The argument for school choice

Sunday, November 4, 2012
Michael F. Haverluck (

With big government holding a monopoly on the business of education in America, many homeschooling parents find it quite refreshing to find a vice-presidential candidate who wholeheartedly supports parents' constitutional right to instruct their children as they see fit.

Most Americans fail to realize that the United States Constitution says nothing about the government's role in educating the nation's youth -- yet the state has assumed this position, often usurping parents' control when it comes to educating children.

Many parents in Washington, DC, raised great concern early in Barack Obama's presidency when he opposed a program in the nation's capital that would allow students to use vouchers for optional educational opportunities -- freeing them from having to attend the districts' failing public schools. After aggressively trying to eliminate the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, the Obama administration finally relented on the DC school voucher bill in June, only after great opposition and public pressure.

Paul and Janna RyanBut when Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan was recently questioned at a townhall-style event in Ocala, Florida, about whether he believed homeschooling had a future in America, he had this to say:

"Absolutely, we have friends who do a lot of homeschooling," Ryan answered. "In Wisconsin it is very well known, very well used. You know what? We believe in freedom. And if you believe the best way to raise your children is to homeschool your children, then God bless you; and in a free society, you ought to be able to do just that."

Ryan assured voters of his belief that it is not the government's place to make decisions about their children's education above their parents'.

"Look, we don't want to sit in Washington and micromanage your schools," Ryan insisted. "We don't believe all the best ideas lay in Washington where bureaucrats micromanage."

In fact, Ryan's policy concerning education drew a stark contrast to that of the president, which attempted to eliminate school choice in DC for years.

"We believe in choice; we believe in competition; we believe in giving parents control over their children's education," Ryan asserted. "Whether that's getting the kid stuck in an inner-city school out of a failing school and into a better school, or whether it gives you the ability and right to take over and control your child's education by educatingher yourself, that's the kind of freedom we want you to have and preserve in this country."

Voters pushed to give more money "for the children"

The major force against homeschooling? Money.

Americans notice every election year that they are urged to vote for measures that would increase school revenues "for the children." Campaigns for these tax hikes make voters seem anti-children or non-patriotic if they don't mark the box committing more funding to go toward the schools.

But do schools really need more money to make them better and produce higher-performing students? Taking a look at the figures for public school expenditure per student in the city of President Obama's current residence -- Washington, DC -- the answer comes to a resounding "No."

Statistics do not always show that throwing more money at a problem makes it any better, and this is certainly the case with education.

Even though Washington, DC, has a highest per-student expenditure than any state in the U.S. at $19,698, it also has the second-lowest high school graduation rate at 58.58 percent -- only beating out students in Nevada, which has the sixth-lowest per-student expenditure at $8,321. The nation's capital receives almost twice as much per student as the national average of $10,591, defying the argument that more money equals better education. Similarly, Utah receives the least amount of funding, at $6,612 per student, yet it is ranked number 13 in high school graduation rates at 78.6 percent. These are numbers that voters are unlikely to see on TV ads promoting more school funding.

In some states, more than half of the total tax revenue goes into public education, but it is never enough. Most voters fail to realize that most of the funding goes into administrative costs -- money paying personnel that never step foot inside a classroom. Teachers and textbooks are on the bottom half of the list, while administrators taking home six digits are perched at the top.

But what accounts for the hostility toward homeschoolers? Every home learner means a superintendent's district isn't receiving that per-student expenditure when the funding is coming in (which averages $10,591 across the nation). School officials would much rather see homeschool students sitting in their classrooms, along with the $10k+ they would add to their lucrative budget.

Yet, does this mean that home educators are ripping off the system by not contributing their fair share into public education? Actually, no. Their tax dollars through property taxes and other taxes pay right into the public schools that their children aren't attending. So they are paying twice for education when they spend out of their pockets for homeschooling.

school choiceWhy public instruction?

When it comes to educating their own children, there is much contention that schools provide the best means to properly develop this nation's youth. In a nation that has been engrained in public education for generations, the public mindset is often against homeschooling.

With about 90 percent of this nation's youth going through public schools ... and with public school teachers and administrators continually arguing that students cannot be properly instructed at home away from the academic and social setting of conventional schools, there are many skeptics today who believe public instruction should be mandatory.

But why is public instruction such a dominant force today? Did it come about because studies were conducted that found the best educational setting for children?

Public education did not become the norm in the United States until the late 1800s, and this was not as a result of broadening intellectualism or heightened socialization standards. This transformation from homeschooling took place as a result of the Industrial Revolution, which took parents out of their homes and into the factories.

Schools were needed to take care of children while their parents worked in factories, and consequently, schools started resembling factories themselves, with bells signaling the beginning and end of operations in order to condition students for future factory life.

Other proponents of mandatory public education maintain that schools prepare them for the real world, unlike home instruction. Nowhere in America -- besides its schools -- do we find age-segregated institutions fenced in and separated from outlying society.

On the other hand, home instructors average involving their students in five activities per week outside the home, where they interact with society through field trips and other outings. They regularly visit fire stations, banks, parks, stores, government offices, gyms and museums to interact with the community and experience the real world.

The drive from the classroom to the family room

Even though research shows that homeschoolers perform markedly better academically and demonstrate better social skills than their publicly schooled counterparts, most home educators note religious reasons as the number-one determinant behind their decisions to homeschool, believing that the climate within school gates is hostile to their faith.

With Christians accounting for more than 90 percent of the homeschooling population in America, they believe that the political climate in public schools is intolerant of children's faith, which they see as under attack. They feel that moral behavior is often mocked in favor of moral relativism, which tells students to make up their own truths and single out as bigots those who believe in right and wrong based on their faith.

Many homeschoolers end up agreeing with former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who said, "To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society." 

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