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Education Transformation
Homeschooling Goes Mainstream

Homeschooling—once thought to be the province of diehard evangelicals, political radicals, and others with ideological reasons to steer clear of public education—is increasingly being embraced by the middle-class city-dwellers who are simply disappointed with the quality of urban schools and helped by the way new technologies are reducing the need for professional teachers. That’s the takeaway from a feature by Matthew Hennessey in the current issue of City Journal, a piece which argues that more and more of America’s 2 million homeschooled children are from urbanite families:

Like other homeschoolers these days, urbanites choose homeschooling for various reasons, though dissatisfaction with the quality and content of instruction at local public schools heads the list. “I got through public school, but it was never something I thought was an option for my children,” says Figueroa-Levin [a New York journalist]… She calls her local public school “awful,” but she’s not interested in moving to a more desirable school zone, as some New Yorkers with small children do. “We like where we live. We have a nice-size apartment. Sacrificing all that for a decent public school just doesn’t seem worth it,” she says. […]

The current crop of homeschoolers has one major advantage over the movement’s pioneers: modern technology has put all of history’s collected knowledge at their fingertips. No homeschooling parent need become an expert on differential equations or Newton’s Third Law of Motion. He or she can simply visit YouTube’s Khan Academy channel and find thousands of video lectures on these topics. Rosetta Stone, the well-known foreign-language software company, offers a specially tailored homeschool reading curriculum for just $99 per year. Wade’s children use a free website called Duolingo to practice Spanish. And many popular curriculum packages and distance-learning education programs provide Skype-based tutorials, online courses, and other learning supports.

As we’ve noted before, the rise of homeschooling is a portrait in miniature of the blue model’s collapse. Many of the parents Hennessey interviewed choose homeschooling because of the ongoing failure of a blue model institution: the bureaucratic, sclerotic public school system, dominated by teachers’ unions. Meanwhile, innovative, post-blue education-delivery models—online learning in particular—are providing a viable alternative for parents not content with simply tolerating the poor quality of a system desperately in need of reform. Similar trends are at work in other critical sectors of the economy, from healthcare to transportation to retirement benefits.

The changing demographics of homeschoolers may spill over into education politics in interesting ways. As Hennessey notes, homeschooling was once a critical culture war flashpoint, pitting rural evangelicals against urban liberals. Now that key Democratic constituencies—not just the middle-class urbanites Hennessey interviewed, but also African-Americans and Silicon Valley engineers—are opting out of the public school system, the political valence of the issue is sure to shift. Perhaps—hopefully—it will lead to a bipartisan consensus that our public education system is in need of major reforms in order to stay competitive.

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  • johngbarker

    Public schools could easily bring educational media into the classroom and they must or they will die on the vine. Many are using Khan and Duolingo now. Ed media may do for teaching what wonder drugs did for medicine. Teachers will learn to use media in ways that will increase their effectiveness– not eliminate them. Humans and technology working together is the key. Don’t forget the childcare attraction of schools, and the sports and extracurricular activities. Not every parent wants to stay home with the kids nor do kids always want to be home.

    • Andrew Allison

      Nope, public school teachers need to be measured (and compensated) on the basis of the results which they achieve. There’s no other criterion. A teacher who can’t (doesn’t care to) teach will achieve the same result regardless of the tools provided.

      • johngbarker

        Actually Andrew, educational media keep can keep track of student learning in real time and allow teachers to adjust the instructional program according to student needs and provide the kind of branching that teaching from a fixed text or program does not allow. Also what in my remarks suggests I am saying teachers should not be evaluated according to their results? Your ideological fixations make you a poor reader. If curriculum doesn’t make a difference then a whole word reading program would work just as well as a phonics based program, according to your “same result” criteria.

        • Andrew Allison

          Actually John the record clearly shows that, as noted above throwing money and new teaching techniques at our broken public education system has had , at best, no effect. Your gratuitous comments demonstrate that it is you who lack reading comprehension skills: your ideology led you to read something into my comment which isn’t there.

        • GS

          @johngbarker:disqus : “If curriculum doesn’t make a difference”

          well, how about this curriculum vignette, it is my favorite:
          “Amanda wants to paint each face of a cube a different color. How many colors will she need?”
          This was asked from the 8th graders, NAEP. A multiple choice idiocy, and some 50% of the 8-graders still did not have a clue: of these 50% some 15% made a lucky guess.

          From a different (very seriously range-restricted) cohort of the 8th graders, in a different corner of the planet, the following was asked instead (50+ years ago) – and they answered it, too, and not in a multiple-choice format, either: they had to come with the answer and a proof on a clean sheet of paper:
          “In how many different (i.e. not convertible into each other by
          rotation) ways could the 6 numbers (1 to 6 points) be arranged on the faces of a cubic playing dice, one number per face?“;
          (answer: 30 if the orientation of C2-symmetrical “2”, “3” and “6” points on the face of a cube with regard to the rest of the cube does not matter; otherwise, 240). The first part (30) of the answer was derived correctly by some 80% of the pupils, the second part (240) by about 50%.
          Night and day contrast, eh? Both questions were offered to the 8-graders, but their age and their anatomy was about all they had in common.

          Judging by the success rate, the target IQ in the former case could be estimated as 85-90, and in the second case it was 140 and above. Now recall the scriptural injunction: cast not your pearls before swine. Jedem das Seine. Those having difficulty with the “Amanda” question would not be able to make head or tail from the far more challenging curriculum as exemplified by the 2nd question. It is not for them, regrettably. And all the complaints are to be addressed to the Lord God.

      • GS

        And how would you measure these results? This measurement is not trivial, one would have to calibrate it by the material, i.e. by pupils. Speaking from the experience of one rather interesting extremely selective school, from a class of gifted pupils [IQ140+] most proceeded to earn doctorates, and about a third eventually became university professors all over the globe. A great result. But the expectations at the different segments of the Bell Curve are correspondingly different, and so is trying to formalize the results there.

        • Andrew Allison

          I agree that we cannot expect the same results everywhere (for socio-economic as well as native intelligence reasons). That said, it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of man to recognize good teachers in any environment. The problem is that the bad ones are compensated in the same way as the good ones. My point was, and is, that all of the shiny new teaching toys have had, at best, no effect. It’s all about the workmen, not the tools.

          • GS

            It is about the material the workmen have to deal with even more than it is about the workmen. The gems are possible to polish, the excrements are not, even with the best tools in the hands of best workmen. The great Carl Friedrich Gauss had a pretty dull and uninspiring schoolteacher. Ditto with the equally great Michelangelo – and what teacher could ever boast of better results?
            As for socioeconomics, it correlates with native intelligence, and it correlates strongly. A rich heir/ess idiot will not stay rich for too long [“a fool and his money are soon parted”]. Even with the trust funds, it is all downhill from there. And a poor bright will not stay poor for long. Why, I [a naturalized US citizen] came to the US with $125 and without the spoken English, with the clothes on my back and a suitcase [spare clothes and some books]. I could read English, though, but I could neither speak beyond “see spot run” nor write a grammatically correct text, even a simple one like a CV or a job application cover letter. If that was not “poor”, what was? Fast forward – an Ivy League doctorate, a career in biotech research, read five languages, and now a comfortable retirement. No longer “poor”, far from it. And the only things which got me there were my own head and my own two hands, but mostly my head. A clear case of the above correlation. Intelligence could be seen as a primary cause. [Murray & Herrnstein, “The Bell Curve”, 1994. And Richard Lynn expanded their thesis from the US worldwide in his “Global Bell Curve”, 2008]

    • GS

      Read Charles Murray’s book “Real Education”. What makes you think that the “educational media”, and indeed anything short of a total overhauling of the pupil’s brain [and genetic engineering is at least a century away from that], could do wonders for the pupils with IQ around 80? The best one could do with them is making them parrot the completely un-digested bits and pieces. “Sir, it is retarded”, in the words of one rachel jeantel.

  • Atlantic

    Public schools are failing for complete class reasons no one wants to talk about. The same die-hard liberals who identify as torch bearers of the civil rights movement all send their children to private schools now, and parents who can’t afford it but know better don’t want their kids left to hang out with a bunch of kids from broken families and no ambition.

    • GS

      Absolutely correct. That’s the Brown decision and its legal outgrowths for you. The homeschooling can succeed [where it does succeed] because it incorporates the educational streaming by ability in its extreme form: a class of one is always ability-homogeneous. And the private schools succeed [where they do succeed] for the same reason of their selectivity, and the degree of their success is in direct proportion to the degree of selectivity they exercise in the student admission and retention.

  • Seema Kaur Amrit

    Homeschooling implies that no teacher credentialing or any sort of qualification is required to teach kids. Biology? Let’s see what God wrote in Genesis.

    Now if we can home-college and home-job these kooks too, that will serve us all well.

    (I have seen plenty of homeschooled kids. They good in spelling and grammar but can’t write worth a damn. They can recite multiplication tables but you ask them how many buses, each of capacity 50, are needed to carry 225 kids to a country fair, they will answer 4.5 buses obviously. No joke!. They are some of the least well-adjusted kids I have seen. Go to any Boy Scout meeting if you don’t believe me. No. I am not a public school teacher. I wouldn’t dare.)

    • Tom

      You…haven’t been to public schools lately, have you?

      • Seema Kaur Amrit

        yes. My kids go to one. They are fine. You know where I haven’t been? where Kids get brainwashed in homes with all kind kooky stuff.

        • Tom

          Sorry, mac. I went through public school for from k-12, and I also knew a lot of homeschoolers.
          The homeschoolers were way more functional, on average, and could actually think, instead of pretend to.

    • Dale Fayda

      Typical liberal lashing out at those fleeing the utter, irredeemable failure of government in the realm of public education. Ad hominem attacks, high-handed dismissal of those whose idea of what constitutes education deviates one iota from the “progressive” norm.

      Not only are home-schooled children better educated (n aggregate) than the spawn of failing/failed public school systems, they’re also much safer, physically and emotionally. I went to public schools in NYC in the 80’s – we had metal detectors, security guards, race riots (in junior high!), gang fights, students packing weapons (everything from razor blades to pistols). At my graduation party, two people were stabbed – no lie. I can’t imagine that things have improved in that school district much. Compare THAT with home schooling.

      And on a larger point… Social Democracy is collapsing right before our very eyes – locally (Detroit, Chicago), regionally (Puerto Rico) and nationally (Venezuela, Greece). The public education system Social Democrats, i.e. progressives, have built is collapsing right along with it. Its demise or at the very least massive change is as inevitable as the sunrise. The only variable is the speed of its collapse in various geographic localities.

      Enjoy!!!

    • teapartydoc

      You are FOS. I homeschooled my last son. Taking him to engineering school next week. I was a double major in biology and chemistry and I don’t believe in evolution. A+ in my capstone evolution course in college, though. Please go to Hell now.

      • Seema Kaur Amrit

        You are living in a make believe alternative universe of reality where you double major in this and that and probably you’re imagining yourself to be a pediatrician or some such profession.
        Yeh. Human beings and other species just popped out like mushrooms randomly or did they fall out of Noah’s Arc.

    • Fred

      Gentlemen, please don’t feed the troll. Seema is the same ignorant bigot whose argument on another thread consisted solely of the moronism “Faux News.” PS: To those of you who think FriendlyGoat is a troll, he’s not. This is what a troll looks like.

  • Seema Kaur Amrit

    Lets be clear. 95% of the homeschoolers are born-again types. Big bad world of Evolution, Rock music, interracial dating is too much for them.
    They are living mooching off Khan Academy and other productive members of society who went though public schools.
    Only place where homeschoolers will make any positive contributions is their mega-church. Breed they will, unfortunately.

    • Tom

      Citation, please?

    • honestynow

      I beg to differ. The homeschoolers I know have gone on to become quite productive- in medicine, engineering, music….
      Your view is quite narrow.

  • Charles Mark Linn Lemen

    Homeschooling is better and it has a lot of benefits compared to traditional schools. Just like now, I study via skype spanish and practice it as well. My tutors from http://preply.com/en/spanish-by-skype are really great and amazing.

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