Sign up for our newsletter
Home » News & Analysis » Commentary » How to Give Your Child an Expensive Private Education – For Less Than $3,000 per Year, Part III (Michael Strong)

How to Give Your Child an Expensive Private Education – For Less Than $3,000 per Year, Part III (Michael Strong)

This is the final installment in a three-part series on homeschooling.  Part I is here; part II, here. -ed.

Part III.  “High School” Academics, a Substantial Enterprise, and Costs

1.  High School Academics

A child who reaches the age of twelve, thirteen, or fourteen, and who has read extensively, written extensively, and has completed advanced algebra, is ready to explore serious college level coursework.  Although the child can continue on the existing paths of deep skill development, it is appropriate at this time to enroll the child in a serious mainstream academic course, in any discipline, so that the child can develop the skills needed to succeed in mainstream course-work.  There are courses available at local schools, community colleges, and on-line.  A child may also prep for an Advanced Placement exam with a coach in order to acquire this kind of experience.

Depending on the study habits developed over the years, the skill level achieved by the child, the child’s personality, and the quality of the academic coach, the first course or two might be difficult.  The orientation should not be at all that a failure has occurred, but rather than this a fundamental element of the strategy:  instead of wasting years in meaningless coursework, you, your child, and your child’s academic coaches have adhered to a strategy of optimal skill development rather than content coverage.  But if the child has decent work habits and has very high level skills, these courses are likely to be easy.  If not the first time through, then soon enough.

The metaphor of “coach” is important here.  Adam Robinson’s What Smart Students Know may be an appropriate supplementary guide.  Rather than a “teacher,” the coach observes the child’s existing strengths and weaknesses and, coming from a place of maturity and experience in preparing for such exams, the coach focuses on developing the specific skill sets needed for the child to succeed vis-à-vis the test.  The ideal is complete auto-didacticism – the child should be developing the ability to prepare for any test on his or her own (A Princeton Director of Admissions was once asked if there were every any “obvious admits” among applicants – and he mentioned a student who had obtained a perfect score on an AP Chemistry exam without having taken a course in AP chemistry.)  But the coach is providing individualized mentoring so that the child knows how to organize her time and attention to optimize performance.  This period should be similar to that of an athlete in training:  All parties know that a challenge is being faced, and that personal excellence in facing that challenge is the goal being pursued by all.

By means of such a strategy, on the academic front a child should be well prepared to take, and pass, a diverse array of AP courses by the age of fifteen.  He or she should also have developed the ability to score well on the SAT.  Not all students may have the capacity to score above 1400, but if they have spent the entire period in a profound commitment to fundamental skill development, most will score far more highly than they would have scored had they spent their time in school.  

Consider the advantage your child will have had if she has spent 3-5 hours each day reading for the past ten years, 2-3 hours engaged in mathematical activity for the past ten years, and 2-3 hours writing each day for the past ten years.  Most students sit in class listening for six hours per so each day, of which much of that time actually consists of teachers managing the class rather than teaching.  The only real time that children practice skills are when they do homework at night, at which point they may be tired and longing for play or free time.  A child that reads, writes, and does math from 9-5 p.m. each day, with time off for lunch, will spend far more hours actually learning than does a child who goes to school – plus that child will be free to spend family time together in the evening instead of chained to their desk at night doing homework.

2.  Undertaking a Substantial Enterprise

Finally, assuming you and your child have done a superlative job on the academic side, at some point your child should undertake a substantial enterprise.  In traditional cultures young people typically underwent a right of passage at the age of thirteen or so, after which they were welcomed into the adult community with adult responsibilities.  In American culture prior to the imposition of compulsory schooling, individuals such as Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas Edison began their careers at thirteen and built a foundation for lifetime achievement upon real world achievements in adolescence.  This type of real world achievement should be a goal for you and your child.

Often parents eager to get their children into elite colleges are eager for their children to participate in many school “activities.”  And yet colleges are overwhelmed with students who list participation in numerous activities.  They are more interested in real achievement than in long lists of “participations.”  It is one thing to be student body president; it is another to create a successful business, publish an academic article, or develop a career as a professional musician prior to entry into college.

If you have allowed your child the opportunity to develop his or her interests over the years, by adolescence they may well be ready to take a particular interest far more deeply.  Whatever they choose to do should come from them and their passion, not from your conception of what they ought to do.  You can discuss with them what counts as “superb performance” in their chosen domain, and help them to obtain mentors and external benchmarks so that they are both prepared for their challenge and have opportunities for clear feedback on whether or not they are advancing towards their challenge at an adequate rate.  But the expectation should be that they are now living their life – this is not a dress rehearsal.  They will be judged openly by the explicit standards of the adult community.  Part of the ritual of a “right of passage” was the notion of challenge oneself to prove that one was sufficiently capable and mature to join the adult community as a fully responsible member.

From this perspective, existing K-12 education is largely training in immaturity.  We neither expect nor allow our children to aspire to real achievement.  It is all a game for children, and they know it.  One of the goals of having read real books, magazines, journals, and newspapers rather than textbooks is to have introduced your child fully into the adult world as it really is.  They should know about business, and government, and relationships, and entertainment not as “subjects” to be taught but as living realities in the adult communities in which they were raised.  The thousands of hours of conversations should have focused them not on preparation for tests, but rather on understanding the real world of real life.

As a consequence, your child should have a superior understanding of how the world works and what it takes to succeed in that world.  He or she should aspire to create something meaningful in that world, be it by means of employment, volunteerism, virtuosity in sport or music, or the creation of a new enterprise.  Perhaps she will learn to repair Porsches; or create a business importing crafts from a micro-enterprise; or learn performance-quality classical guitar-playing.  These markers of excellence are more meaningful and valuable than are lists of “activities” in school – and good universities know it.


Twenty-five dollars an hour buys an excellent tutor (or academic coach) in most parts of the country.  Many graduate students or retired people would be glad to te

ach a well-behaved, motivated young person for $25 per hour.  Two days of mathematics coaching would thus be $50 per week; another two days of humanities (reading, writing, and conversation) coaching would be another $50 per week.  At one hundred dollars per week one can buy thirty weeks per year of personalized academic coaching for $3,000.

Whether it requires more or less than this to educate your child depends on his or her motivation, your own skill set and time, and your local talent pool.  Your child might need more hours of contact time per week, you may be able to supplement tutors so that your child needs less contact time, you may find great people willing to tutor for less, etc.  In an alternative model, the parents may provide 100% of the instruction until secondary school, at which point you could budget more than $6,000 per year for custom secondary instruction.

By means of creating joint lessons with other home-schoolers with children interested in similar subjects, you could hire tutors for small “classes” of students and share the costs.  Thus if there were four students engaged in a given set of lessons/tutoring sessions your $3,000 would stretch to four times as many contact hours.  Indeed, in some cases these informal tutoring arrangements can result in the creation of a “private school.”  The point is not whether or not it is a school – it is whether or not your child is getting first-class, personal attention from a talented and caring educator who knows and loves their academic subject.

The more fundamental point is that by means of focusing on truly essential core behavioral characteristics, such as responsibility, motivation, politeness, etc., and on very high-level core academic skills, including serious reading, writing, and mathematics advancement, it is possible to provide a superb education for your child at home for very little cost.

Michael Strong is the author of The Habit of Thought, a book that describes how to use intellectual dialogue in the classroom to develop deeper reading, writing, and thinking skills.  He has also founded several innovative schools based broadly on the strategy described in his book and above, including Moreno Valley High School in Angel Fire, NM, which was ranked the 36th best public high school in its third year of operation based on the Washington Post’s Challenge Index.  His two children, now eighteen and fourteen, have spent a portion of their K-12 education outside of formal schools engaged in activities similar to those described above; both have been admitted to prestigious schools and (in the older case) universities despite an unorthodox schooling.


  1. No comments at this time.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *