Christian Schools and Home Schools Are they allies or rivals?
Christian families who home school their children are sometimes perceived as rivals by small Christian schools which depend on tuition for economic survival. The board of one small Christian school of fewer than 30 pupils was jolted during the summer when four different families informed the board that they were contemplating either continuing or initiating home schooling one or more of their children who had been attending the school. There was no conspiracy; there was a variety of reasons for going the home school route. Some of the families were unaware of what the others were considering until it all came to light.
One big board worry, of course, was the loss of revenue. The board's chief concern, however, was the signal that such a change gave to the school community - especially in view of the fact that the parents in those four families represented five percent or former members of the board. Would the sudden change send the message that the board members were abandoning a sinking ship?
Appreciation for the board's situation led to changes in plans for some families. The crisis also forced the board to confront the issue of how the Christian school should relate to families wanting to home school their children. Could the school become known as the friend to home schooling families so that departures did not look like desertion from a failing enterprise?
I'm sure this little drama has been played on other stages, too. What resolution provides the best outcome?
In principle, biblically-based Christian schools and Christian families seeking to fulfill their obligations to educate their children by doing it at home are on the same side. It is too bad when rivalries divide the Christian community and dissipate its effectiveness in supporting the broad cause of Christian education.
In practice, however, there is the same tendency towards jealousy which is exhibited in the public schools when a Christian school arises in the district: "How come we aren't good enough for you anymore?" ''We're going to lose revenue (state subsidy for public schools tuition for private ones) if you pull out of our school." For a small private school, that can amount to the feeling that each family that leaves is kicking one more leg out from under the teacher's desk. How many more such losses can it absorb?
In some cases, the home schooling families expect to teach their children at home only in the earlier grades. They express the hope that the Christian school will be there when their students reach fifth grade, or junior high, or if home schooling turns out to be beyond the family's capabilities. Is there some way for home schooling families to help guarantee that the Christian school will still be there when they want it?
Let's hear the rest of the story of the little school mentioned at the beginning of this article. To show that they gave more than lip service to their affirmation that school and home schoolers are on the same side in the service of Christian education, the board proposed a working relationship that included the following features.
- Families interested in establishing ties with the Christian school had to file an application that was reviewed by the administrator and the grade level teacher.
- Children who were accepted were registered at the school for a fee.
- Registration gave home schoolers a number of privileges. It gave them access to books and tapes at the school library.
- Registration also gave home schoolers the use of text books and the purchase of workbooks and texts at the school price.
- They could also enroll, for appropriate fees, in such courses and programs as art, music, physical education, computer science – most of which met one or two times a week.
- Registered home school students could also take achievement tests with the school.
- They were invited to participate in school field trips and to attend the weekly chapel programs and other special events and assemblies.
- Their parents were urged to be active in the Parent Teacher Fellowship.
- Perhaps most importantly, the school gave home schoolers a sympathetic "support system" – the state-mandated, certified school or teacher who periodically checks and reports that pupil progress is satisfactory.
State laws vary, not only from state to state, but over time. In this state the law has just streamlined the home school approval process by eliminating the local public school board's involvement with decisions to approve home school programs. All approval is done by the state commissioner's office, and fewer families appear to be rejected. Previously, one requirement for approval was that the home schooling family had to arrange periodic assessments of their children's progress – made by a certified teacher or by a school – or by demonstrating academic progress on achievement tests. Even if that stipulation is no longer in force, families may find it helpful and desirable for gauging their children's progress to receive teacher evaluations and, in addition, annual achievement test scores.
At the mid-point of this first year, it can be reported that about a half-dozen families have entered into the cooperative arrangement with the Christian school. The cooperation seems to foster a sense of unity between home schoolers and the school. Some home schoolers pitch in and take turns cleaning the school to demonstrate their support and encouragement. Each family picks the privileges that suit their needs. Some take advantage of the swimming program when the winter physical education classes go to the YMCA. Some use the library facilities and text books. Others go on field trips and attend school programs. So far the liaison seems to be well received, and when these families decide to switch to a Christian school, or when they recommend a Christian school to others, this school, which has tried to be an ally rather than a rival, is the one they will be most likely to support.
The responsibility for parents to educate their children is inescapable. The responsibility for Christian parents to guarantee that their children receive a Christian education is also inescapable. If satisfactory local Christian schools are available to reinforce that parental responsibility, so much the better, if, for reasons of expense, distance or family situation, that option is not available, then parents willing and able to home school their children might look for a Christian school that would permit the kind of cooperative arrangement that has been described here.