When comparing homeschools and public schools, the striking point is not that one is inevitably better than the other—both homeschools and public schools vary in quality and offerings—but that they can have such important differences that one or the other may be a markedly better choice for a particular child. This article explores some of the bifurcations between homeschool and public school.
A homeschool is generally taught by a parent, arguably one of the experts when it comes to knowledge and understanding of a particular child. The parent may or may not also have training or a license in teaching.
Public schools are staffed by licensed classroom teachers, as well as licensed professionals in related specialties, such as speech language pathology, reading, physical therapy, occupational therapy, special education, nursing, etc. These people do not have as much knowledge as a parent about any particular child, but they do have knowledge about curriculum, child development, health, and pedagogy (depending on their specialty), as well as experience with a wide range of children.
Homeschoolers can take the opportunity of homeschooling to learn about pedagogy, curriculum, child development, and curriculum. Public school staff have the opportunity every year to gain more in-depth knowledge about the individual children they are responsible for in that school term. What best serves a particular child may be either.
There may, however, be upper level subjects, or subjects with which parents have no experience that they do not feel qualified to teach. When this happens, options include enrolling part time at a local public or private school, or—depending on circumstances—community college; hiring a tutor; or taking an online course.
The schedule in a homeschool adapts to meet a lot of parameters. While meeting state requirements for attendance, it can also flexibly respond to a child who does best when sleeping until 9 a.m. every day, who needs to intersperse school work with physical therapy, who does farm chores that periodically take him or her away from the house throughout the day, or who has swimming lessons every morning at 6:30 a.m. The homeschool schedule can also adapt spontaneously to lessons that require more time today and less tomorrow.
Public school schedules for younger students are built on the needs of the many, and for older students, center around the particular courses they are enrolled in. Thus, in first grade, everybody has to be in school at the same time and very likely do math, reading, science, and social studies at the same time. In high school, one student may be in a Japanese class, while another is studying French, and the start of the school day may depend on the school bus routes more than the developmental needs of children for sleep.
On the other side of the coin, the public school operates in “the show must go on” mode, while homeschooling families may have a more difficult time pushing through and keeping things rolling in adverse conditions. Public schools are prepared with substitute teachers and prepared lesson plans. Homeschoolers have to decide every day what to do and figure out how to mesh school life with family life.
For many homeschooling families, it would not be markedly more difficult to homeschool while accompanying a parent on a business trip to Korea than it would be to homeschool in the kitchen at home. Well-planned homeschooling has the advantage of being pretty mobile, which has the potential for allowing students to have a wide range of fascinating experiences that the attendance requirements at public school preclude. Because of the number of students involved, arrangements to switch locations for public school students—whether for a day’s field trip or the nearly requisite trip to Washington, D.C. to see government in action—require a great deal of preparation, time, and money to organize.
There are resources that public schools can afford to have because the cost is shared by many that are difficult for homeschoolers to own, although they may have other ways of getting access to them. Sophisticated art equipment, like kilns, laboratory equipment for the sciences, and physical education set ups such as a swimming pool, ice rink, or weight room are examples. It may be that homeschoolers can have shared access to these school science resources, and that a gym membership and a class at the local art school can cover the physical education and art equipment. But these are not guaranteed, and parents need to determine when lack of resources may hinder their child.
One aspect of homeschooling that many families deeply appreciate is that the child has the opportunity to deeply participate in family life, rather than being away at school among peers for a large portion of the day on school days. While at public school, one has the opportunity to see the wide range of approaches different people take to the same task and to observe that learning happens differently for different people, even in the same environment, at home, one has more opportunity to see one’s own family interact with the world: friends, neighbors, colleagues, and in business relationships of various kinds.
While homeschools can offer many types of family activities that children may forego when they’re in school, the opportunity for activities involving many students—such as team sports, theater productions, and music ensembles—are limited for homeschoolers. This can be addressed by gaining permission to participate in activities with a local public or private school, joining a gym, and/or joining local ensembles, such as a regional youth orchestra or chorus.