March-April 2000 - Columns
News Watch - Linda Dobson
Studying Homeschooling, Teachers Unions, Sports
"Unexplored Territory," Jeff Archer, Education Week, December 8, 1999
Archer sums it up in his opening paragraph. "Imagine this call for papers: Wanted: Studies examining fast-growing educational innovation. Researchers must be willing to contend with near-impossible sampling problems, risk being labeled ideologues, and have their work trashed by supporters and opponents of the approach. Funding possibilities - and the likelihood of publication: minimal."
But, of course, he's speaking of research on homeschooling, and he uses the Rudner study, "which cast homeschooling in a favorable light," as a shining example. "It was the first time his research ever generated hate mail," Archer said.
Many researchers, we learn, claim "that the interest of scholarly journals and potential funders diminishes the further a topic moves away from public education." Add to this the fact that most homeschool research is "simply descriptive," or just states what the state of affairs is, and it's no wonder Gregory J. Cizek, an education professor at the University of Toledo calls the situation, "a very uncoordinated research agenda, by people who often don't know each other or who have never met each other, and it's the first or last thing they've ever done on homeschooling."
The nature of homeschoolers, as you can imagine, doesn't help research matters, either. As Home Education Magazine's Mark Hegener explained, "When we start doing research, we start relying on credentials, on experts, and start moving away from parents and families and their own values."
It was eight years ago that Maralee Mayberry, a sociology professor from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, conducted the research that became the basis of Home Schooling: Parents as Educators as she sought to simply "describe who homeschools and why."
"Indeed, despite the view that the typical homeschooler is a conservative Christian," states the article, "Mayberry says a central finding of her study was the great variety of ideologies and pedagogical beliefs among homeschoolers. 'The popular myth out there was that this was kind of a monolithic group motivated by religious attitudes,' Mayberry says, 'and I think The things our book was able to do was to shatter that myth.'"
So what's a serious researcher to do? Cizek "suggests that they try examining homeschoolers more on their own terms-There haven't been many studies about persistence. What's the typical experience of a homeschooling family? It'd be nice to know something about the post-homeschooling experience." Others "believe homeschooling provides a unique setting for studying how students learn in different environments." As an example, the article points to the mid-1980 research of anthropologist Mary Anne Pitman who "spent six weeks observing a group of homeschooling families to discover how children acquired information outside formal educational structures. She found that the students learned quite well from spontaneous events." (Research was basis of book called Home Schooling: Political, Historical, and Pedagogical Perspectives.)
The future of homeschool research is anyone's guess, though some weeks it seems as if everybody and her brother is requesting information on homeschooling for a dissertation she's working on. "The question is whether that increase will be followed by growing interest among grantmakers and prestigious journals."
North Carolina's "Flood of Books"
From the NCLOOP by Diane Allen
In response to the floods in North Carolina last year, a group of homeschoolers decided to put together a "Flood of Books," homeschooling materials donated by folks across the country for families who had lost everything. "By the middle of November," explains Diane, "we had collected literally tons of books." Distribution began early in December with help from the Wilson, Greenville, Green County and Rocky Mount area homeschoolers, who also made sure TV crews covered the arrival of the books.
After twenty to thirty volunteers spent a full day sorting books, those who had lost "their entire home and/or library in the flood" shopped first. "The most rewarding moments were when someone found an exact replacement for what they lost - a treasured story book or a necessary text- one family took five or six hand-truck loads of boxes of materials. I was a little worried about hoarding until The volunteers explained that they had eight homeschooled children!"
The next shoppers had suffered flood damage, but hadn't lost everything. With plenty of materials left, the shopping was then opened to everyone. "We only asked that families who did not suffer any flood loss 'pay' for their books with a contribution to the flood relief fund being managed by the statewide homeschool group."
"Many of the people who came in this last group of shoppers were economically challenged families and they were unable to donate very much. One woman told me she had never had any homeschool books as nice as these because she couldn't afford them. Others gave very generously. One grandmother stopped in all excited to shop at the 'book fair' and was surprised to learn that it was a relief effort and not some organization's fundraiser. She was hoping to get something for her little grandson for Christmas. I explained what we were all about and invited her to look through our board books. Carefully she selected one beat-up board book, and two well-read Little Golden Books, and pushed a twenty dollar bill into the collection jar.
"We all came together despite differences in cultural heritage, religious conviction and educational philosophy. As a large group we accomplished what could have never been accomplished by an individual or single group-" Kudos to all the North Carolina volunteers whose work and dedication made a "Flood of Books" a huge success.
Heroic Homeschoolers in Afghanistan
"The Courage to Learn," Bob Herbert, New York Times, November 25, 1999
When the Taliban took power in Afghanistan a few years ago, educating young girls became illegal. "But quietly," says Herbert, "and with very little in the way of resources, brave groups of Afghan women have been conducting underground classes for girls in private homes and other secret locations." Herbert states he has been in touch with women who are running at least 30 home schools in Heart, Kabul and Jalalabad.
The schools seldom go beyond sixth grade, and their teachers are specially trained and receive a small salary. Herbert describes how The home schools typically gets started. "A female teacher, now barred from working, decides she wants to somehow continue teaching. She discusses this with members of her extended family, usually over tea. If the family supports the effort, then neighbors begin to be included. Word spreads. Pupils who are considered 'safe,' who can be trusted not to reveal the existence of the school to those who might betray it, are recruited. A home in which classes can be conducted is selected."
Initially uncoordinated, the home schools effort is receiving increasing support from organizations including the American Jewish World Service and the Global Fund for Children which route the money for security purposes through the human rights groups, Creating Hope International.
The home schools are currently teaching about 1,000 girls, with teachers being told to try to teach in a way that doesn't depend so much on books which are in very short supply. "Right now there are so many people coming to us," says a source who would not reveal her name, "so many people who want schools to open that it's overwhelming."
American Jewish World Service's president Ruth Messinger concludes, "This is a community that is facing oppression and violence beyond our imagination, and they have nevertheless taken their future into their own hands. We are very proud to stand with them."
Teachers Unions Sounding Off in Two States with Large Homeschooling Populations
"Homeschooling: Trend or Fad - It's Becoming Reality in California," Margie Gentzel, Capitol Weekly, October 18, 1999
"Bush and Homeschooling" (www.democrats.org/features/campaign2000/bushaccountability/home.html)
The article on homeschooling in California included coverage of homeschooling through the eyes of two large organizations, HomeSchool Association of California (HSC) and the Christian Home Educators Association (CHEA). As always, though, a contrasting view was needed for the article, which Gentzel found in the person of Elaine Johnson, Assistant to the President of the California Federation of Teachers (CFT). The CFT is smaller than and separate from the California Teachers Association.
Ms. Johnson states: "The motive for those parents who homeschool is based on a deep-seated, unspoken racism- These parents are concerned about what group of people the child will be among. Much of the motivation for setting up homeschooling concerns what parents want to avoid. This is exactly like what happened in the south after Brown vs. the Board of Education. We got white flight from the public schools in the south. The result was an erosion of the quality of public schools. We need to ask the question, does the parent want to homeschool his kids because he doesn't want his kids in school with brown and black children?"
Believe it or not, she's not finished yet. "-teaching is a full time job. You need to make that time available to a child. The motivation for parents to homeschool is to obtain vouchers or other funding support from the state. How good a job will the parent do as a teacher if he can't get a job doing anything else?"
These leaps of logic wouldn't get an "A" in a kindergarten class, and Ms. Johnson should be ashamed of herself for not doing her homework. How many California homeschoolers do you know who are receiving voucher or other state funding?
And then there's the Democratic party's website using homeschooling to criticize Texas' presidential contender Governor George W. Bush. "Two teachers groups," states the site, "the Texas State Teachers Association and the Texas Federation of Teachers expressed worries that homeschooled students were being taught by parents who did not have college degrees or teacher training."
The site also latches on to the perceived problem of truants disguised as homeschoolers. According to Robert Forman, a Dallas Justice of the Peace who hears truancy cases, "the number of parents using homeschooling as a way to conceal truancy has grown so quickly that 'I could stand outside my court asking people if they wanted to buy a letter saying they were homeschooling and make so much money, it could be my retirement.'"
How long is it going to take before somebody begins questioning why such large numbers of children don't want to be in government schools?
Isn't It Ironic?
"Investigator: NYC School Officials Helped Kids Cheat to Boost Test Scores," Associated Press, December 8, 1999
So what's going on in those happy, hallowed halls filled with ethnic diversity and overseen by credentialed experts? In a word - cheating - on standardized tests, in at least 32 New York City schools. Fifty-two employees were removed from their jobs after children reported that "the proctor walked around the room and pointed out incorrect answers, saying either 'that's wrong' or 'do that one over.'" Proctors at other schools "gave answers outright or even wrote on a child's exam."
Investigator Edward Stancik said "scores at P.S. 234 improved from 29% of third graders reading at the appropriate grade level to 51% reading at grade level." Guess that's all that counts.
"The Fun They Had"
"Teachers Work Hard for Little Money," Jennifer Hord, The Oracle (University of South Florida), November 23, 1999
Isaac Asimov's 1951 short story, "The Fun They Had," takes place in a future where children learn at home with computers and look back to "the good old days" when kids went to school. Hord remembers thinking the children in the story were pretty dumb when she was in third grade. "It would be so much better to get to stay home every day," she states.
Citing school overcrowding, discipline problems, overworked and underpaid teachers, Hord thinks, "It might be time for America to adopt such a system."
Hord even succinctly presents for the reader all the arguments against this approach: "Parents are too busy working to focus on their children's schooling. Homeschooling deprives kids of social skills development. Online courses could never replace a teacher's physical presence in the classroom." She sees the reader's points and raises her own points which result from her own work on an English education bachelor's degree, "only to realize I'd have to be out of my mind to want to teach high school for a living." Hord wants more money for teachers.
Blaming poor teaching for classroom discipline problems is another pet peeve she admits. (Actually, this makes her "livid.") "Teachers must deal with overcrowded classrooms which often are not classrooms at all but trailers, inadequate supplies, hassled administrators and apathetic parents. On top of that, many must fear for their safety every time they enter the school building. And we wonder why teachers can't teach and students aren't learning." Please give Hord's education college the credit for doing its job very, very well.
Small But Significant
"Study: Day Care Slightly Weakens Child-Mother Bond: But Researchers See No Reason for Parental Alarm," CNN, November 8, 1999
Findings from the government's National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) Study of Early Child Care were big news from CNN on November 8, 1999: "Young children in day care are slightly less likely to bond well with their mothers than stay-at-home children." (Wouldn't you like to know what this study cost taxpayers?)
1300 subjects and their mothers got tracked beginning in 1991 when the subjects were six months old. They're in third grade now, but the "released portion of the study only covers the period from ages 6 months to 3 years." The released portion "found a 'small but significant' link between time spent in day care and how positively a child interacts with his/her mother."
But so as not to "unnecessarily alarm" parents, researchers caution "the results are preliminary and there's no way to judge how much time in day care may be too much." The researchers added, "I wish we could say, 'Here's the answer folks, 40 hours is fine and 50 hours is not fine.'"
As if reading my mind, the article goes on to state, "This latest day care report contradicts more positive information about day care in years past. And with three out of five U.S. preschoolers already in some form of child care, the findings may reinforce the concerns of millions of parents worried that having their children in day care may not be a wise decision."
Millions of parents have worries about the wisdom of day care, likely at least partially attributable to intuitive understanding, yet these findings are just so "horrifying," the researchers feel compelled to "emphasize they see no cause for alarm or any lasting impact on overall child development. In short," they conclude, "working mothers don't need to quit their jobs."
And what do child care providers add to the "dialogue?" Parents, they say, "should be more concerned about the quality of care than the quantity of time a child spends away from home." (Why is it assumed we have to choose one or the other and can't add quality and quantity as one of our choices?)
Stay tuned. "Test subjects" will be followed for another year until they reach fourth grade.
More Research Closing In On The Secret
"Best Way for Kids to Learn: Just Let 'Em Do It," Hilary Waldman, Los Angeles Times, November 9, 1999
For just shy of $4 million, federal researchers are trying to discover how children with disabilities learn best. The principal investigators, psychologist Carl J. Dunst, says, "People get hung up on coming up with activities instead of taking advantage of naturally existing opportunities."
It will be two years before the study is over and we can see if observations like the above have any impact on actual practice (I'm not holding my breath). In the meantime we can hope that the researchers see lots more examples like Kaley O'Brien, a three-year old with Down's Syndrome, and her mom, Lorraine. As mother and child went about their daily activities, which included a grocery store trip, a Halloween parade and a Gymboree class, researchers were "amazed" by the resulting amount of informal learning.
The researchers are also realizing that some of the special ed programs taught by teachers aren't compatible to how the children actually learn. (Let me say it - duh!) "The researchers compared the relationship of children's everyday experience with what the teachers were doing during home visits," states the article. "'We found a tremendous mismatch,' Dunst said. And oddly enough, the researchers found the teachers had a lot to learn from the parents."
Distance Learning Programs
The Survey of Distance Learning Programs in Higher Education, 1999 Edition, Primary Research Group, Inc., Dec., 1999
Based on a random sampling of 61 college and university distance learning programs in the U.S. and Canada, this survey of Asimov's futuristic view of learning applied to higher ed put forth some interesting stats on number of students and courses in each program, the marketing of distance learning, profit margins, costs and expenditures, and the duration of courses. Here's just a few of those stats:
* Sample programs offered a mean of 65.9 distance learning courses/semester.
* Instructor/tutor salaries account for the highest percentage of the programs' total costs and expenditures at 31.72%, down from 37.21% last year.
* 86.96% of the programs operate at a profit, with 13.04% operating at a profit greater than 50%.
* 13% of public colleges and 27% of private colleges in the survey describe courses as tailor-made for distance learning.
South Park, Episode 313
Yes, it was only a matter of time before the toilet humor of South Park Elementary School's cartoon was aimed at homeschooling, and what a job they did in "Hooked on Monkey Fonics." The school is having a spelling bee, and Rebecca and Mark, two homeschooled siblings no one has ever seen before, show up to participate. (The homeschoolers spell hard words; the school children have trouble with simple ones.)
After the bee, the homeschoolers decide they want to go to school, and Mark learns about school-style socialization through baptism by fire, as does his father who, at a bar, makes known his preference for wine coolers over beer.
School-kid Cartman decides homeschooling is the way to go, and proceeds home to crawl into bed and eat chips. Homeschooler Rebecca adapts to school by dressing as a tramp for the school dance. Overall, the parody was mean and dumb public school kids, and overprotected, socially misfitted homeschoolers.
Willing To Compromise on Sports Issue
"Outside, Wanting In," John Cloud, Time, December 27, 1999
It still feels funny to see an issue that divides the homeschooling community reported in a national magazine, but there it is - "Homeschoolers won the right to escape the public system. But should they be able to play on its teams?"
The setting is the state of Michigan, and you've heard the basic argument before. Family (in this case, the Tolbert family) wants athletically talented kids to participate on school teams, and chooses to sue the school system on the basis that lack of inclusion is unfair: "We all pay the same taxes." Opponents answer, "No. Homeschoolers' inclusion is unfair to school students on the teams. They follow strict requirements, like good attendance and decent grades, in order to participate. Parents might lie about their homeschooled athletes' academic performance."
The article reveals a reason for the apparent paradox of a group of folks who worked so hard to free themselves of government schools only to turn around and demand to be let back in for sports - the group, it is a-changin': "The homeschool movement has reached beyond the odd coalition of religious conservatives and counter-cultural libertarians who started it. Now the top reason parents give for homeschooling is dissatisfaction with public schools, where guns, drugs, and peer pressure leave them feeling vulnerable. This new generation of homeschooling families doesn't necessarily believe that public schools are unholy. And many want their children's character toughened by swim meets and coaches' whistles and Friday-night football games."
Indeed, homeschooling loses x number of teens to schools when the desire for sports participation outweighs desire for educational autonomy, and the lawsuit in which the Tolberts are co-plaintiffs with six other families is going well for them. Their attorney, Stephen Safranek, is employed by the Thomas More Center for Law and Justice, "a religious-rights group founded by Thomas Monaghan, the conservative Catholic who sold Domino's Pizza last year for something like $1 billion," and the Center is providing necessary financing.
"In August a state judge issued a stinging decision against the schools. She said that while participation in interscholastic athletics is a privilege, not a right, there's no reason taxpaying homeschool families shouldn't enjoy that privilege. But it was only a preliminary ruling that allowed the case to proceed; the first full trial is set to begin in the spring."
Other Michigan homeschoolers previously tried to open the gym doors through political means. Pro-homeschooling Governor John Engler "called for homeschooler access to public teams in his state of the state address." Republicans introduced a bill to legislate inclusion, "but proponents were no match for John Roberts, head of the Michigan High School Athletic Association, the nonprofit that writes the rules for athletic eligibility, rules adopted by almost every school. Roberts warned that homeschoolers could dislodge public school students from their teams. 'If you don't want your son or daughter displaced,' he told one sympathetic sports editor, 'you have to stand up now.' When the Engler-backed bill came up in the state senate in June, it got just three votes."
© 2000, Linda Dobson
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