Nationwide, hundreds of elementary and secondary schools are "accredited with warning" or face serious budgetary concerns, much to the chagrin of teachers, students and parents alike. Parents hoping to move their students out of these failing districts or schools to more successful institutions may face an uphill battle. Conventionally, "school choice" can be a dirty phrase, signaling to some a total lack of faith in the public school system. However, as more parents embrace school choice and varying models and methods of non-traditional education, many school districts have chosen to reap the whirlwind and offer alternatives to the neighborhood school. Some of the most ubiquitous alternatives sweeping the nation are charter schools, magnet schools, homeschooling, and open enrollment programs, but are these options better or just different?
Why More Kids Are Staying Home
Thirty years ago, homeschooling was a fringe phenomenon that few understood and many regarded as zealotry or poor-parenting. But according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) as of 2013, 1.7 million students in the United States opted out of traditional education and into homeschooling; a number that is still growing rapidly. Between 2007 and 2013 the number of homeschooled students in the United States grew by an overwhelming 17%. Zach Singletary, a 25-year-old IT Consultant in Atlanta, Georgia and graduate of the University of Georgia was homeschooled for four years in elementary school. Singletary's mother pulled him from school after he came home with a cursory understanding of the 'urban' sex trade and some new unsanitary words in his vocabulary. While a significant amount of those opting into homeschooling programs cite moral or religious reasons, the NCES reports that 74% of homeschooling parents feel that the learning environment and academic instruction at their student's neighborhood school is unsatisfactory and closer monitoring will make their students more competitive for college admissions. Singletary relished the experience and looks back on it fondly. "It definitely helped in my situation," he remarked, "I was given one-on-one instruction from first through fourth grades. I had to focus, I didn't have a choice. I was a more serious student by the time I reached middle school." While the distribution of homeschooled students is fairly even across the grades, the largest segment of the homeschooling population is in high school at 29%. These students frequently outperform their public school counterparts on the SATs and state standardized tests by about 20 percentage points. These students continue excelling into college and beyond with an average college GPA of 3.46 as compared to 3.16 held by their counterparts.
Using Tech to Teach
The use of technology has expanded the scope and effectiveness of homeschooling by leaps and bounds. Parents and students can now create their own, fully customizable lesson plans with just a few clicks. Less tech savvy parents can enroll their students in online schools or subscribe to an online curriculum provider. Students are not simply limited to math and english classes or lesson plans made by determined parents with textbooks. Now, a 13-year-old can learn computer animation and 3D modeling at home, subject areas that are not typically available in public middle schools. They can create beats and sample music instead of simply learning to play Hot Cross Buns on the recorder. For parents, homeschooling support groups are abundant and students have access to a plethora of study groups as well. This can provide families with an extensive virtual network or a small local one if the interpersonal element of education is missed.
The Elephant in the Room
Are homeschooled kids 'weird'? According to several studies, homeschooled children are just as adequately socialized as their public school peers and by some metrics are even considered more mature with better communication skills. One study completed by The Discovery Institute, a Seattle based research facility, gathered licensed counselors to watch videos of children at play. The counselors were asked to evaluate the behavior of each child in the video but were not informed of the school status of the children. Overwhelmingly the counselors found that the homeschooled students displayed few adverse behavioral issues and concluded that there was no basis for the belief that homeschooled children are poorly socialized. "Is it a wonder that I'm at all normal?" asks Singletary "Probably. Or maybe I'm not. Does it matter?"