Sunday, February 11, 2007

CT Homeschoolers In The New York Times - A Report on Homeschool Co-ops

Several of my friends and colleagues are mentioned in this piece about homeschool co-ops. Deborah Stevenson, of NHELD, was grossly misquoted. In fact, Ms. Stevenson was on the phone for about an hour with this reporter and did not say what this reporter said she said! She spent quite a while explaining to her what the law was here in CT. Ms. Stevenson didn't call co-ops a "great new idea"...She told her it's nothing new...that people have been getting together for classes or group activities from the beginning...She told her only the name "co-op" is new. Additionally, Ms. Stevenson was not challenged by the state for homeschooling her kids. Ms. Connors, of CTCHEER, contacted me to say that she was also misquoted. So much for truth in journalism.

State Educrat, Thomas Murphy, continues to give out false information, because we are NOT REQUIRED to give the superintendent of the school notification when we decide to homeschool. Parents may CHOOSE to give that notification, but it is not required! We do have an enumeration statute (CGS 10-249) that says the schools may contact every parent and ask to know how their child is being educated, their ages, and names.

When parents decide to take their children out of school, they simply write a letter of withdrawal to the school administrators. However, there currently is a huge issue in CT because schools are ignoring the letters of withdrawal and keeping kids on their enrollment lists. That's a whole other issue and you can read about it here.

Below is the article that was in the NYT in case you cannot link to it:
February 11, 2007
Home Schoolers Find Strength in Numbers

WASHINGTON DEPOT - FOR all the reputed romance of home schooling — teaching children on your own time, in your own way, without the early morning stress of making lunches and catching the bus — teaching children at home has always had its potential problems.

There’s the socialization issue: Will the children interact enough with peers to build communication skills and develop emotionally? Then there’s the question of qualifications: Home schooling may seem sweet through the A B C s, but how many parents are confident, or competent, enough to teach calculus, chemistry, physics or foreign languages?

Now, however, many home schoolers throughout the state are taking it upon themselves to allay those concerns. More and more, these parents are forming co-ops, where they meet to share teaching talents and advice, as well as socialize. Some are small clubs that meet in different places, like public libraries or someone’s living room. Others are bigger and more structured, often meeting in classrooms in church basements. Some have a religious focus, while others are nondenominational.

“We wanted to combine all the great stuff happening out there, sort of pool our resources into one place, where all the kids and parents could benefit from each other,” said Jodi Nager of Roxbury, who started a co-op in Washington Depot with Carol Hackett, a friend from New Milford.

Ms. Nager, who has been home schooling her daughters, Rebekah, 15, and Alexandra, 9, for seven years, said: “All the home schoolers we talked to wanted the same thing. It’s like something was missing.”

The result was the opening in September of the Western Connecticut Home-Schoolers Cooperative, where 53 home-schooled children and their parents meet every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Salem Covenant Church in Washington Depot.

For $40 a child for 12 weeks, the cooperative offers 24 classes, taught by parents, ranging from Latin, critical thinking, anatomy and SAT math, to yoga and exotic animal studies. It is like a small school, only without the buses, the backpacks, the chaotic cafeteria or standardized tests.

“We’re sort of like a family here,” said Ms. Hackett, exchanging hugs and high-fives with some of the students, who range in age from 5 to 18.

Ms. Hackett, who has been educating her sons Tommy, 14, and Jimmy, 12, for five years, said she turned down a chance to join a home-schooling co-op in Bethel because “you have to sign a pledge of Christianity, which didn’t work for some of us.”

“We wanted to start something that was nondenominational — open to everyone,” she said.

Deborah Stevenson, a lawyer from Southbury, started National Home Education Legal Defense in 2003 after being challenged by the state for home schooling her daughters, Samantha, 23, and Cassandra, 19, in the early 1990s. No one questions her decision anymore, since her children began college at 10 and 11 and have earned several degrees.

Ms. Stevenson called home-schooling co-ops “a great new idea that you’ll be hearing more about.”

“People are finally starting to realize that it’s perfectly legal and acceptable to home school your children,” she said.

State statutes dating back to the 1600s say parents are responsible for instructing their children or ensuring that they are instructed. “Many people have the misconception that it’s the law to send your child to school,” Ms. Stevenson said. “They need to realize that’s not at all the case, because school is just not the right answer for some kids.”

Thomas Murphy, spokesman for the State Department of Education, acknowledged that home schooling “can be a beautiful thing, but when it’s not done right, it can amount to educational negligence.”

It is up to the superintendents in Connecticut’s 166 school districts to report to the state the number of school-age children and where they are being educated. “In some cases, the school districts will work with home-schooling parents to help them with their curricula,” Mr. Murphy said. Once parents decide to home school, they are required to notify the superintendent, he said. “We have to have some checks and balances to make sure home schoolers are not just running a day care,” he said.

Over all, though, “Connecticut is very friendly and supportive of home schooling,” Mr. Murphy said. “There have been many successful cases, and some outstanding universities, like Harvard and Brown, look quite favorably on home-schooled students.”

There are 2,166 home-schooled children registered with the state, or 0.3 percent of the total student population, up from 1994 when there were 1,461, or 0.2 percent.

Mr. Murphy said the home-schooling co-op concept “seems to blur the line between home schooling and private schools.” But the difference, he said, is that co-ops usually meet only once a week, the parents are in charge, “and the price certainly beats any private school’s.”

In eastern Connecticut last year, Diane Connors of Columbia founded Cheers, the Connecticut Cooperative of Home Educators East of the River (the Connecticut River). “We post everything on the Internet, so you can pick what you want,” she said.

Ms. Connors, who has home schooled five of her seven children, said the co-op offered free, parent-taught classes ranging from geography to science, art to fiction writing.

Another kind of co-op started in October at FineLine Theater Arts in New Milford. Paula Burns and Lockey Coughlin, who educate their children at their homes in Sherman, wanted to organize a performing arts program because “that’s something most parents can’t teach at home,” Ms. Coughlin said. Classes include jazz, tap, ballet, voice and ballroom dancing, she said, adding that it costs $285 for a 16-week session.

Judith Ehrman-Shapiro of Litchfield, who teaches anatomy and photography at the Washington co-op, said home schooling saved her son, Max, 14, from a nervous breakdown. He hated attending public and private schools, she said. “He was losing confidence,” she said. “I felt I was losing him.”

She started home schooling him two years ago, and “he completely turned around.”

“He’s doing an 11th-grade curriculum now, and he’s totally into it,” Ms. Ehrman-Shapiro said.

At the co-op, Max said, “You get classes that are interesting and people who understand you.”

Sitting on a couch with six other teenagers in his mother’s anatomy class, Max was eager to answer the Jeopardy-style questions about the skeletal system. “How many bones are in the human body?” Ms. Ehrman-Shapiro asked. “Two hundred and six!” Max replied, and his mother threw him a Smarties candy.

“You couldn’t do this in a regular school,” he said.