Thursday, February 26, 2004


When I rode my dinosaur to school many years ago near 96th and Pacific Streets in what's now midtown Omaha, nobody went to school at home. I mean, nobody! Now there's a homeschooler two doors away, I have a number of friends who do it and love it, and the only other student who was a National Merit Scholar besides my own daughter at her high school had been homeschooled up until just before graduation.

That got my attention. So did the VW Bug that our preteen homeschooled neighbor tore apart and rebuilt, the local and national geography bee and spelling bee success, and especially the manners and lovely, well-written thank-you notes that we have received from homeschooled children who have visited our home.

They seem to have such a glow about them. Like -- they feel extra loved. And it shows, in how they do in high school, college . . . and life.

What's going on here? It looks as though homeschooling is on the move in Nebraska, as well as around the country.

According to a report, ''Learning at Home,'' by Hanna Skandera and Richard Sousa of the Hoover Institution, homeschooling is growing at a rate between 11 percent and 25 percent annually. Homeschooled students now constitute more than 3 percent of K-12 enrollment in the U.S., according to the report. In the year 2000, approximately 1.7 million American children, K-12, were being home educated.

They tend to be from white, upper middle-class, intact families with three or more children and a stay-at-home parent, usually the mother. The kids in these homes watch very little television, compared to the nation at large. The notion that homeschooled children aren't as adept socially has been debunked; remember, their role models for conduct and attitude are solely adults, not mostly their peers, so actually, their manners and congeniality are thought to be better than public school graduates. Parents spend only a fraction as much on curriculum and other expenses than either public or private schools do; of course, salaries aren't a factor, but neither are services that may be in place in schools but which they don't want and their children don't need.

Recent studies by researchers including Caroline Hoxby have determined that it is family aspects, not necessarily school inputs, that produce the superior achievement of homeschooled children compared to kids in public schools.

In other words, the quality of their parenting and the parental commitment to education are more valuable than the tens of thousands of tax dollars that these parents give up to provide that K-12 education themselves.

How are they doing? It knocks your socks off: even though only about 25 percent of homeschooled children have parents who are certified teachers, somehow their parents get it together enough so that these children moosh their public-school counterparts on nationally-standardized tests. It's one of the most striking pieces of evidence AGAINST the dubious value of teacher certification.

Homeschoolers score well above private-school students, too, although they both significantly outscore public-school students.

And how. The report states that by the time home-schooled students reach eighth grade, ''their median scores are more than four grade equivalents above their public school peers.''

Bottom line: Nebraska taxpayers may be smarter to invest in homeschooling, not public schooling, to try to replicate that tremendously cost-effective and inspiring success. Isn't that our goal? Aren't we supposed to do what's best for kids, not just maintain the status quo for the adults employed in education?

Those are the kinds of issues and statistics likely to come out in an upcoming speech Nebraskans can attend to learn more about this fascinating alternative to public education. A national leader in the homeschooling movement will speak in Lincoln at 7 p.m. Friday, April 2 at the 17th annual Home Educators' Conference and Curriculum Fair.

The event, sponsored by the Nebraska Christian Home Educators' Association (www.nchea.org) is set at Indian Hills Community Church, 1000 S. 84th St., and continues through Saturday, April 3. See the website for registration information.

The keynote speaker is Mike Smith, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association (www.hslda.org), representing 75,000 member families, and a longtime champion in legal and public policy arenas. His wife, Elizabeth, who homeschooled three of their four children, also will speak. All four of the Smith children are now college graduates.

Other speakers scheduled by the statewide organization, whose presidents are Nick and Kathleen Lenzen of Lincoln, include:

-- Joyce Herzog of Chattanooga, Tenn., a 25-year teacher in public and private schools who is now a homeschooling consultant; she has a master's degree in learning disabilities and has special expertise in homeschooling children with special needs.

-- Dennis Gundersen, pastor-teacher of Grace Bible Church in Tulsa, Okla., whose focus is children and faith.

-- Andrew Pudewa, director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing and a teacher and homeschooling father of seven; he advocates a classical approach to teaching and specializes in English composition, early childhood and music education.

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