Increasing Access to Education via Homeschooling

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Illustration depicting a green chalk board with a homeschooling concept.

Every parent wants their child to be successful and have a positive experience at school.  Many go to great lengths to locate their residences in neighborhoods known to have “good” schools and are heavily involved in the selection process for teachers they research and come to know before their students are even enrolled.  While a large percentage of these students will go on to be successful in traditional K-12 educational systems, there are increasing numbers of students and families who are expressing discontent with the ways in which education is delivered in the traditional classroom and the overall outcomes students are achieving.  In the view of these parents, their students deserve more than they are getting in the four walls of the classrooms that were considered acceptable as recently as a generation ago.  Seeking alternatives, many have turned to homeschooling as an answer to their educational frustrations. These families see homeschooling, in one of its many forms, as the answer they seek to provide access to a rigorous, high quality education not available in traditional school settings.

What is Homeschooling and What Does it Address?

Statistics provided by the National Home Education Research Institute indicate that there are in excess of two million children being homeschooled in the United States.  This number grows by an average of nearly 11% each year.  This sobering statistic raises the question of what exactly is homeschooling and what does it address?

 

Homeschooling has been referred to as a progressive movement in which parents are choosing to educate their children at home instead of in a traditional school setting. The movement toward homeschooling began nearly fifty years ago when calls for educational reform began to challenge the popular ideas about how children learn. John Holt and Dorothy and Raymond Moore were three of the first researchers to begin suggesting homeschooling as an alternative that could provide a robust educational option at a level of rigor able to challenge even the best public school setting.  Today, the reasons for choosing to homeschool are more complex and varied than a simple quest for rigorous instruction that challenges that of traditional methods.  Families who choose to homeschool do so for myriad reasons that address an equal number of personal and perceived societal issues posed by traditional schooling methods.

 

The requirements for a parent to homeschool a child are minimal; for children who have never been enrolled in the public school system, parents can simply choose to homeschool from the start, relying upon their own resources or collaborating with other individuals and systems to provide educational experiences for their children.  No educational or credentialing requirements apply to parents who choose to homeschool their own children; they are free to conduct the educational experience as they see fit. Some states require oversight and standardized testing of students who are homeschooled for purposes of obtaining a diploma while others do not. Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states.

The Increasing Prominence of Homeschooling: Who is Homeschooled?

Homeschooling appeals to individuals and families from all walks of life.  Students in all ethnic groups and from all levels of socioeconomic status are homeschooled.  Many families choose homeschooling because of a perceived deficiency in their child’s experiences in the traditional school environments.  Others choose to homeschool due to logistical issues, such as living in remote rural areas or frequent relocations.  Some have philosophical beliefs in the need for freedom allowed by homeschooling, and still others choose to homeschool for religious reasons.  In short, virtually anyone can be homeschooled.  No specific demographic is prominent in the homeschooling movement and no family is excluded based upon demographic factors. For each of these families, homeschooling addresses a different set of requirements but the underlying quest for what they perceive as a quality education is prominent.

 

Homeschooling Models and “Quality” Education

Defining a “quality” education

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of providing a quality education to all students is the task of defining what exactly comprises a “quality” experience.  While certain elements of education are given as necessary for success in all endeavors, others are specific to populations and perspectives not shared by the entire population.  Thus, one must examine elements such as rigor, experience, and shared beliefs when determining how well a specific educational experience fits with their own definition of “quality” education for their children.

 

Standardized instruction has been the rally cry for traditional educational institutions for more than three decades.  Regulators, researchers, and educators alike have all aligned behind the belief that there are certain fundamental needs each student has – things they should know and be able to do – that indicate success across functional academic areas such as language arts, mathematics, science, and history.  In an effort to ensure that all students achieve mastery in these areas, standards have been set at both the state and federal levels that guide classroom instruction.  Standardized tests, aligned with these standards, are administered to determine if teachers have provided instruction at a level of rigor allowing for the determination of a “quality” education preparing students for success in life.  For many, however, these standards don’t represent quality but rather a minimum educational level that fails to take into account experiences, exposure to the arts, and exposure to faith-based instruction that are essential to meet their own definitions of “quality.” These individuals feel that the traditional system has significant gaps that, by design, cannot be remedied.  Many therefore choose homeschooling as a means of providing those types of experiences in addition to academics that will create what they feel rises to the definition of “quality” education. In short, determining whether a quality education has been provided is a very subjective call.

 

Because of the variety of ideas and philosophies behind quality education, homeschooling has evolved into several generally-accepted models that provide experiences to students aligned with the beliefs and desired outcomes valued by their parents and families.  Four of the most prominent of these models are discussed below as a means of providing perspective on the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Classic model

One of the most popular and often-implemented forms of homeschooling is referred to as the Classic model.  This model relies heavily on ancient Greek and Roman methods of instruction in the amount of instruction provided that is based on history’s “great books – classics that have stood the test of time, including the Bible.  Under the Classic model, facts and data are heavily emphasized in early years, giving way to critical thinking, rhetoric, and self-expression in later years. This methodology has a reputation of being able to produce highly educated and intelligent individuals with exemplary reading skills.  Other noted benefits of the Classical model include the emphasis on language acquisition, logic, and critical thinking.  The model has been said to be adaptable and rigorous, allowing for choices on the part of both students and parents.  It is also the most long-standing model of homeschooling currently employed.

 

Significant drawbacks to the Classical model do exist, the first being the heavy reliance on reading that makes the model impractical for students who have difficulty reading and comprehending. The Classical model is exceptionally time-consuming due to the reliance on classic literature and can, in this regard, be seen as inflexible.  Lastly, the Classical model is perhaps the model providing the least amount of experiential learning for homeschooled children.

Montessori model

Growing from the ideas of Maria Montessori, the Montessori model is a holistic-based approach to homeschooling that emphasizes unstructured time, freedom of movement, and interest-based learning.  Montessori models de-emphasize the need for grade-level instruction, instead focusing on multi-level age groups for peer learning and exposure. Teaching is done in an indirect fashion using manipulatives and multiple options from which to choose.  Benefits of the Montessori model include the emphasis on self-advocacy, ease of incorporating students with disabilities, and the adaptability of the curriculum.  Drawbacks include the need for anyone intending to employ the Montessori method to be certified as a Montessori teacher and the large emphasis on elementary education that makes many of the activities impractical for middle and high-school level students.

School at home model

The school at home model is seen as the most closely aligned model to traditional school provided in a school building. This method of homeschooling is aligned around curriculum packets provided by an educational institution and delivered along a similar calendar to traditional schools.  School at home may be provided by parents but is often directed by certified teachers, either through distance education or online formats. The model benefits from following the same content standards as traditional schools, allows for parallel with traditionally-schooled students, and encourages the flexibility of choosing which curriculum to implement and which to pass.  Drawbacks include the cost of acquiring the technology or curriculum (which may not be provided free of charge), the time involved in mirroring traditional schooling to accommodate the curriculum, and the inflexibility of the method.

Un-schooling model

Un-schooling may be seen as the direct opposite to the school at home model.  Un-schooling is a homeschooling model that completely rejects the notion of traditional schooling formats, instead of adopting the idea that knowledge such as that provided in traditional classrooms is largely of no use to modern individuals. Un-schooling creates unique projects and experiential learning placing trust for education in the students themselves. Un-schooling advocates believe that learning must be directly aligned with current interests and needs to be useful. Drawbacks to the un-schooling model are the need to create lessons and obtain materials from scratch, the lack of traditional measures of progress, and the inability to ensure traditional academic success.

How Does Homeschooling Increase Access to Quality Education

Given the difficulty with a standardized definition of the term “quality” it can be said that each of the homeschooling models discussed above allows students to achieve access to a quality education in a different fashion.  Depending upon the definition utilized by those implementing the model, each of the methods provides a different aspect of learning not available to students attending classes in a school building and therefore provides quality in a way traditional schooling cannot.  While this makes traditional measurements of success difficult, it is precisely this move away from traditional measures that appeals to some homeschoolers as the very definition of quality.

 

In an era where many feel students are subjected to an excess of standardized tests that fail to accurately measure what they know and are able to do, homeschoolers have largely turned their backs on that system and instead seek to utilize instructional time (and, in the case of un-schoolers, all time) as a means of providing educational opportunities that fit with their world views.  Apart from school at home, each of the models focuses on different aspects of learning that are valued by parents and not available in the classroom – Classicists value the reliance on the Bible and other time-tested literature, Montessori methodology on the education of the whole child, and un-schoolers on the emphasis on knowing what one wants and needs to know. It can be said, then, that homeschooling provides access to quality education in a way that customizes learning to the unique specifications of the individual defining quality for themselves and their children.

Conclusion

Homeschooling is not meant to address the needs of all students, nor are the various methods employed appropriately for everyone.  What homeschooling does is provide options for individuals who feel that traditional education requires reform to include elements they feel are important to the knowledge and advancement opportunities afforded to their children.  Whether one feels homeschooling provides improved access to quality education is a subjective determination that can be made only by those who are considering specific elements and evaluating the success or failure of education based on those qualities.  Homeschooling provides multiple options for children and engages many who may not find the same level of interest in the traditional classroom.  In that way, homeschooling can be said to certainly increase access to quality education for many.

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