The term “homeschooling” continues to raise the eyebrows or evoke comments of skepticism from the mainstream. Even though homeschooling has been in practice since the 18th century, for some it still feels novel and new.
As we look at the evolution of homeschooling, we find that some of our most accomplished athletes, artists, entrepreneurs, and leaders were homeschooled. The list may surprise you.
Just to name a few:
- Inventors Thomas Edison and Andrew Carnegie
- Fast food giants Ray Croc of McDonalds and Dave Thomas of Wendy’s
- Actors Whoopi Goldberg and Alan Alda
- Authors Charles Dickens and Robert Frost
- Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James Madison, and Theodore Roosevelt
- Florida Speaker of the House Will Weatherford, as a Florida example, and Supreme Court Judge Sandra Day O’Connor
And the list goes on and on. Likely one of the most famous Floridian homeschoolers, Tim Tebow has his name informally attached to the groundbreaking extracurricular activities law in Florida which is actually known as the “Craig Dickinson Act.” This law passed in 1996 and is now affectionately referred to as the “Tim Tebow law.” This law allows homeschoolers to take part in interscholastic programs in their zoned school districts. There is now a “Tim Tebow law” in South Carolina and there have been efforts to pass the law in Alabama, Virginia, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
Approximately 1,230,000 U.S. children are being taught at home, according to data in a study conducted by the National Home Education Research Institute in Salem, Oregon. The state of Florida has upwards to 60,000 homeschooled students. Imagine if we reframed our thinking to consider the immense savings to the state due to these families stepping up to educate their children at their own expense and, in essence, take one for the team.
As I reflect on my career, I can remember 32 years ago when I was a beginning teacher, having my first returning homeschooler appear in my classroom. At that time, it appeared that most parents homeschooled for religious reasons and some saw it as almost cultish. I remember a colleague making the comment, “no telling what this child will be like.” As it turned out, the child was delightful. He was far ahead of my other students and I remember being so impressed with how well this 6th grader could converse with adults. He even said, “Yes ma’am,” looked me in the eye and shook my hand.
As the years went on, I personally experienced much of the same, although I knew of incidents of students returning from homeschooling where the child was not as well-adjusted or had fallen way behind. Of course, this was no different than what often happened when students came from other schools depending on the quality of the sending school, but somehow we were more accepting of a school who had failed a student than a parent who had been unsuccessful in his or her efforts with his or her own child.
Now having had the privilege to work with homeschooled families at Florida Virtual School for the last 15 years, I have an incredible respect for homeschooling families. I’m usually careful to classify “real” homeschooling from “fake” homeschooling. Real homeschoolers learn through experiences as opposed to books. They learn their math in the grocery store, the kitchen, and on the soccer field; their science in museums and outdoor family trips; and their language arts and history comes as they get lost in great books, play family Scrabble games, and take family field trips and vacations. In school terms, we call this “relevance.”
As we create our courses or as the traditional school teacher plans his or her lessons, being deliberate about ensuring students are being given the opportunity to apply their learning in a relevant manner is not always an easy task, yet in many homeschooling settings the application of learning is almost innate. In a study published in 2009, 12,000 homeschooled students from across the 50 states were tested on national measures of reading, language, math, science, and social studies. In the core studies of reading, language, and math, the average homeschooler scored at the 88th percentile, while the average public school student taking the same standardized tests scored at the 50th percentile.
Not too shabby and yet the eyebrows still rise and the comments still come.
Today, homeschooling is growing steadily. Since 1999, the number of children who are being homeschooled has increased by 75 percent. Although currently only 4 percent of all school children nationwide are educated at home, the number of primary school kids whose parents choose to forgo traditional education is growing seven times faster than the number of kids enrolling in Kindergarten-12 every year. Most colleges readily welcome homeschooled students, although absent of a diploma but SAT/ACT ready. Many of our friends have or are homeschooling their kids. For some it is still for religious reasons, but for most it is about truly wanting the best for their child and taking the ultimate responsibility for the outcomes. Concern for the public school environment and school violence definitely plays a role in the decisions as well as wanting to ensure that their children can develop at their own pace as opposed to the pace of the public school pupil progression plans which can be limiting for kids who are accelerating and too aggressive for those who need that extra time to master the content. We’ve seen families sacrifice the pursuit of stuff for the pursuit of experiences for their children. Parents unselfishly devote themselves to the education of their children and not only are their kids not awkward and socially inept youngsters as the myths would perpetuate, they tend to be more mature, more self-disciplined, and actually enjoy the art of learning.
I will admit that in my experience, homeschooling parents have more helicopter mom tendencies, which for some teachers can be a challenge, but at Florida Virtual School we require our teachers to build a relationship by making parents their partners. We not only invite them in but expect them to engage in their child’s educational experience all the way from Kindergarten to Senioritis! We say, bring it on!
Post by: Julie Young, former President & Chief Executive Officer for FLVS
In 1997, Julie Young pioneered the launch of Florida Virtual School with the goal of providing high quality, online courses to students throughout the State of Florida. That vision has resulted in Florida Virtual School becoming the largest provider of Internet-based courseware and instruction for middle and high school students in Florida and around the globe.