March 20, 2012
Two sets of books for school reform
By Bob Menamin
The recently concluded session of the Wisconsin Legislature highlighted that we are in a climate where public schools are getting more and more scrutiny for accountability standards.
Standardized testing and holding teachers responsible for student performance is increasingly demanded by state legislatures throughout the nation. Public education is under attack, with some conservatives believing that we should end public education as we know it. In the midst of this climate there is growing support for vouchers to be used in support of private schools, charter schools and home schooling. The irony is that as we demand more accountability and standardized testing for public schools, these same measures are much less emphasized or even non-existent when it comes to vouchers, charters and home-schoolers.
For instance, in Wisconsin the only requirement for home schooling is for parents to sign an avadavit indicating they are providing 875 hours of instruction and stipulate that they are not using home schooling as just a means to avoid having their child attend public school. The ability to teach by those providing home schooling goes unquestioned. There are no standardized tests. There are no curriculum requirements. The home schoolers basically get a blank check to do whatever it is they do. The number of home schooled children is increasing dramatically.
Critics decry the increasing ignorance level of the overall population and how unhealthy that is for sustaining a healthy democracy. Our response is to threaten the continued existence of public education with more demands and less funding. Meanwhile, we have far less accountability for the current alternatives. Something is radically wrong with this picture. Is the real agenda to transfer the cost of education from a tax base to that of the individual with no sincere concern about outcomes?
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You are dead on right when you say, "The irony is that as we demand more accountability and standardized testing for public schools, these same measures are much less emphasized or even non-existent when it comes to vouchers, charters and home-schoolers."
That is exactly what is happening...and of course public schools are not just being subjected to "over-seeing" madness but are not being supported financially to accomplish their own and government mandated goals.
-John E. Davey | Kendall, WI | March 20, 2012
*sigh* Same old story, new day. Problems in the public schools? Blame the homeschoolers. Also, all homeschoolers are anti-public school, anti-DPI, libertarians....oh, and Christians who believe in Creationism. Because all homeschoolers love Santorum and Ayn Rand. Lessons in sensationalism and generalizations abound.
If you're going to complain about homeschoolers then I'd first suggest you meet a few and then suggest that you express these same concerns about private schools - because the same regulations apply to private schools.
-Progressive Homeschooler | Madison, Wisconsin | March 21, 2012
To Progressive homechooler from Madison, Why don't we start this discussion by agreeing that all homeschoolers should take the same standardized test as public school students. This would give us some data and begin a process of providing some accountability rather than zero. Anecdotal evidence(from social service agencies) suggests that significant numbers of home schoolers are not being schooled at all.
-Bob Menamin | Verona, WI | March 21, 2012
In these parts, there are a whole lot of homeschooled kids and I've met a lot of parents who do homeschooling. I'm sure there are people capable of doing this but I can't say that any of those I've met are.
The problem comes down to this (from an educational viewpoint): It isn't too hard to homeschool kids to about 8th grade or a little less (if you have the time). To teach anyone anything, however, you have to be a lot smarter (or at least a lot more educated) than the level you school to. For a full HS diploma level, a person would need to have at least a collage grad level of education and over a very wide swath of disciplines.
That and you need to have the time -- it's a full time job to school teach to this level and there aren't too many people who have that kind of unpaid time.
The combination is rare in my experience. Very rare. Generally people who homeschool do a very serious disservice to their children. Not all of them but I haven't run into one of those so far.
If we value education (and that is one of the corner stones of democracy) then we need to explicitly put that concept on the front burner.
Oh, and education is a lot more than tests and books. A lot more.
-rjl | Ridgeland, Wi | March 21, 2012
I have been teaching for 26 years, have graduate degrees in education and physics and I could do pretty good job teaching home schooled students physics, chemistry and math. I'm pretty well versed in geography and history, but I do not consider myself capable of teaching any foreign language, biology, writing, composition or any other subject at the high school level. I am not capable of teaching every subject and many of those who are home schooling are not qualified to teach any subject beyond the 5th or 6th grade level. Occasionally home schooled students attend my high school but go back to being home schooled before the year is out. Most are not performing at the high school level and are socially immature. If we want more of our population to be scientifically and mathematically incompetent and replace science with theological dogma then giving money to people so that they can home school their children is the way to go. Sure there are parents who may be qualified, but it's a small minority.
-Craig Koch | Appleton, WI | March 21, 2012
Though I previously posted a comment on this subject, I would like to add this in defense of Progressive Homeschooler's reply. My wife and I home schooled two of our three children for several years. It was an incredible experience to "parent" in this way. Our motivation, at the time...and this was a while ago, was being unhappy with some of the things going on at that time in our local schools and our own unhappy experiences in public schools in our own lives. But to skip to the point at hand, each of the two children we home schooled until they reached an age *they* decided they would like to attend public school (Elementary level) were well above the academic level of the peers they found themselves in class with. They are both exceedingly bright and one of these two children was moved ahead a grade because the teacher feared that he was becoming "bored" because he already knew what was being taught in his own grade level.
A lot has changed since then, but I still believe that parents have the right (and then assume the responsibility) to home school. They will end up being evaluated anyway if/when they join public schools or universities.
-John E Davey | Kendall, WI | March 22, 2012
My husband and I made the choice to try homeschooling in the early 1980s. We had many reasons, including but not limited to our unhappiness with our local district to give lots of access to military recruiters and no access to people opposed to war. Another reason was that we felt that we could give more and better individualized instruction to our children than an overworked teacher with a large number of students would be able to do.
We also found that the so-called social benefit of kids spending most of their time with "peers" was questionable at best, and that it would be better for our children to be out and about in the real world, interacting with people of all ages and in all stages of life, instead of in an artificial environment.
As far as so-called standardized tests are concerned -- well, that wouldn't exactly be fair to home-schooled students whose parents do not "teach to the test," would it? Sometimes we gave diagnostic learning tests to our kids so they would have some experience with testing and also just for fun. But no high pressure, high-stakes tests.
My husband is a highly skilled and well-educated special education teacher, now retired. I am a writer-editor. Between us, we had what we needed to meet our children's educational needs, and we worked very hard to provide them with a rich and varied social life including being in 4-H, Youth in Government, and church youth groups and activities.
Leave homeschoolers alone. We are not to blame for your schools' problems!
Looking back, our kids do not regret our choices on their behalf. They say that when they got out into the work a day world, they were astounded to find how many of their colleagues from "normal" families and schools have messed up values and priorities and how hard it was to meet and find girls (we have only sons) who were not shallow "airheads" interested only in how fancy their car was and how expensive their date was.
Our youngest son requested to go to high school (in Madison). He started with Driver Education. After that, he changed his mind, saying, "No, I don't want to waste my time, because the other kids don't take anything seriously."
All of our children have grown up to be fine young men, hard-working, some with college degrees and some not. All scored very high on the HSED exams. All are smart life-long learners who love reading and learning and sharing interesting information with family and friends. None of them is a social misfit.
Over the years we have met many other home-schooling families. I admit most of them do not share our progressive, humanistic approach to education and raising children. But that is not a reason to judge us all and deny us the right to raise our children as we think best.
-Linda Wyeth | Curtiss, WI | March 23, 2012
To- Linda Wyeth: In WI, the state has a responsibility to insure that its students are getting a minimally adequate education. Do you believe the state should have this responsibility or is this the responsibility of the parents exclusively? You and others cite examples where you have home schooled with exceptional results(congratulations). Others have cited instances where parents that say they are homeschooling, when in fact they are not and are merely evading the responsibility. There are many other cases where parents are not adequately prepared to home school. The question is what measures should the state take to insure some minimal standards are met. What would you suggest? This is a growing problem since more people are choosing the homeschooling option. This appears to be part of a trend to privatize most everything. Has the concept of protecting the "greater good" become pas-se?
As an aside, private schools have a similiar problems with accountability.
-Bob Menamin | Verona, WI | March 24, 2012
@Bob Menamin--Respectfully: you write that "In WI, the state has a responsibility to insure that its students are getting a minimally adequate education." I would add that parents also have a responsibility to insure adequate education. When a parent decides to home school, they have decided that either they are not getting it in public schools or that they (parents) can do a better job.
Anecdotal evidence from from social service agencies seems very "fishy." Where and how did they come up with this "not being educated at all" line. There is a very important difference between public, charter, voucher and home schooling. The first three get money from the government for funding. As a home schooler, you get none while still paying taxes for the public schools.
But you really scare me when you start talking about the "greater good" as a contrast to those choosing to home school. It is filled with the assumption that the "greater good" is not served by home schoolers. I'll tell you this, the home school alternative helps keeps public schools honest because they would rather have your children in public schools where they would receive funding for every students enrolled.
Bottom line is, if you have the means, ability and desire to opt out of the system (and I mean "system" to be understood in it's widest sense) then you have a individual right to do so. Anything else is totalitarianism. The "greater good" is a slippery slope and a means to justify nearly anything and everything.
-John Davey | Kendall, WI | March 25, 2012