Homeschooling. Thanks to Covid, we all feel like homeschool families. After all, you are spending more time with your kids’ schoolwork than their teachers are. Pre-pandemic, families homeschooled only 3.3% of kids. As of fall 2020, 11.1% of parents reported homeschooling (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021).
You might be considering joining the ranks of homeschoolers now that you have a few months of virtual learning under your belt. Remember that actual homeschooling is a different ball game from facilitating online learning through your local public school.
Don’t get me wrong- homeschooling has its perks! It also has a fan club full of enthusiastic endorsements. But homeschooling isn’t for every family.
Consider the disadvantages of homeschooling before you sign yourself- and your kids- up for another year. Homeschooling has drawbacks, including reduced social and academic opportunities and unique pressure on parents and family relationships.
If you are looking into homeschooling, there are three main categories to look at- differences in social opportunities, differences in academic opportunities, and additional costs.
The portrayal of homeschoolers as socially awkward weirdos is a cliche. I should know- I married a personable and gregarious former homeschooler. Homeschoolers are perfectly capable of growing into socially normal adults. However, they will have to find other routes to practice essential social skills and may take longer to get there.
School is our society’s natural gathering place for kids of all ages. It’s at school that kids can meet other kids their age and decide who they want to get to know better. These friendships form the backbone of kids’ social lives through college and sometimes longer.
For homeschoolers, the pool of potential friends is smaller and less diverse. Your classmates are, well, your siblings. And while homeschooling meetup groups provide some opportunity for meeting other kids, it’s nothing compared to the volume and diversity found in a traditional school setting.
You don’t have to go to public (or private) school to know basic social rules, like making small talk, respecting personal space, or asking questions. However, there are higher-level skills that traditional students can practice regularly at school. At school, kids navigate large group environments daily. They can learn how to work together with people they don’t know very well. Kids in traditional school settings have the opportunity to practice advocating for themselves and their needs.
Another opportunity granted to traditional students is the chance to form relationships with adults other than their parents. I have many friends who speak affectionately about teachers from their childhood schools who inspired or supported them. Such relationships are invaluable to a child’s self-esteem. Mentors can boost a child’s self-worth because they have the support and love of an adult other than their parent.
Sure, your kids won’t get along with everyone at a traditional school. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. As an adult, they will often be forced to interact with people they don’t like (or those who don’t like them). The ability to tactfully navigate situations with less-than-pleasant people is a skill that can be practiced in group settings, such as at traditional school.
Homeschooling families often opt to keep their children at home to prevent exposure to ideas they deem inappropriate or offensive. In making this choice, they may inadvertently rob their children of two other meaningful social experiences and skills.
The first missed opportunity is practicing thinking critically about ideas with which you might disagree. Rather than shelter kids from potentially offensive statements, parents can consider how to walk with their kids through weighing arguments and ideas. This training will serve them well when they are no longer living in the home.
Secondly, keeping children at home deprives them of experiencing a variety of non-offensive perspectives and ideas. For every one controversial opinion, there are thousands of beautiful and enlightening stories and thoughts. Children grow in empathy when they interact with and befriend people who may be very different from themselves.
Why Homeschooling is Bad for Academics
Statistics show that homeschooled kids are likely to do well in college. This advantage appears to be true regardless of parents’ education or socioeconomic standing. The relationship between homeschooling and college success may be more casual rather than causal. Let me explain.
When I was in third grade, my mother came to volunteer in my (public school) classroom. She had the chance to observe me all day long. What she saw was a bored child. I could grasp the material more quickly than my classmates and spent the extra time either drawing or helping the other students. My mom decided to try homeschooling. She taught me at home for the rest of 3rd grade and all of 4th.
According to the 2016 National Household Education Surveys Program, 61% of homeschooling parents cite a “dissatisfaction with academic instruction” as a reason they chose to homeschool. In other words, like my mother, they thought that their school wasn’t serving their child’s academic needs. However, if my mom had seen me learning at the same rate as my peers, she would not have homeschooled me.
Just because homeschoolers do well in college doesn’t mean they do well due to their homeschooling. It’s possible that traits that allow homeschoolers to excel in higher education were what caused their parents to homeschool them in the first place.
Like I said at the beginning- homeschooling isn’t right for every family. If you are considering educating your kids at home, there are some academic factors you should consider.
According to a 2019 survey, only 40% of homeschooling parents have a Bachelor’s degree or higher (Jackson et al., 2019). Of course, these parents aren’t teaching college-level classes. They’re teaching elementary, middle school, and high school level material. However, it’s essential to juxtapose that average education level with public and private school teachers’ average education.
According to a 2019 study, 97% of traditional public school educators had a bachelor’s degree or higher (U.S. Department of Education, 2018). 59% of them had a Master’s degree or more. Furthermore, public school educators are required to have a degree or certificate in teaching. Education is another skill set entirely, helping them cater to different types of learners and identify the best strategies for student development.
Is your child very athletic? You might want to reconsider homeschooling them through middle and high school. Although it’s possible to participate in sports as a homeschooler, they won’t be as rigorous as high school sports unless you can afford expensive programs and trainers. Even if they don’t want to play in the NBA, sports are an excellent way for athletes to pay for college. Swimmers, softball players, runners, and jumpers can earn college scholarships based on their athletic aptitude. College coaches scout prospective players at high school games and meets.
Music is another scholarship opportunity built into traditional schools (and quite an expense outside of them!) Students interested in learning to play an instrument or sing in a choir can do so easily at traditional schools. They will have the opportunity to learn from professional music educators, make friends with other music lovers, and be scouted by colleges at high school performances.
Artistic kids can explore many mediums through art and photography classes in high school. One high school I worked at provided courses in graphic design, drama club, printmaking, painting, sketching and drawing, watercolor, ceramics, and filmmaking. The school provided the supplies and equipment needed for all of these ventures. If a student wanted to try their hand at ceramics, they could enroll in a class and use the school’s kiln and clay supplies. A few months later, they could enroll in a graphic design class, where the school would provide them with a laptop to check out and access to graphic design programs worth thousands of dollars.
Although art scholarships are more scarce than sports and music scholarships, most art schools require a well-developed and diverse portfolio to consider students for admission. Attending a traditional school can give kids access to resources that make this possible, even for families with fewer financial resources.
Although clubs are technically not academic, they are an important avenue by which kids can explore their interests. Your student might check out the debate club because their friends are there and end up with interest in becoming an attorney. Traditional schools with traditional clubs make it easy for students to spend time with their friends and explore new things under trustworthy adults’ supervision.
While my mom decided to homeschool me during elementary school, it was due to the lack of more challenging academic programs available at my school. As students age, however, more opportunities are available to kids with high academic potential. Some states require that public school districts identify “gifted and talented” students and offer special classes personalized education plans to make sure they develop to their full potential.
Once students hit high school, many schools offer students the chance to earn college credit through Advanced Placement programs. Some public schools have implemented special, extra-rigorous programs to help prepare bright students for college, like International Baccalaureate.
High schools tend to prioritize future planning for juniors and seniors. Most larger high schools have specially trained staff whose job is to help students make plans for the future. These professionals are trained to help students chose a degree or career path, narrow down colleges or programs, and acquire scholarships. They also facilitate college placement tests like the SATs and arrange for college admissions staff to answer questions at events.
Some kids perform well academically regardless of their circumstances. Some kids, however, need a little bit of competition. By being in a classroom with their friends, they can push themselves a little bit further and perform a little better. Your kid might be more apt to work their hardest for a teacher rather than their parent. Only your family can determine where your children will do their best work.
Why Homeschool is More Costly
A quick google search shows that prewritten homeschooling curriculums can run from $400-$700 per student per year. Of course, parents can opt to create their curriculum, but they will need to have a budget (as well as the time and skills) and research books, and other support material for teaching their kids what they need to know.
The Home School Legal Defense Association estimates that a family can spend less than $600 a year by borrowing materials from the library and keeping an eye out for used book sales. These are great tips for families who have decided that homeschooling is right for them. Unfortunately, the government does not allow you to receive the funds that taxpayers pay per student to public schools- amounting to up to $24,000, depending on the state. This per-year funding allows schools to provide the benefits listed above, including highly educated teachers, electives, and equipment.
If you have been supervising your children’s virtual schooling, you already have an idea of how much time is required to educate your children at home fully. When you’re homeschooling your kids, though, the engagement required is more significant. Rather than passively monitoring that your kids are online or completing homework, you will need to actively teach material and check for understanding. Also, homeschooling requires extra time daily or weekly for prep and planning.
One parent will need to be home at all times while you are homeschooling your kids. If you have a flexible workplace, parents may be able to swap this duty and maintain employment. In most cases, however, one parent will need to reduce or eliminate employment commitments. This can contribute to homeschooling’s impact on the household budget.
I mentioned that my mom homeschooled me for a year and a half during my elementary school years. You may be wondering what prompted my mother to re-enroll me in public school for fifth grade. I asked her. She told me, “I didn’t want to hate my kids at the end of the day.” She explained that our relationship was much warmer and more affectionate when she didn’t have to be my teacher on top of being my mom.
Some parent-child relationships might thrive with the extra time spent together while homeschooling. If your relationship isn’t one of those, that’s important to acknowledge. We’re lucky to live in a culture that allows both men and women to work and provides education for children while they do so.
One of the benefits families miss by homeschooling is the opportunity to have their child seen by professionals. In addition to being educators, teachers are experts in child development. They can quickly distinguish when a child is not reaching milestones and initiate interventions for that child and family. Often, a teacher is the first to notice signs of learning disorders such as ADHD or dyslexia.
School nurses conduct many health screenings in school, including hearing and vision tests. I remember getting checked for scoliosis as a child at my middle school. These medical professionals are often the first to notice and alert parents of other potential medical concerns, such as diabetes or narcolepsy.
School counselors play a valuable role in guiding students through their education. They are also are often the first to notice signs of mental illness in adolescents, at a time when children are less likely to share with their parents. Depression and anxiety are common in secondary students but easily treatable with early identification and intervention.
As the pandemic draws to a close, many families are making decisions about their children’s education. You may have been in survival mode and gotten used to having your kids learn at home. Before you sign up for becoming their teacher long-term, though, take some time. Consider the impact on your family, on your children, and your own mental health. It might not be the right decision for you or your kids.
Home School Legal Defense Association. (2019, November 20). Homeschooling on a Budget . . . or No Budget? HSLDA. https://hslda.org/post/homeschooling-on-a-budget-or-no-budget
Jackson, M., Kaiser, A., Battle, D., Wan, C., Quenneville, G., Kincel, B., and Cox, C. (2021). National Household Education Surveys Program of 2019: Data File User’s Manual (NCES 2021-030). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved April 13th, 2021 from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2021030.
McPhee, C., Jackson, M., Bielick, S., Masterton, M., Battle, D., McQuiggan, M., Payri, M., Cox, C., and Medway, R. (2018). National Household Education Surveys Program of 2016: Data File User’s Manual (NCES 201 -100). 8 National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.
U.S. Census Bureau. (2021, March 22). Homeschooling on the Rise During COVID-19 Pandemic. The United States Census Bureau. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/03/homeschooling-on-the-rise-during-covid-19-pandemic.html
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). Digest of Education Statistics, 2018 (NCES 2020-009), Chapter 2.
Megan Cornish is a licensed clinical social worker in Washington State. She has worked in the field for 10 years after receiving her MSW from the University of Washington. She has experience working with children, teenagers, and families.