Tucson, Arizona Sunday, December 31, 1995
A Public School Principal Praises Home Schooling
by Jim Green
Your Dec. 10 editorial, "Trust but verify," has certainly given me much cause for concern. I believe your focus on home schooling was good, healthy and thought provoking, but I'd feel better if you more accurately portrayed the public school system.
I am a public school principal. My school, the Ida Flood Dodge Traditional School of Educational Excellence, a Magnet Middle School, is home to students from about 60 public and private elementaries.
We are ethnically diverse and a rough representation of the Tucson Unified School District middle school. My experience (5.5 years in this job) indicates that all is not well-or getting better-in public education.
Your editorial closed quoting Ted Sizer's paradoxical idea of a "loose system that has rigor." I maintain that our present public system is a loose system that lacks rigor.
Several points in your editorial demand attention. Your lead paragraph opines that home schooled children need a modest, unobtrusive, but still rigorous testing regime. Later you write "or perhaps districts could administer brief, focused tests every two years, the minimum frequency professionals say can aid students and parents."
At present tests are administered in fourth, seventh and 11th grades to public school students. A student can fail all these tests and much of the course work and still be promoted.
In my district, a seventh-grade student can fail the test, fail all four quarters of language arts and mathematics and still be promoted. Worse, some schools promote all students regardless of effort. Clever, but misguided, students know these conditions and are content to idly give away their academic heritage.
You suggest home school students showing poor progress should be returned to public education. Where would you send the multitude of public school students doing poorly?
Your article quotes Mary Grace Wendel, an education service coordinator for the Pima County School Superintendent's office. Wendel's statement that parent attempts to avoid violence and gang problems are negative rationales for home school is her opinion. I would term that a positive rational.
In spite of the police "sweeps" in downtown Tucson, nothing is really being done about truancy. Juveniles roam this city in spite of school attendance law. I know several home schoolers and they are doing a fine job of education.
Your suspicion that "home school" may mean no school is no more likely to be accurate than to say public school may mean no school.
I do not mean to bash public schools. I am a public school product; my children were; and my grandchildren all are public school students. Public school is my livelihood, and two of my children are public school teachers.
I am proud of Dodge Middle School, our dedicated, wonderful staff and of the vast majority of our hard working, achieving students. However, all is not well in public education. It is my opinion the problems of home schooling pale by comparison with the problems of public school.
I also believe that if we appropriately address public school problems that home schooling will essentially disappear. Home schooling consists of hard work with multiple preparations for up to six subjects per day per student, multiplied by the number of children. In public school, we cannot require a teacher to do more than three preparations.
Surely if we can provide a safe, secure environment and a stimulating academic program, then home schooling will be difficult to justify. However, if we fail to do so, home schooling may be the majority classroom in the not too distant future.
Jim Green is the principal of Dodge Middle School
Minneapolis, Minnesota February 21, 1996
Recently, as I sat in a gathering of enthusiastic home educators, I was struck by the rich common enterprise they have launched-an enterprise that flourishes despite the absence of central planning or government assistance…. In the sweep of history, this is a radical idea, and one still frequently challenged in many corners of the world. Yet in that room-and in the vibrant grass-roots movement represented there-I saw confirmation that America's founders were right to put such faith in common people.
- Katherine Kersten