Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Elephant in the Classroom

Did you know that North Carolina now has more homeschooled children than children in private schools? Yep. Here's an article on that. And that was last school year. The state (my state!) probably has even more kids at home this year. Homeschooling grew by 27% in the last two years.

It's bizarre. Homeschooling is now pretty mainstream. Granted, the movement will never, ever surpass the public system in numbers, but each year it grows. And grows.


Why? School violence. Large class sizes. Bullying. Common Core. Lack of creativity in the public system. A niggling, underlying insecurity about public schools in many parents' minds. As more and more of their friends and relatives dive into the homeschool pool, parents can't help wondering, "Maybe it's not a crazy decision after all?" Then ... something happens with one of their kids at school, something negative or scary. Perhaps they re-examine their kids and realize that Kid #2 is actually really unhappy at school. Maybe it's time to give homeschooling a try ...?

Before you know it, all three kids are home, the dining room table is stacked with books. The kitchen wall is covered with maps and charts. The computer is in the den and the kids are taking turns at Khan Academy. The mom is on a few online forums finding out which geography curriculum is best. Boom! You're a homeschooler. Shockingly, most families find it's challenging but doable. And the rewards are enormous.

Here's another article. I post it for two reasons. First the expression on the mom's face in the top photo -- it's classic! Look at her mouth. That look does not mean, "What-in-the-world did they do to math since I was 15???" It's saying, "Huh. Didn't know that. Maybe I should go read up on Medieval architecture. That's fascinating!" Homeschooling is as much an education for the parents as for the children. Parents who love to learn love to homeschool. Plus, when was the last time you spent a full uninterrupted hour at home talking with your 13 year old son about what interests him? Would you like to do that several times each week, for years? How could it help your relationship with him?

Back to that article -- scroll down and watch the video by 15-year-old Trevor  Moran. He's become a Youtube personality. He touts the pros of homeschooling and claims public schools have almost no advantages. Realistically, not all kids are like Trevor. Some vastly prefer a classroom with 25 other kids. Some need lots of interaction and social time each day. Many kids desperately need imposed structure to help them perform and mature. Trevor doesn't; he's ambitious and independent, apparently. Homeschooling really works for the achievers, the performers, the innovators, the independent thinkers, the creative kids. In other words, homeschooling is vastly preferable for some of our best students. (Gulp) Yeah, it's true.

The elephant-in-the-room is this fact: the public system (because it is the public system) is cumbersome and slow to adapt, woefully unable to cope with the surge of homeschooling success. And yes -- it is successful, and fabulously so. The elephant-in-the-room is that the public system keeps its head buried in the sand. Read this resolution from the NEA (Nat. Teachers Association) in 2011:

"The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state curricular requirements, including the taking and passing of assessments to ensure adequate academic progress. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used. The Association also believes that home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools.  The Association further believes that local public school systems should have the authority to determine grade placement and/or credits earned toward graduation for students entering or re-entering the public school setting from a home school setting."

All of that drivel might seem rational if it were based on fact. Sadly for the NEA, it's not. All the current statistics (and lo, educators have many massive data banks from which to draw statistics) show that homeschoolers are outstripping public school kids at all levels -- assessment, grade performance, graduation rates, and college achievement. It's the very flexibility of homeschooling -- the parental choice, the student choice, the crazy curricula, individual schedules, homeschooling on a sailboat , the non-cookie-cutter life!  -- that produces homeschooling's success. When will the NEA see that? When will they reverse their lemming-to-the-sea mentality of making all kids the same?

For me, this quote says it all: "Homeschooling statistics show that those who are independently educated score between the 65th and 89th percentile on [standardized assessment] exams, while those attending traditional schools average on the 50th percentile. Furthermore, the achievement gaps, long plaguing school systems around the country, aren't present in the homeschooling environment. There's no difference in achievement between sexes, income levels, or race/ethnicity."

That's not a fatuous boast; there are independent studies and stats to back it up. Did you SEE that last sentence? "Achievement gaps," i.e., inequities, don't exist in homeschooling! Homeschooled girls do as well as homeschooled boys in math and science! Homeschooled boys learn to read and write more readily! Poor children do just as well homeschooling, with no disadvantages because there's less money in the home! Black children and Hispanic children perform just as well also! All the disadvantages and discrimination associated with being "less than" in the classroom vanish when the child is at home.

You'd think the NEA would adore a system that eliminated discrimination like that.

You can bet that the kids who feel discriminated against, or whose parents feel they are underperforming from no fault of their own, are being pulled home in large numbers.

And did you see the money? Each time a child comes home for his schooling, the public system loses $10,000. But his parents take on only an additional $500 cost. Education doesn't have to cost a fortune; we've always spent far less than that on homeschooling, per child, per year. The family's cost isn't in books and paper, or even online courses or soccer. It's in the loss of a paycheck when one parent stays home. But many families are finding flexible work-arounds for that too, with varying success. The explosion of online sources and tech-savvy kids has assisted home education. Some parents are working from home, working part-time. Lots of parents who've lost their jobs since 2008 (um, millions, yes?) have thought this: "Well, since I'm home anyway, and not getting a job anytime soon, I might as well teach my kids and have quality family time."

Homeschooling doesn't work for plenty of kids and plenty of parents. We will always have public schools. But it's high time everyone took their heads out of the sand and realized that homeschooling is mainstream, and it's here to stay. The public system must adapt permanently to the loss of a huge swath of its best members. Private schools must adapt to having a smaller place at the table. And homeschoolers must be unapologetic about owning their proud piece of real estate on the educational landscape.

8 comments:

  1. Very well said, I agree! I've always been a big advocate of homeschooling. I like home best for EVERYTHING! Smile.

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  2. Excellent post! I am in full agreement with homeschooling; I was a high school English teacher for 37 years in the public schools and saw many changes during those years. Since my retirement in 2006 I've become an even stronger homeschooling advocate.

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  3. I think home schooling is brilliant if you have a parent who can stay home to do it. I don't think we could afford it on our wages where we live (renting), we both have to work, being public sector workers (teachers!)x

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  4. Excellent post, M.K., and very well written. We homeschooled all of our children all the way through, and it was the best!!

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  5. Amen! Homeschool works exceedingly well for those of us who have anxiety problems as well. Plus there's tons more room to learn about the things that you'd like to learn about along with the essentials. My mom had a great system. For my brother and I she'd let us pick a theme, like, the Civil War or ancient Greece she'd wrap a lot of lessons into that theme, Spelling, reading, social studies, history ect. It worked really well for us. And kept us interested. :D

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  6. That is really interesting. I wonder what the ratio is in Texas. I will say I recently heard the superintendent of our district speak and it was interesting. He talk mostly addressed behavior/character and the things they are doing to improve that (reminded me of Liberty University with their Liberty Way). He is a Christian and was beseeching Christians to come to the school and mentor students. So I liked that attitude. It is a smaller district with only two High Schools. He did not address much about academics though and he did NOT mention a MURDER that happened last year...two students killed another over a girl. Not sure what character curriculum you implement for THAT. :P

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