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Is Public Education Necessary?

As homeschool becomes a more popular choice for families and charter and private schools see a surge in enrollment, the necessity of a public school system comes into question. Does our current culture require a free public school option? Is there another way to educate our children without public school districts? The answer is, for now, no. Public schools are necessary and vital, despite their failings.

Is Public Education Necessary

Families who choose to homeschool are certainly not making an easy decision and will face many challenges in providing a solid education to their children. Many families, however, do not have the luxury of making the choice to homeschool. A two-parent family often relies on both incomes to make ends meet and cannot afford for one parent to be a full-time educator. Single parent families are at an even bigger disadvantage and cannot even consider a homeschool option. Public schools are the only viable option for those families who are struggling to put food on the table and cannot forgo paid hours to be at home with their children, however much they might wish to.

Private or charter schools are another luxury option that many families aren’t even able to consider for their children. Smaller class sizes, well-paid teachers, and access to technology and cultural events are all hallmarks of private schools and the reason so many parents strive to send their children to exclusive, and therefore expensive, schools. The average tuition at a private school in the United States is more than $9000 per year; high school tuition is more expensive than elementary, from $6000 to $12,000. In contrast, registration fees at public schools can be as low as $30 per year: the tuition gap is staggering. But financial concerns are not the only reason families are unable to gain access to private schools: there are relatively few private and charter schools in the US, especially in rural areas,that students would be able to attend. In 2012, there were more than 98,000 public schools operating in the USand only 30,000 private schools. Again, for families unable to afford private school, public school districts are the best possible option for their children’s education.

Online schools are gaining in popularity but, at least for now, virtual schooling cannot compete with actual school attendance. Online education lacks the critical component of social interaction that every other school design, including homeschooling, offers. Stacked against a public school, online schooling will lose in almost every category other than the individualized nature of the student’s progression through the coursework.

Public schools offer children at least one thing that homeschools and many private schools do not: diversity and the chance for children to work closely with students of a different socioeconomic background, religion, ethnicity, or race.  Obviously a homeschool setting will be fairly homogenous but private schools generally are as well, especially on the socioeconomic diversity scale. Public schools, by definition, are open to any and all and allow children from very different backgrounds to become friends and learn that maybe they aren’t so different after all.

Public schools are necessary because there is simply not another alternative at this time to educate the children of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, the children whose parents cannot be bothered to worry too much about school, or the children of families who lack the financial freedom or skills to homeschool.

Mimi Rothschild is a veteran homeschooling mother of 8, writer of a series of books called Cyberspace for Kids, and passionate advocate for children and education that is truly worthy of them. In 2001, Mimi and her late husband founded Learning By Grace, a leading provider of online Christian homeschooling Academies.

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