Home Schooling — Positives and Negatives *

David A. Gershaw, Ph.D.

Dissatisfied with our public schools, some parents want to teach their children at home. According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, in the 1960s, only a handful of families did this. In the 1980s, it was made an official alternative by states. In 1990, about 300,000 children in the United States were taught at home. Currently, this has jumped to about 900,000 children.

The association indicates that parents who home-school have typically attended or graduated from college. Their average income ranges from $25,000-$50,000. Many are Christians and Mormons, but there are also significant numbers of atheists, libertarians and liberals.

In approving home schooling, most states mandated 180 four-to-five-hour days of instruction per year. The topics must include reading, writing, math, history and science. Several states include standardized tests to see if the children are learning enough.

Some research indicates that home-educated children do as well academically as those in public schools. On the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, they score well above the national average – the 77th percentile. However, home schooling may not be the only reason for this high score. It may be caused by the interest of the parents in the educational process, merely being offspring of college-educated parents, or some combination of these factors.

Parents see several benefits to home schooling.

However, psychologists have some reservations about home schooling. They acknowledge that home schooling shields children from base attitudes, substance abuse and violence. However, children will eventually come into contact with these problems.

In 1986, psychologist Mona Delahooke did a study on home-schooled children. The home-schooled children scored as well on standardized tests. Even so, she and other psychologists are concerned about some potential problems.

To promote positive changes in our educational system,
parents need to become more involved with the schools.

There is a third option available to parents who are dissatisfied with their children’s public education – become actively involved in your child’s education. Children – whose parents are engaged in their educational process – are more confident and succeed better at school. If parents are too busy to get involved with their children’s schooling, their children are more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Recently, Laurence Steinberg (Temple University) studied 20,000 high school students. He discovered – if parents isolated themselves from the educational process – their children had lower grades.

Especially with single parents and dual-career families, it is difficult to find time to become involved with your child’s schooling. However, there is strong evidence that schools cannot do an effective job without parental support. Parents can help by encouraging their children to do their homework. If parents have the skills, they can actively participate with their children in completing assignments. Parents can attend parent-teacher conferences regarding their children’s progress in school. If time and energy allow, parents can become active in parent-teacher associations at their children’s schools.

This middle ground has two advantages. First, it does not require the time and effort of home schooling. Second, by working together with your schools, not only are you helping your children – you may be helping other children as well.

* Adapted from Bridget Murray’s "Home schools: How do they affect children?" The APA Monitor, December, 1996, page 1, 43.

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