Posted May 12, 2015

Public School vs. Homeschool, What are the Differences?

Public school vs. homeschool has become the number one educational question for many families over the past 30 years. The large public high school complete with lockers and social cliques is an American icon. No less of an icon is the kindergarten classroom with its brightly colored wall posters, carpet in primary colors, and miniature furniture. However, since the 1980s, many families have rejected that icon in favor of schooling their children at home. In fact, some recent news reports claim that there has been a seventy-five percent increase in homeschooling in the past eight years.

Although it’s difficult to get accurate numbers of homeschoolers, it’s estimated that as many as 2 million American students are being educated at home. Recent trends show increasing numbers of African-American families joining the ranks of home educators so they can avoid bullying and also teach their children African-American history. Parents with technology jobs have also embraced homeschooling because it affords their children freedom to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities.

Families embrace homeschooling over public schooling for a wide variety of reasons, but several reasons continue to rise to the top. I once conducted an informal poll of about seventy homeschool families to see why they had chosen this educational option for their family. The top ten reasons they listed (in random order) were:
  • Religion
  • Safety
  • Academic Quality
  • Travel
  • Positive Socialization with people of different ages
  • Family togetherness
  • Separation of government and school
  • Tailored student learning plans
  • Emphasis on mastery instead of grades
  • Private School Expenses
Although this was by no means a scientific poll, these reasons do seem to be the standard ones.

Families faced with the decision of public school vs. homeschooling often have religious reasons at the top of their list. These families want to incorporate Bible study and prayer into their day. They want to discuss literature, history, science and current events in light of their religious beliefs.

In the wake of tragedies like school shootings, many people argue that their children are safer in homeschools than in public schools. However, families are generally referring to much larger issues than isolated tragedies when they talk about school safety. They also mention drugs, bullying, and negative attitudes as part of the unsafe environment.

Academic Quality
Many families want to give their students a richer educational experience than they themselves had. Some gravitate toward the rigor of older methods like the classical model. In public school vs. homeschool, teachers are forced to juggle the educational needs of a large group of students with a wide range of abilities. Parents who homeschool often want to set higher standards for their children, choose quality curriculum or have the flexibility to work at a faster pace in the subjects in which their students excel.

Many homeschool families like to travel together as part of their education. It is one thing to read about Renaissance art or look at prints on the Internet. It’s quite another thing to see the originals. Some families travel to serve in foreign missions, working on construction projects, hosting children’s camps, or bringing needed supplies to orphanages. The flexible schedule of homeshooling vs. public school makes these opportunities more accessible.

Those who prefer public school to homeschooling often argue that homeschooling students will suffer from a lack of socialization. While this may have been true in the early years of homeschooling, it does not seem to be the case now. Most families participate in homeschool classes, either curricular or extra-curricular. Far more than focusing on the negative impact that can occur in certain school settings, homeschool families often point to the positive socialization that can occur in a homeschooling environment. They argue that this type of socialization is more true-to-life because these students spend more time socializing with people outside of their own peer groups, from infants to the elderly.

Family Togetherness
In the ongoing debate about public school vs. homeschooling, many families cite homeschooling as a way to spend more time together as a family unit. They desire to reinforce their family values throughout the day and to spend some of their time on non-academic training such as chores and character development. Still others note that they enjoy witnessing their children’s successes, like learning to read. Older siblings will frequently share in the joy by working with younger children on something they themselves have already mastered.

Separation of Government and School
In the history of the world, mandatory attendance at public schools is a relatively new development. Many homeschool families believe that the responsibility for a child’s education rests primarily with the family.

Tailored Student Learning Plans
As stated at the beginning of this article, most public schools are large institutions with larger classes. As families debate the merits of public school vs. homeschooling, many decide that these large classes are not the ideal way to educate individual children. Instead, they argue for the benefits of one-on-one instruction and matching their educational plans to meet the individual learning styles and interests of individual children. Parents of children with learning disabilities increasingly turn to homeschooling in order to allow children to work at their own pace while still challenging them.

Mastery vs. Grades
Most parents attended public schools themselves and became masters at the “cram, test, dump” formula. In other words, academic work revolved around performing well on tests in order to earn good grades in order to earn college admissions or scholarships. In this performance environment, students often cram the material close to the test date, take the test, and then dump the information from their brains. Many families who choose to homeschool have rejected this formula in favor of mastery and lifelong learning. In order to promote mastery, homeschool parents often follow three courses of action.

First, they map out an education from K-12th grade so that each study builds on the last and is leading to the next.

Second, they often prefer a whole books approach to a textbook approach. Instead of learning a little bit about literature by reading excerpts in a literature textbook, they read whole books and discuss them with family and friends. The same holds true for studies in history.

Finally, they tend to repeat studies throughout their education so that each child studies history and science multiple times. In other words, a child would encounter ancient history, medieval history, American history, biology, chemistry, and physics, in elementary school, middle school, and high school.

Many parents cite expenses as a big factor in their decision of whether to choose public school or homeschool. Families can educate their children for far less than the governments spends per pupil and for far less than they themselves would spend for private school tuition, books, and uniforms.

The History of Homeschooling
When the first families began homeschooling, they had to scrounge for textbooks and other materials. They fought for the legal right to educate their children at home, aided by the Homeschool Legal Defense Association. Now, about thirty years later, every state in the country hosts a homeschool curriculum fair each year with a staggering array of curriculum choices.

Early families also made sacrifices of extra-curricular activities for their children. Now, most states offer homeschool choirs, marching bands, orchestras, sports, cheerleading, PE classes, art classes, and much more. Families can choose to homeschool exclusively in their home or can choose from a wide array of local homeschool co-ops or online courses.

Homeschool students have gone on to earn college scholarships in a wide range of sports, in the performance arts, and in forensic events like speech and debate. Because homeschool students learn to take responsibility for their own education at an early age, they are self-motivated, a quality that makes them attractive to many college recruiters. Because of their frequent socialization with adults, they tend to be bright, curious, and articulate which makes them attractive to companies as well as colleges.

Author: Jennifer Courtney

For further reading about how to homeschool children of different ages, check out the Trivium Trilogy.


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