|The Washington Times||December 19, 2005|
Washington Times Op-ed—Charter schools government- controlled by J. Michael Smith
by J. Michael Smith
With private and government estimates showing that homeschooling is growing at a rate of 7 percent to 15 percent each year, most people recognize homeschooling as the fastest-growing education trend today.
But can homeschooling maintain this pace? According to a report released in November 2004 by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are an estimated 5.5 million "stay-at-home" parents. Homeschooling usually requires having a full-time parent at home, and even with an estimated 600,000 families already homeschooling, there still is significant room for growth.
Depending on how homeschoolers are counted, different conclusions could be reached about homeschool growth. In recent years, the increasing numbers of homeschoolers appears to reflect the growth of public charter schools. There is an important distinction to be made between children in charter schools and those being educated privately by their parents. A charter school is still a public school, which is run by the government.
Homeschool leaders across the country are concerned about the charter-school movement because many families who previously homeschooled have been drawn into the charter school, thereby losing some of their parental authority. If this trend continues, it could affect the liberty of the private homeschooler who desires to be independent from government oversight and control.
The charter-school option is tempting. Typically, the government covers the costs of materials by providing curriculum and a computer. There are significant drawbacks, however, since the curriculum is fixed. The genius of independent homeschooling is that a parent can tailor an education to fit the interests of the child and consequently proceed at the child's pace. Another important factor for many homeschool families is the freedom to teach from a religious perspective.
Parents who previously homeschooled privately may not have considered all the costs of switching to a charter school. Once a commitment is made to a charter school, the government holds the cards. More regulations can be added because you're receiving a government benefit.
For some parents, fear and trepidation about whether they really could succeed at homeschooling pushes them toward choosing a charter school because there is the promise that a public school teacher will provide support. But support is available in the homeschool community.
One of the goals of Home School Legal Defense Association is to encourage families to homeschool. One program developed by Exodus Mandate, a group that promotes homeschooling, is called Homeschooling Family-to-Family. Experienced homeschoolers would encourage and mentor other families who are considering homeschooling or are just starting to homeschool.
One of the most effective ways of growing the homeschool movement is for homeschool families to spread the word about what they have discovered. They should be equipped with facts and figures that support homeschooling. They should be able to point people to "getting-started resources" and local support groups.
This is a challenge for all homeschoolers, because if we do not look for opportunities at our church or at work to make the case for homeschooling, then too many families will fail to understand that home-schooling is a viable option. Also, previously homeschooling families could be enticed back under the public system via ever-increasing subsidies, without existing homeschool families who are willing to lend a hand.
There are millions of parents who would benefit from making this important choice. In order for homeschooling to fulfill its potential and revolutionize education in this country, homeschooling parents need to persuade other parents that the benefits of homeschooling outweigh the burdens. This is one of the most important challenges facing homeschooling today. I trust that the homeschool movement will choose to go the extra mile and ensure that homeschooling continues to thrive.
Michael Smith is the president of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He may be contacted at (540)338-5600; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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