Making Alternative Education Work

Cutting Edge Magazine
July 1993
Tom Terry

U.S. News and World Report called it a “Flight from Public Schools,” others say it’s good sense. Each refer to the rising numbers of parents removing their children from the ailing public-school system to place their children in private and home schools. How do those families that have made the change fair? Most say they would never go back.

In this issue of Cutting Edge we look at the shifting education population and tell you how many families can make alternative education a reality. Some say private and home education is too expensive, but as you are about to read, many families in New Mexico can not only make better education happen for their children, it can be done with very few dollars—a lot less than the state pays for each child in a public school.

Emptying Public Schools

Parents are becoming increasingly offended with public education and what seems to be a pervading attitude of “elitism” among some educators and administration officials. The squabble over year-round schools and the heated debate over condom distribution in classrooms top the list. Parents have also expressed concern over a lack of attention to their complaints or needs.

Parents were fuming when a survey taken of school kids (grades 4-12) in Albuquerque Public Schools asked some extremely personal questions: “How old were you the first time you ran away from home?” “Do you take part in religion?” “Does your family care about you?” The survey was taken without parental permission.

In 1992, both the State Department of Education and APS made TV news headlines when it was discovered both boards approved history textbooks for use that had been previously rejected in Texas for thousands of gross errors. Both departments defended their actions saying they would receive “revised texts,” yet parents saw no “revised texts” during the review period.

These and other reasons are giving parents cause to change their kid’s school from public to private, or home school. Low education standards, values at odds with the family or traditional values and more have some giving up on public schooling altogether.

Where they Go

They go private, or they go home. For families that can afford it, they shell out over $1,200.00 (per child) in tuition and other costs per year to ensure their kids get a good education. However, for those who can’t afford that kind of money, good education need not be expensive.

Home schooling is the fastest growing method of alternative education in the United States. And for good reason: home school advocates say kids educated at home score higher, learn quicker, maintain family values and are frankly safer than kids exposed to the world of public education problems with gangs and drugs.

According to Phil Schultz, director of New Mexico Christian Home Educators, “Nationally, home school kids are scoring 30 percentile points above their public school counterparts. In New Mexico, we scored 5 to 10 percentile points higher last year. Previous years were much higher, but much of the testing is being changed which is altering the way test scores are read.”

Single Parents and Incomes

Can everyone home school? More can make it work than may realize it. Says Schultz, “The average startup cost is just $300.00 for the first year. That money can include texts, workbooks and teacher guides. If you think about it, many parents are already spending that for public schooling when they buy special materials and other items schools are now requesting parents provide. That’s on top of the thousands of dollars the state is already paying. Some correspondence schools can go as high as $800.00.” 

Home schools have an advantage that no other schooling has. Materials can be passed down each year. Materials used for one child one-year can be passed on to the next child the next year. Parents can conceivably spend only another $100.00 or less to outfit their oldest child’s education as he progresses and nothing on the younger children as they move up. Plus, materials can be sold later, recouping the investment.

Even single parents can sometimes work out home schooling to their benefit. Home schooling allows for differing schedules. Chances are, summer breaks mean babysitting services are being used anyway, so those services can continue and home schooling can be pursued at night, or early in the morning. Home schooling allows for complete family flexibility. A family really wanting to home school their children can make it work—it just takes a little effort to work out the details of who will teach and when. Two income families could also rearrange work schedules or even move to one part-time job to initiate home schooling.

A School Day

For Phil Schultz and his family, the home school day begins with Bible study and prayer.
“We then give the kids chores to do. It sounds strange but doing chores as part of their education helps them learn responsibility and builds character.” The Schultz’s then work on their academic studies at the dining room table, coffee table or wherever they feel comfortable. “It’s important to us that even while the kids are learning they know we’re a family. It’s not just ‘teacher/student.”‘

What about extracurricular activities? Most home schoolers gather in support groups and come up with activities like field trips and sports the kids can get involved in. 

Many parents feel like they can’t “teach their kids,” but as home school advocates note, home schooling is not just a learning experience for kids, parents learn along with their kids, enriching their own knowledge and family ties.

Home schooling may not be for everyone, but for families wanting to guard their values and provide a great education, home schooling offers high quality and low costs.