Today’s guest poster, Cassie, has a rather unique perspective on this matter. She was homeschooled herself, then went to college to become a public school teacher. She’s intimately familiar with both worlds. She’s offering her perspective today on homeschool vs. public school (and of course this is her perspective and opinion, not intended to say what is ‘right’ for everyone, but quite fascinating nonetheless!).
Image by Tulane Public Relations
I grew up homeschooled in the early days of the homeschooling movement, the days when some states considered homeschooling a form of child abuse. In the late eighties when I was in first grade, a caseworker came to observe our school day. We sat at the kitchen table, put pen to paper, and tried our best to look “normal.” Through the years I was aware of people’s opinion and expectations about homeschoolers. I heard lots of “I couldn’t spend that much time with my child/parent” and “What about prom?” comments. There were a lot of negative reactions that never made sense to me. Now, as a mom who is preparing to homeschool, I see some of the same reactions surfacing again. I still believe in homeschooling and though I would not criticize anyone for making a different choice, I do have valid reasons for wanting to keep my children at home. And this is just one.
The State of Public Education
After college, I received my teaching certification. I have a kind of a love/hate relationship with that fact. People always wanted to know if my mom had a teaching degree when she was homeschooling us. Some were appalled to hear that she actually had only one year of college. They thought she wasn’t qualified to teach her own children. So while I am glad for the experiences, I don’t like that it somehow validates myself in some people’s eyes as “qualified.” (After a few decades, a PhD, a job as professor of physical science and head of her department maybe she has proven she was capable all along — So proud of you, Mom!)
But what my experiences did teach me is this: there may be positives and negatives but the current system is deeply flawed. There are theories and best practices and utopian ideas, but in the day-to-day actual implementation so much of it fails. The broken system may still work for a few — those in decent attendance areas or with parents who are involved, supportive, and vocal. And if you are a parent who is choosing public school (or if you aren’t in a place to choose), those things are extremely important. Regardless of your choice of schooling, you are your child’s advocate and the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Find out your rights, especially if your child has special needs or if they are recommended for special education. You have legal rights and the school has legal obligations.
I spent two years as a special education teacher and some of the things I heard and saw were distressing. Classroom teachers were coerced into teaching to the low-middle, being told by name which students must be reached in order to pass the state tests. Students were grouped into levels: these will not pass the test, these might pass if you focus all your attention on them, these will pass but just barely, and the last group will pass by a larger margin. The only students “worth” the teachers’ time are the ones who will make the teachers’ pass rates (and therefore the school’s rating) higher — those in the second group, the “bubble students.” These children are given before and after school tutoring, daily testing drills, and small group time with the teacher at each class period. They are coached on test taking strategies and spend more time learning how to beat the test than the actual content or skill being tested. They are singled out as “slow” by students and teachers alike.
But worse than that, each teacher can afford a few “fails.” Those students are identified early in the year by name — they are the “will not pass no matter how hard you try — so don’t waste your time trying” group. These students are effectively ignored in the day-to-day instruction so as not to slow the rest of the class. They are not even offered tutoring groups once they have been revealed as incapable based on benchmark test results. Some of them are special education students, some of them are not; all are viewed as hopeless.
The last two groups are the ones who will pass the test, either by a small or large margin. They are given busywork; something that keeps the “good ones” occupied but will bore the “bad ones” to tears, causing a constant cycle of disciplinary problems. The teachers are so focused on the small group of “bubble students” that the rest fall by the wayside.
Now, this may sound like a worst-case scenario, and it probably is even though I saw it over and over. There are some schools where the percentage of students passing each year is enough that the administration is not worried about bubble students. But the driving force is still there — everyone is supposed to fit into a box. The numbers matter more than the individual. The desired outcome is for the largest percentage of students meet the lowest standard. Not that each child has the best chance possible, or each makes the most progress themselves, but that which benefits the school as a whole is done.
Success stories can come out of the schools, and good parents are usually behind them, along with an intrinsic desire to learn or to achieve in an academic setting. There are some teachers still inspiring students like the movies would have us believe. But the system is wearing them down steadily. You can fight for your child’s rights to a free and appropriate public education, but if you find yourself constantly struggling against the current it might be better to get out of the stream and walk the banks.
The Difference of Homeschooling
In special education there is a document known as an IEP, or individualized education plan. It is a map of where a student currently is in regards to abilities and deficits, and where that student is hoped to be in twelve months time. There are achievable goals for each area of growth. Based on this document, a child’s entire educational program is built to facilitate the path from here to there. If prepared and used properly it is one of the only parts of public schooling that I find to be helpful at the individual level. But there are still limitations due to the framework of the school setting. Homeschooling has the ability to function as the ultimate in individualized education.
Homeschooling is not about having a teaching credential; it is about finding what works best for your child. You know where your child is now and you know where they are headed. What remains is designing a path for them to reach their destination. That path may change by the child, the subject, the year, even the minute at times. And that, my friends is individualized. The true beauty of homeschooling is that you can change your approach at any given moment. Incorporate your students’ personalities and interests. They are your best friends if understood and encouraged properly, your worst enemies if stifled, belittled, or ignored. Take your cues from each child and use whatever tools or opportunities you have at your disposal.
In homeschooling there are no “bubble” students, there are subjects that take a little extra effort or creative instruction. There are no “hopeless” students, just children whose talents and capabilities may range far outside the realm of academic achievement testing. There are no “good” or “bad” kids, there are kids with plenty of time for all types of creative outlets.
Obviously homeschooling is not a solution for everyone, and I don’t think it should be an excuse not to be involved in fixing the education system. It needs to be fixed and I fear for the future of our nation if it does not happen soon. For the time being, however, I feel the only future I can effectively change with my own hands is the future of my children. And that is a decent place to start.