I’ve said this before and it’s worth repeating: competition is necessary in order to spur innovation and efficiency. We have laws and regulations that attempt to ensure that there is competition in the marketplace. When it comes to education, however, this principle is ignored and whether or not we are happy with the results, we have no choice but to continue to pay for them.
For those that have the means, there are alternatives. Parents can pay for private school for their children. The problem is, having already paid for a “free” education, most parents do not have the wherewithal to exercise this option. In West Virginia, a state with one of the lowest per capita incomes in the nation, private schooling is beyond reach for most parents. The statistics bear this out. Nationally, 10 percent of all school-age children attend private schools while in West Virginia there are only 143 private schools attended by 5 percent of all school-age children.
However, there is an alternative that is available to parents who may not have the means for private schooling but have the time and commitment to become a “do-it-yourselfer.” That alternative is homeschooling.
There has been a considerable amount of outpouring in the press recently regarding the firing of Jorea Marple as West Virginia state superintendent of schools.
In May 2011, Marple waded into the subject of homeschooling when, in her first appearance before the West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Education she was quoted saying, “West Virginia homeschoolers need more oversight, better standards, better evidence of progress; homeschoolers have too much flexibility.”
Marple hasn’t made any further comments about homeschooling. I suspect that the reason for this is that someone probably showed her the astonishing results achieved by homeschoolers.
There have been numerous studies that show that homeschoolers outperform their public school counterparts — by a lot. One study showed that the average homeschooled student scored in the 89th percentile (meaning that the student outperformed 88 percent of her peers) in reading, the 84th percentile in math and the 86th percentile in science.
This means the average homeschooled student scored more than 30 points higher than the average public school student in every category. Interestingly, parental levels of education don’t have much bearing on the results — that is, whether the parent has a high school diploma or is a Ph.D. — children from families with incomes below $35,000 do nearly as well as those from families with higher incomes. Even more, homeschoolers in states with no regulation of homeschooling do just as well those in states more heavily regulated.
Estimates nationally put the number of homeschooled children at approximately 1.7 million or a little over 3 percent, and the numbers are trending higher in recent years. In West Virginia, the estimate is 8,000 out of 282.000 students, or a little under 3 percent. In Jefferson County, estimates suggest there are about 500 homeschooling families, also a little below 3 percent.
It is common knowledge West Virginia’s public schools do poorly in national rankings. Standardized test results show that most students are not performing at grade level in spite of the fact that we spend more per pupil than most states. West Virginia spends well over $10,000 per student and that doesn’t include capital costs, only operating expenses. It is estimated that if you include capital expenditures, the cost goes to more than $12,000 per capita. By the way, the average homeschooling parent spends around $600 per student per year on their education, without burdening the taxpayer.
It is pretty clear that homeschoolers are doing something right. On the other hand, it is equally clear that something has gone wrong with public schools here in West Virginia. For my part, I don’t blame public school teachers. The system is broken and has let them down. Homeschooling parents are not burdened by the same regulations and constraints as professional teachers. They are free to innovate and the results speak for themselves.
To a certain extent, all parents are homeschoolers. Parents whose children attend public school still need to teach them important things – like the difference between right and wrong. Furthermore, it is a truism that the more that parents get involved with their children, the better they will do in school. I am not an expert in education, but common sense dictates that if it’s working — and homeschooling is clearly working — the government shouldn’t interfere.
Marple’s comments amounted to an unwarranted attack on competition and were not supported by the facts. I hope her replacement understands that competition is good and that maybe the Board of Education could learn a thing or two from homeschoolers.
— Elliot Simon writes from Harpers Ferry.