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August 10, 2011

Home-school bound

At-home education is on the rise in Kentucky and nationwide

 

Doctors diagnosed Aiden with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at age 3. Every few months, his parents tried a new medication, desperate to find something that worked.

By the time he entered first grade, Aiden had trouble performing academically at his public school due to his inability to focus, even though he was on the highest dosage of his medication. It’s not that Aiden couldn’t answer questions; he just had trouble explaining how he arrived at his answers, a common requirement on tests.

Aiden continued to struggle, and by the time he reached fourth grade, he also was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, anxiety disorder and borderline depression; he was 9 years old. According to his mother, the doctor said Aiden has so much anxiety, “I don’t know how he makes it through the school day.”

That’s when the Louisville couple — whose names are being withheld to protect their child’s privacy — decided to pull their son out of public school and begin teaching him at home.

“Home-schooling allows me to truly tailor my son’s education plan, and we work at his pace. Our son’s needs just could not be met in the public school system,” she says. “In the classroom and school setting, there were a lot of negative comments and bullying, especially of kids that learn differently. Since we started home-schooling, Aiden has come out of his shell and has been more confident about himself.”

After Aiden’s first year of home-schooling, his parents decided to bring their second son home for school as well. The brothers were just two of Kentucky’s 16,493 home-schooled students in the 2010-2011 academic year, according to the state Department of Education.

That same year, an estimated 2 million children were home-schooled in the United States — 3 percent of the nation’s school age population. That’s up from about 1.5 million in 2007, 1 million in 2003, and 850,000 in 1999, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

There are a wide variety of reasons parents choose to home-school their children: dissatisfaction with academic programming, school bullying, a desire to marry religious teachings with education.

Karyn Moskowitz, of the Highlands, decided on home-school after her fifth-grade daughter indicated she wasn’t learning enough in the classroom. Specifically, she often complained that her teachers spent most of the school day punishing students who were acting out. “I decided that if my 10-year-old daughter wanted to learn and felt she was not getting that opportunity in school, then it was my responsibility to nurture that need,” Moskowitz says.

For some children, the classroom curriculum might not be enough of a challenge, which was the case with Laura Witten’s son. “My 6-year-old loved his Christian preschool, loved the beginning of kindergarten, then got bored,” says Witten, of Leitchfield, Ky. “Because I don’t want him to hate learning, he needs more challenges, not more worksheets.”

Since beginning school at home, Witten says her son has been challenged to learn in more interactive ways. “Kids need time to explore nature on their own level,” she says. “To actually be outside looking at plants and catching bugs.” This flexibility in application is what draws many parents to home-schooling — they can choose what and how their children are learning. Kentucky has six basic requirements for home-schooling, which leave broad room for interpretation: 1) establish a school for the child to attend; 2) notify the superintendent that a parent has established a school and report information about the students attending; 3) teach required subjects mandated by the state: English, reading, writing, spelling, grammar, history, math and civics; 4) provide school instruction for a minimal term of 185 days; 5) record information pertaining to student progress and attendance, and have these records ready for inspection; 6) be aware of the transfer process for home-school credit to public schools.

Nowhere in the requirements is it outlined what days students must attend school, length of school days, or what methods must be used for teaching and evaluating grades. Home-school advocates say this flexibility is crucial, as each child learns differently.

“You can find a method that works best for your child,” says Lori White, an east Louisville mother of a home-schooled 10-year-old. “How do they learn? Do they learn better by reading, hearing, touching? It’s awful to force a child to learn; you can’t do it.”

This method of learning seems to have its advantages, judging by the performance of home-schooled students. According to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), students taught in the home typically score within the 65th to 80th percentile on standardized tests; the public school average falls within the 50th percentile.

NHERI also cites various studies pointing out that home-schooled students have a positive self-image, and that, despite common misconception, these students frequently interact with people outside the home (although they are barred from sporting activities sponsored by public schools). “Home-school students are regularly engaged in field trips, scouting, 4-H, and community volunteer work, and their parents (i.e., their main role models) are significantly more civically involved than are public school parents,” the institute’s website states.

White has no regrets about her choice. “I tell people that anybody that has the option to home-school should home-school,” she says. “It’s wonderful to have the freedom to do things at your child’s pace and in a way that works best for them.”