The Washington Times
April 9, 2004

Washington Times Op-ed — Homeschooling Strengthens Families and Communities

Washington Times
April 19, 2004
by J. Michael Smith
HSLDA President

As homeschooling continues to grow rapidly around the country, the National Home Education Research Institute has pinpointed the four main reasons parents choose homeschooling: to keep their children away from crime and drugs, to provide a religious education, to have more family time, and perhaps most importantly, to provide an individualized instruction plan.

Of course, homeschool families are well versed in these reasons since the decision to homeschool requires much thought and preparation, but the general public and many in the media continue to have some misconceptions about the motivations behind homeschooling. A recent headline in the Dallas Morning News stated "Despite good schools, more kids learning at home." The parents quoted in the article live in Los Rios, a wealthy suburb of Plano, Texas. They didn't have a negative word to say about their local public schools. So why would these parents decide to homeschool if they already had good schools right on their doorstep?

It flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which believes that parents only choose homeschooling if there's something fundamentally wrong with their public school or if they're motivated by religion. Conventional wisdom also suggests that the natural destination for children is public school and that any parent who chooses homeschooling must (or at least should) have a good reason for seeking that alternative.

While many commentators focus on the negative social aspects of public school and the lack of religious and moral education as the primary reasons to homeschool - and these are certainly significant reasons for many homeschoolers - the quality of education and the quality of life arguments for homeschooling seem to have been downplayed.

Some parents in Los Rios realized their good public schools were nonetheless short-changing their children because the public school structure simply cannot compete with the individualized one-on-one instruction homeschooling provides. An individualized instruction plan tracks a child's strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes and areas of skill and ability, as well as using teaching methods suited to the child's temperament and learning style. It almost always will be superior to a one size fits all classroom environment.

The only way a public school can compete is if it completely reforms its method of teaching and copies the pattern of homeschooling. Hiring a teacher for every two or three children would be prohibitively expensive, so it's difficult to imagine how a public school can successfully compete with homeschooling. Parents are in the best position to know what their children need since they're the ones who most closely observe their children. Parents also want what's best for their children.

Although many parents might not want to admit it, sending their children to an institutional school is a compromise. It's a compromise between one-on-one private tuition and institutionalized schooling. All the research demonstrates that public or private school is a second best alternative to private one-on-one instruction. Homeschoolers regularly score 20 to 30 percentile points above public school students on standardized tests and typically out perform private school students by 10 percentile points.

Make no mistake, it takes confidence in your own abilities as well as material sacrifice to choose homeschooling. The Los Rios parents looked at their lifestyles and realized that high-flying careers and the luxury items that follow do not necessarily bring contentment and fulfillment, especially for children. In addition, the Los Rios families discovered a new sense of community as they banded together to share the homeschool responsibilities. Downsizing their work lives and 'upsizing' their home lives has reaped tremendous rewards.

If local public schools cannot adequately serve parents' desire for a quality education, then the public schools will continue their decline, and alternate forms of education, which are better suited to educating children in the fast-paced, diverse, individualized, technological age of the 21st century, will continue to grow rapidly.

The genius of the homeschool method is it can provide an excellent education for children by individually tailoring a program to their needs, and at the same time provide a better quality of life for parents who will inevitably become closer to their children. Homeschooling takes work, but it's proving to be a win-win situation for families and the wider community.