While most of the new educational trends in America seem to be doing more damage than they are good, there is a bit of encouragement on the horizon. Many parents are finally waking up to the crisis of education in our country and are looking for alternatives to the traditional government school system. But what is out there? What are the options? The major problem for most parents is that they have little or no idea that there are other options available, much less any specifics about them. However, the truth is, for most parents, there are many options; options ranging from the so-called “Free” government schools systems, private schools, in-home tutoring and even home school. That being the case, we will attempt to shed some light on this dim subject by covering many of the more common of these options and highlight some of the pros and cons related to each.
The various options can be broken down into three basic groups. The first group will be the government options; including charter schools, magnet schools, and even virtual schools. Then there are the various forms of private education which include both secular and Christian schools. Finally there is the smallest, but growing group of options, the home school options. These include options for in-home tutoring, home schooling and other more creative combinations of home schooling combined with more “traditional” approaches. Some of these methods would clearly be preferred over others. Some are more difficult than others. But as parents, we need to be aware of our options and opportunities for educating our children.
So what are the options?
First of these options are those government related options. They are the various extensions of “public” government schools. Public schools, originally called “common” schools in this country, are typically those schools that get their funding entirely from the federal, state or local governments. In most cases, they have strict regulations regarding which students that they can and cannot admit. For the most part, public government schools are required to admit all students who live within the borders or boundaries of their assigned district. However, there are some newer “Alternative” forms of public education that are a bit more selective, a bit more flexible, to the extent that in some cases, they can even offer a little better educational alternative.
The first government school alternative is known as the charter school. These schools began to appear in the early 1990s. They are basically privately run schools that operate with a mixture of state, federal and private funding. Since they still receive most of their funding from state and federal sources, they must adhere to the basic curricular requirements of the state they are in. However, they are free from many of the regulations that weigh down the performance of the typical government school. They are usually free to design programs that are more able to meet the specific community’s needs. One of the primary advantages of the charter school is that they normally cater to a group with higher academic standards. They tend to draw students from families that are more concerned about their children’s future. These students are on average more willing to learn, since they are encouraged by their parents, and are also better behaved. While charter schools would be a much better option than a typical government school, they are still part of the government system and are still under many of the same regulations as their traditional government school counterparts. They are also always entirely secular in nature. While many of theses schools employ Christian teachers, the law places limits on what they can do and say regarding their faith. This should be of a major concern to the Christian parent.
Another form of public education that is a bit non-traditional is known as the magnet school. Magnet schools are for the most part highly competitive, highly selective public schools. Magnet schools draw their students based on those interested in specific subject areas such as math, science or the arts. Most magnet schools have specific geographical boundaries or districts and like their normal “public” government school, they are also tax funded. Since they are tax funded, they are subject to many of the same rules and regulations as their unselective public school counterparts. However, since magnet schools can be a bit more selective when it comes to admitting students based on academic performance, they can weed out many of those typical bad apples that tend to spoil the whole bunch. While a magnet school might not be as good a choice as a charter school, they are still a better option than the typical government school. But again, this is a totally secular option. The Christian parent should keep this in mind when choosing this option.
One of the most recent additions to the various government school alternatives is an option known as the virtual school; AKA the state run or state managed home school. In light of the increasing popularity of home schooling, many states are coming up with creative ways to get children back into their government systems. In these programs, the state run school system will get the additional tax funding for the children, but the parents will still be allowed to educate them at home. So while the added burden on the school system is negligible, the added tax dollars are normally equaled to even greater than those for in-residence students. However, these state managed home schools are really nothing more than a government school extension programs. In these virtual schools, the state sets the curriculum, the state sets the standards, and the state oversees the promotion process. One of the major benefits to this type of educational program is that it is state and federally funded, so it relieves the individual parents of any additional expense, though they have already paid in the form of tax dollars, and also the time required locating and purchasing curriculum. It is also beneficial for those parents who want to directly oversee their children’s education and manage those peers that the child would normally come in contact with in a typical school setting. Another good aspect to this type of education is that parents can supplement the standard state supplied curriculum with other courses of study of their own choosing. These supplemental courses can be Christian in nature, and can be used to counter much of the humanistic indoctrination that they would normally receive from only using the state supplied curriculum. Parents could easily add a Bible course to their student’s workload to assist in their training. Though they would likely not get credit for it, they would still benefit from the additional instruction. The down side to this type of school is that, since it is government funded, it is still subject to all ridiculous, political correct, standards that their traditional government school counterparts are subject to. While the virtual school would be the absolute best of all the government school options, it is still ultimately controlled by a godless, secular humanistic system, and thus it can not really be trusted from a Christian parents’ prospective.
Next in the list of available options are the various private schools alternatives. These are normally either secular schools or they are sponsored by some religious church body or denomination. All private schools will perform differently. Some are large, some are small. Some have sports programs, some do not. Some will be better for the student academically, while some will be better for the student morally. Some will even be better in both areas. While you might think that by being in a private school you would automatically be relieved from all the normal government rules and restrictions, you would be wrong. Because when it comes to the way a school operates within a given state, or which rules or regulations it must abide by, it will all depends on how the school is classified within the states system. Nationally, all private schools have several different classes or categories that they fall into. This is obviously dependant on the state that they are located in, because almost all states do it a little differently. But in essence, there are really only two basic types. State accredited and non-accredited, with several sub-categories within these two main categories. The accredited schools are those that receive some kind of state approval. These are the schools that will say they are better than all the others because they have passed some state standard. While in reality all this really means is that they are subject to some form of the state regulation regarding their choice of curriculum and also on which teachers and administrators they can hire. Typically state accredited schools can only hire state licensed teachers and administrators. It also normally means that regular government school teachers who move into this type of private school system can still retain their time toward retirement. They can even move back into a government school setting without any problems or loss of tenure. The non-accredited schools however are not subject to the states rules and regulations. They are entirely free to choose their own curriculum and to hire anyone they choose as teacher or administrator, regardless of whether they are state certified or not.
I often find myself reminding people that state “certified” does not necessarily mean “qualified”. Many of the so-called licensed or certified teachers in our government school systems are extremely under-qualified to teach the subjects that they teach. But when you try to test their skills or try to enforce some type of proficiency standard, the vast majority will hide behind the powerful educational union and cry foul. While there are some very talented and knowledgeable teachers in our state school systems, many of them can not even pass simple proficiency exams in their own area of expertise. So to have the freedom to hire someone that is qualified, but not necessarily certified, is in my opinion, a tremendous benefit for a school to have.
PRIVATE SCHOOL CATEGORIES:
Since I live in the state of Tennessee, and am most familiar with its rules and regulations, I will use it as an example. In this state, there are five categories or classes of schools. Category I schools are those that are State approved or accredited. These are the typical government school. The Tennessee Department of Education evaluates and inspects all of these schools to verify that they meet all state standards. Category II Schools are those that are approved by a state approved private school accrediting agency. There are several state approved accrediting agencies and each has its own set of standards for accrediting. After a school has been approved by one of these agencies, it is then considered to be state approved or accredited. This type of private school is really no different than the Category I public school. Category III schools are schools that have been approved by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges. Schools that are approved by this association are also considered to be state approved or accredited.
These first three categories are those where the state has placed some type of restrictions on their curriculum, and on whom the school can hire as teacher and administrator. These last two types do not have these restrictions. So from a totally Christian prospective, these last two types of schools would be the preferred over the first three. Because only in one of these types of schools, are you totally free to follow the will of God without any restrictions from the state. Wile many of the approved state curriculums are high quality and Christian based, like A Beka Books or Alpha Omega, the state still has the right to change its policy and no longer allow these.
The second to the last category is the Church-related school. These are classified as Category IV schools in the state of Tennessee. State Law, T.C.A. 49-50-801 allows these schools to operate legally in the state of Tennessee as long as the school is operated by a church or bona-fide church organization. They also must be a member of one of the associations listed in the law. These associations are the same agencies that are approved by the state to do accrediting. However, having a membership with one of these associations and being accredited by them are two entirely separate processes. The first simply means that you meet a minimal set of specific guidelines for academic standards and have paid the associated membership fee. The later means that you have completed the accreditation process, in which case you would then be considered state approved or accredited and then have restrictions placed upon you. The Department of Education has no direct involvement with this section of Tennessee Law and, therefore, does not extend the title of accreditation to schools that seek the legal covering of church-related school. Finally there are Category V schools. These are simply schools that have received an acknowledgement to operate. Any school may contact the state directly for an application to operate a school. The school will not be accredited, and if the information supplied is satisfactory, the state will grant approval for that school to operate. While many schools operate successfully under this type of program, having the protection of a church-related status grants much more freedom in the day to day operations.
So with private schools, the type of school is very important. The type or category of the school will dictate the amount of freedom that the school has to operate. As far as cost is concerned, the sky is the limit. Some are extremely expensive, some are extremely affordable. Just as some are very sound academically, some are very poor academically. The best advice for anyone looking into a private school would be the same as for any other educational option. Be informed and be involved. Remember, God has given you the responsibility to educate your children. Even if you choose to get help with this process, you must still oversee the entire operation, and to do this, you must be involved.
Finally we have what is considered by most to be the more creative schooling option. Although in-home schooling was the original or standard model of education in this country, it is now considered just one among many alternatives. This mode of education would include standard parent lead in-home education, in-home private tutoring, or even a combination of home school with some other form of private school. But for many, the first big question is; “Is it legal?” Because the majority of people just do not know the facts, but the fact is, while home school laws do vary from state to state, home schooling is actually legal in every state and in every territory of the US.
So what is home schooling? Well home schooling is nothing more than teaching your child at home. While the laws for home schooling do vary from state to state, the statistics for successful home schooling in this country do not vary. According to Dr. Brian D. Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute, home schooling, which was once common in all nations, had almost become extinct by the mid 1970s. However in the last twenty years, home schooling has seen a dramatic reversal of that trend. Home education is actually enjoying a surge in popularity and success. In a recent study, produced by Dr. Ray and the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), called Home schooling Grows Up, Dr. Ray reported some very revealing statistics about home schoolers as compared to their traditional government school and private schooled counterparts. For example Dr. Ray found that the percentage of home schoolers that go on to college was much higher that that of non-home schooled children. He also found that those who were home schooled were much more likely to attend a public meeting such as a community planning meeting. Or that those who were home schooled were over twice as likely to vote in a national or state election as were those who were educated in some other fashion. These are just a few of the many surprising statistics. There are actually many others that seem to show that children who are home schooled are better behaved, have better social skills, tend to excel academically, and become better citizens than children who are educated in some other more “traditional” fashion.
But how can we possibly teach our children at home? I wouldn’t know where to begin? I don’t know all there is to know about geometry or biology or world history! Well, the good news is that curriculum options for home schoolers have never been better. The only down side to what is offered today is the simple fact that there are so many good options. Companies such as A Beka Books, Alpha Omega Publishers, Bob Jones, ACE, and many others offer complete packaged solutions for home schooling. Some are traditional book solutions, others are computer based, some are offered as on-line classes, and some programs even offer an entire year of classes via DVD or satellite. Again, the choices are almost unlimited, and so are the prices. Some programs are very expensive and some are very affordable. There are even very creative programs such as the Charlotte Mason system, which is actually more of a philosophy of education than it is a program. Under this system, the entire curriculum is really nothing more than a list of good books that can be checked out from the local library. So with this system of education, you essentially end up with little or no cost at all.
Another aspect to home schooling that you will need to consider is the reporting requirements. These will also vary by state and even sometimes by grade. Some states are very lenient, and some are very strict, but almost all of them are different. Reporting requirements may also vary if you are part of a larger home school umbrella program or a home school academy. The important thing is to be informed about your particular home school laws or requirements in your state or local area. A great place to look for legal information is the Home School Legal Defense Association. Their web address is: http://www.hslda.org/. They are a “nonprofit advocacy organization established to defend and advance the constitutional right of parents to direct the education of their children and to protect family freedoms.” On their website, they offer a basic rundown of all state home school laws for free. They also have a very informative email newsletter that will keep you up to date on many home school related issues. If you join their organization one of their legal counselors will always be on hand to defend you in case you have any trouble you’re your local school board or truant officer.
One of the newer alternative forms of home education is an option known as the University Model School. These are schools that combine traditional home school education with traditional classroom education. Home schoolers will normally meet one or two days a week for different group classes and then the rest of the instruction is carried out in the home by the parent or teacher. The University Model Schools are great ways to supplement a typical home school curriculum with those specialty classes that may be out of reach for the less creative parents. That completes our look at the more common educational alternatives. There are still many other options and combinations of options that we could cover, but an exhaustive treatment of all the different options is beyond the scope of this book. A good general overview should be enough to wet your appetite and encourage you to dig in the specific area that interests you the most. Some of these options are better than others, but one thing is vitally important for all. If you, as a parent, are not involved in every aspect of your child’s education, it will not be successful – So BE INVOLVED!
 Ray, 2004 - 2005 Worldwide Guide to Homeschooling 162.
 Ray, 2004 - 2005 Worldwide Guide to Homeschooling 2.
 Brian D. Ray, Ph.D., Homeschooling Grows Up (NHERI, HSLDA, 2003), 3-5.
 About Page (Home School Legal Defense Association), http://www.hslda.org/about/default.asp