Google The Unplanned Homeschooler: public school
Showing posts with label public school. Show all posts
Showing posts with label public school. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

New study shows age-based grade assignments harmful to millions of students

A new study published by the Institute for Education Policy at Johns Hopkins University shows that millions of students in the United States are suffering from educational harm caused by age-based grade assignments. According to the study, a surprising percentage of students are performing at a level significantly higher than their assigned grade level, but because of rigid class assignments, these students are not allowed to work up to their potential, and often must rely on their parents to provide stimulating educational experiences outside the classroom.

This Institute suggests alternatives to the current K-12 system of assigning classes strictly by age, including grouping students according to their abilities and allowing advanced students to skip grades and progress through the system more quickly.

The results of this study are probably not surprising news to your average homeschooler. The homeschooling community has known for a long time that individualized education is the best option for most students, regardless of their skill level, because it allows each child to learn at their own pace.

Accoding to Michael Mattews, one of the researchers involved in the study, “Regardless of the instructional level, it is far more likely that teachers will be highly effective when they have a narrower range of ability to address in their classroom.” Matthews added, "It is difficult, if not impossible, for one person to design effective instruction at an appropriate level for all of these learners within the constraints of a 24-hour day.”

Researchers noted that there is a nine year gap between the reading levels of the most and least advanced students in the average upper elementary school class. That means a teacher who is tasked with instructing more than two dozen 5th graders may have students on a range as wide as 2nd to 10th grades, all of whom are being given the same lessons and preparing for the same high stakes standardized tests.

Gifted children, in particular, are often removed from public school because their educational needs are not met in the standard classroom. Too often, instead of being presented with challenging and exciting opportunities to learn, advanced students are instead turned into indentured servants, working for free as teacher's assistants.

If involved parents have to do the extra work of providing their children with learning opportunities outside the classroom, they might as well take hold of their children's entire education and set them free from the constraints they face during school hours.

Not every family is able to homeschool, whether for financial or other logistical reasons, but studies like this one may lead to positive reforms in the public schools if administrators would just take heed, and that could be a good thing for millions of students. Any reforms that would allow kids to work at their skill level, rather than be grouped and paced for 13 years or more based on their age alone would certainly be beneficial for students whose families are unable to provide them with a fully individualized education.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Leaving public school is sometimes like escaping a cult

I wonder, how many homeschoolers actually felt like you were survivors of a traumatic experience when you pulled your kids out of public school? I did. In many ways, I felt like I'd escaped from a cult, where people with absolute power had control over me and my kids, where our entire community pressured us to stay and conform, and we were all suffering because of it.

Like many homeschoolers, I lived in a district where the schools were overcrowded, and where I had no choice over which elementary school my kids attended. I had to fight to get my kids the speech therapy they needed, and to keep them from being pigeon holed into classes where they didn't belong. We dealt with classroom bullies, an inattentive bus driver who lost my kindergartner, teaching methods that failed to engage my son, and lunch periods so short they threatened my daughter's health.

But we escaped! And although leaving behind the only form of education we had ever known was hard, it was the best decision my husband and I could have made for our kids.

Being able to talk about our bad experiences with the schools, and hear the stories of others who'd transitioned from public school to homeschooling made a tremendously cathartic for me. It was like group therapy, and I discovered that I was not alone. Many new homeschoolers feel exactly the same, as if they have just escaped from a controlling, unhealthy, often traumatic situation.

It's not just bashing public schools

Talking with others about the negative aspects of public school may be perceived as bashing by some, especially non-homeschoolers or homeschoolers who still have connections to their local schools. But for those who have been hurt at the schools, physically and/or emotionally, and may still be tormented by friends and family who are critical of their decision to homeschool, a place to vent is especially important.

That's what makes online and local support groups for new homeschoolers so critical. They need a safe place to vent about the system they left behind, and to learn what they need to know to move successfully into educating their children at home. They need support, not only in deciding what curriculum to pick and how to set up their school schedule, but in confirming that they made the absolute right choice for their family.

Publicly, openly acknowledging how bad public school can be helps those who left awful situations behind to work through the emotional trauma and crushing doubts that so often accompany leaving public school. To commiserate with other "survivors" of sorts helps work out the feelings of anger and loss, and then to move past the hurt and into the good parts of homeschooling.

We're not all at the same place on our homeschooling journey, but I guarantee you, without being able to talk about the negatives of public school with other people who'd been there when we got out, I would have never become the happy and successful homeschooler I am today!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

If you don't send your kids to public school, you're a bad guy?

A controversial article from Slate made the rounds on social media about this time last year. The title says it all. "If you send your kids to private school, you are a bad person." It's not the first time a Slate writer stirred things up with an inflammatory article bashing parents who opt for something other than public school. In 2012, the hot button title was, "Liberals, don't homeschool your kids."

Both of these articles had the same general premise. Parents, especially educated and affluent parents, have a responsibility to the community at large to send their children to public school. Those who choose to do otherwise, by either sending their kids to private school or homeschooling, are cheating the public school kids out of their involvement and influence.

These authors acknowledge that public schools in many instances are broken, and that it might take generations of involved parents to get them back on track, but they insist that parents should make the sacrifice, foregoing the benefits of an alternative education, in order to eventually improve public schools for all.

As a parent, I balk at the notion of sacrificing my children's education, their happiness, and even their safety in pursuit of a collective social good that may never be obtained.

If public schools might be compared to swimming pools, many today are choked with crud. You have everything from predators on the faculty, academic scandals in the classrooms and bullies in the hallways. What the Slate writers insist is that the slime in the schools could be cleared away if parents didn't pull their kids out of public school and choose other alternatives. But kids aren't magical filters that can change a system that has been decades in the making. Leaving your kids in a cruddy school only guarantees one thing - they will come home covered in the same grime they've been swimming in every day.

We chose to homeschool because we believed it was the best option for our kids. We sacrificed my income so that we could provide our kids with an alternative education that is individualized and helps them reach their potential. Making the best choice possible for our own children doesn't make us bad people.

Why didn't we stick with the public schools and devote our time and energy to making them better? Don't we care about kids stuck in failing public schools? Certainly! Do we have the power to effect change on behalf of those children? Unfortunately, to a large extent the answer is no.

Because as I see it, public education in America is no longer a local entity that can be changed with the involvement of caring and dedicated parents and teachers. I see public education as a giant, run by corporations, unions and government officials. And the chance of changing anything, from the number of standardized tests kids take to the time they have at the lunch table, is virtually nonexistent, at least in the short time that my kids will still be kids.

So I do what's best for mine, and I hope you can do what's best for yours. And together we can vote for officials who will try to put control of the schools back in the local communities, back where parents and teachers really can make a difference.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Did bad school lunches really turn us into homeschoolers?

One of the questions I have been asked the most over the years is why I decided to start homeschooling. Of course, there were all the usual reasons, such as giving my kids a better education than I believe they could get in public school, keeping them away from bad influences and bullies, and avoiding having our kids possibly fall through the cracks in overcrowded classrooms. But when my husband and I were weighing the pros and cons of homeschooling, one surprising factor figured heavily in our decision: school lunches.

Can school lunches really be that bad?

I know you're probably thinking, yes, school lunches can be pretty disgusting, but can they really be bad enough to make a family choose to homeschool? A lot of kids would say that lunchtime at school is one of the worst parts of their day, but that's just part of growing up, right? 

Unfortunately, as we discovered when our twins were in public school, the problems with lunch in today's schools can actually jeopardize your child's health. That's exactly what was happening to our daughter, and it was becoming a serious problem. What were we going to do?

Making the decision to homeschool

My twins had just finished kindergarten when we made the decision to homeschool the next year. Of course, part of that decision was based on the fact that we'd just moved to a new school district, which was overcrowded. Realizing that our kids would have to go to an elementary school across town instead of the one just blocks from our house, we started thinking about other options.

We had also become very concerned about the fact that our daughter had lost weight over the course of her year in kindergarten. She and her twin brother were born preemies, and she was barely hanging on at about the 10th percentile in weight. It was dangerous for her to go a whole year without putting on at least a few pounds and even her doctor was growing concerned.

What did school lunch have to do with it?

I had tried hard during my twins' kindergarten year to help my daughter get enough healthy nutrition so she could grow. I packed her lunches, and made sure to send along snacks that she would like to eat in the afternoon. That helped to eliminate the yuck factor that was keeping her from eating the school's hot lunches.
But there was little I could do to help with the main problem, which was time. There just wasn't enough time at the lunch table, and what time there was came way too early in the day. 

Because the school had a burgeoning population of students, the kindergarten classes had to eat lunch at 10:45 in the morning. That was too early for most of them to be hungry enough for lunch, and left them starving by the end of the school day.
This problem was compounded by the fact that the kids got just 15 minutes to go through the serving line, find a seat, eat, bus their own tables and get in line for recess. I did not know at the time, but the USDA and many medical groups have recommended for years that students should get at least 20 minutes at the lunch table. Mine were getting less than half that.

Homeschooling made such a difference

Bringing my daughter home made a huge difference in her health. She was able to take her time and finish hearty meals at breakfast and lunchtime. She was also able to go to the kitchen and get a healthy snack whenever she got hungry midmorning or in the afternoon. Her energy levels were higher, and she began to gain a little weight.
We were leaning toward homeschooling anyway, but the problems with school lunches really were a significant part of why we finally made the decision to go for it. Now my twins are teenagers, and they're both healthy, vibrant, and although we hadn't originally planned to go this direction, very happily homeschooled.