+ Read in Sports Illustrated about a 9 year old soccer star who got invited to Man U's academy when his dad sent in a highlight DVD. Great control, good crossover, good spin move.
+ Shane had a post about education that reminded me I'd been meaning to ask him and Mark their opinion of homeschooling from an educational (v. religious) standpoint. Mark's answer was awesome (he's a professional educator), and Shane subsequently posted it:
Speaking analytically and from close to 20 years of firsthand professional experience, the public school system's fundamental problems are an anachronistic orientation (Agrarian calendar, industrial mass production, and Taylorist model, hierarchical control), a breakdown of the home to school social contract and iniquitous, unreliable & irrational funding mechanisms disconnected from the system's legally required objectives. There are other problems, naturally, but those are the major systemic stumbling blocks to wholesale improvement.
That being said, it is not obvious to me that the primary alternatives to public education are any better when measured with identical yardsticks (surprisingly, often they are worse). Those that are (usually idiosyncratic programs of high quality) suffer from a lack of scalability. You just can't set up a top-notch Montessori program for 75 million kids - in fact, it's tough to do so for 75. Anything that is scalable - like curricular reforms and high standards featured by many charter schools - can be done more efficiently in public education for reasons of economies of scale. The only reason it isn't done is lack of political will and budget.
Homeschooling works best when the parents are exceedingly motivated and well educated, and their children are young and intellectually curious. Many home schoolers abandon the effort when their kids hit junior high and high school and the subject matter becomes more specialized - these kids either come to me performing well-above grade level (about 25-30%) or below grade level due to significant gaps in content knowledge because Mom really didn't understand fractions or the Civil War or whatever and skipped teaching it.
Catholic schools vary in quality these days just like public schools because the number of members of religious orders teaching in them (highly educated folks working cheap) has declined severely. In Illinois for example, St. Ignatius College Prep is a top high school but the average Catholic high School here is staffed by secular teachers who weren't good enough to find jobs in the public school system. What Catholic schools offer as a system that public schools do not is a culture, discipline and a sense of identity that some people find valuable (and a leg up in applying to Notre Dame, DePaul, Gonzaga etc.).
Other private schools, military academies etc. tend to be highly specialized in terms of mission.
Essentially, instead of judging which system is best, I'd look at what specific schools are available in your area and select the one that is relatively better than the others. If they are about even, save yourself a bundle of cash and use the public school system - unless safety/discipline is a concern.
What a great answer from Mark!
One thing that occurs to me upon re-reading is something I read in Ray Baake one time: If your local public school is unsatisfactory, supplement it with classes, trips, tutoring, lessons, etc. You'll still save a bundle over private school.
One of my major objections to public school is all the wasted time. I object in principle to the inefficiency (v. homeschooling). But that objection, in itself, is, obviously, not finally determinative.