Feature 1: Home Sweet Homeschool

by Jacob Shafer
Thursday, March 13, 2014

Say “homeschool” in a crowded room, and you’re likely to hear the familiar stereotypes: sheltered children who never glimpse the sun; hovering, overbearing parents who think they can do it better than teachers; strange, eccentric families that fear the outside world.

But the numbers tell a different story. Homeschooling in America isn’t reserved to the lunatic fringe: according to the Department of Education’s Center for Education Statistics, more than 2 million kids are homeschooled in the United States, a figure that has nearly doubled in the last decade. That represents about 3 percent of our school-age children—by no means a majority, but far too many to dismiss out of hand.

The trend holds true in Marin—the group Marin Homeschoolers alone boasts 115 member families. Marin mother Barbara McVeigh describes her come-to-homeschooling moment, which came in 2009, on the popular Marin Mommies blog: “Last August my daughter’s assigned first grade desk sat empty, and I felt a lump in my throat. Because instead of driving her to our local school, one noted for its academic achievements and containing her kindergarten friends from last year, we decided to take an alternative route. We went fishing that day where we got hooked … with a creative group of homeschoolers, a community growing in Marin.”

Many Marin homeschoolers, it’s clear, are anything but cooped up. They go out in nature, they take trips, they participate in playgroups and campouts, they learn from private tutors. Some even attend school part-time, often via a charter. But the thread that ties them together is moms and dads who have opted out of the five-day-a-week, desk-bound schooling schedule that’s been the norm in this country for more than a century.

Does homeschooling work? Depends on how you do it, naturally, but some statistics suggest the answer can be a resounding “yes.” Looking at standardized test results from the 2007-08 school year, the National Home Education Research Institute found that the average homeschooled student scored in the 89th percentile in reading, the 84th percentile in math and the 86th percentile in science—more than 30 points above the average public school student in each case.

“Homeschooling can offer real academic advantages over the regular classroom,” education consultant Marc Lapointe writes in his book, Standing in the Education Gap. “Things like one-to-one interaction, choice of resources, teaching approaches, fewer distractions and greater academic challenges.”

The face of homeschooling may be changing—especially in progressive enclaves like Marin—but nationwide the number one reason parents homeschool their kids is still religion. By itself that isn’t a negative, but in places where anti-science “theories” like creationism and a 6,000-year-old earth are creeping into public school classrooms, it’s easy (and frightening) to imagine what’s being taught (and not taught) to homeschoolers. Then there’s the economic consideration: to do it right, homeschooling parents must devote significant time and resources—a tall, if not impossible, order for two-job families.

And that’s the key: commitment. Schools are just buildings; it’s the teachers that light the flame. The same holds true with homeschooling: If you’re a motivated, educated parent who avails yourself of the proper resources and takes care to socialize and expose your child to the world, the choice can pay dividends.

“There are challenges, as there are with any decision,” McVeigh concludes in her Marin Mommies post. “Homeschooling is a full time job, and there are good days and bad days.” Yet, she adds, her daughter recently said five words that made the decision worth it: “I want to homeschool forever.”


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