Thursday, March 31, 2005


Forrest Gump told us that life is like a box of chocolates. If it is, then how come everybody only sees the same three pieces when it comes to education – public, private or homeschool?

There are sooooo many other sweet selections. Some are really old, and some are as new as last week. Some cost an incredible amount of time and money, while others are practically free. But that’s the way it goes with innovation: as with Forrest’s chocolates, there’s a lot of variety and surprising quality in the alternatives available to The Big Three that most parents and taxpayers just don’t see.

Charter schools are moot in Nebraska, since the teachers’ union kept them out years ago with a strong power play not likely to be overcome. But there are other kinds of private schools not often considered: day-care centers have private kindergartens, and there’s Montessori, for example.

But consider these innovative and unusual school designs for kindergarten and beyond. This is where I think the action is:

-- Tutoring.

Many people think this is the next big sea change in education, following the lead of homeschooling. It’s basically hiring a private teacher for your child and those of other children you can get together to share costs, unless you’re rich enough to pay one on your own, like the Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, who hired a pretty fraulein as governess and wound up singing, in lederhosen and a funny hat. Hopefully, that doesn’t always happen. The more elite private schools are getting so expensive, full-day tutoring is looking more and more sensible. We already have after-school tutoring services such as Sylvan, Kaplan and Kumon. But why not full-time, if you can make the economics work? A casual read through Nebraska laws and regulations indicate that you could lump this under homeschooling, would be exempt from a lot of the rigamarole, could teach faith-related curriculum for top-quality character development, and wouldn’t need a certified teacher, though you could have one if you wanted to. The problem would be competing with cushy pay and benefits of the public schools – but aren’t there a lot of great teachers out there who are retired and want to work part-time? Check out tutoring structures and services:
http://thecampusonline.org, www.learningexchange.net and www.educationindustry.org

-- Homeschooling co-op.

Parents pool their time and resources, take turns teaching each other’s children one or more subjects, collaborate on special learning projects, and organize joint field trips. Many meet in the afternoons after parents deliver core subjects in the morning. Co-op classes run the gamut to Latin, chemistry and music appreciation, to creative dance, P.E. and kids’ crafts. See
www.legacyhc.org and www.co-opcurriculums.com

-- Homeschooling associated with a private school.

Homeschoolers proceed as normal, only they work under the direction and counsel of an established private school, using their recommended curriculum from textbooks to lesson plans to tests, and receiving support from a staff member as needed. For an example of this style, see the Baltimore, Md., school,

-- Homeschooling/private school hybrid.

University Model Schools out of Texas use this innovative approach. For two days a week, the children attend a private day school. For three days a week, they are homeschooled. This maximizes parental involvement and parent-teacher partnership, while reducing private-school tuition costs in half. These schools have quickly spread to several other states, though none so far are in Nebraska. See

-- Classical private schools.

This top-quality school design is based on the “Trivium.” That’s the classical approach to education in three stages, dating back to the Greeks and Romans. In the early grades, the focus is on knowledge mastery in all the subjects. That’s “grammar.” (That’s why we used to call grade schools “grammar schools.”) The early secondary years, which we now call “junior high,” are for comprehending principles in all the subjects. That’s called the “dialectic” stage. Finally, in high school, expression and application of this knowledge and these principles are undertaken in the “rhetoric” stage. These schools teach kids really cool stuff, like Latin, which builds vocabulary so much that the mean verbal SAT score in a recent year for kids who took Latin was 157 points higher than for kids who didn’t. If you’ve ever heard of beloved education philosopher Dorothy Sayers, this is what she was talking about. There aren’t any in Nebraska. Hint, hint! See the Association of Classical and Christian Schools,

-- Model private schools.

Some of the nation’s best-known private academies, including the Calvert School in Baltimore mentioned above, and Hillsdale Academy associated with Hillsdale College in Michigan, will partner with an educational entrepreneur elsewhere to set up a replica on their time-tested model. The Calvert model is more active, selling their service along the lines of a franchise, though not quite. E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Curriculum comes as a sort of package that is very popular nationwide, including in the Millard Public Schools’ Core Academy (
www.coreknowledge.org) founded by my esteemed friend and colleague, Linda Weinmaster, now of Lawrence, Kan. The Hillsdale model is rather passive: they put their entire curriculum guide online, for free, for anyone to use as a guide and inspiration: www.hillsdale.edu/academy/

-- Schools for the gifted.

You could just CALL your school a “gifted school,” and sit back and eat bon-bons rather than struggle for enrollment and funding, because EVERYBODY thinks their child is gifted. Right? Well, not exactly. But for those who don’t believe the public schools are set up to meet the needs of top students, and where there is population and wealth sufficient to support it, you’ll find schools like this. Check out
www.giftedschool.org in San Rafael, Calif. It’s a nice place to visit, and I WOULD want to live there.

-- Online schooling / distance learning / virtual academies.

Just because you’re a “lowly” homeschooler doesn’t mean you’re stuck with ancient dittoes, feltboards, filmstrips and manual typewriters for technology. Online learning is exploding, and a lot of it is wonderful. It reminds me of old-fashioned correspondence courses on turbo power. Although education guru Bill Bennett has had his trials lately, and although I’m somewhat skeptical about this, he has developed a pretty cool model for an electronic classroom that looks good so far:
www.k12.com Most, though, are for Grades 7-12. Check outCompuhigh Online School – www.clonlara.org/compuhigh.htm, the Potter’s School, www.pottersschool.com, and my favorite in this category, Classical Free Virtual Academy, www.classicalfree.org

-- Afterschooling.

During the day, the children attend public, private or homeschool settings, but from 3:30 to 9 or so, they go to one or more hours of special enrichment or remedial classes offered by a private “afterschool.” This may be the best compromise for those who can’t afford private school or homeschooling, but know their kids are getting intellectually starved in the government schools. For one centered on mathematics in Boston, see


FRIDAY: A “Eureka” For Class I Schools

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