By Chris Croll
I would like to highlight some alternatives to public education for parents considering leaving Loudoun County Public Schools. I am a parent who has paid tuition at several area private schools, homeschooled my child and, through my volunteer work, collaborated with many of the private and homeschool groups in the area.
While most K-12 public education alternatives are not free, they may be worth the investment for families who have religious, political, ideological, or other values that do not align with the direction in which our public schools are headed. Health may also be a factor in a parent’s decision to withdraw a child from public school. Some kids do better in less crowded environments or at home. Whether public, home, or private school is right for a family, parents need to feel good about where their children are being educated.
Homeschooling has surged in popularity since the start of the pandemic. Census Bureau research shows that 5.4% of American families homeschooled their children in the spring of 2020. That number rose to 19.5% by May 2021 and is likely even higher today. There are several homeschool models from which parents can choose, including a parent-led homeschooling model, an eclectic homeschooling model and a student-led model.
In the parent-led homeschool model, the parent becomes the primary teacher. This paradigm gives parents the greatest influence over what and how their children are being taught. Many resources are available to help non-credentialed parents teach their kids. Some materials, like those from Khan Academy, are free. Khan offers math, science, technology, economics, art, history, and test prep content that is delivered via You Tube video lessons. More formal curricula can be purchased online or at retail bookstores. The Home School Legal Defense Association estimates that the average parent spends $300 to $600 per year per child on courseware, games, books, and other enrichment materials when they homeschool their children. These expenses are usually not tax deductible.
In what is called the “eclectic” homeschooling model, parents determine the curriculum and focus of the education but the parents themselves are not the primary instructors. This was the model I chose when I homeschooled my son. I put together a curriculum that included language arts, social studies, and science classes from three separate online providers. My son attended his public middle school for math and foreign language classes because middle schoolers in Loudoun County who are taking high school level courses can enroll in LCPS on a part time basis. My son’s PE class was homespun; we lifted weights in the gym together. His music classes took place at Catoctin School of Music in Leesburg. I estimate that I spent about $1,000 for one year of eclectic homeschooling.
Student-led homeschooling, also called self-directed education, is where students study topics that align with their interests. This can be done at home in an “unschooling” model, where students follow their passions on their own, or in a more structured program such as the one offered at Embark Center for Self-Directed Education in downtown Leesburg. Embark provides a school-like atmosphere but customizable course work. Many Embark students develop such incredible portfolios, resumes and skill sets in their self-directed areas of study that they go on to attend competitive four-year colleges. Embark students have legal homeschool status, and they attend the Center on a schedule that is similar to that of a public school. Embark tuition is about $13,000 a year but the Center works with families if tuition is a challenge.
If neither public school nor homeschooling is right for your family, there are several private schools in and around Loudoun County that get high marks from parents. One of the largest independent K-8 schools, which is consistently recognized as a Loudoun County favorite, is Loudoun Country Day School (LCDS). The school’s ‘whole child approach’ emphasizes not only academics but also character-building, empathy, integrity, and community. LCDS tuition averages about $25,000 a year.
A faith-based option is Providence Academy, a Christian K-8 private school located in Leesburg. Providence tuition is about $15,000 a year.
The hefty price tag of private school does not seem to deter many Loudoun parents; both of these private schools, and others in the area, often have long waiting lists.
There are many reasons why parents might choose alternatives to Loudoun County Public Schools. Every family must make the decision that is right for them. We are fortunate to have a large homeschool community in our area, as well as a number of very good private schools.
Chris Croll is a writer, empathy activist and communications consultant. She is a member of the board of directors for the Ryan Bartel Foundation.