Does Homeschooling Make the Grade?
By Christina Baglivi Tinglof
A broader acceptance of homeschooling and tighter school regulations contribute to the annual rise in homeschooled kids. Find out the full story on homeschooling.
When JoAnn Kelly became a parent volunteer for her daughter Lisa's first-grade class back in 1986, she didn't like what she saw. "The children were bored. They just sat at their desks and didn't move," remembers Kelly, a resident of San Diego, California. Wishing to keep their daughter's innate curiosity alive, she and her husband, David, considered homeschooling Lisa—now a graduate of UCLA—but decided against it. "I was too afraid to be out there on my own," says Kelly, who has a background in child development.
Back in those days, when homeschooling was considered a radical '60s idea, she would have been. But encouraged by a recent flood of local support groups and magazines catering to the needs of home educators, the Kelly family took the plunge. JoAnn has been teaching their second child, eight-year-old Michael, at home for the past three years. "With homeschooling," says his mom and mentor, "Michael is allowed to develop at his own pace."
Kelli and Vincent Way of Los Angeles teach four of their six children at home: Peter, eleven, Douglas, ten, Virgiliana, eight, Benjamin, six (three-year-old Beatrix, and 18-month-old Nicolette are patiently waiting for their first pencil boxes).
"When I was in school, I was a straight-A student," remarks Kelli Way. "And I hated every minute of it. I didn't like being regimented—doing the same thing, at the same time every day." After carefully investigating, the decision was clear. The Way children have never seen the inside of a classroom.
Homeschooling on the Rise
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has just released the report "Homeschooling in the United States: 1999". In the first organized attempt to estimate the number of students being schooled at home, the NCES report shows that an estimated 850,000 students nationwide were homeschooled in spring 1999. This represents 1.7 percent of all U.S. K–12 students.
Dr. Brian Ray, president of the National Home Education Research Institute (a non-profit organization in Salem, Oregon) estimates that homeschooling continues to grow by about 15 percent a year. Patricia Lines, a research analyst for the U.S. Department of Education concurs. Her analyses show that the number of families homeschooling children has risen dramatically in the past two decades.
Why the Dramatic Increase?
Ray cites many reasons, including safety (What parent hasn't been deeply troubled by the rise in school violence?), and a chance to provide a stronger academic foundation. Yet Ray says the number one reason is simple: parents want more say in what their children learn and how they learn it. "Parents want to pass something on to their children," he says. "They want to pass on their belief systems, and the way their kids look at the world."
According to Lines, the rise is due, in part, to articles like this one. "The news makes it seem more acceptable, more normal," she says. The majority of homeschoolers do so because they believe they can give their child a better education at home and because they want more freedom in educating their child. "As we increase regulation in education," Lines says, "there will be more people who say, 'Hey, my kid doesn't fit this.'"
Take Cheryl and Steven Robinson, for instance. After moving to Pacific Palisades, California, they had trouble finding the right public school program for their ten-year-old daughter. Lauren, who has a delayed-learning problem, would have had to travel many miles to continue attending her special education class in her old neighborhood. That was unacceptable for the Robinsons, who instead enrolled Lauren in regular classes at the local elementary school. But problems quickly arose. "School wasn't happening for her," Cheryl Robinson says. "She didn't fit in."
Working with a private school that provides curriculum and support services for families who homeschool, Lauren received a custom-fit program of phonics, math and reading. "She feels happier, more balanced," says Robinson. "She's more affectionate, more demonstrative."
Purchasing pre-fab lessons through a private institution (you can find them in homeschooling publications, your local parenting magazines, or by surfing the net), as the Robinson family did, is just one option for whom the homeschool bell tolls. The Internet has opened up a world of resources for home schoolers. There are websites for every aspect of the curriculum offering information, activities, and even challenging lessons that are actually graded.