Today’s guest poster, Cassie, has a rather unique perspective on this matter. She was homeschooled herself, then went to college to become a public school teacher. She’s intimately familiar with both worlds. She’s offering her perspective today on homeschool vs. public school (and of course this is her perspective and opinion, not intended to say what is ‘right’ for everyone, but quite fascinating nonetheless!).
Image by Tulane Public Relations
I grew up homeschooled in the early days of the homeschooling movement, the days when some states considered homeschooling a form of child abuse. In the late eighties when I was in first grade, a caseworker came to observe our school day. We sat at the kitchen table, put pen to paper, and tried our best to look “normal.” Through the years I was aware of people’s opinion and expectations about homeschoolers. I heard lots of “I couldn’t spend that much time with my child/parent” and “What about prom?” comments. There were a lot of negative reactions that never made sense to me. Now, as a mom who is preparing to homeschool, I see some of the same reactions surfacing again. I still believe in homeschooling and though I would not criticize anyone for making a different choice, I do have valid reasons for wanting to keep my children at home. And this is just one.
The State of Public Education
After college, I received my teaching certification. I have a kind of a love/hate relationship with that fact. People always wanted to know if my mom had a teaching degree when she was homeschooling us. Some were appalled to hear that she actually had only one year of college. They thought she wasn’t qualified to teach her own children. So while I am glad for the experiences, I don’t like that it somehow validates myself in some people’s eyes as “qualified.” (After a few decades, a PhD, a job as professor of physical science and head of her department maybe she has proven she was capable all along — So proud of you, Mom!)
But what my experiences did teach me is this: there may be positives and negatives but the current system is deeply flawed. There are theories and best practices and utopian ideas, but in the day-to-day actual implementation so much of it fails. The broken system may still work for a few — those in decent attendance areas or with parents who are involved, supportive, and vocal. And if you are a parent who is choosing public school (or if you aren’t in a place to choose), those things are extremely important. Regardless of your choice of schooling, you are your child’s advocate and the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Find out your rights, especially if your child has special needs or if they are recommended for special education. You have legal rights and the school has legal obligations.
I spent two years as a special education teacher and some of the things I heard and saw were distressing. Classroom teachers were coerced into teaching to the low-middle, being told by name which students must be reached in order to pass the state tests. Students were grouped into levels: these will not pass the test, these might pass if you focus all your attention on them, these will pass but just barely, and the last group will pass by a larger margin. The only students “worth” the teachers’ time are the ones who will make the teachers’ pass rates (and therefore the school’s rating) higher — those in the second group, the “bubble students.” These children are given before and after school tutoring, daily testing drills, and small group time with the teacher at each class period. They are coached on test taking strategies and spend more time learning how to beat the test than the actual content or skill being tested. They are singled out as “slow” by students and teachers alike.
But worse than that, each teacher can afford a few “fails.” Those students are identified early in the year by name — they are the “will not pass no matter how hard you try — so don’t waste your time trying” group. These students are effectively ignored in the day-to-day instruction so as not to slow the rest of the class. They are not even offered tutoring groups once they have been revealed as incapable based on benchmark test results. Some of them are special education students, some of them are not; all are viewed as hopeless.
The last two groups are the ones who will pass the test, either by a small or large margin. They are given busywork; something that keeps the “good ones” occupied but will bore the “bad ones” to tears, causing a constant cycle of disciplinary problems. The teachers are so focused on the small group of “bubble students” that the rest fall by the wayside.
Now, this may sound like a worst-case scenario, and it probably is even though I saw it over and over. There are some schools where the percentage of students passing each year is enough that the administration is not worried about bubble students. But the driving force is still there — everyone is supposed to fit into a box. The numbers matter more than the individual. The desired outcome is for the largest percentage of students meet the lowest standard. Not that each child has the best chance possible, or each makes the most progress themselves, but that which benefits the school as a whole is done.
Success stories can come out of the schools, and good parents are usually behind them, along with an intrinsic desire to learn or to achieve in an academic setting. There are some teachers still inspiring students like the movies would have us believe. But the system is wearing them down steadily. You can fight for your child’s rights to a free and appropriate public education, but if you find yourself constantly struggling against the current it might be better to get out of the stream and walk the banks.
The Difference of Homeschooling
In special education there is a document known as an IEP, or individualized education plan. It is a map of where a student currently is in regards to abilities and deficits, and where that student is hoped to be in twelve months time. There are achievable goals for each area of growth. Based on this document, a child’s entire educational program is built to facilitate the path from here to there. If prepared and used properly it is one of the only parts of public schooling that I find to be helpful at the individual level. But there are still limitations due to the framework of the school setting. Homeschooling has the ability to function as the ultimate in individualized education.
Homeschooling is not about having a teaching credential; it is about finding what works best for your child. You know where your child is now and you know where they are headed. What remains is designing a path for them to reach their destination. That path may change by the child, the subject, the year, even the minute at times. And that, my friends is individualized. The true beauty of homeschooling is that you can change your approach at any given moment. Incorporate your students’ personalities and interests. They are your best friends if understood and encouraged properly, your worst enemies if stifled, belittled, or ignored. Take your cues from each child and use whatever tools or opportunities you have at your disposal.
In homeschooling there are no “bubble” students, there are subjects that take a little extra effort or creative instruction. There are no “hopeless” students, just children whose talents and capabilities may range far outside the realm of academic achievement testing. There are no “good” or “bad” kids, there are kids with plenty of time for all types of creative outlets.
Obviously homeschooling is not a solution for everyone, and I don’t think it should be an excuse not to be involved in fixing the education system. It needs to be fixed and I fear for the future of our nation if it does not happen soon. For the time being, however, I feel the only future I can effectively change with my own hands is the future of my children. And that is a decent place to start.
My brother and I were homeschooled from K -12. My husband and I plan to homeschool our future children. However, after watching “Waiting for Superman” I found my desire to homeschool almost selfish. I felt like I was saving my children from a sinking ship but letting others in my community go down for lack of resources or engaged parents. This has sparked in me the desire to possibly get involved with the school my church plans to start over the next few years. I can “save” my kids from a broken system pretty easily, but perhaps I am called to do more than that.
I love your heart to help others. I too struggle with the pull to help other families and children, while wanting to shield and protect my own children. Maybe you could start a homeschooling group in your community and reach out to other parents who would like to homeschool but feel intimidated, under-qualified or unable to do so. Perhaps even reaching out to a lower income school to help serve them as a group or family? I think you should definitely pray about what God would have your family do for His glory, and follow His leading, but I thought I might chime in with some thoughts on maybe having your hand in both home and public school. Also, I feel that raising your children to be people who love and serve others is your best gift to your community and the next generation. Each family must do what is best for them, and not feel guilty about it either way. God bless you on your family’s journey.
I really appreciate you sharing from an inside perspective from both worlds. I went to public school but now home school my own children. I want to be careful as well not to pass judgment on those who choose to use the public school system so this is more for others to think about than anything else. Beyond the system having flaws in its practical functioning, as a Christian, I must recognize that any system that separates learning from God is a problem in itself. If God is the author of all things, then He has perspective that must be taught about and in all things. And even though I personally love home schooling I believe that there is great need for private education that is either affordable or where scholarships are available. Early education was often charitable endeavors extended through the church. I believe that it is time to look at the whole system and re-examine it fully.
It would be great to have more options available for those who can’t or don’t want to homeschool and can’t afford the private routes. I think more options would cause greater reflection within the system regarding what does or doesn’t work and why.
This struggle to figure out the best path for us and our little ones can be so polarizing. After home schooling for almost 4 years, I am in desperate need of a break and the opportunity to re-evaluate. At the beginning of February, we enrolled our children in a very small Montessori school in our area. So far, it seems to be a nice middle ground for us, but only time will tell. I have so much empathy for families who feel they do not have any ideal choices for their children.
So glad you found something that works, even if you end up doing something different later. It is the careful attention to whether it is working or not that matters the most!
My child is currently in the public school system ( I have 2 that have already graduated and are in college). This will be the last year that he attends public school, Lord willing. My husband and I have decided to take him out of the school system and home school him. He is an ADD student and is on medication for it. However, his teachers don’t seem to care. I have tried to communicate with his teachers to no avail. I went so far as to send a letter directly to the principle telling him what a lack of concern the teachers (at least a couple of them) had for my son. We are more than half way through the school year and I have yet to be contacted by a teacher to let me know my son is struggling (one teacher sent word home through my daughter–who was a senior at the time). This was after my daughter came home telling me how “rude” this teacher was. It is extremely disheartening at what our school system has turned in to.
My daughter, who has now graduated early, was coloring in her senior English class. And no, not complex coloring, it looked like something you would give a 1st grader to do as busy work. That was her homework. I asked what the stipulations were and was told that as long as she stayed inside the lines, she got a 100. This in a senior English class is deplorable! Thus the reasons we have decided to remove my son from the public school system. It will be a challenge as I work full time and so does my husband, but we feel this is what God would have us do for my son!
Thank you for the insight and encouragement!
So glad I could give a little encouragement! I have to say your situation is one I saw too often. You sound like someone who has made a great effort to work with the system. There comes a point when you know you have done all you can within the framework and you have to remove your child from it. I am so glad you have the opportunity to do so!
Do you know if you have a LearningRx center nearby? They do “brain training” which is VERY different from tutoring and it worked wonders for my daughter. She did not have an ADD diagnosis but she was showing a lot of the signs and it runs in my family. My father has a genius level IQ but is barely functioning because of his ADD and I was not going to let that happen to her. She tested well above average in most areas but her processing speed and executive processing speed were much lower than her other scores. (Woodcock Johnson test) With their training we were able to pull those scores by several standard deviations and it showed so much in her behavior and her ability to focus and finish work. Her teacher was so impressed she is now taking her daughter there. It really is worth checking out. Not because I think you shouldn’t homeschool, but because it can help in so many ways. And frankly if I were going to homeschool my daughter we would have needed it even more as she is very easily distracted, especially at home where there isn’t the same structure as school.
We will do everything in our power to homeschool our children- move to whatever state may be necessary (when the time comes), shift budgets/jobs as needed, etc. It’s extremely important to us to spend the time one on one with our children and have them learn through a wide range of methods and experiences. If we were to involve outside education, it would be Waldorf or Montessori- possibly on a part-time basis and with us very involved. We feel that it’s safer to have the children near us- with our ability to provide healthy food, appropriate social connections and the freedom to teach everyday skills and relish in the arts, sciences and self-expression- the “busywork” aspect of public schooling drove me crazy and I watched many creative and talented kids fall by the wayside. I also want to have the experience of knowing my children very well, learning from them and with them and not miss the majority of their childhood with them in child care, school or after care. I hated summers as a child because both my parents worked and I was shipped from one camp (overnight or day camp) to another or stuck with a sitter. I don’t want that for my kids, so we’ve decided that we’ll do what we can to make it happen.
Very well said and wonderful reasons for homeschooling! I agree wholeheartedly!
Yes, there Is a stipulation in the No Child Left Behind act that requires adequate yearly progress (AYP). This is a great idea, but there is still a problem- the yearly progress just refers to passing or not passing the same standardized test. So if a student didn’t pass last year, they don’t *have to* pass this year. If they did pass last year, they need to pass again this year; however that doesn’t mean they are adequately challenged in the classroom. They are just needing to meet the minimum standards for that grade level. So, in effect all AYP really does is let a little more pressure off trying to get the “failing” students to improve. In addition the same problem still applies: the schools/teachers are allowed to have a certain percentage of students not meeting AYP. Since the failing ones don’t “count,” the bubble students who don’t end up passing the test make up this margin of students. But not to worry, when they fail again next year- they won’t “count against us.”
I am not familliar with “value added” but it may be (and I hope is!) an improvement on the standard I described above. I am not sure how it is tied in with teacher evals, however I imagine the same would apply- a certain percentage of students are expected to fail regardless of the teacher and as long as they are the same fails from last year the teacher is fairly safe.
Bravo! Excellent post and very well presented! I was homeschooled 1st-12th grades, my four younger siblings were or are still being homeschooled all the way through their school years. I have since graduated from high school (a year early, btw) and from college with a Bachelors of Science in Nursing and work as a registered nurse in a pediatric cardiovascular ICU. Neither of my parents finished college. My younger brother is a 4.0 sophomore graphic design major, the other three are still in grade school. Homeschooling is not for everyone, but it was one of the greatest blessings in my life! Thanks for your insight!
I was a teacher, too, though in private schools. Many of the problems you mention aren’t really an issue in a good private school — for instance, we didn’t worry much about standardized testing and were instructed to teach to the top of the class. But with a classroom full of kids and limited time, it was still impossible to reach all the kids. In one class I had, I ended up giving up on reaching all of the kids. I left the talkers on one side of the room, walked over to the kids who wanted to learn, and just taught them. I made sure everyone got the bare minimum they would need to scrape through, but once half the kids had informed me they didn’t intend to continue in my subject (Latin) and only wanted to pass, I kind of gave up. It was so discouraging.
Three years of teaching at two different (excellent, one with national acclaim) private schools only renewed my desire to homeschool. I was homeschooled myself, and I never could understand the way kids in school live for the grade instead of just learning for the sake of learning. The youngest kids were happy to learn for the sake of learning, but once they’d had a few report cards come back, suddenly it was about the letter and not about knowing anything. I felt I’d killed those kids’ natural desire to learn, despite all my efforts not to. There’s something about the environment, the number of hours a day they spend there, the amount of homework they have, the external motivations (like grades), that all combine together to kill any love of learning or intrinsic motivation the kids come to school with.
I am currently trying to decide whether I should homeschool or not. I have a 5 year old that I currently “home preschool” for. It is going well. My main reasons for wanting to home school her is to teach her more Bible than she could get if she was at school all those hours in a day and to protect her from unwanted influences and social situations. I do worry about my ability to challenger her enough.
My other child is my 16 year old (sophomore) step daughter. She has lived with us for 2 years. Her life with her mom wasn’t idea and there was a lot of negative influence and habits there and no Jesus. She struggles in school. She has a neurological condition called Tuberous Sclerosis which causes her to have seizures. She is on medication to control them. Her brain development and maybe her medicine cause her have a processing delay. She works at a slower pace than other kids. She probably has ADD and I think she has a lot of Aspberger tendencies, but they tell me there is no autism. Her brain development and processing probably puts her between 8 and 12 year old depending on the area. She is very behind socially. She has an IEP. In my mind I think she needs true individualized learning. I think she would benefit from that. I think the lack of pressure at school to keep up and focus would be good for her. I definitely think that the social protection and Bible teaching would be great for her. It kills me to send this girl who is in a 8-12 year old body to school to hang out with 16 year olds that don’t understand her and she doesn’t understand them. I worry because I don’t know how much I need her to learn in 2 years. She is open to home schooling. I worry about my patience level and to start home schooling with an 11th grader instead of from the beginning! I don’t have answers as to how I handle it if I get a curriculum that tests her and she ends up testing way below her age level. I don’t know what the requirements are for what she needs to complete. She does have an IEP at school, if I didn’t mention that. I honestly have no issues with the school. I just am not sure that a group learning environment is right for her. I also feel she needs protection and that she needs time at home. Thank you for listening and if you have any feedback or things for me to consider, I would love to hear it!
Hi Bridget! You are doing the right thing- looking at the situation for each of your children and weighing the options. With your younger child if you feel it is working, keep at it! You are right, there is the potential for a much broader learning topics (such as Bible, or music, arts, foreign language, the list goes on!) in homeschooling because so little time is wasted. For your older child, you are the best judge on her well being. If you feel the environment is detrimental to her and the school is unable or unwilling to provide what she needs you could give homeschooling a try. Maybe do a trial over the summer, you don’t need to purchase a curriculum to try homeschooling. Her special education teacher should be able to provide you with a detailed summary of her academic abilities. Ask for copies of her reading levels and fluency, her math levels, and all of her goals sheets. You should have been given a copy of her IEP after her most recent ARD meeting, but that could have been up to 12 months ago. The teacher is required to keep progress every 6 weeks on each of the areas addressed in her goals, so ask for the current levels. If you don’t want to mention homeschooling to the school yet, just let them know you want to work on her goals at home and they should be overly helpful. If not, that is a bad sign. Look for some ideas online to address the areas she need to improve. If you run into trouble, let me know by replying here and I can point you to some resources. I’ll pray for you as you look into the options!
Thank you for this article as it is a must needed lift at the beginning of our homeschooling year. We have been blessed, so far, with 8 children with our eldest being 12 years old and our littlest only 3 months old. I feel truly overwhelmed sometimes in taking care of home, family, and marriage and also teaching on top of it. I have never really thought about sending them to public school, though, because my husband and I were both miserable for most of our public school years. He and I probably qualify as gifted, at least in some areas. We were both often bored stiff and struggled socially. I am SO glad I can homeschool my kids; my biggest struggle is fears that I will fail them in some way. I am guessing most homeschooling parents struggle with that. Looking at it objectively, they are doing well in most areas. Hearing about the present day problems of the public schools just encourage me again that yes, this is God’s best plan for our family. I know other parents take a different route and that is fine. I just need to do what He is calling US to do.
I am a teacher in a public school and am apparently fortunate because none of the problems you listed occur in my school. My perspective isn’t limited to only being a teacher in my school; my three children, two of whom had learning issues, went to the same school.
I have never been told to give up on any student, nor have I been told to only focus on the bubble kids. Instruction is differentiated every day to meet tbe needs of each individual child. We teach students not subjects. Sure, we analyze data and try to figure out ways to instruct better; shouldn’t better instructional methods, whether home- schooling or public-schooling, be a goal of any concerned teacher?
You are correct that students who pass tbe state tests with the minimum passing score are merely meeting a minimum standard; no one has ever suggested otherwise. However, three different passing levels and two different failing levels on the test my students take. In order to add a year’s worth of value to a child (I live in a state that uses value-added for each individual child), the child must meet or exceed the previous year’s score. And it’s not the same test year after year. New skills and concepts, appropriate to grade level, are on the test each year Students must learn at least a year’s worth of material in order to have value-added. Since every child is measured individually, gifted or struggling, all students are given attention. A gifted student who performs at a level less than expected is just as much of a concern as a struggling student who performs at a level less than expected. Perhaps you taught in a state that doesn’t use value-added measures?
I do think that it is much easier to meet the individual needs of a child if class sizes are small, so home-schooling three, four, or ten kids is easier than meeting the needs of 120 kids each day. However, that is why public school teachers attend college, grad school, and beyond -to learn how to meet the individual needs of many.
I’m glad that home-schooling worked well for you as a student and is something you wish to continue with your children. I hope that those who cannot homeschool, or choose not to do so, can find schools like mine that are just as concerned about each child’s educational needs as homeschooling parents are. Both choices are legitimate, and we don’t make one choice the better option by generalizing and tearing down tbe other choice.
Why is my comment awaiting moderation for such a long period of time. I sought to explain and base my thoughts in kindness and acceptance. I thought what is professed to be supported here is kindness, honesty, and respect not views that are lock-step with the authors’. Please help me understand!
Hi Virginia. We apologize that your comments were not approved as quickly as you would have liked. We all have families and little ones and sometimes life takes us away from the computer for extended periods of time. I actually will be deleting your third comment on this post, as it was unkind. And completely unwarranted. Thanks for reading!
I am a public school teacher in Australia. While I know this context is American, I am somewhat disappointed that you have put most, if not all teachers in the same basket. In fact, as a teacher i feel insulted that you would put all teachers as ‘teaching to the test’. That children are neglected in some way, shape or form. I am not against home schooling, if you have the finiancial means, patience and skill…GREAT. I have friends who home school and love it. Please, while the system is flawed (yes even in Australia) not all teachers ‘sell out’ to it. I encourage my children to not strive to be the best but do their best…I drum into them no one is ‘dum’ …that they all have gifts and talents. I differentiate in my classroom so EVERY child is extended at their level. I write IEPs and follow them for children that need the extra help and those that excell. I know I make a difference in my students’ lives and that they all improve throughout the year in spite of the political pressures of standardised testing, budgets, etc.