Thursday, April 5, 2012

Why my brain says "NO!": some hard facts about home schooling statistics and a public school teacher perspetctive

As I tried to write down all the reasons I am against home schooling, my post just dragged on and on.  Imagine that!  In an effort to make it more "reader friendly" I broke my post into two topics:  why my heart says no and why my brain says no. Feel free to read which ever appeals to you most, or both, or neither.

In my last two posts I mentioned some great things about home schooling (hard working moms with amazing curriculums, avoidance of a failing school system and bad teachers, and much more). Today I'd like to take each and every one of those positive thoughts, and express why I think they don't merit good enough reasons to home school.

First, let's start with that beaming research. I can easily disregard the high standardized tests scores by turning on my teacher-bash-standardized-test-mode (we all have that on/off button in the back of our brain). They only assess one aspect of a child's learning: their ability to process and/or memorize facts and formulas. There is no standardized test on this planet that adequately assesses a child's ability to analyze data or to think critically about the literature they read. The best way to assess that is to have a highly qualified and certified teacher working with your child through out an entire school year.

More importantly, less than 30% of State's require some form of testing (of that small percentage many let parents choose which tests their child takes). This means there are no statistics available for nearly 1 million home schooled children. They are never formally tested. I can only assume that the kids whose parents force them to take standardized tests even though it is not required, are the types of kids who would perform well on standardized tests even if they received a public education. I do commend these parents for taking on personal accountability for their child's education.

The issue of accountability is perhaps my biggest gripe about home school (and charter schools for that matter). There is little to no accountability required once a parent pulls their child from the public school system. Remember the mother in DC who pulled her kids out, and 7\9 months later they were all found dead in her apartment? They'd been decomposing for almost 7 months. Obviously, this is an extreme case, but I promise you that even if those kids had been enrolled in DC's worst public school (possibly one I taught at), they would not have "disappeared" for such a long time.

Here is the snapshot of accountability required from the States: (note, GA, IA, and HA seem to have the toughest levels of accountability).

  • 25% require specific subjects taught (in two of those states the requirement is simply: English).
  • 10% require "teacher" qualifications (some as simple as the parent has a GED).
  • 25% require proof of attendance
  • 4% require a specific amount of documented learning hours
  • Most states do require that you file an affidavit with the state or local school district, notifying them of the removal of your child from the public school system (Banita Jacks, the DC mother did this -- and there was evidence she was teaching them "religion" at home)

In summary: there is no way of tracking how an average home school child does compared to an average public school child. Most of the adults I know who were home schooled full time did not earn a High School Diploma. I know this is just my personal experience, but it is enough to cause me concern. We need to track the rate at which home school kids are succeeding. If they aren't thriving in the home school environment, there needs to be an intervention. Parents who home school their children successfully should not fight this (as they know they have nothing to hide), but after reading many home school mom blogs I sense there is bitter resentment for the ways the "government" tries to check in on their child's attendance and the curriculum they are teaching.  If you don't want to be responsible to your government, then you can kindly stop enjoying the luxuries of our developed society. Sorry, that's my socialist tangent for the day.

As for the curriculums being taught in home school. Many students enroll in some sort of on-line curriculum. These offer only one method of learning: learning through a computer. There are multiple learning styles and children need to be exposed to all of them. Even as I poured through curriculum packs home school moms had developed, I noticed how similar each unit was. The clip art was adorable, and the religious lessons are AMAZING. But as I changed from the unit on dinosaurs to the unit on weather to the unit on sight words I noticed each unit was planned the EXACT same way. There is no variation in the way things are taught or learned. Much of the "work" is simply filling out worksheets. A teacher who takes this approach in public school can quickly loose their job, and is automatically labeled a "bad teacher". As a teacher, I fully understand the home school curriculum's lack of diverse learning techniques; lesson planning is hard work, and often takes up the biggest chunk of a teachers time.

Even when home schooling is differentiated, the child is still only exposed to one teaching method: yours. This can be detrimental to their development. Parents, even unwilling, give their students a one-sided point of view. Sadly, I think many parents do this willingly. The main reason parents home school is to teach "values" and to keep children sheltered from outside influences.

A final note on curriculum: while I was searching through educational blogs, it was impossible not to notice the public school teacher blogs were loaded with better ideas than the home school blogs. If I had to pick from all these "virtual" classrooms which ones I'd want to send my child to, every single public school teacher who hosted her own blog would rank higher on my list than the home school blogs.  Again, I want to stress how incredibly giving and hard working home school moms are, but their curriculum just didn't add up to the rigor and the diversity that was offered by the public school teacher blogs.  

I have witnessed first hand the home school schedule, and I read several blogs that detailed their daily schedule. On average the home school day lasts only 3.5 hours. Children rush through their computer based curriculum so that they can play nintendo games or watch a movie. Other children work through their independent workbook curriculum so that they can finish up and help their mom make lunch or teach a younger sibling to read. Obviously, this may not be true of all home school schedules. But as far as my experience and my research on the subject goes, I have found nothing to contradict this conclusion. 

One last thought I have to squeeze in. I am a highly qualified teacher. I know that teaching only gets better with time. I know a teacher can only improve when they are surrounded and supported by other amazing teachers. I know the constructive criticisms I received after scheduled and unscheduled observations made me a better educator. Had I been teaching in the privacy of my home, I know I would have never improved. I would still be teaching with the simplicity I approached my first classroom.

I hate to sight standardized test scores, but my last class had a predicted growth measure that I was required to meet. They exceeded it, and not just by a little -- but by a lot. I was ranked "highly effective" when it came to my student growth measurements. The final score was 396 out of 400. I only know of three other teachers at my school who earned a higher score. The score did not rate how many students were "efficient," it rated how adequately they grew. I saw struggling readers become proficient readers under my watch. As a teacher, that is the most fulfilling thing you can accomplish. Read this part twice: I would not accomplish that same growth if I had taught a student one on one, or even one on five. I repeat, you cannot teach one child as effectively as you can teach a classroom of children. Yes, children need that one on one time, but public school teachers offer before and/or after school tutoring for any child who asks for help. I even tutored children from other classes if they asked me. Parents can also offer that needed one on one learning time. But no level of home schooling can replace the classroom interaction time that is needed for a child to learn.

I promise you, even as amazing as I am at teaching secondary Literature and Writing, I can not teach one child as well as I can a classroom of children. It's this understanding that I have that will never allow me to home school my own children.


Jodi said...

Loved it! Thank you so much for sharing this! It has stapled down my feelings that much more for public education and the benefits. Also, I think your parents are awesome. As I read the stories, experiences and lessons they taught, it just makes me happy. I hope to teach my kids that well!

Megan said...

Liz, I like a lot of your points and agree that kids are probably better off interacting with other kids and being exposed to not just a variety of ideas, but really a variety of personalities. (This is also why I think it's REALLY important for kids not to live at home during college. My husband mostly lived at home, and thankfully he's the most easy-going person in the world because most people need roommates to learn how to effectively deal with conflict. He's also the youngest of 11...) The one thing I think I disagree about is that I do think it's really important for parents to have a meaningful right to make the final choices about their children's education. I know we can cite volumnious examples of parents who arguably do not make the right choices for their children, but ultimately I think the responsibility for raising children lies with the parents and not the government. That doesn't necessarily mean the government should subsidize every option to public education, but I would firmly support a parent's right to choose for their child, even if sometimes it means that a grossly negligent mother lets her kids decompose for seven months (unquestionably a tragedy).

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