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Questions and Comments About Homeschooling

An upset educator wrote me today. Her questions may be some you also have, so I thought I’d put them up online.

Ann,

I am not necessarily for or against homeschooling. I think that homeschooling can be a rewarding and wonderful experience-IF IT IS DONE RIGHT!!!

You make the assumption that there is one right way to educate children. Could you please show me any study you know of that has compared a whole lot of methods and has proven which way is the right way. Thank you.

I also feel that public school can be a very good place to learn. The public school system does have a lot of problems, but I think that people need to understand that many very well educated, intelligent, highly esteemed people have had a public education.

And there are many esteemed people who have NOT had a public education, but been homeschooled, tutored or taught in a private school.

Also, please provide me with statistics showing how many of the students of first year teachers wind up in successful professions in later years. C’mon. Give beginners a break.

As an elementary school teacher, I am appalled by the ignorance that I am seeing on some of the homeschooling websites.

Please let me know which sites show such ignorance. I moderate the Homeschool Webmasters Yahoo Group. We’ll ask these webmasters to join us and we’ll help them upgrade their standards. I assume you are also part of some organization to upgrade public school websites. Some of these are also very poor excuses for educational sites.

Teachers are often taking the blame for things that are out of their control, such as testing. When browsing through the sites, I am finding that the complaints of most parents are the same complaints of teachers!

Before I put up my article called “For teachers who want to tutor” I was getting about 3 or so emails a week from teachers who wanted out of the school system and to start their own businesses helping homeschooled students. So I agree with you entirely! Many teachers do have the same complaints as we do. They are moving over to our “camp,” so to speak.

I am also disappointed by the lack of information out there. Homeschooling organizations and many websites like to compare children who are homeschooled to children who are in the public school system. It is not a fair or equal comparison. Some would like to say that children who are homeschooled are scoring higher on tests. These studies are flawed.

We don’t like “them” comparing our test results with school children either. Both the tests and studies are flawed. You will find links on my site to essays from homeschool publications deploring the use of tests to prove anything.

Research
Should We Test?

Having said that, though, I have links to the results of the last several years of ACT college entrance tests. Make of those results what you will. As taking the college tests is optional, they may prove nothing at all.

Katherine Pfleger writes:

“The most commonly cited study, sponsored by the National Home Education Research Institute, is a case in point. According to that report, the average public school student scores in the 50th percentile on national tests, while the average homeschooler scores in the 80th percentile to 87th percentile–regardless of race. That sounds like an open-and-shut case for homeschooling. But Glen Cutlip…points out that the study averages percentiles from several different tests, comparing the scores of homeschoolers nationwide with those of public school students from ONLY the state of Virginia. In addition, he says, since the homeschoolers were selected by sending out a questionnaire, they constitute a self-selected group, not a representative sample of the entire homeschooling population.”

I find this ridiculous as well. Of course the average of ALL test takers will be 50%! That’s what a “normed” test proves! NERI is not noted for its unbiased research. We generally ignore them. They are a Christian-only group that never studies non-Christian homeschooled children.

If homeschooling is so wonderful and the children learn so much more, why will homeschoolers not allow a proper study to be done?

Because there have been so many very poor ones done in the past that have not resulted in any service to homeschool families at all. Would you waste your time, say, having someone study your teaching methods if they promised nothing in return, no feedback, nothing to improve your teaching? What if all they seemed to be trying to prove was that you were a bad teacher? What would be your motivation in participating?

Why are homeschoolers so secretive about the test scores of their children? In the state where I am from, people who homeschool are encouraged to black out everything on their test results except for the composite score when they notify the school that they will be homeschooling so that no one will know what their child scored on any subtest, why?

It is really hard to make people who don’t treasure personal privacy to understand why we want to treasure our own. How about telling me how much you weigh? How much do you get paid? What was on your last job evaluation? Are you beginning to get the picture?

As I said, I think that homeschooling can be wonderful if it is done right. I have seen a couple of success stories of my own. However, I have seen even more sad stories of children who are now so far behind that they have to be placed in special classes because they just can’t keep up because of everything they have missed. Who should be held responsible for those children? Shouldn’t parents be held responsible for NOT educating their children at home when they should? What will happen to these kids when they grow into adulthood?

And what should happen in public schools that can’t keep children up to grade level if not more advanced? Yes, some parents do try to homeschool special needs children, and these children may need remedial help all their lives. We, however, are not being paid. We are only trying to do our best with children we dearly love. There are educational neglect laws on the books, if needed.

So far, I’ve heard no reports of any homeschooled child being on welfare or in prison as an adult. Public schools, however, can’t say the same.

Homeschooling is becoming the “in” thing. I would just like to see some of these sites explain to parents that if they are not willing to do it right, they shouldn’t do it at all. I know a family who homeschools her children because that is the thing to do at our church. However, her idea of homeschooling is buying ABEKA curriculum, handing the book to her children and having them do pages. When they finish the workbook, they are finished with school for the year. They have no set times for working on school–just when they “get around to it.” She goes on a couple of field trips a year with her homeschooling group.

Did about the same thing with my son. We did go over the material with him and didn’t use any prescribed “school in a box” stuff. At 15 1/2 he took some placement tests at the local community college and got right into the math level where we’d left off and right into freshman English. We unschooled most of the time. He’ll have his AA about the same time he graduates from high school and then will probably place as a junior in a 4 year college when he’s 18. [Update: Scott had enough transferable units to start as a mid-term sophomore at the University of Hawaii in January 2004.]

Again… what is the “right” way? I’d sure like to be able to tell some public school teachers the same thing, and I bet you would, too. But they are protected by unions. All public schools and homeschool organizations can do is to try their best to teach the adults more about effective instruction methods and educational theory. That’s all we can do. We’re all human beings.

Now, both of her children are functioning at least one year behind children their age who attend public school. One of the children is at least two grade levels behind in math. However, this woman likes to argue to everyone that the research shows that homeschooled kids are more intelligent and score higher on tests, etc., etc. She also likes to say it is OK that her children can’t keep up with the ABEKA curriculum because it is a couple of grade levels above the public school curriculum–which is very untrue, in my state at least. She plans to send them back to public school for high school. What will happen to these poor kids when they are thrust into the public school and can’t keep up? Where is the advice for people like this?

My advice: she should keep her big mouth shut. I hate braggarts and arguers just as much as you do. Who cares?

I also wonder at folks who just “know” what educational level children are functioning at. Have you ever considered that these children may be playing you along? Mine always HATED it when any stranger “tested” him. He’d pretend he didn’t know what 2 + 2 was when he was already handling exponentials!

What will happen to the kids if they can’t keep up? They might wind up in the same classes as public school kids who fell through the cracks. Homeschoolers with terribly bright and advanced children also have a problem getting their children placed appropriately in public schools. Perhaps, the best idea is to truly put aside our differences and place homeschooled students according to their achievement if and when they decide to return to the public school system.

Also, where can I find some GOOD data about homeschooling? Where can I find some stats about what percent of homeschooled children go to college, hold professional jobs, etc.?

Once someone actually does the study, I assume it will be made available. Know anyone who has the money to fund such a study? Apparently, no one else does either.

I have some demographical reports here.

The best sampling I know of is Linda Dobson’s book:

Homeschoolers’ Success Stories
How Homeschooling Shaped the Lives of 25 Adults and Teens
by Linda Dobson
Readers will meet a cross-section of confident, well-educated men and women who have achieved success on a variety of levels — in their own way, on their own terms — as they bring the skills first grasped as homeschoolers into the world of higher education, business, art, sports and more.

Also, do some soul searching as to why you feel certain careers or levels of income mean a person is successful. If a person gets a masters degree in education and makes $40,000 a year, does that make her a success or a failure? If a teen drops out of high school, starts their own business which sells for a million dollars in a few years, does that make them a better person than the teacher? Face it, maybe contentment and contributing in any positive fashion to society is the mark of success. Learn to ignore labels and bank accounts. Think of children as people and not products to be graded, bought and sold like a box of eggs. You’ll be much happier.

In the “Strong Interest Inventory” survey, homeschoolers tend to score quite high in the entrepreneurial area. Perhaps many of them start their own businesses.

I like the way that Frank Schmitt of Columbia, Missouri put it, “As a university faculty member who has had some homeschooled graduates in class, I agree that they can be quite impressive. But there are some caveats. First, homeschooling and other private educational systems have an out; unsuccessful students can be returned to the public school system, which cannot refuse them. Secondly, homeschooling requires involved parents. However, if you look at similarly impressive students from public school systems, it is quite likely that they, too, have involved and active parents. Perhaps the story focused on the effect rather that the cause.”

Yes, involved parents are the key! So why have school systems given only lip service to getting parents involved? Many parents, like myself, decided to homeschool after figuring out that we were doing all the teaching at home anyway, and when everyone was tired out. We were correcting terrible errors in state adopted text books. Might as well just buy the best books on subjects rather than text books! So if we are buying better books and doing additional instructing at home, and the school is getting all the money and credit, logically, why shouldn’t a parent decide to homeschool?

I also enjoy reading studies that show what really helps children learn and retain what they learn. I pass these along to those who read on my website. I also advocate planning a custom education rather than buying a grade level in a box.

I encourage professional educators to participate in my website. I have added partners who have been providing drivers education for teens and foreign language instruction online or off. Right after the World Trade Center fiasco, some university professors wrote to me to see if I’d put their essay up about how they had created a custom curriculum for a niece all based on current events. You may like to read their essay and write to them about what they think “the right way” to teach is.

By the way, Frank is not quite right about public schools not being able to refuse students. We in the homeschool movement are finding that schools are dumping undesirable students on us! Kids they consider incorrigible. No kidding! I get email from parents that are being FORCED into homeschooling as their public schools are refusing to let their child attend or won’t accommodate a pregnant girl or boy who has brought a bread knife to school — or worse. Then when our support groups can’t turn these teens into Stanford students, critics say that homeschooling sucks! Give me a break!

Who is this Frank Schmitt of Columbia, Missouri anyway? I couldn’t locate anything about him on the internet when this article was written. Now in 2007 I do find him, I think. Is this the professor? A biochemist. So he meets homeschooled students interested in biochemistry, most likely. Probably a pretty smart bunch!

Please spend some time reading on my website. You may be pleasantly surprised and will learn why the site was declared a Best Educational Website of the Week by USA Today and one of the top three homeschool websites by Yahoo Internet Life.

by Ann Zeise

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