Contributors: Donna Schillinger, Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., Kenzie Knapp, Jeremy Newman
Okay … let’s take a couple of steps back; this doesn’t need to get ugly; both homeschooling and public school have their pros and cons. One of the great things about America is the freedom to choose from a variety of educational choices—a variety that seems to be widening rapidly with the relatively recent additions of charter schools, specialized private schools and public school at home. Despite the many improvements and new options, THSC still believes that the best education is the original model: children learning from loving parents.
Even so, homeschooling may not always be for everyone. In these next few paragraphs, we’ll try very hard to be objective about the pros and cons of different educational settings, including public school, private school and homeschool.
If you think homeschooling might be right for you, THSC is here to support that choice with resources such as our free Home Educator Quarterly magazine, our Home Educator Express monthly email, and our free online homeschool group locator. Twice annually, we also offer Called to Teach Homeschool Conventions in Arlington and The Woodlands. These overwhelmingly incredible experiences for homeschooling families include informative and encouraging speakers; more than 200 vendors of homeschooling products and services; and fellowship time designed for children, teens, moms and dads.
And if you need to speak to someone about a specific issue, our stellar Customer Relations Team is just a phone call, email or Facebook message away. If you have a strong desire and determination to homeschool, it can be done! Getting started is easy and THSC will be here for you all the way!
A Spectrum of Schooling Options
From least to greatest, here’s how much influence you have over your child’s education with different educational options. Be aware that our list is based on rather sweeping generalizations, not any research or technical analysis. Quite possibly, some schools in each of these categories actually belong elsewhere on the spectrum.
- Public schooling: Your children are under the care of trained professionals who apply a district-wide or statewide curriculum over which you have almost no influence. Children are educated in groups of approximately 25 and are away from home about eight hours per day (counting the commute) for approximately 180 days of the year.
- Private or charter school: Your children are under the care of trained professionals who apply a specific curriculum over which you have almost no influence. However, private and charter schools offer alternatives to public school curriculums. If you choose a private or charter option, it’s likely because their curriculum or method of instruction more closely aligns with your own educational philosophy. Class sizes may be considerably smaller. As with public school, children are away from home about eight hours daily for approximately 180 days a year.
- Public school at home: Also known as virtual school, your children are under your care but are under the instruction of trained professionals. They apply a district-wide or statewide curriculum over which you have almost no influence. Instruction may be in online groups, but your child is at home with limited in-person exposure to other students. Students may complete their work more quickly, spending as few as four hours daily. Depending on the program, students with special circumstances may have flexibility to complete their work outside regular school hours.
- University-Model: This hybrid model is part homeschooling and part private school. Your children are at home for two to three days per week, attending a kind of private school on alternate days. As for curriculum, the choice is yours on home days and you may have some influence on group days. Some programs have trained educators, while some use parents to teach group classes. Most programs have a regular academic schedule, meaning that your child will be away from home about 20 hours weekly.
- Unschooling: In this alternative method of homeschooling, your child engages in self-directed learning with varying degrees of oversight by parents or teachers. Since the child is in the pilot’s seat, we listed unschooling to the left of other homeschooling types. Typically, the child is at home with parents, schooling as much as the family deems necessary. (Although acceptable in Texas, other states may have minimum attendance requirements.)
- Homeschooling: This encompasses many variations, including traditional homeschooling, classical education, Charlotte Mason, unit studies and other types. However, most share the common characteristic of parent-taught education using a curriculum of the parent’s choosing. The class size is the number of school-age children in the household. In Texas, parents determine the school schedule. Other states may have statutes requiring a certain number of days or hours.
Homeschool vs. Public School: The Pros and Cons
Let’s specifically consider the pros and cons of public school and homeschooling, the two ends of the spectrum.
||Allows both parents to work away from home.
||Parents yield much of their daily influence to the public school system.
|Free, by law.
||Pressure to accept many additional expenses, such as premium school supplies, name-brand clothing, fundraisers, pay-to-play events and extracurricular activities.
||Instruction aimed at students of average intelligence. Not much flexibility for students to learn at their own pace. Above-average students are underchallenged, while below-average students sometimes “fall through the cracks.”
|Your child’s care and education is overseen by trained professionals who have undergone background checks.
||Some teachers lack passion, talent, genuine care or empathy.
|Many opportunities to play with other children.
||Spends much time with peers of the same age. Limited opportunities for cross-generational interaction. May be bullied and badly influenced by other children. School shootings are statistically unlikely, but it still worries you.
||Pressure to teach for the test.
||Parents have great influence over their child’s education, including the selection of materials.
||Requires considerable effort and time investment by parents.
|You control the complexity and cost of curriculum and materials.
||Packaged curriculum. School supplies and extracurricular activities can be expensive.
|Studies can be tailored to individual strengths, accelerating according to ability. Students with learning difficulties can get more individualized attention.
||Studies may not be well-rounded if parents shy away from subjects such as foreign language, higher mathematics and science.
|Flexibility to align your day with natural rhythms, freedom to travel, control over schooling times, etc.
||Parents who are poorly disciplined may neglect their responsibilities.
|Your children are safer in your care. You have greater influence over the friendships they make. More opportunities for interacting with adults.
||Families must be deliberate about finding opportunities for socialization, particularly in rural areas without a nearby homeschool group.
|Testing is optional.
In addition to those listed above, other relevant factors usually just depend on the school in question. For example, you might believe that public schools have more extracurricular offerings such as band, theater and sports. However, most homeschoolers can access these activities through homeschool groups or the community.
In fact, many homeschooled students exceed their public school counterparts in extracurricular involvement. According to the Census Bureau, 57 percent of public school students participate in sports, meaning that almost half do not.
Testing is another “nothing burger.” The lack of testing requirements has not hurt homeschool students on the most consequential standardized tests—the SAT and ACT. If anything, income is the best predictor of testing performance.
Not convinced? For a comprehensive look at academic performance by homeschoolers, read “Homeschool Progress Report 2009: Academic Achievement and Demographics.”
Even so …
Do You Wonder if They Might Be Better Off in Public School?
Read this reassuring answer by a homeschool graduate Kenzie Knapp.
“Are there days when you wonder if your children would be better in public school? My mother was a music teacher before having children. Though trained to teach other parents’ children, my mother’s years in the system taught her one thing: it wasn’t for her children. Even so, there were moments when my mother’s conviction wobbled, especially in our toddler years. Once, my grandfather called during one of those episodes. Sobbing into the phone, my mother declared, ‘These kids would be better in daycare!’
Twenty years later, my mom laughs with us over that statement. But for many mothers, this feeling is anything but funny. Are you one of them? If so, I wish we could sit down for a cup of tea and talk. Among others, I’d like to share the following three reasons why I’m thankful that my all early years were spent at home.
I Needed Her
God was wise enough to give children to parents, not professionals. But since we live in a culture that denies God, parents (especially mothers) are made to feel that they are warping their little ones if not raised by “childhood experts.” Don’t believe it!
My earliest memories are swaddled in security, tenderness and the assurance that someone was there for me (really two ‘someones,’ because my dad was also there). I never knew any other reality. Children must grapple with a world of fear, loneliness and betrayal soon enough; let them be rooted in the love, trust and safety that only you can give them. And because only a parent could provide these things, I was better at home.
I Needed Relationships
Relationships are the most important thing that you can give your children. Nothing else can fill the relational need of your child’s heart. Deep and lasting relationships are a growing rarity. People want them, but they just don’t know how to create them. Maybe you never learned the tools for successful relationships, either.
Dear mama, you can still give your child what you were never given. Because my mother and father were willing to make sacrifices to raise me at home, I witnessed the importance of relationships every day. Of course, there were stressful and less-than-harmonious days. We learned together what makes relationships work. But my parents’ unwavering determination to never give up laid a foundation that their children could build on. And since only they could teach me this lesson, I was better at home.
I Needed a Godly Worldview
By far, I’m most thankful that my earliest years were molded in godliness. I learned of a holy God who hated sin, yet wanted to be my Father. I learned that the height of living is obedience to God and loving others as myself. I learned the eternal scoop on life. God was never marginalized to only churchy things. He was real. He was with me every day … like my mother was. And that is the top reason why I was better at home.”
What About Public School at Home?
Texas offers public school at home programs that provide a virtual schooling option to parents. These programs are administered by the public school system. Therefore, parents who enroll their children in these programs should be aware that they require at least four hours of instruction daily. Students must also take the state-mandated tests required of all public school students.
Contact your local school for information on public school at home. There are specific enrollment requirements for each of these services. Parents considering such a program should ask for written requirements and check them carefully before making that choice.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) oversees public school at home programs. The Texas Virtual School Network can give additional information.
But I’m Not a Certified Teacher! Wouldn’t My Children Be Better Educated by a Professional?
You might be surprised at the answer. Consider the research on teaching and student performance within the public schools.
Researcher Dr. Herbert Walberg puts it succinctly: “Overall, it appears that certified teachers perform very little or no better than those who are uncertified.” Researchers Goldhaber and Brewer say: “Although teacher certification is pervasive, there is little rigorous evidence that it is systematically related to student achievement.” Additionally, investigators Buddin and Zamarro recently revealed that “…measured teacher characteristics explain little of the difference” in student scores.
Research on homeschool students suggests the same thing. In our most recent nationwide study, we found that “whether either parent has ever been a certified teacher explains less than one-tenth of 1% of the variance in test scores.” Furthermore, homeschool students performed slightly better when neither parent was ever certified!
Even in the public school system, researchers have difficulty finding any significant connection between teacher certification and student achievement in core academic fields. Similarly, there is no evidence that teacher certification is related to homeschool students’ performance.
There is much evidence that regular parents who educate their children in a parent-led home environment can and do see a lot of success in their students, without any professional training in “education.”
This research from the National Home Education Research Institute is the kind of research that we need in courts and legislatures to make sound policies regarding home education.
Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., NHERI
Since Homeschools Are Private Schools in Texas, Aren’t They Regulated the Same Way?
If you seek to be free of government regulation, there’s no better choice in Texas than homeschooling.
In Texas, homeschools are considered a type of private school and are recognized as legitimate schools (read more in The Critical Difference). However, there are substantial differences between the regulations applicable to homeschools and traditional private schools. These differences grant freedom to homeschools in many areas where traditional private schools are restricted.
- Requires that parents teach in a bona fide manner and provide a letter of assurance, if requested by the school district.
- Requires written curriculum consisting of reading, spelling, grammar, math and a course in good citizenship.
Traditional Private Schools
A little more regulation:
- Requires immunizations unless parents have an exemption for health risks or religious reasons.
- Must report names of students who are suspected of having infectious diseases.
- Must obtain records of anyone under the age of 11 for identification purposes.
- No alcoholic beverages within 1,000 feet of school.
- Requires all students to have a medical screening.
- No guns or other weapons allowed on school premises.
Private schools seeking accreditation:
- Require adequate financial resources.
- Demonstrate professional management of their resources.
- Provide a clearly stated philosophy with objectives that are adequate to implement the philosophy.
- Need a physical location and facilities adequate to support the program.
- Staff must hold relevant college degrees and be qualified, by preparation or experience, for the positions and work to which they are assigned.
- Must have a minimum attendance requirement similar to public schools, either in hours per day or days per year.
- Must conduct a self-study and qualitatively assess its strengths and limitations, including achievement of objectives and compliance with state Board of Education rules.
- Private elementary schools must maintain student academic records and achievement levels required for promotion, comparable to those in public schools.
Although homeschools are a type of private school, homeschools and traditional private schools are obviously distinct with regard to regulatory burdens. Thankfully, homeschools don’t have to follow the same rules that govern traditional private schools. Texas law treats homeschools as a specific type of private school, subject only to their own requirements.
Is Homeschooling About to Become the New Normal?
Teaching Truth in Your Homeschool Curriculum
It’s sometimes hard to guess which straw will finally break the camel’s back. But other times, the consequences are pretty clear. Our public schools have slowly become more dangerous, secular and liberal. Any remaining semblance of family values seems to be on the verge of death.
What exactly do we expect? Of course, not all public schools or public school teachers are liberal. However, the system itself seems to be a clear platform for liberal and anti-family values.
Exhibit A: The new locker and changing room policy that allows persons of either gender to pick the bathroom or locker of their choice.
Forgive the frankness, but have we gone mad? Free thought and free expression are interesting things. At some point, American culture devolved from respecting minority opinions to believing that we must all agree with minority opinions. In other words, you have the freedom to hold your opinion unless someone else disagrees with it. Reality—even physical, biological and scientific reality—seems to have no bearing on what is true and what is not. Aren’t convinced yet? Even our college students can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy.
This environment surrounds our children. In Fort Worth, it’s not enough that children are emotionally and mentally subjected to this via the school culture. We are now physically endangering them to appease our fear of standing up for the truth.
Here at THSC, our position is clear: Parental rights and child safety trump personal opinion. Nobody’s desire for acceptance is more important than a parent’s ability to protect his or her child.
How Did We Get Here?
Throughout American history, parents’ opinions and childhood independence have changed drastically. First, young boys cared for the homestead. Then, they moved to suburban sandlots and visited dime stores. Finally, they played in the neighborhood. Now, parents have been reported for allowing siblings to walk to the park alone. Why is this? Is it because of danger? Or is it because of society’s politically correct rules?
Ironically, these pressures to conform are creating new potential dangers. Today’s rules prohibit a fair and objective citizen from noting clear physical differences and potentially inappropriate (or even threatening) situations.
In the last decade, simply allowing children to go to the changing room by themselves created disagreements. At what age is he or she old enough? Is it okay if the parent can see the door? But this year, those disagreements became a national controversy. It’s no longer just about childhood independence. It’s about common sense and addressing threatening, inappropriate situations. Can a 12, 13, or even 14-year-old girl know what to do if she encounters a man who believes that he’s a woman? For decade, we have depended on our girls to accompany the little ones to the locker room while Mommy supervises the toddler in the shallow end of the pool. Must the girls now must be accompanied as well?
How is our nation even considering allowing grown men into the same locker room with a girl?
Christians, what are we doing?
Seeing the Truth for What It Really Is
Is truth really this fragile? Can we not see what we are doing to the next generation? They are about to grow up with no sense of reality, no concept of what is true or false, and no way to determine the appropriateness of their surroundings. Can they no longer be sure that plain physical truths are actually true?
We are all standing here watching the emperor waltz around naked, while telling our children that he is wearing clothes.
On issues like these, it is difficult for me to find the proper balance between calling out the emperor out in front of everyone and trying to help him with clearly serious issues. At time, we all accept different lies about ourselves and life. Someone who doesn’t know whether he is a man or a woman is not a greater sinner than the rest of us. We can’t refuse to extend a helping hand simply because someone sins differently than we do.
But when someone’s decisions are putting your wife, sister, daughter or mother at risk, how do you defend simple reason without losing your chance to reach those people?
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
It’s More Than Policy and Laws
Ultimately, this is more than a simple policy problem. Even if we win the policy fight, the battle will continue all the same. We must teach the truth as well as defend it.
It’s amazing how much time Jesus spent on earth simply teaching. Did he fend off attacks? Certainly. Did he call out those who were promoting lies? Absolutely. Did he stop there? Definitely not.
Homeschooling is one of the last opportunities to teach our children the unpolluted truth. If the public schools continue down their current path, Christians, conservatives and those who simply fear for their child’s safety are going to start withdrawing their children. In the very near future, homeschooling could become the new normal for many families.
For now, we must not only continue the fight to defend parental rights and simple truth, but also take the time to teach those truths to others.
You don’t become a girl or a boy by merely believing that you are one. Your decision to live with another person of the same sex does not make that relationship a marriage. Other human beings don’t wait birth and your acknowledgement to actually become alive.
However, the people who believe all those things simply sin differently than you do. They are not any less human or any less redeemable as a result.
What is and what you believe are not the same, and you will someday be held responsible for the difference between those two things.
And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Don’t lose heart. Past generations have dealt with lies that were as large or even greater, and God has pulled them through. We are still here.
Donna Schillinger homeschooled her two children for 11 years. She is president of the Micah 6:8 Initiative in Rogers, Ark., which addresses food and housing insecurity in Northwest Arkansas.
Jeremy has served as the Policy Director for THSC since 2013. In 2022, he became THSC’s first Deputy Director. He teaches Lincoln-Douglas debate in the National Christian Forensics and Communications Association (NCFCA). He currently lives in Fort Worth with his wife, Addi, and two sons, Wyatt and Declan.