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School Choice: What's Best for Your Child?

  • Janet Chismar Senior Editor, News & Culture
  • Published Feb 11, 2004
School Choice: What's Best for Your Child?

Parents want to give their children the best educational experience possible, but many don't know what to look for when making their selection. What are the benefits and drawbacks of home schooling, private schools and public schools? Each child's needs are different, and each family could come to a different conclusion.


In her book School Choices, Jan Sheble guides parents through steps that will help them determine the best type of schooling for their specific situation. A retired administrator of several Christian schools in Maryland, Sheble earned her doctorate from the University of Maryland in curriculum and instruction. School Choices gives parents tools to evaluate the quality of local public schools and private schools by exploring accreditation, teacher credentials and curriculum. Lists of questions help families determine if they can afford to spend the time and money required for private or home schooling.


During a recent interview, Sheble shared some tips on how to make the best school choice for your family.


Crosswalk: As people try to sort this all out, what are some of the key factors they should consider?


Sheble: You have to know your child. That’s kind of a given. Some children might work better in small groups. Some might need the discipline of getting up and going to a school, as opposed to learning in their pajamas. Regarding home schooling, you have to think of your time, your finances and your energies. Home schooling is a huge commitment of your time. In considering Christian schools, you have to look at your finances too, because private school doesn’t come free. You might have a child who will be better in public school because there’s orchestral music or sports. Or, you might have a child who does much better without the peripheral noise. So, yes, there’s a lot to consider – and you might change your mind when certain things happen in your life.


Crosswalk: What are some of the advantages of sending children to a Christian school?


Sheble: I really feel that if the teachers are free to talk about Jesus, it makes life so much easier. I have been in public school situations when I have stopped myself in mid-sentence and I couldn’t talk about Jesus because of where I was. When I interviewed a lot of parents, they felt if their children could learn about the Lord during school time, then they’d be better steeled for when they get out into the world. And that’s the hope.


Crosswalk: Generally, does the curriculum and educational approach of Christian schools and public schools differ?


Sheble: The answer to that is yes and no! The general topics would be the same – phonics, math and geography. With the Christian school, you’d probably have a Bible section. That’s the main difference. You also have to consider the denomination of the Christian schools you are looking at. You have to be sure you can live with, or be in agreement with, their teaching. For example, if they’re Pentecostal, and you don’t feel that way, that can be a problem.


Crosswalk: What should parents look for when evaluating the quality of their local public and private schools?


Sheble: A lot of the public schools have grading systems now and while I’m not saying that is a perfect system, at least it’s a way. You might also want to see where the children go as they graduate. Are they going to Harvard or are they going to a community college?  Do they have honors classes in the public schools? As far as Christian schools – evaluating them – my personal feeling is that a school should be certified. Some of the states say Christian schools don’t have to get certification. But I just feel if they have submitted to another authority, then that’s a good thing – if somebody else other than them says it’s good.


Crosswalk: If parents enroll their child in a public school because of finances, or if that’s the best choice but they are dissatisfied, how can they improve their child’s educational experience?


Sheble: I don’t know any school that turns away volunteers. It’s a very valid way to find out what’s going on. I know grandparents my age who go in and read to first graders and that does help to enhance the school. As far as your child goes, I just think when you get to know the teachers and professionals, there are all kinds of things you can do. And you know you can pray for them. Dads too! I think God really listens when men join together to pray. I really do – not that He doesn’t listen to women – but it’s very powerful when men do it.


Crosswalk: What preparations do parents need to make for home schooling? What organizations and resources are available to help them?


Sheble: There are a lot of them listed in the book. Every state’s regulations are going to vary. I would say make phone calls, and lots of times, the state government will be able to tell you if there is an organization in the area. All of the information I found on the Internet is very accessible these days. That would be a good source.


Crosswalk: Can you give parents a few tips for surviving the stresses of home schooling?


Sheble: I would say get some support, but that’s true with most things in life. It helps if you have a support group or a friend down the street, especially if you could switch off kids for a day. It’s great if the kids have a playgroup too. I’ve been in cases where a church would allow home school parents to use the gym and kids can do their basketball thing and get their energies out. In my stepdaughter’s case, the kids use a local skating rink on Thursdays. The parents get to know each other that way too.


Crosswalk: Wrapping up with a final question about public schools. How can parents deal with the fear of random shootings?


Sheble: That’s a big concern. What do you do? I drive by the local high school and I see the police cars out there and I know there are metal detectors and I’m thinking, “Oh my word!” Of course, it’s like that at Busch Gardens, too. It’s everywhere today, especially since 9/11. But it’s a scary, scary thing. It’s at times such as this that we remind ourselves that God is in control. He knows each of His children and places a hedge of protection around them. Surely He is trustworthy and your children are in His hands at all times, whether it be at home, in a private school, or in public school.


Jan Sheble is a retired administrator of several Christian schools in Maryland. She earned her doctorate from the University of Maryland in Curriculum and Instruction. Her other published books are “The Oil of Joy for Mourning” and “Widowhood 101”. She and her husband Jerry Waggoner live in Wesley Chapel, Florida.