Homeschooling Comes Of Age, Institutionalized Homeschooling, Homeschooling and The Web
Educational Leadership Magazine Prints Four On Homeschooling
October, 1996: "Home Schooling Comes of Age," Patricia M. Lines; "Education at Home, with Help from School," Leslie Dahm; "Home Sweet Hassle," Wallis C. Metts, Jr.; "Individualization Starts at Home," Stephen D. Holtrop
This is really a case where limited space makes choosing one article over another an ulcer-producing activity. Fourteen pages of articles in Educational Leadership - where does one begin?
With Leslie Dahm's picture of Des Moines, Iowa's homeschooling assistance program, where several comments stand out. The city's public school system "was The first in the U.S. to offer a cooperative homeschool experience for parents who choose to teach their children at home." Started in '84 with 15 students, the program now has 310 students and Dahm is coordinator.
"Legally," says Dahm, "families may homeschool their children without district assistance. But," she adds, "we believe that the visiting teachers are critical...They offer support, counseling, and suggestions at every step of the process." The article emphasizes "offer" (as in legally it's not required so it has to be "voluntary" but likely would be required if requiring it wasn't illegal).
"We do not recommend that parents homeschool as a way to solve problems," explains Dahm in the closing. "For the majority of families, in fact, homeschooling is not a workable situation. It requires major lifestyle changes that many families are not able or willing to make." Now I've got a question: why would she not recommend the activity about which she also says "school administrators in our district have learned that the Home Instruction Program can accommodate many problems in a way that assures that the students' educational needs are being met?" I mean, isn't meeting needs the point? And if home instruction "accommodates many problems," isn't it, in fact, a way to solve problems?
I don't mean to make this article sound negative, because in many cases Dahm recognizes the real benefits inherent in home education. I guess I just wish she could straddle the fence a little further over on our side.
Metts' "Home Sweet Hassle" gives readers a first person glimpse into what he's learned in 13 years of homeschooling four children, first in Tennessee, later in Michigan. The idea dawned on him fifteen years ago while working on individualized lesson plans for a masters degree in curriculum. Impractical, said the instructor. Not at home, said Metts.
He shares the realization that a decision to homeschool "immediately became a political decision," for 13 years ago he and wife Katie had to lobby and rally for the right in both states. He's honest about the financial cost ("I've worked two jobs for 18 years so Katie could be at home... and make this work."), the challenge of age spread among the kids, and answering when folks ask, "Are you nuts?"
"If I sit in a room with homeschooling parents and close my eyes," explains the trained educator, "I notice that the conversations are not unlike those I've heard in faculty lounges and graduate classes." And he concludes: "Homeschooling is a labor of love, pure and simple. No children will be the worse for having experienced the focused attention of a caring adult, especially their own parent."
Huntington (IN) College's Professor of Education Holtrop unschools 3 children, "taking into account personality differences and stages, not ages." When people question the contradiction between professional and personal life, Holtrop tells them, "If I were an architect, I would probably design my own house."
Yet he says, "Unlike many homeschoolers, I am a firm believer in education." Doesn't this give his readers the impression that many home educators don't believe in education?! I think, like many, Holtrop uses the words education and schooling interchangably, as this statement appears in the middle of an explanation to fellow educators that he is not abandoning "the American educational establishment." Indeed, he says, "It seems reasonable for teachers to view my involvement with my children's education as support for what they are doing. We are on the same team... Maybe one of [my children] will become a public school teacher. That would make me proud."
I've saved the longest and, in my opinion, the best, for last. Patricia Lines is a Senior Research Analyst with the National Institute on Governance, Policy, Finance and Management. In "Home Schooling Comes of Age" she shares her stats on homeschooler numbers: "On any given day, more than a half million children are homeschooling - perhaps little more than 1 percent of all school-aged children and about 10% of those who are privately schooled... Assuming the average home-schooling experience lasts only two years, as many as 6% of all families with children could have some homeschooling experience." (Sorry, she doesn't explain where that assumption comes from.)
Pat provides readers a mini legal history of home education, noting that "in most cases, the courts have avoided the heart of the matter and - as is traditional in the American judicial system - ruled on narrow legal grounds." She continues: "State legislatures have responded more vigorously than the courts. Where many states once forbade home schooling, all states now allow it."
Next, Lines blows a hole in the concept of stereotypical homeschooler as loner. "In at least one survey of homeschooling parents," she reports, "95% of respondents said the single most important thing that they wanted was support and encouragement from family, friends, church, and community (Mayberry et al. 1995)." And, "though homeschoolers look to one another, they hardly look like one another." Whether school-at-homers or unschoolers, "the children are likely to take increasing responsibility for choosing and carrying out projects as they mature."
Increasingly, public opinion reflects acceptance of this educational option, though Lines counts among still staunch opponents the National Educational Association and the National Association of Elementary School Principals. "Even the national Parent-Teachers Association has passed a resolution opposing homeschooling." Despite these large organizations' sour grapes, "a small but growing number of school districts are offering homeschoolers access to schools on a part-time basis..." and Lines is excited about the emerging partnerships.
Challenges to homeschoolers' autonomy "are likely to face organized and informed opposition and legal challenges... In an interview with me, an experienced staff member of the Congressional Research Service compared the activity of the homeschooling lobby to that of the lobby for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. He noted, though, that unlike disability law backers, homeschoolers are merely reactive, rarely taking the offensive." (An observation worthy of study.)
Lines wraps things up with a section subtitled "Pointing the Way for Reform?" The debate on whether homeschooled kids perform better academically continues since "no one has undertaken research involving controls that indicate whether the same children would do better or worse in homeschooling than in a public or private school...," a seemingly impossible task. Still, you know what the available data says about test scores.
The ways in which homeschoolers socialize is well explained, followed by, "No conclusive research suggests that time spent with same-aged peers is preferable to time spent with people of varying ages."
Lines concludes: "Clearly, homeschooling offers the potential for a very different educational environment for children. As such, it could be an important resource for studying how children learn, and whether and when formal or informal learning environments are superior. To the extent that homeschoolers are willing to cooperate, they could provide an opportunity to study the effects of one-on-one lay tutoring, child-led learning, and distance learning... Growth in numbers, increased acceptance by the public, and opportunities for engaging in the policy arena mean that home-schoolers could be an important part of a coalition seeking educational reform at the state or national level."
Washington Homeschoolers Lured Into Gov't. School Programs Equal Cash
"Home-school Programs are Lucrative for Districts," Linda W. Y. Parrish, Seattle Times, October 1, 1996
Homeschoolers' time is pretty valuable. If all the estimated 20,000 Washington homeschoolers registered for just some government school time, the schools they attend would pile an additional $70 million in their coffers, or about $3500 a head.
As a result of a change in the rules by state education officials last fall for all alternative education programs, public school districts can get state money "for each homeschooled student who meets with school officials for as little as one hour a week." And programs are popping up all over the state, complete with waiting lists of potential users.
The strongest potential for power struggle that I glean from this article is the topic of materials; who pays and, more importantly, who chooses. Jack McKenna, lead teacher of the Lake Washington school district's new Home School Center, realizes "our core team of parents felt strongly that the parents need to be in charge of that." But "some educators are concerned that homeschool parents may use religious materials during the 20 to 25 hours a week that students are supposed to be using a district-approved curriculum," raising the issue of a constitutional violation of the separation of church and state. (One reason, any reason, may prove good enough to usurp parental responsibility for material, and a spiral of lost responsibility - and freedom - is set loose.)
The rule revision was originally "aimed at better monitoring of high-school students who are in alternative programs, but to give districts more flexibility, officials expanded it to all grades - opening the door to homeschoolers, most of whom are younger." Homeschoolers spoke in favor as well as against the program in this article.
Mary Roy Sullivan responded with a letter to the editor on October 15. She states, in part: "As long as school officials see easy money to be earned through homeschool programs, we will be courted to take part. The resources needed to support these programs are far less than the generous funding the district receives. It is important to consider the motivation for these services, and to remember your long-term goals for your family."
Homeschooling In New York...
"Homework," Celia Watson Seupel with V. C. Schwab, Hudson Valley Magazine, September, 1996, pp. 22-27
First, some numbers. "According to the state Education Department, homeschooling in New York has grown by almost 50% over the past three school years, from 8,248 in '92-'93 to 12,577 in '95-'96."
"New York State requires only that a specific number of units of specific subjects...be taught during specific years (one unit equals 108 hours of study). As implemented by homeschoolers, these regulations seem more like gentle guidelines than onerous burdens." More burdensome for many are the paperwork requirements which include quarterly reports, once-a-year "outside" assessment, and standardized testing in alternate years for grades 4-8, yearly in grades 9-12.
The authors point out that New York homeschoolers won't get a high school diploma, then state that not all colleges require them anyway (State University of New York at New Paltz, Vassar, and Yale, for example).
After many positive explanations of "what they do all day" from a wide variety of Hudson Valley area homeschoolers, a "pseudonymed" Barbara Hilliard explains why she's a "homeschooling dropout." For 3 1/2 years she homeschooled her now ten year-old son. Hubby "had always been ambivalent about homeschooling's educational benefits, and he wasn't happy about the loss of Barbara's income." (Give your supportive spouse a big hug right now!) Barbara says both she and her son were "frustrated" and she had discovered she's "not a good teacher." The family was also "disturbed by the dynamics of the homeschooling support group they had joined." Each of the five to ten member families had a different set of rules for their children's interaction so there were no "standards of behavior."
Barbara's son has found happiness in a local Catholic school with small classes but, she says, "I wish homeschooling could have worked for us."
Socialization loses its usual high priority and is relegated to this article's closing paragraphs where homeschooler Seth Samuel, who "compares notes with school-going chums" says, "They are tales of a life I'd never want to live."
A sidebar lists a few resources as well as the state's homeschool regulations which end with "May drop out of system at age 16." When a reporter writes, "May be liberated from the system at age 16," I'll conclude the subject has, indeed, been understood.
...And In Neighboring New Jersey
"Home Schooling a Growing Trend in U.S." Judith Thomas Lucas, Courier Post (Cherry Hill, NJ), Sept. 16, 1996, pp. 1, 6A
The second of two parts in a series on public school alternatives, this relatively short article makes New Jersey's regulations seem like a walk in the park compared to New York's. ("Parents must submit curricula to their local school districts to prove they will provide an education equivalent to public schooling." So short and sweet.)
Lucas cites national instead of state figures, proclaiming "the number is expected to reach 2 million" by 1998. She moves on to comments from homeschoolers, then gives the statistical picture of the "typical" homeschooler obtained from HSLDA. "Parents who choose this unorthodox teaching philosophy are generally college educated...they are racially and religiously diverse...they usually have more than 3 children. They usually earn more than $50,000 a year."
Spokeswoman Lynn Maher of the New Jersey Education Fund said: "We believe fiercely in public education. It is best for the children to see American values in action." And a quote from the National Education Association's resolution against homeschooling rounds out the "critics' corner."
Alongside the main article sits "Unschooling Lets Child's Interests Guide Learning," a first person glimpse by Tim Haas into the unschooling life with a 4 1/2 year-old son. Justifiably proud of his son, Alex, Tim also writes: "Unschooling lies along the more radical edge of the homeschooling movement. We don't follow a curriculum or worry about how Alex matches up against other kids his age. We even - especially - avoid the trappings of a conventional classroom. But we don't feel like radicals. We're just doing what has come naturally since he was born." Haas rounds out his article with a lovely interview with Alex who, we learn, likes everything about home schooling.
Can't Get Out Of The Web
"Webucation," Dan Keating, Smart Kid, September, 1996, pp. 73-75
"Web's a Winner for Home Schoolers," Mary Gooderham,The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), Oct 15, 1996, pp. C1, 4
"Finding genuine learning exercises on-line is harder than you might expect," says Dan Keating about half-way through "Webucation." I believe him. I think we spend twice as much time searching for the "good stuff" than we do actually using the "good stuff." While we started our surfing experiences by putting together a beautiful collection of web addresses, the task grew to overwhelming proportions, and many sites are here today, gone tomorrow, rendering any well-intentioned list obsolete the moment the ink dries. Still, we keep surfing because the "good stuff" is, well, really good.
Keating uses most of his space to share good sites on resources about education, specific on-line curriculum, general sites for teaching and major educational indexes. Remember, as Keating points out, there's lots of "dubious" info on the 'Net, but those who see the glass half full can view this as a wonderful opportunity to hone those critical thinking skills.
Toronto's newspaper coverage hooks together the web and homeschoolers with "Many of the 35,000 [to 40,000] Canadians who teach their kids at home are making the most of the new technology, and getting the encouragement of governments and school boards to hook up."
Several homeschoolers from a wide geographic area tell how linking up adds a new dimension both to learning and keeping in touch. Children of one family maintain their own Web pages on endangered species and Mark Twain. A Toronto homeschooling mom is in touch with other home educators in British Columbia, Arizona and New Zealand.
The province of British Columbia "has agreed to provide the latest computer resources and hardware to kids taught at home," a Pentium 75 computer complete with a one-gigabyte hard drive, a four speed CD-ROM, Internet access and a wide array of software, to be exact. (Don't clean your glasses - you read it right!)
The computers are slated for the 450 kindergarten to tenth graders who are part of the Nechako Electronic Busing Program (E-Bus) out of Vanderhoof, B.C., a program that likely will change the way money flows to province school boards. Currently, the local school board receives a few hundred dollars for books and assistance to homeschooling parents. "But when parents join E-Bus, which is expected to expand to other school districts, the board gets almost the entire allotment - about $4000 - to provide the equipment and on-line help."
So, what are the strings attached, you ask? The principal of the cyberschool, Ken Robertson says "the children must demonstrate 'provincial learning outcomes' that they would be expected to attain in the classroom and submit work to a virtual instructor for grading. Even with the computer, homeschooling parents still have to be deeply involved with their children's instruction. 'It's not for everyone.'" It seems the price of the program is a chunk of educational freedom, whether currently or not currently enjoyed.
Homeschooler Kelly Green points out that all homeschoolers are not into computers. Some won't have one in the house, can't afford it or can't "get around to figuring out how they work."
The "Internet culture," according to Wendy Priesnitz, who homeschooled her 20 and 22 year-old daughters, "is ideal for children taught at home because they are independent, 'active learners,' do not need to be spoon-fed information and are motivated to work outside of typical school hours." She suggests that "most students taught in schools will get less from the Internet because they have shorter attention spans, see the computer as a vehicle for games and consider education to be a limited - or at least a 9 am to 3 pm - proposition."
"Rainbow Program Delivers Sunny Skies: Special Attention for Temporarily Troubled Kids," Cynthia Dyer-Bennet, Argus-Courier (Petaluma, CA), October 8, 1996, p. B1
In the far-off world of educational experts, programs and "helpers," it just had to happen, a bizarre attempt to institutionalize homeschooling. Two elementary schools in Petaluma, CA recognize the problem: "Some of us remember...a time when we were desperately trying to assert some control over a world where we were constantly met with a structure imposed on us from outside forces - namely a classroom schedule that didn't match our own rhythms. It was both frightening and frustrating..."
The solution has been neatly packaged into "The Rainbow Program." Originally funded by grants and now by schools, the institutional answer is 30 minutes once a week in a "special" classroom "playing, talking to a sympathetic adult or drawing outside the lines." At a cost of $300 per child, the program lasts for 12 weeks and "approximately 45 kids per year are moved through this... acclimatization."
While the teachers in charge don't do any therapy, they "meet once a week with...school psychologist, Sandy Fox... to ask for advice on how to deal with their charges." Kids are selected for the program according to the answers given by teachers on a form filled with questions, whereupon "students who fall into certain parameters then become eligible..." Kids with "serious, long-term behaviorial difficulties" like ADD are not accepted. Parental approval is required, and very few turn down the program.
Not surprisingly, many kids love the program where, for a lousy half hour a week, they can "choose for themselves what they want to do with their time" and they often ask for another session. But, alas, "research has not supported that it has a lot of benefit for a kid to do it more than once."
Funny, isn't it, how the system can get so close - and yet remain so far away?
Out In This World
Various articles about homeschoolers out and about in the world:
* A News Watch reader opened up her Gardener's Supply Co. catalog, flipped to the backside of her order form, and saw the face of Destine Hoover smiling at her. Destine, a 17 year-old woman from Cheyenne, Wyoming, won the 1996 Gardener's Supply GROW Award (Gardeners Renewing Our World). Chosen as one who is using a love of gardening to make the world a better place, Destine "is a homeschooled high school graduate - the oldest of nine children - who taught herself the tenets of organic gardening... she began by hand digging a 4000 sq. ft. plot and raising all of her plants from seed." She also publishes a newsletter distributed at her produce stand at the Cheyenne Farmer's Market, and has been certified as "the youngest Master Gardener in the CSU Cooperative Extension program."
* Twelve year-old David Berube of Pembroke, NH is about to become the youngest inductee into Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for two-year colleges. David has pulled A's and B's in the computer engineering technology courses he's been taking at the New Hampshire Technical Institute since he was ten. His mom, Mary, sat through some of them with him. When David's finished with this year's computer real time interfacing class (The college's most difficult), all he needs to be admitted into an associate's degree program is an algebra course. Probably a piece of cake for a kid who played Algebra Dragons on his computer at the age of five.
* Homeschooled junior Josh Anderson captured the September 20, '96 Commentary spot of the Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA) with his piece called "Geek Alert! This Rock Music Rocks, Despite Stereotypes."
* Tennessee's Nathaniel Goggans rolled through homeschooling to become a National Merit Scholar accepted at all four colleges to which he applied, according to a USA Today article on October 28, '96 (p. 6D). The National Center for Home Education reports "312 colleges, 4-year and 2-year," have now accepted homeschoolers. Watch for that number to keep growing, as "Goggans is on the leading edge of a wave of home-schooled students - estimated at more than 1 million - formed in the mid-1980s that soon will be knocking on doors of the nation's colleges."
Worth Looking Up
* "Covert Ops, Christian Style" - Watch on the Right column, John Swomley, The Humanist, 7-8/96, pp. 31-32 - Amidst review of other, similar actions, Swomley gives a very brief history of HSLDA and National Center for Home Education's efforts to put the homeschooling movement "firmly in the hands of Christian Coalition types."
* "The Answer is National Standards," Sara Mosle, NY Times Magazine, 10/27/96, pp. 44 and more - "Education is a campaign issue without a focus. The school reform that really matters is not vouchers or charter schools or breaking the unions or wiring the classrooms. It's a curriculum set in Washington, and monitored in every town and city through testing." Well, everyone is entitled to an opinion, we just don't all get to share it as a NY Times Magazine cover story.
* "Can the Schools Be Saved?" Chester E. Finn, Jr., The Commentary (published by the American Jewish Committee), 9/96, pp. 41-45 - This former Assistant Secretary of Education thinks so.
* "Education, Freedom and the State," Richard Bostan, The Social Critic, May, '96, pp. 16-18 - "Some historians havae made the interesting assertion that literacy in America prior to the advent of compulsory education was probably higher than it is today. Unfortunately, giving young people the tools of learning was never the goal of education to those men, upper class intellectuals all, who wanted education centralized, financed out of tax money, and government-administered. Worse, the ultimate goals of the early advocates of public ed, like the institutions they left behind them, were inimical to individual freedom." Check it out.
* "The Home Alternative," Kathleen Holt, Oregon Quarterly (A University of Oregon alumni magazine), Autumn, '96 - an exceptionally interesting look at how (please forgive the "label") basically "democratic" idealists deal with the choice to leave the system.
* "Schooling at Home: A Matter of Choice," Vera Hogan, Tri-County Times (MI), pp. 1, 24A - a school superintendent sees Michigan's new law as giving the district a "monitoring function of some kind." A portent of dark things to come?
* "Back to School? Some Teens Learn at Home," Jennifer A. Koster, Richmond Times-Dispatch (InSync section), 9/6/96, cover story - A News Watch reader's daughter was interviewed for this one, so she was able to point out the numerous factual errors contained within. But looking past those, here's a pretty positive look at home ed. Coverage includes an additional article about a 17 year-old who bounced between homeschooling and government school before deciding to finish up at home. "It was exciting and a little scary the second time," says his mom. "It's so much easier to go with the system; then you don't have to think too hard." I'm thinking of putting that on a bumper sticker.
* Homeschooler and Letter-to-the-Editor King Ned Vare (CT) sends a bunch - "Get Government Out of Education," The Hartford Courant, 9/29/96; all in the Shore Line Times - "Readin, Ritin and Ritalin," 10/9/96; "Questions Surface on School Drug Policies," 9/18/96; "Retaliation is Way of Restoring Balance," 9/25/96.
* "Fight Over Surgery for Girl Pits Family Against Courts," New York Times, 9/22/96, p. 32 - Dallas, TX parents of 10 year-old Rachel Stout took her out of a U.S. hospital and headed to Canada for an alternative to the recommended surgical removal of the girl's ulcerated colon. Texas Child Protective Services tried, in vain, to get emergency temporary custody of Rachel but the Stouts left the country first. The Stouts are homeschoolers.
* "School's Out Forever," Laura Sinagra, City Pages (The Alternative News & Art Weekly of the Twin Cities, MN), 9/25/96, pp. 14-19 - An exceptional article for which I wish there had been room for more. An up close and personal look at four very different homeschooling families.
* The Fresno Bee (CA), 9/29/96 - More coverage that deserves a much closer look. A nice long article called "Families Value Homework," another titled "Lawyer Disputes Home-School Loophole (information courtesy of CA's Dept. of Ed lawyer Carolyn Pirillo), one on socialization activities called "Parents Strive to Provide Plenty of Social Interaction," and a sidebar outlining options available to CA homeschoolers and a few contacts to get one started.
HEM General Information
Subscribe to HEM