Challenges in Education: School Choice, Homeschooling, Special Needs & More

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  • 0:01 School Choice
  • 1:43 Public, Private, or Home
  • 2:45 Teacher Shortages
  • 4:35 Educational Vouchers
  • 6:12 Special Needs Students
  • 7:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has taught and written various law courses.

Current issues in education include school choice, educational vouchers, mainstreaming special needs students and teacher shortages. This lesson takes a sociological look at some of today's educational challenges.

School Choice

Where did you go to high school? A large, local public school? A small private school? Maybe you were homeschooled? Today's students have many different school options. Each school option presents unique challenges in education. There are a variety of educational choices, including:

  • Public schools, which are schools maintained through public funding for the education of the children of a particular community or district
  • Private schools, which are schools maintained through private funding and offering education to children who have been selected through an admissions process and paid the required tuition
  • Magnet schools, which are public schools that specialize in a particular area, such as technology, and are designed to attract students from all parts of a community or district, though the school may still require an admissions process
  • Exam schools, which are public schools offering specialized and advanced curriculum to students from across a community or district that meet the strict requirements of admission, including an entrance examination
  • Charter schools, which are publicly funded schools established through a charter that allow the school to operate free of some state and national regulations in order to meet the needs of the students and goals of the school
  • Homeschooling, which is independently led and funded education, typically by parents, that complies with state law requirements

Public, Private or Home

Today's discussions on school choice usually focus on the quality of public education. This is one of the most pressing issues in education, with some experts and politicians saying the public school districts are 'failing our children'. Families express concern regarding overcrowding, violence, falling test scores, lack of funding, teacher shortages, deficient moral education and a number of other public school issues. In recent years, the popularity of private schools and homeschooling has risen as a result.

There are around 5.5 million U.S. students attending private schools, which is around 12% of all students. In 2012, there were over 1.7 million children homeschooled in the U.S. That represents around 3.4% and is approximately the same number of students that attend charter schools.

Teacher Shortages

Certain public schools face teacher shortages and class size reduction initiatives, such as those schools located in low-income, minority and urban areas. Public schools, on average, have a student to teacher ratio of 16 to 1, where private schools have an average of just 12 to 1.

Families seeking a better education away from public schools might be on the right track. Statistics show that class size makes a difference. Private school students are more likely to graduate from high school and are more likely to attend a 4-year university than their public school counterparts. Homeschooling statistics are also impressive, with homeschoolers being more likely to attend and graduate from college than other students.

Other factors, like teacher expectations, also have an effect. Well-known sociological experiments known as the Rosenthal-Jacobsen Study and the Rist Study point to the symbolic interaction theory. This theory focuses on how teacher expectations influence student performance, perceptions and attitudes.

In both experiments, when teachers identified certain students as 'high-performing', those students rose to the occasion whether they had advanced abilities or not. On the other hand, students identified as 'poor-performing' continued to struggle even when testing showed them to be intellectually capable of excelling. This is an important consideration for public schools, because research shows that private schools and parent-educators maintain higher expectations for their students.

Educational Vouchers

Many argue that even more parents would choose private and homeschooling if those options were viable for all families. This is another challenge in education.

Private schooling is cost prohibitive for many families. The average tuition for private elementary school is over $7,000 per year, and the average tuition for private high school is over $13,000 per year. That's why, traditionally, private schools don't have a diverse student population. One study showed 72% of private school students were white, as compared to 54% of public school students.

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