How does homeschooling fit into the ed debate?

Photo: ShannonPatrick17, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: ShannonPatrick17, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Education is always a huge issue in the news, for the simple reason that most, if not all, of us start out as children. Many of us also have or have had school-age kids. Education has particularly been in the news recently in our region because of Gov. Cuomo’s school funding news last week in the budget, which has drawn less-than-enthusiastic reviews from New York State educators; and the Common Core rollout continues with state legislators looking to fix the problems with the implementation of the news standards that have emerged so far. Meanwhile, our local schools continue to face funding problems galore.

Some parents, though, don’t worry so much about public school funding (or private school funding, for that matter), because they don’t send their kids to school; they teach them at home.We hear a lot anecdotally about home schooling, and an article in today’s Watertown Daily Times provides some numbers:

Although the number of home-schooled students in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties has increased from 789 to 794 over the past decade, the percentage of the total student population has remained at about 2. In New York state, the figure is 3.9 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Nationwide, it’s 3.4 percent, representing approximately 1.8 million students, up from 1.1 million a decade ago.

So a lower percentage in those three counties than statewide, and a lower percentage in New York state than in the rest of the country. But still, a fair few kids in our area are home schooled — enough so that there’s an organization, North Country HomeSchooling, that serves those parents.

People have different reasons for home schooling their kids: For some, it’s religious; for others, it’s because they don’t think their kids are getting a good education at their local school; and some just want the freedom that comes with not being tied in to a particular school’s schedule or curriculum. The paper reports that on average home-schooled students do better on standardized tests; but many critics of the practice say students don’t get socialized as well or deal with as wide a variety of situations as do kids who attend school outside the home.

I (clearly) don’t have the resolution to that debate; and there’s not much that people feel more passionately about than their childrens’ education. But the fact that some homeschooling parents are homeschooling because they feel they need to opt out of an educational system that’s not working for their kids is troubling. Remember, this is something that we all pay for; it’s something in which we all have a stake. So although it might seem that homeschoolers aren’t part of the debate about education, it’s wrong to think that way. We all should be. The children are the future, right?

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26 Comments on “How does homeschooling fit into the ed debate?”

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  1. JDM says:

    “but many critics of the practice say students don’t get socialized as well or deal with as wide a variety of situations as do kids who attend school outside the home.”

    That’s bogus, and borders on bigotry. Just because they have a prejudice against homeschooling doesn’t mean that homeschoolers are “different” than public schooled children. i.e. “they are not able to develop socially because they are “homeschooled”. Oooooohhhh. Cooties.

    One could even argue that locking up kids in a building for 7-hours-a-day with nothing but their peers can cause them to have social development problems (and that’s probably closer to the truth).

    Every homeschooler I know spends many schooling hours each week in community groups, leadership roles, college courses (beginning as early as 4th grade art and music, for example), outside training courses, community development, employment outside the house, business development, entrepreneurship, political participation, historic awareness groups, volunteer work, etc.


    “Remember, this is something that we all pay for”
    efor but we would rather have a school voucher system. That way, parents can choose to have any kind of education they want for their children.

    Not everyone uses public education. Some use private schools (i.e. President Obama), some use religious schools, and some prefer to homeschool their children.

    In this case, I am definitely Pro-Choice!

  2. JDM says:

    Something got cut off above.

    “Remember, this is something that we all pay for”
    We have to pay for it, but we would rather have a school voucher system. That way, parents can choose to have any kind of education they want for their children.

  3. JDM says:

    “But the fact that some homeschooling parents are homeschooling because they feel they need to opt out of an educational system that’s not working for their kids is troubling.”

    It’s also none of your business why parents do what they do with their kids.

  4. JDM says:

    “they feel they need to opt out of an educational system”

    nnkkkk. Wrong answer. Homeschooling is not “opting out” of an educational system.

    Homeschooling is part of the educational fabric of this nation.

    I stood at Mt. Rushmore, and looked at the great men whose faces were carved on the side of the granite mountain and wondered if anyone who was homeschooled would obtain greatness.

    Then, I realized that the four men whose faces were inscribed on that mountain,
    George Washington
    Thomas Jefferson
    Abraham Lincoln
    Teddy Roosevelt

    Were all homeschooled!

  5. Ben says:

    As a parent who is just embarking on this adventure w/ my oldest, I think you’ve hit some great ideas and topics of discussion. I’m sure every home-schooled environment is different in many ways but you are contrasting this with our public education system which I think is the whole point of the article. So, I’d be interested to hear some other opinions on this….

  6. Jeff says:

    It is not appropriate to appropriate someone else’s children under the belief that those children are our future. That is sick. That is enslaving them to ourselves. (They are The future) Parents have a responsibility and I believe a right to offer alternative education methods. Regardless of what foreign governments believe…

    People are flexible and can adapt even at post high-school ages. There are people who failed at public school but prospered in life. It takes initiative. Home school or any school may not suit a particular learning style. The cry now is for pre-k education. Take the kids further from parents and inculcate them with values of the state. Bah. I’ve read about and met kids- now adults- from impoverished regions who by taking opportunities, that didn’t arrive until they were in their teens, better themselves.

    Homeschooling does not have to fit in. The core curriculum outline is public information and educational materials are available to get that information. All a diploma is is documentation that a proscribed body of work was reviewed and the individual has shown a specific level of retention of information. Nothing to do with wisdom and application of information…..

    Locally the home schoolers have art classes with other home schoolers, periodic basketball or other games, go on educational excursions with others, get involved in 4-H, all with kids who are not necessarily home-schooled.

    A diploma simplifies employer searches for employees. That is the only reason it may help get a job. But many homeschooling families have extensive networks that stretch into employment or self-employment.

    When someone looks at my children and says they ought to be in public school I say someone ought to keep their nose in their own business. We find our way in life and we may make mistakes and although others may be harmed by those mistakes, they may be helped as well and those prigs who have long noses ought to stick to their own business.

    I expect many have noticed many winners of the national spelling bee have been home-schooled.

  7. newt says:

    I, a retired public school teacher, completely agree with JDM and the other sentiments expressed above in favor of home schooling for those who choose it. The country was founded on the rights of individuals to make their own decisions and be accountable for their own actions. This includes education. Although there have been cases where home-schooling has allowed an environment of ignorance, neglect, and even the worst kind of abuse (“This American Life”, I think, has a story about such a family in, I think, Alaska, a while back) of children, most home-schooled children and adults I’ve encountered or heard about seem to do very well as adults.
    Home schooling should not be viewed as a symptom of a dysfunctional educational system as much as an alternative among many in a free society.

  8. JDM says:

    I’m sure you could find anecdotal evidence of a homeschooled kid, here or there, that isn’t working out too well.

    I’m just as sure, that you could find anecdotal evidence in cases of publicly-schooled children where their social development isn’t what it should be.

    But the exceptions don’t make the rule.

    By-and-large, by every quantitative measurement, homeschooling is successful.

    Check it out before you criticize homeschooling:
    SAT scores
    College Presidential Lists
    Leadership Roles
    Community Involvement
    Worh Ethic
    Study Habits

    There is one group that has a stake in NOT wanting homeschooling to succeed:

    Teachers Unions

    And we know that many politicians are beholden to this group of stakeholders, so….

    Watch your back!

  9. The Original Larry says:

    “The country was founded on the rights of individuals to make their own decisions and be accountable for their own actions.”

    Right, until it comes to paying for something, then it’s all about the collective good.

  10. JDM says:


    Not sure what you mean, but I will say this,

    All homeschoolers pay their own way, after paying school taxes for the collective good.

  11. The Original Larry says:

    When I pay my school taxes, I am held accountable for the decisions people with children have made. When my right to keep and bear arms is infringed upon, I’m being held accountable for the actions of others. When I have to pay ruinous health insurance premiums, I am being held accoutable for the failure of others to purchase insurance. This country may have been founded on the principle of individual rights and accountability but that sure isn’t how it works now.

  12. JDM: I wouldn’t say it borders on bigotry but you are absolutely correct that it’s bogus. I coach a lot of home school kids and they are sociable/shy in roughly the same proportion as kids in public schools.

  13. One common misconception some have about home schooling is that it’s only done by conservative religious folks because they reject science and/or want to give their kids a healthy dose of religious instruction. There are certainly some who fit that category but there are many who don’t. Many liberal-minded or apolitical folks have issues with the conformist nature of public schools that, many allege, is more concerned with churning out widgets than teaching kids who to think critically. There are many dedicated public school teachers who do an amazing job in difficult circumstances, but their individual efficacy is limited by a system that’s seriously flawed… and being made worse with each modern “reform.”

  14. “It’s also none of your business why parents do what they do with their kids.”

    People who beat the crap out of and/or molest their kids use the same argument. It’s a fine line and not easily drawn but there is a line. I think we should defer on the side of respecting parental authority but it can’t be a blank check.

  15. JDM says:

    Brian MOFYC:

    “but their individual efficacy is limited by a system that’s seriously flawed… ”

    Well said.

  16. Jeff says:

    I was trying to figure out what Original meant when he believes he is held personally accountable for actions of others. Afterall the person who abuses their access to firearms is equal to the person who fails to take reasonable precautions as far as controlling their tongue and defaming someone.

    As far as the accountability goes, I was reminded of thoughts I had this morning. New York City’s mayor wants to tax “the rich” more to pay for pre-k education while the mayors of smaller communities would like to offer the same “education” but unlike NYC they don’t have a lot of wealthy folks to tax and they are limited in real estate taxation. So I thought hey, how about we bill New York city for the education all of the kids we educated in the hinterlands and who now work in NYC. After all NYC taxes those who work there but live elsewhere. Our kids who have been drawn to the Big Apple and don’t reside locally to stimulate out economies with their education and imagination.

    Yea, I’ve heard more tax money comes out of NYC than is spent there.

    Businesses grow, communites grow to serve the employees, businesses fail or leave but the employees and remaining population are not as mobile and can’t disappear under chapter 11 or dissolution.

    The relation to home schooling? We(collectively) subsidize school for the student benefit and attribute to that education public benefits-creation of people who have a broad awareness of law and culture. We may hope they desire to prosper because of that education. We do not know which ones will grow and which ones will have stunted growth so we attempt to grow them all. A diversity in educational options leaves the door open for creativity. How few Thomas Edison’s have there been? But the few have benefited many. So between public school, private school and home school, we won’t know the benefit until the cake comes out of the oven and the baking time differs with the individual. As one who has had children in private, home and public school and paid my taxes all along, and had the kids ride the public bus to the private school… my kids have learned throughout their years. They are too young to assess what their fruit will be. Wait until they are 30.

  17. The Original Larry says:

    Jeff, what I meant is what I said; it’s pretty straightforward. Do you have a point you’re trying to make?

  18. Pete Klein says:

    If teachers in public schools need to be evaluated and tested, shouldn’t parents who homeschool their children also be tested?

  19. Jeff says:

    Original, none other than I was puzzled that someone would feel accountable in the situations you described. Just because we exist does not mean we are accountable. Criminals have the same bill of rights as I have and I am not accountable for their actions.

    Pete, yes if someone is saying the child is not the responsibility of the parent. But in that case I expect the parental option to homeschool would also be removed too. Someone would invoke the need for equal protection to take parental rights and obligations away in order to mandate the quality of education for the child.

  20. JDM says:

    Pete Klein: “shouldn’t parents who homeschool their children also be tested? ”

    By whom?

    Public Education tests whom they certify to competent teachers.

    Parents don’t get certified to teach by the Public Education system, and therefore don’t come under their authority.

    Private educators and religious educators, ditto.

    All that said, homeschooled children generally perform well on standardized testing. Colleges are well aware of that fact.

    Employers also know of the general work ethic when it comes to homeschooled children.

    Unlike public education, it’s not a failing system.

  21. The Original Larry says:

    My comments were a reaction to the post from newt where he wrote, “The country was founded on the rights of individuals to make their own decisions and be accountable for their own actions.” It’s a nice idea but it’s no longer operable in America today. Everyone has their own agenda, but some expect everyone else to help pay for it. To me, accountability includes the resposibility to pay for the choices one makes, whether monetarily or otherwise.

  22. Jeff says:

    Original- I get it, thanks. I concur.

  23. dbw says:

    I had a small business for a number of years and had two home schooled young people work for me. One came from an “alternative” family and the other a religious family. Most importantly, both families were sound. Their children were both mature and excellent workers. One is now library director at a village library and the other is a dental hygenist.

    Our public schools are not failing so much as the society at large. If you want to fix the public schools you will have to fix society first. Compared to 30 years ago, more and more kids are not coming to school ready to learn every year. They are distracted or overwhelmed by various kinds of addictions their parents may have, broken homes, mentally ill or unstable parents, etc. etc.

    I suspect homeschooling is far down the list of concerns for the teachers unions. Most administrators are loathe to see the district lose that state aid money they desperately need.

  24. Anita says:

    My family is one data point in this discussion. We home-schooled through high school, purchasing accredited distance learning curricula and college courses for our child. We did not write our own lesson plans, we essentially paid for private schools accessed through distance learning protocols (USPS and a fax machine in our case). Why? because we thought it would be more challenging for our child than what our local school could provide, and because we had a work schedule that could accommodate our child’s education. There was interaction with peers in church school and 4-H clubs. It worked for us and our child – our adult child is completing work for a PhD at a major university.

    We support public education and have no problems paying our school taxes. We also support families who decide that a different educational model is what is best for them. There is no data I’ve seen that suggests that home-schooled children are less prepared for adult life than children who are educated in age-segregated classrooms.

    As to the socialization argument against homeschooling: that is the only one that really gets my dander up. My answer to that: socialization is so important to us that we decided that our child should be socialized by adults, not by a narrow age-segregated peer group. And that really has given our child advantages. Being able to build relationships with mentors/supervisors and get challenging, resume-building work are outcomes of successful socialization, and seem to come easier to a young person who has grown up able to communicate easily with adults as well as other children. I only have anecdotal evidence for this, but I have seen this with other home-schooled youth as well as my own child.

  25. Jim says:

    We home schooled our children before it was a “movement”, in much the same way Anita has described. Both are very successful professionals, now into their 40’s. I have to agree that the socialization “red herring” is among the weakest arguments against home schooling.

  26. T.B. says:

    I am unsure if your article is probing whether homeschoolers are part of the debate regarding Common Core/funding- or if it is setting up for scrutinizing homeschool socialization issues. As someone with an interest in education and children’s outcomes, I do care. As a taxpayer, I am involved. I have my opinions concerning how Common Core has affected the children/ teachers. We chose to homeschool our children for a variety of reasons. Our district came highly recommended to us. However, when the time came for our children to begin their formal education, we chose to take on the responsibility ourselves. This decision did not come without great deliberation. This terrific responsibility also comes with sweet liberty. NY is surely one of the most regulated states regarding homeschool laws. I don’t begrudge this, nor am I resentful of taxes. The liberties that I speak of are in reference to bureaucracy. If a handwriting program is not what it was touted in the catalog, I can find something that works better with that child, as I do not have to go through boards or purchase hundreds of new books. As a homeschooling parent, I can find programs and sources that are suited for my children, and I can be very aware of just what they are challenged by and what comes naturally. There is plenty of paperwork to be filled out and we pay taxes to our district, but we savor the freedom to homeschool. Homeschooling has also given us the flexibility to travel. We have met so many amazing homeschool families in our years; these families have given me great inspiration as to what parenting should look like and what the end result of education should be. Personally, I didn’t opt out of something that I didn’t think was working, I just chose what I thought was better for my family. I take my job very seriously and have absolutely no regrets. Am I part of the debate? I am watching concernedly from the sidelines, thankful that my husband and I are the administrators of our educational microcosm. As for the socialization aspect, individuals will always have their opinions. With respect to our family, I am very thankful for the diverse group of people, both from homeschooling families and the community at large, with whom we have become acquainted!

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