Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Homeschooling Goes Mainstream

"Everybody knows somebody who is teaching a child at home"

The Hoover Institution just put out this pretty decent article about homeschooling, by Milton Gaither .

Milton Gaither is associate professor of education at Messiah College and author of Homeschool: An American History, from which the article was adapted. His blog reviews recent research on home schooling.

What he has to say in the article is something that I have known for awhile. Homeschooling has become popular, and it works, and parents and tutors have been teaching children in the home for centuries. It's nothing new. Many different kinds of people do it, and they do it in a number of different ways. Additionally homeschooling enjoys a very strong grassroots organization and networking component, which effectively has helped many homeschoolers avoid restrictive legislation when it rears its ugly head.

Although I dispute the notion that homeschooling wasn't legal in every state before the 1990's, Gaither mentions some of the legal issues regarding homeschooling in this sense:
By the early 1990s they had won the right to home school in every state. Some home-school advocacy groups have attempted to secure a federal law or Supreme Court ruling that would establish uniform national guidelines grounded in First or Fourteenth Amendment rights, but to date such efforts have failed (to the great relief of home-school advocacy groups that oppose this strategy). Home schooling thus falls under state law, and these laws vary widely. A complex matrix of specific statutory language and judicial interpretations emerged out of the maelstrom of political activism over the issue that started in the late 1970s. In Indiana and Michigan, for example, there are virtually no restrictions on home schoolers and very little accountability to government. Home-schooling parents are not even required to register.[Gaither can add Connecticut to that list too] In Pennsylvania and New York, state agencies oversee and regulate home schooling in a number of ways, from curricular requirements to parental qualifications to mandatory home visits by certified personnel to obligatory standardized testing.

By the 21st century, state laws were well established and uncontested, though nearly every year state legislators or judges, especially in the most permissive states, seek to increase regulations on home-schooling families in the name of accountability. Such initiatives nearly always fail due to the astonishing grass-roots organization and political mobilization of home schoolers.
Legislators get thousands of phone calls and emails if they even bring up the subject. CT legislators can attest to that, so can Californians, etc.

Gaither also mentions the reasons why homeschoolers choose to do what they do. It isn't just about religious reasons anymore. There has also been an increase in minorities who are homeschooling because the government school system has been such a failure for their kids.
Gaither says:
Several nationwide support groups have been formed by African Americans to build momentum; the newest and largest is the National African-American Homeschoolers Alliance, cofounded in 2003 by Jennifer James. By 2006 the organization had 3,000 members. James learned of home schooling by watching the success of home schoolers at the Scripps National Spelling Bee and embraced it for her family. “Families are running out of options,” James told the St. Petersburg Times in 2005. “There’s this persistent achievement gap, and a lot of black children are doing so poorly in traditional schools that parents are looking for alternatives.” Home schooling is becoming the method of choice for many, and as such “the Black homeschool movement is growing at a faster rate than the general homeschool population,”
Other minority groups have also begun to make the move to homeschooling. We have seen this even in our homeschool groups here in CT. The diversity is rich, and people come from all backgrounds and ethnicities. There are all sorts of homeschool groups too.
Gaither writes:
Growth in home schooling can be spotted among other ethnic and religious groups as well. Native Americans in Virginia and North Carolina have founded home-school organizations in an effort to escape assimilationist public schools and preserve their traditional values. Hawaiian natives have found home schooling to be the solution to the gulf between tribal ways and public education. Jews, especially those who follow the Orthodox tradition, have been home schooling in much greater numbers in recent years.
Then there are families with special needs children. Their needs are also not being met by government schools. Parents are now choosing to educate their children at home where they can really concentrate on specifics and get the resources they need.

Another group that is big in homeschool circles are kids who have specific sports or talent related aspirations. I have known kids who homeschool because they are training for the Olympics or are concert musicians. The freedom and flexibility that homeschooling affords these kids is absolutely critical to their success in their fields of expertise.

Gaither writes something that I have also known for many years:
In short, home education is now being done by so many different kinds of people for so many different reasons that it no longer makes much sense to speak of it as a political movement or even a set of movements. Make no mistake: the veteran political movement is still going strong, as legislatures that attempt to increase regulations quickly discover. For a growing number of Americans, however, home schooling is just one option among many to consider, for a few months or for the entirety of a child’s schooling.
Gaither also offers some interesting perspective on the types of methods followed, but basically people use all kinds of curriculum and kids are pretty much able to transition back into government schools if necessary or desired. Overall, the kids fare very well. So well in fact that he states,"School districts around the country are experimenting with programs that allow students to home school for part of the day but take certain classes at the local public school."

Mostly government schools are looking to get those kids back into their system because they are losing funding when kids are not in the system, as evidenced by Gaither's data:
School districts with high rates of home schooling have seen significant drops in funding, tied as it is to per-pupil enrollment. The Maricopa County school district in Arizona, for example, had by the year 2000 lost $34 million due to the exodus of 7,526 home schoolers. In an effort to win some of them back, the district began offering à la carte services through satellite campuses at strip malls and other locations.
There is in fact a real problem with school co-opting the term "homeschooling". It should be clear that doing a government curriculum at home while being enrolled in government schooling is not really "homeschooling" in the traditional sense. This controversy about this hi-jacking of terminology has been brewing in the homeschool community for a while now.

Bottomline here is that many people are finding homeschooling the way to go for their families - and they accomplish educating their kids in a variety of ways. There has been some "hybridization" in education, because government schools and education businesses are trying to cash in on the desire of families to have control and flexibility when it comes to educating their own. Homeschoolers are an important demographic, and they can see that money can be made on the thousands of homeschoolers across the nation. Most homeschoolers know that curriculum can be simple and achieve great results. There is so much available through libraries and the Internet that one really doesn't need government school curricula or special programs. It really all depends on what you are looking for for your child.

Gaither ends with this:
A movement born in opposition to public schools ironically might offer public education its most promising reform paradigm for the 21st century.
Maybe parents are also just fed up with the poor performance of government schooling and the stranglehold of unions which often put children's needs last.

For my family - homeschooling has worked and I am ever so grateful for those who helped me network and gave me advice when I started out 11 years ago. My kids can also be given the lion's share of kudos for their commitment and perseverance and dedication to the learning process, which they now realize is an intrinsic part of every human being. The desire to learn and know and grow and find one's way in the world is something that is totally theirs. I was just a facilitator to help them along their paths.

I have also seen that when government stays out of the way, homeschooling can be even more successful.