In a sense every child is home-schooled

COMPASS: Other points of view

September 28, 2009 

The recent Daily News article about home schooling sets up a dichotomy between "home-school advocates" and "others," or, as the article later characterizes it, between "traditional bricks-and-mortar educators" and "fiercely independent home-schooling parents." This dichotomy is neither accurate nor helpful.

First of all, we are all home-schooling parents, whether or not our children also attend school outside the home. We home school our children every time we have a discussion at the dinner table, when we take them to a movie or a concert, when we help with homework, and, always, by our example.

Secondly, none of us educates in isolation. We use books written by others, television -- radio-movie programming produced by others, the Internet, etc. If a child has any contact with the world at all, the child is not only home-schooled.

Thirdly, in the Anchorage School District, families can and do pick and choose along a continuum, from ABC "traditional bricks-and-mortar" programs to wide-open home-schooling support for "fiercely independent home-schooling parents," allowing education to be tailored to suit individual needs and family styles.

ASD options at the elementary level include ABC schools; optional programs emphasizing alternative teaching styles; Spanish, Russian and Japanese immersion programs; a pull-out program for gifted students plus a magnet school for highly gifted students; special education and tutoring programs; and charter schools, including a Waldorf-style arts-based school, a school with a curriculum designed for Alaska Natives, a German school, and two home-school support schools.

Middle and high school offerings include optional language immersion, science-based, technology-centered, vocational and gifted-cluster schools; middle school gifted classes and high school honors and AP; a Credit-by-Choice program offering credit for community service, research projects, participation in special interest programs, educational travel, correspondence or college classes, on-line classes and independent study; and a gifted mentorship program.

The McBryde children featured in your article are far from being only independently home-schooled. The McBrydes are registered with one of the ASD home- school support charter schools -- which means that they accept money from the district and participate in yearly national testing -- and they participate in ASD school sports. They also take classes outside the home, such as music lessons and college classes. The family intelligently picks and chooses among the options available, to create an educational package that works for them.

My own children are far from being only public schooled, certainly in the "traditional bricks-and-mortar" sense. Each has taken advantage of the various special programs offered by the School District, including gifted programs, optional programs, online classes, credit-by-choice, independent study, and credit for college classes. And each has been schooled at home for various periods of time, for various reasons, from having exhausted program offerings, to vision difficulties, to travel opportunities, to simple personal choice.

The Daily News article gives no good evidence for tightening home-schooling laws. There are home-schooled students, just as there are public school students, who do not do well. Holland quotes school administrators complaining that when parents fail to teach their children, they end up back in the public schools where teachers are left to make up for the mess parents have made. What is not acknowledged is that public school teachers may not have done any better with that child. Home-schooled children who go on the record and take standardized tests, as a rule, perform better than public school students.

The article notes concern about isolated Bush families, who lack the multiplicity of opportunities found in urban school districts. That concern would seem to be better addressed by increasing local resources and opportunities than by tightening home-schooling regulations, which in any case would likely be difficult to enforce in isolated rural areas.

It is reasonable for State Education Commissioner Larry LeDoux to take the investigatory step of comparing Permanent Fund dividend records to school records to ascertain how many children are off the state education grid, and where, but he should keep an open mind as to how to address the results of his research.


Mary Kancewick is a mother of three children and lives in Eagle River.

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