Homeschooling: The preferred educational choice?
Source: World Community
By: Mary Jackson
February 22, 2012
Lori Guthrie likes the freedom of homeschooling, whether it's signing her two sons up for an animation class at a local museum or setting off for a camping trip on a whim. One son struggled with reading because of mild dyslexia, and she was able to work with him daily until he got it. The Madera, Calif. mother says her boys, ages 11 and 14, are "free to learn without having to go through a metal detector, deal with bullies, or face pressures to smoke pot or join a gang."
Unlike earlier homeschooling proponents who chose to teach their children for religious reasons, Guthrie and her husband Bryan chose to homeschool out of dissatisfaction with public schools and the high costs of private schools.
They are not alone: An increasing number of parents are turning to do-it-yourself education for both secular and religious reasons. According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), an estimated 2 million U.S. students were homeschooled in 2010, up from 850,000 in 1999. In recent months, news outlets including The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and The Washington Post have analyzed homeschooling's appeal, with one Stanford professor quoted as saying that homeschooling "has become newly fashionable."
"Homeschooling used to be seen as a deeply held religious conviction - now it's becoming the preferred educational choice," said Focus on the Family's Stan John, a home education advocate.
This presents opportunities and challenges for Christians who for decades have dominated the home education industry. With a plethora of online learning programs, scripted curriculum options and support groups, Christian homeschooling pioneers are no longer seen as fringe religious zealots, but a resource for those looking to homeschool. The Guthries, who are agnostics, say they incorporate some Christian-based curriculum that is "light on the religious slant" and attend an annual Christian homeschooling conference in nearby Stockton.
"This is one of the best kept secrets in the Christian community - we've got homeschooling veterans and wall-to-wall resources," John said. "I've often thought we've got to get this stuff into other venues - it's an incredible discipleship tool."
And the acquired expertise has results: Christian homeschoolers continually pop up as National Spelling Bee contestants or National Merit Scholarship finalists. Ivy League schools now routinely admit homeschoolers as their standardized tests scores exceed those of their public school peers by up to 30 percentile points, according to NHERI.
But some fear that catering more to a secular crowd could mean losing some of the Christian movement's substance. "I'm afraid the trend to homeschool right now is a step away from discipling our children," says Susan Beatty, co-founder of the Los Angeles-based Christian Home Educators Association of California (CHEA). "There are so many new options out there - some of them are not so good," she says.
Some parents are trying government-funded home education programs such as charter schools with an option for home-based study or online programs like California Virtual Academy. These programs offer parents free curriculum -- and sometimes free Internet access, computers and printers -- along with a certified teacher to look at their child's work monthly.
The downside is that little room exists for parents to interject their values, said NHERI President Brian D. Ray. "What we're seeing is that often this is a stepping stone to private homeschooling as parents realize they are basically unpaid public school teachers - they have little say."
Regardless, Ray anticipates continued growth in home education. "The overall perception of public schools is not improving - with home education resources getting better, there's almost no barrier except whether parents can live on one income and are willing to spend that kind of time with their kids."
Guthrie, who quit her job as a banquet manager for a golf club, says living on a tighter budget is worth it. "I'm the one who gets to be there when my kids get excited about learning something or the light bulb goes off - to us that's invaluable."