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Homeschooling: An Alternative to Private School

The July 4th-10th, 2009 edition of The Economist has two articles about public vs. private schools and entrance into top universities in America and Britain (Learning lessons from private schools and Staying on board). According to The Economist, “even in the recession, (private schools) are proving surprisingly resilient.”

Apparently, only seven percent of British children attend private schools, yet they account for more than 40% of Oxford and Cambridge’s admissions. Figures are more difficult to come by in the U.S., but private schools do disproportionately well.

When discussing fees and tuition, The Economist points out that “despite some parents’ pleas for financial help, schools are under little pressure to cut fees . . . In both Britain and America income inequality is high by rich-world standards, . . . so there are people who can pay for the must illustrious schools with little or no pain.” It continues, “Further down the income scale, parents with children already at school do all they can to keep them there, even if it hurts financially” (italics added).

Many of us know families struggling to keep their children in private schools. These families pay a lot of money in an effort to give their children the best education they can possibly afford. Due to economic realities, many can now no longer afford that dream and are frantically searching for alternatives: lower fees, financial aid, extra jobs, cutting expenses, postponing vacations, et cetera.

What about homeschooling? As seen in studies (see Homeschool and college), top universities in America are courting homeschoolers. Homeschoolers are not at a disadvantage when it comes to college preparation. In fact, many colleges find that homeschoolers are actually better prepared for the college environment. Homeschooled children learn to work independently and seek out information. They have a love of learning that is all too often lacking in traditionally-schooled children. They also do not worship and cower in the face of authority. Instead, they have learned that those with authority often have knowledge to share and love doing so. Universities know homeschoolers come with a strong foundation already built. This is invaluable in higher education, where it is all too easy to become just another face in the lecture hall.

But how does homeschooling really compare with top-notch private schools? The Economist states that according to a MORI poll (a research and consulting firm), “price came low among parents’ reasons for choosing a school. Small classes, individual attention and fancy facilities—all unavoidably expensive—were at the top.”

When focusing on the reasons parents choose a school, homeschooling shines. First, homeschooling offers children some of the smallest class sizes available: one teacher to however many children are in the family. Second, children receive individual attention in homeschool, because it is very easy to give individual attention when a teacher only has a student or two or even just six.

The third reason, fancy facilities, is a bit trickier. Most families do not have sport fields, auditoriums, music rooms, chemistry labs, and such in their homes. Yet, most have access to these within their communities. Whether children join sports teams or join a community theater or have music lessons or attend community college classes, they have access to the facilities they need to supplement their education. But what is even better is that most of these cost less than tuition at top-notch private schools.

Now, unless a family is independently wealthy, homeschooling is not an easy financial option. Usually, it requires that one parent stays home to take care of the children, thus giving up the potential of a full-time income and benefits. This can be a scary proposition for families. Yet, real income, real expenses, and opportunity costs must be looked at closely when making this decision. What does it cost to keep the second person working, in terms of commute, professional wardrobe, meals out, day care, et cetera? Can the second person work in the evenings or from home? What expenses can be pared back: phone services, satellite/cable, subscriptions, book/DVD/game purchases, dining out, prepared foods, car costs, debt, and so on? What will be gained by homeschooling: increased independence, love of learning, off-season travel opportunities, participating in the community, recruitment by a top university, and so forth?

Of course, homeschoolers still need to demonstrate that they have completed a rigorous curriculum, worked in the community, and whatever else the universities are looking for. It isn’t an easy road, but it is a fun and challenging one. One that is a true alternative to public and private schools. One that will bring families together and set children on a path to self-fulfillment.

Maybe next time The Economist writes about education, it will include the benefits of homeschooling for its readers.

Written by: Sarah Wilson  San Jose Homeschooling Examiner

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