Many parents are
dissatisfied with their child’s public school education. They know
her potential and they’ve seen her enthusiasm and capacity for
learning. Yet, in public school she may be consistently unhappy,
bored, or unchallenged. Parents who feel that their local public
school is failing their child can consider transferring her to a
better public school or a public magnet or charter school. If these
choices are unavailable or unsatisfactory, parents can look at other
The most common are private schools. Many parents don’t consider
private education because of the costs. Yet, some private schools
are less expensive than others, many offer scholarships, some are
co-ops accepting volunteer work in place of tuition, some help
arrange loans, and some offer free or reduced tuition for parents
who are employed by the school. When considering costs, parents
should evaluate their priorities. Some people decide to invest in
their child’s education and accept a simpler and less costly
lifestyle in exchange.
Some parents are wary of private school for another reason. They
fear their child will lose the social benefits of attending a
neighborhood school. While most private schools encourage a strong
sense of community and plan many social activities for their
students, it is true that a child who does not attend his
neighborhood school will probably have a smaller social circle.
However, private school students can still play with their
neighborhood friends after school and on weekends in organized
activities and on sports teams.
Parents who choose private education do so because they want a
social, moral, academic, or religious atmosphere they can’t find in
public schools. Some parents have always known—either because of
their own backgrounds or because they have firm preferences for a
particular type of education—that they would send their child to
private school. More often, they choose private school because
they’re unhappy with their child’s public school. They may want
their child to experience smaller classes, less emphasis on
preparing for standardized tests, and a more challenging curriculum.
While some parents plan on a full thirteen years of private
education, some only want private school for the early elementary
years. However, many parents find it hard to put a child back into
public school, since they often find private school more effective
There are many kinds of private schools: religious, Montessori,
Waldorf, college preparatory (strict or liberal), academically
accelerated, and schools for children with learning disabilities or
emotional problems. In large urban areas there are many choices,
while small cities or rural areas have fewer options.
Parents who don’t know what they want should begin by visiting
private schools. They can talk to each school’s principal or
admissions counselor, attend an open house, and sit in on a class.
How structured is the work? What are kids expected to achieve? How
does the teacher present material? How does she relate to the class?
Do the students seem happy and interested?
Parents should ask other families for advice about private schools
and, if necessary, consult an educational specialist who can test
and observe a child, interview parents, and then recommend likely
For parents who choose not to look at private schools but who are
unhappy with the public ones, there’s another alternative—home
schooling. A growing number of families have children who learn at
home, taught by their parents. Many local school districts allow
home education, and some districts cooperate with home-schoolers,
letting them use school resources.
People are often shocked when they first hear of home schooling:
“How can parents teach their child?” “How will she learn to get
along with other kids?”
The fact is, most parents who are able to make the significant time
commitment can teach their child successfully. Kids in school spend
part of each day marking time. They wait in line, wait for their
turn to read, and wait to have their questions answered. They do
“busy work” while the teacher works with other students. They sit
while she disciplines others. In some schools, little of the typical
school day is actually spent learning. In contrast to this type of
situation, when a child is schooled at home, she can master material
quickly and efficiently.
Home-schooled children usually get along fine socially. Like private
school children, they still play with neighborhood friends and join
them in organized activities such as classes, teams, and scouts.
They don’t miss out on much socializing at school because
socializing is generally discouraged at school. Students are
rewarded for being quiet, and reprimanded for talking to friends
during class. During recess, interaction may be competitive, fueled
by students’ need to be smarter, better, faster than classmates. A
child learning at home doesn’t get caught up in that competition and
for that reason may get along better with other children.
If you’re considering home schooling, explore the many resources
available. There are supportive national and local home schooling
organizations. There are also curriculum guides available from
school systems, local libraries, the Internet, and educational
bookstores. You might decide to follow the plan offered by a
correspondence school, or get together with other home-schoolers to
Since you’re familiar with your child’s learning style and
interests, you can individualize her work. Sometimes you can use
books; other times you can do hands-on projects with her. Her
schooling can include frequent trips to museums, libraries,
performances, and nature centers.
Most home-schoolers give their children standardized tests once a
year to be sure they’re making good progress. Find out what tests
your school district gives and either ask to have your child tested
with other students or ask for a copy of the test to administer at
One of the hardest parts of picking an alternative to public school,
whether private or home schooling, is dealing with the criticism of
other adults. Families who are satisfied with public school may be
intolerant of your choices: “I think it’s crazy to keep your child
out of school!” “Why spend all that money for private school? I’d
never do that!” They also may feel threatened because you’ve chosen
a path different from their own.
It’s unpleasant to be judged. But the unpleasantness is more than
made up for by the satisfaction of seeing your child blossom in a
new school environment. Because of the choices you’ve made, your
child may flourish in ways she never would have otherwise.