Ask most Americans for their impressions of “homeschooling” and you’ll likely hear a description of Amish-like women in long skirts and hair buns with inquisitive but socially inept children in tow.
It’s a common misconception, but times and perceptions have changed. Though it’s only been legal in all 50 states since 1993, the ranks of homeschooled kids is growing. According to Department of Education statistics, the percentage of homeschooled students increased by 74 percent from 1999 – 2007. It’s still a small percentage, but there are good reasons to homeschool.
Though a large and influential percentage are motivated by religious freedoms, a growing number of parents are choosing homeschool for other reasons. They are choosing homeschool due to concerns about poor academic quality, peer pressure, violence and the waste and inefficiency in the government school system.
It’s hard to argue with the facts. Researcher Sandra Martin-Chang said a study showed that structured homeschool students tested an average of a half-grade in math and 2.2 grades higher in reading than their counterparts in government schools. Another study found that homeschooled students scored an average 37 percentile points higher than government school students on standardized achievement tests.
Make no mistake, homeschooling works, and it works not because of governmental bureaucracy and accreditation standards, but in spite of it. It works because it places responsibility for the education, nurturing and growth of children squarely in the hands of the parents.
When you consider that homeschool parents spend an average of $500 to $600 a year on each student in comparison to $9,000 to $10,000 for each government school student in the United States, the academic results are astounding. Essentially, homeschool parents are paying less to educate their own children than they spend to educate someone else’s children in the government school system.
That is a sad commentary on the state of America’s public school system. Exceptional teachers are burdened with bureaucracy, standardization and inefficiency. Children in government-run schools spend more time on transportation, recess, lunch, assembly and other activities than reading and math. Parents are seldom involved and genuine leadership is almost non-existent.
In contrast, there’s very little inefficiency in the homeschool environment. There are no concerns about what to wear, as I know many homeschool kids who wear pajamas and bathrobes. There is no need to catch a bus or drive back and forth to the local school building. There are no lines for lunch, the bathroom or the water fountain. It’s a fair bet that homeschool lunch is better, too.
Nonetheless, many homeschool parents report it’s not the efficiency, or even the academic performance, that makes homeschooling a great choice. It’s the intangibles. Hugging your kids while you take turns reading a good book. Talking about, even debating, current events from the newspaper. Taking vacation when you want. Reading Scripture together, praying together. These are priceless moments in the life of a family and they pass far too quickly.
Given all that, you might wonder why more parents don’t choose to homeschool their children. Some say it’s because of the “socialization” aspect, as homeschool kids don’t get enough social interaction with their peers. I don’t know where this comes from, as in my experience, homeschool kids are well-socialized, mature and responsible. Statistics and studies have also shown this to be true.
I witnessed it firsthand when asked to teach a class on government and politics to a homeschool cooperative of about 60 kids, ranging in age from 8 to 18. As a teacher, I’d never encountered such a bright and engaging group of kids, before or since.
But in my opinion, there’s a more common-sense reason why more parents don’t choose to homeschool their children. Simply put, it’s too hard. It requires absolute commitment, dedication and sacrifice. Parents are too busy with other priorities. It’s just too much.
No doubt, homeschooling is not for everyone. But like many things in life, the most difficult challenges can also be the most rewarding. Choose the road less traveled, and it may make all the difference in the education of a child.
Brent Hoffman is a former military officer and Pentagon 9/11 survivor. He served on the Sioux City Council and is the author of “Life After,” a biography of his late wife, Mary Jo. He’s currently writing a novel tentatively titled “The Caucus Assassin.” Brent is the father of two children, Silas and Lydia.