is simply no reliable data available to compare the academic performance of homeschooled students to public school students.

Homeschooling has many advantages. Parental involvement in a child’s education has a profound impact on student achievement, whether a child is educated at home or in a public school. And a parent is able to give a child more attention than any teacher with 30 other students possibly can. Moreover, homeschooling enables parents to teach the family’s moral and spiritual values along with academic subjects. Public schools must remain strictly secular.

But even homeschool advocates acknowledge that there are disadvantages to homeschooling. Establishing a curriculum that covers everything a child needs to know is a huge challenge, even for trained educators, and some homeschooled children have knowledge “gaps.” Students who are exposed only to their parents’ teaching styles and viewpoints may not receive a broad and varied education. Homeschooled students do not get the opportunity to compete and cooperate with peers, including peers they do not like. They miss out on the wonderfully democratic experience of being thrown into a diverse group with whom they share all the academic, social and emotional challenges of growing up.

For its part, PUSD acknowledges and supports parents’ decisions to homeschool their children. Martha Parham, PUSD’s director of Alternative Programs, put it this way: “The overwhelming majority of homeschool parents we work with are diligent and sincerely devoted to their children’s education and simply choose to be more involved in the process. Their hearts are in the right place, and most are doing a good job.”

Parham emphasized that PUSD stands ready to partner with homeschool parents, by providing materials, making classes available to homeschooled students (through New Directions or distance learning), and facilitating standardized testing. PUSD is working to expand the partnership between the district and homeschoolers. And by involving PUSD, homeschool parents may help the district receive additional funding. It is a wonderful win-win opportunity.

How do you feel about homeschooling? Share your views at school.maze@gmail.com.

   
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