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CEE's Education Newsline

Taken from the Fall 1997 issue of Education Newsline.

Oh Where, Oh Where, Shall My Little One Go?
Choosing the Best Schooling Option for Your Child

By Kathi Hudson, CEE Vice President

This morning I took my three-year-old little boy to his first day of preschool. I have to admit I shed a few tears as I left, unable to believe that he is already so "grown up" and able to take on this new, independent adventure without me. There will now be two mornings a week when I am not involved in his every activity. I will not know exactly what he does, what he says, what is said to him.

Jeremy is attending an excellent Christian preschool where I believe he will learn, have fun and be very safe, physically and spiritually. But I know that many times each year, for the next fifteen years of his schooling, I will wonder if I have him in the right school. What a tremendous responsibility for a parent--probably one of the the most important decisions we can ever make!

I am responsible to God for the training of my children and for the decisions I make as to who has the greatest influence on their lives beside my husband and me. Personally, my husband Tim and I are still working through the decision process of how we will educate our children in their Kindergarten through twelfth grade years. I hope this article will help you (and me too!) as we explore the various schooling options available and challenge some assumptions. I think you'll encounter a few ideas you may not have considered as you explore this issue for yourself, as well as guidance and resources for whatever path you choose.

At CEE we don't advocate any particular form of schooling. While most of our members have their children in the public schools, we also have many private and homeschool parents who recognize the importance of being aware and involved in reforming the public schools regardless of where their own children attend. While both the private and homeschool sectors are growing rapidly, the overwhelming majority of Christian children and non-Christian children attend public schools. Many of today's public school children will grow up to govern our world--to be our president, our congressmen, our scientists and doctors, our employers, our caretakers as we age. They may even marry our children.We must always be concerned about reforming the public schools because until there is a large-scale withdrawal from them (if there ever is), they do control our children's future, even if our own children are schooled elsewhere.

So where, oh where, should my little one go to school? The answer to that question will be different for every family--in some cases, for every child within the family. Many factors are involved. For example, here are my own options and circumstances:

Public school? One of the more conservative elementary schools in our district is less than a mile from my home, but unfortunately the children on my street are bussed three miles away (why??!!) to a neighboring town that I feel is physically unsafe and academically unacceptable. I could try for an intradistrict transfer to the closer school--it would be difficult, if even possible, to get in, and even then would the environment be spiritually safe and academically up-to-snuff? I have my concerns.

Private, Christian school? I see much better academic results and certainly a better spiritual environment at the school where Jeremy is beginning preschool, but the school doesn't continue up through high school, and the only Christian high school in town is of a different denomination that I'm not sure I'm comfortable with theologically. Also, I know of some drug and behavior problems that have gone on there and that concerns me. Christian schools are not immune from those problems either! Then there is the financial concern. We have two children and plan to possibly have two more if it is God's will. Can we afford to private school four children? My husband is a physical therapist and I work for CEE (self-explanatory!).

Homeschool? We are seriously considering this option, and still have some questions to overcome. It would be a tremendous commitment, yet has so many positive aspects! Could I do it--mentally, emotionally, physically? And to be honest, I have to admit that as I dropped Jeremy off this morning, along with those few tears I also felt a twinge of freedom. Two mornings off a week! To work in peace, to spend "alone" time with my six- month-old baby, to catch up on projects or hobbies. Wow--once I had all the kids in school, I'd have a life back! It is tempting.

I'm sure you, too, have a difficult dilemma before you, even if your children are already half way through school. Public school parents, especially, have situations arise regularly which cause them to re-consider whether the public school is best for their child. And who's to say you have to pick one course and stick to it until the child graduates high school? You don't. You are allowed to change your mind if you feel circumstances demand a change in the best interest of your child. Sometimes changing climates in the public schools force parents to consider alternatives. Let's take a look at the three primary choices--public, private and home--and the various subcategories within those realms.

Public schools. Approximately 50 million children will attend public schools this term. Wow! What are they learning? Who are they becoming? There are many pros and cons to the public schools. Working in this ministry, I can attest to the horrific spiritual threats children face, and the underlying humanistic viewpoint of most public school curricula. Some is so extremely liberal and anti-Christian, it's frightening. And who isn't aware of the peer pressure--the drug use, promiscuity, partying and gangs. Which, of course, brings along violence. To top it all off, the academic quality of a public education often leaves a LOT to be desired! On the other hand, I have MANY friends who are Christian teachers in the public schools with dynamic, academically-sound classrooms. And I've known Christian children who have not only thrived, they've been a great witness of Christ to their peers and had a positive impact on their campuses (though many feel an impressionable child should not be sent to witness in an environment where an adult teacher controls the agenda). Making a decision to public school educate depends heavily on three highly variant factors which you must evaluate for yourself:

1. Your own child's personality and maturity. Can your child stand independently against peer pressure and be strengthened by it? Is your child a natural leader? What types of friends does he/she choose?

2. Your own public school climate. What are your local statistics with regard to academic scores, drug use, teen pregnancy, gang activity, violence on campus? What are your state curriculum guidelines and your local school curricula choices? Who would your child's peers be?

3. The teacher. Year by year, the quality of your child's public school experience ultimately is determined by your child's teacher(s). Good teachers can improve greatly on bad curriculum; and even the best curricula in the world cannot compensate for an incompetent teacher, or one bent on imposing a belief system upon his/her students. KNOW the teacher!

Actually, we'd all do well to take these same questions under consideration when selecting a Christian school, since they too can vary greatly from campus to campus and even classroom to classroom.

When considering public schooling options, be sure to check with your local school district office to learn the availability of "alternative" public schooling choices. You may find magnet schools that emphasize a certain curriculum such as the arts, or even "traditional" or "classical" education. You may find single-gender academies (a growing trend--three California districts opened new ones this fall) or charter schools (which vary widely and often resemble private schools), experimental public schools that offer many diverse choices and are permitted now in twenty-six states and the District of Columbia (about 700 schools). While charter schools face many of the same problems as public schools, you will typically find smaller class sizes which are racially and economically representative of society and often focus on specific themes. Interdistrict and intradistrict transfers are often other options.

Sometimes you may even find choice within individual public schools, an idea CEE has championed. For example, at Savannah Oaks Elementary School in Verona, Wisconsin, you'll find three schools within a school: one offers a "regular" program, one is more progressive and the other is traditionalist--an effort to accommodate the wishes of all parents.

Charter schools and those like Savannah Oaks are an attempt to appease disgruntled parents that favor vouchers, being allowed to use their own tax money at the school of their choice--public or private. Polls show increasing gains in public approval for vouchers: close to half now support it (mostly an odd coalition of conservative Republicans and inner city African-American parents); and only about half oppose it (down from three-fourths in 1993).

Private schools. The feasibility of choosing private schooling is primarily dependent upon two factors: cost and availability. The cost of private tuition varies widely from school to school, and parents must determine its affordability based upon their own income and ability to accommodate it within their budget, and the number of children in the family. The other consideration is availability. Do you have quality private schools in your community? How far would you have to commute and is this feasible (in all weather)? Does the private school you are considering have room for more students?

As public school social problems continue to grow, academics decline, overcrowding worsens and parents become more disgruntled, private schools are seeing a boom in enrollment. In California, where statewide private school enrollment has increased 21 percent since 1990, many schools, like Central Valley Christian, are running waiting lists for some classes and planning to expand.

Within the realm of private schools, you'll find variety as well--from secular to parochial to Christian (liberal and conservative). Be sure you feel comfortable theologically and philosophically with the school's approach. How isolated into one belief system and doctrine do you want your child to be, in terms of curriculum? Also, don't assume that all of your child's peers will come from families like yours--many non-Christian parents are willing to take religion as a byproduct for the opportunity to enroll their child in a safe, structured environment instead of the public schools. And there are always a few "bad apples" who have been kicked out of the public schools. You still need to monitor your child's friendships and activities--and curriculum as well (many private schools use secular curricula and secular teachers).

Homeschools. As homeschooling becomes better understood and accepted by society and more positively portrayed in the media, more and more parents are jumping on the bandwagon. The most extensive study ever conducted on homeschooling shows that 1.2 million students were educated at home during the 1996-97 school year. Brian D. Ray, president of National Home Education Research Institute, and publisher of the study, says, "The growth rate appears to be 15 percent per year." And the movement appears entrenched, with 89% planning to continue home education through high school. The U.S. Department of Education agrees, noting that homeschooling now encompasses approximately two percent of students nationwide. There are more home schoolers nationwide than there are students enrolled in New Jersey, the state with the tenth largest public school enrollment, and more than the following states combined: AR, DE, HI, MT, ND, SD, RI, VT and WY.

While most homeschoolers are Christians, the movement continues to grow on all fronts (in Florida last year, 61% cited dissatisfaction with the public schools as the primary motivating factor, topping religion for the first time). The gamut ranges from "unschooling" (which also appeals to many liberals--complete undirected learning allowed to take place naturally), to well-defined curriculum and testing taken as extension courses through a Christian school--and every combination of self-direction, structure, curriculum focus, life experience learning, etc., in between. Even the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh has jumped on the bandwagon, releasing its own set of homeschooling guidelines.

Complete flexibility and parental (or student) determination of curriculum is one of the most appealing draws for homeschoolers. Other benefits of this method include:

  • Great for gifted students or special needs children whose needs traditional schools have difficulty meeting.
  • Children can learn at their own pace--usually much more quickly than in a large classroom, allowing time for extra subjects (like foreign language) or more in-depth study of areas of interest.
  • Teaching can be tailored to the child's own learning style, ability level and interest.
  • Children can learn in long, uninterrupted blocks of time, and interrelate subjects for more cohesive learning.
  • Peer pressure is reduced. Social interactions with other children are more by choice and by common interests (i.e. met on a team, at church, etc.), and will be more varied rather than just with the child's age group.
  • Learning is motivating in and of itself and pursued until understanding takes place rather than to achieve a grade.
  • More exposure to family's values. More effective training. Unity and family happiness.
  • Spiritual training and biblical lessons can be integrated into all subjects.
  • Children develop confidence, security and independent thinking.

Homeschooling is now legal in every state, but each state has its own various requirements, which may simply require you to notify the district of your intent to homeschool, or may require you to meet private school requirements. Some states, like California, give you several options. Contact the Home School Legal Defense Association (540/338-5600) for the laws in your state and a listing of state homeschool organizations). For only $100 a year, HSLDA provides experienced legal counsel and representation by qualified attorneys to every family member who is challenged by government officials in the area of homeschooling--well worth the investment, just in case!

The cost of homeschooling can vary greatly, but averages $546 per year per pupil. Spending less doesn't seem to affect quality--homeschoolers outscore public school counterparts by about 30 percentile, even when taught by parents who never finished high school! In fact, there is little difference in test scores between those with parents who are certified teachers and those with little education.

Neither does public criticism regarding socialization hold any water. Studies show that homeschool students participate in an average of 5.2 activities outside their home. Homeschooling families usually get together in groups for special classes, field trips and support. Homeschoolers say their kids aren't just socialized by being taught to conform to society or their peers--rather they are civilized, learning to function in mixed age groups and a variety of settings. In fact, no conclusive research shows time spent with same-aged peers is preferable to time spent with people of varying ages; but limited testing does show that homeschooled children are above average in their social and psychological development (Sheirs 1992, Delahooke 1986).

The increasing availability of technology and resources on the Internet is expected to lead to an explosion in homeschooling (in fact, many public schools are integrating "virtual high school" courses into their own curriculum as well, online). And the growing demonstrable success of homeschooled students is leading to recruitment by colleges and universities who see them as well-rounded and mature.

The future battle is not for the right to homeschool, but over the right to do so free from certain government regulations. Michigan recently became the last state to require that homeschoolers be certified teachers, and Arkansas will now pick up the tab for testing homeschooled students, since they help the state's average! And thanks to legal action by the Rutherford Institute, students in Alabama will now have an easier time transferring credits from home and Christian schools to public schools. By the way, many Christian and public schools are now allowing and even seeking partnerships with homeschoolers--allowing access for certain subject matter.

My Conclusion: There is no one right choice for everyone. This tremendously important decision must be made and continually re-evaluated based on prayer, your own circumstances, available options and each individual child's personality and maturity level. I haven't yet decided for sure what I'll do, but I'm getting closer! How about you?

Questions to Ask Yourself

Many factors must be taken into consideration when making this important decision of how to school each of your children. These questions will help you define your own goals and evaluate your personal circumstances. Jot the answers down on a sheet of paper so you can refer back to them later if you begin to question your decision (your answers may change over time, and vary from child to child within your family).

  1. What are your educational goals for this child (academic, spiritual, social, behavioral)? What belief system(s) do you want your child exposed to?
  2. What type of personality does your child have and where does he or she feel most comfortable? In what areas is he vulnerable? In what areas does she need to especially grow? Is he/she a leader or a follower? Independent or easily influenced?
  3. In what ways do you want your child to be socialized?
  4. How important are athletics to you and your child?
  5. What schooling opportunities are available to you in your area?
  6. What is the condition of the public school your child would attend?
  7. Can you reasonably afford private tuition? What is the condition and limitations of the private school your child would attend? Is space available?
  8. Do you have the desire and circumstances that would make homeschooling an option? Are there homeschooling groups in your area? Are there opportunities for social and curricular (arts, sports, etc) learning outside the home?
  9. What option does your child want to pursue?
  10. If you choose the path you're considering, would you have to switch to a different form of schooling? At a vulnerable time for your child? How do you think your child would adjust?
  11. Have you and your spouse prayed together? Are you in agreement?

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