Thursday, January 24, 2008

As Homeschooling Grows, What Is at Stake?

Columbia Teachers College -- launching pad for many public school teachers, administrators, programs and policies -- recently asked for public comment on the question, "What is at stake when more and more of America's students are being homeschooled?" I sent the following:

That the government school system is failing to educate America's children is no longer in doubt. So, by asking that question, Columbia seeks to blame homeschooling for putting the public schools at risk. The premise is patently absurd, first, because the main reason for the growth of homeschooling is the failure of the public schools; and second, it is those schools that put millions of children's education at risk. The presumption -- really, the hope -- that the public school system is providing what America's students need and want is simply false. The failure is massive, and the public school system has the habit of blaming others -- movies, television, even "society" -- for problems that it creates for itself.

If anything is "at stake" (def: "at risk" or "in question") it is the coercive monopoly system itself, and the reason is its poor performance. Its problems have not been imposed from outside; the system is not a victim of forces beyond its control. It has only itself to blame.

The public school establishment has noticed that the canary in its gold mine has died because of its own dishonesty, corruption and wrong-headedness. Instead of cleaning up, the system continues mining for all the gains its employees, unions, and special interests can acquire while denying the problems and, worse, seeking to blame others for the death. Its normal response to the suffering of its students is to make them suffer even more and to force the taxpayers to give it more money. One problem is that the system never admits to its failures. Therefore, it has no self-correcting mechanisms, no way of clearing its own air. It has too many conflicting interests, failing programs and bad practices to get back to its true purpose of education. Some have even suggested that it never had that purpose.

The government school employees and supporters see any and all alternatives as threats to their monopoly, since they view children as their source of revenue. The primary goal of most bureaucratic institutions, especially government controlled ones, is growth. The public schools follow that objective fiercely, seeking ever higher budgets, larger payrolls and wasteful construction contracts while viewing efficiency and thrift as counter to their interests.

Standardized tests that show the dismal failure of America's students are routinely ignored. International tests of basic skills show increasingly worse comparisons between the US and other countries' schools and/or students. Yet, year after year, the schools portray their failure as "success" and incredibly, they get away with it. What is at stake is the credibility of the US education establishment and ultimately, the productivity, even the viability, of our society and our country. At stake also are the public school teachers along with their unions. The pubic, more and more, are discovering that just because someone is "certified" by a state, or is a union member, does not mean that s/he is a good teacher, especially when we find that the best private schools do not seek state-certified teachers nor do they have unions. Meanwhile, teacher unions are obstacles in most efforts to reform the public schools. Today, people are simply too well informed to tolerate an invalid system of education.

At stake for Columbia is that it will need to change how it selects and trains teachers. The system clings to methods, practices and beliefs about learning and teaching that have long been proven wrong. There is no change in sight. By creating so much of what is wrong with the public schools, Columbia is one reason for the growth of homeschooling.

Homeschooling is not part of the failure; it is one of the frontiers of national recovery. More and more parents would turn the original question around to read as follows: "What is at stake if we don't take our children out of the failing government schools?" The answer, of course, is our children's lives, our families, and the future of this country.


Sunniemom said...

Is there a link to that article? I don't see one on the CU website.

Ned Vare said...

to sunnimom: Sorry, but I forget when the article appeared. It was about three years ago. Arthur Levine, then head of Columbia's Teacher College did a survey of teacher preparation in the US and report, saying in part, "The quality of the teacher colleges is between inadequate and embarrassing."

christinemm said...

Wow your reply was amazing!

I agree that the question is ridiculous. Instead of pointing to 1 or 2% of the nation's homeschooled children and asking what can be done about them homeschooling they should focus on what the schools are doing and how they are performing at their job. If they admit their schools are failing children they should go about fixing the situation and stop worrrying about what is honestly a tiny percentage of children are doing.

More children attend private schools than homeschool. Why is it we never hear the public school teachers and administrators bemoaning the loss of students to the private schools? Would they not seek to capture those students back from the private schools to move them into public schools? It seems to me they would want to do that instead of thinking about what 1-2% of the homeschooled children are doing.

The answer I feel is that it is a slap in the face to the trained teachers and administrators that parents can educate their children at home. A good number of us are not trained in education but are self-taught in the art of teaching or shall I say facilitating the education of our homeschooled children. Yet to be honest there are a good number of former teachers who then homeschool their own children (your family included Ned). The schools like to pretend those former teachers don't homeschool their children but it is not true.

Just as most books about education reform are written by those who worked in the schools and want changes, some who worked as teachers in schools don't want their own children going through that system.