Public ISP or Private PSP?

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I’ll admit at the start that I’m definitely biased: not only did I spend 16 years homeschooling through a PSP (private school satellite program), but I am still the administrator of that PSP. So, obviously, my personal preference lies in that direction.

But I recently began to assist in the homeschooling of my nephew, who was pulled from school mid-year and homeschooled through his public school’s Independent Study Program (ISP). So I have caught a glimpse of that manner of homeschooling as well.

(Be aware that there is a third choice in California, that of homeschooling completely on your own, by filing your own R-4. Never having done that, I can only say that parents who choose that option have complete freedom, and responsibility, for their child’s education, much greater even than choosing a PSP.)

As far as PSPs go, the level of freedom does vary. Our PSP allows families absolute freedom to choose their own curriculum, while others might have lists from which the family chooses their curriculum. We do not require attendance at multiple meetings (only 2), field trips, or park days, whereas some do have such requirements. But as a general rule, PSPs allow families the freedom to homeschool as they desire.

Not so with an ISP, where the curriculum is given to you, sometimes with a choice of options (not liking the math program my nephew’s school was using – Common Core!- we were allowed to use Saxon instead), with a list of what needs to be accomplished on a given time line. Verification of the completion of said work is due to your supervising teacher at specified dates and times.

Since we have freedom to use the curriculum, programs, and activities of our choice, families in a PSP are also responsible for the financial aspects of their selections. Those choices can vary from free books at the library and co-ops at the local park to thousands of dollars’ worth of pre-packaged curriculum and private classes and tutors at pricey establishments. While most homeschoolers tend to keep our expenditures to a minimum, it is possible to throw caution to the wind and rack up the costs … or to feel badly that we can’t afford to do so.

With an ISP, the materials are supplied, usually along with a taxpayer-provided allowance to use for classes, programs, outings, etc. Some rules do apply: all materials are returned to the school after you’re finished with them and classes and books from a religious perspective are not covered, or even, technically, allowed. (In fact, my friend’s son was not allowed to count our biology co-op for credit, because we used a Christian book.) However, the lure of free stuff is intoxicating. Who wouldn’t want their children to have their own laptop to use, their art, gymnastics and writing classes paid for, and a carefully-chosen, if politically-correct, array of textbooks at their disposal? It can be a powerful incentive.

Another difference is the level of scrutiny involved with being in an ISP vs a PSP. Being a private school, standardized testing is typically not required in a PSP. If a child isn’t ready for a particular topic or skill, it can be pushed off to another time and a new one substituted. A child having difficulty in a particular area can meander through that concept (my daughter took a year and a half to do Algebra 1), while skipping entirely those areas which their parents feel are unnecessary or redundant. In an ISP, you report to a supervising teacher, who keeps you on track, but also may or may not give you leeway in a subject, and who can revoke your “right” to homeschool if she is not satisfied with your child’s progress. It is also virtually guaranteed that standardized testing will be required.

However, with freedom comes responsibility … and isn’t that true for every part of our lives? Having complete responsibility for your child’s education can be daunting to many parents and the relief of giving, or at least sharing, that responsibility with a teacher can be liberating. Other parents aren’t willing to trade their freedom for security, or prefer to retain that control over their child’s education. Who am I to say what’s right for you?

In the end, it all comes down to personal choice: do you want freedom to homeschool as you choose, with all the responsibility that entails? Or do you want the guidance of a public school and the financial incentives that come along with that added supervision and control? The choice is yours, but I’d love to hear your reasons for your choice, if you’d like to comment below.

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