We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
An education movement once associated primarily with Christian fundamentalism is now going mainstream. Today families homeschool their children for all sorts of reasons and participate in a vast homeschooling network that promotes field trips, Internet-based “virtual schools,” and even trying out for varsity football. We explore the trends in home education.
- Celeste Land Director of Government Affairs for the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, and a member of the board of directors
- Michael Donnelly Staff Counsel, Home School Legal Defense Association
MR. KOJO NNAMDITwo million kids across the country are now homeschooled. That's a 74 percent increase over the past decade. It's not quite a homeschooling revolution, but it's certainly a movement on the rise. And forget what you think you know about who is homeschooling. While many of us still choose to do it for religious reasons, these days, they might be Muslim or Jewish or not religious at all. Parents from a wide variety of backgrounds are homeschooling for all sorts of reasons. Why the new interest in homeschooling? It may have to do with technology. Homeschooling parents who once feared being isolated and overwhelmed teaching at home, now connect with a vast network of organizations and support groups on the Internet. Parents can use teaching materials and online classes to help with everything from basic reading to AP chemistry. Here to talk about the homeschooling movement is Celeste Land. She is director of government affairs for the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers and a member of the board of directors. Celeste Land, thank you for joining us.
MS. CELESTE LANDPleased to meet you, Kojo. I'm happy to be here.
NNAMDIJoining us again is Mike Donnelly. He is the Home School Legal Defense Association’s director of international relations and the staff attorney for member affairs in eleven states, including the District of Columbia. He also works on homeschooling legal issues internationally. Mike Donnelly, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.
MR. MICHAEL DONNELLYAlways a pleasure.
NNAMDIMike, the total number of homeschooled kids is not that precise. Is that because of how states track or do not track the students?
DONNELLYIt depends on how you calculate. The Department of Education came out with a study where they estimated between, you know, 1.2 and 1.7. That's based on census information. When you look at the Department of Education in various states, they count it differently, so it is difficult to calculate the exact number. But when you look at the numbers like the Department of Education and you take into account how easy it is to actually find homeschooling families, we kinda come up with a number around two million. And when you look at the growth, it's continuing to grow. And whether it's two million, 2.5 million or 1.8, it's a large number.
NNAMDINot all school systems require parents to register as homeschoolers, do they?
DONNELLYNo, they don't. It really depends on the jurisdiction that you're in. Every state and district has its own regulation. In the District of Columbia, you send in a notice to the Department of Education there. Some states do not require any kind of notification at all. So it really does run the gamut in terms of the level of information you provide to the school district.
NNAMDIBut we do know that the number is growing. Who's homeschooling today? Who wasn't homeschooling 10 or 15 years ago?
DONNELLYWell, that's an interesting question. You know, when you look back over the last 30 years at the demographics of home educators, it's interesting how it got started. You can go back to the '60s, in the writings of a man named John Holt who was kind of an anti-institutional person. Those were people who were looking for a different way for their children to learn who were free thinkers. Starting -- going into the 1970s and 1980s, you had a larger number of Christians, evangelical Christians who were starting to home school and that's when homeschooling really began to expand dramatically in the 1980s. Today, as homeschooling grows even more, you find that people are homeschooling for a variety of reasons.
DONNELLYThe number one reason is that people are concerned about the school environment. That's the number one reason that people list. Number two is that they wanna make sure that they can educate their children in moral issues or in faith issues. And then there are a number of other reasons looking for non-traditional ways of educating their children, trying to tailor education. These may be parents who have special needs children who are looking to give one-on-one instruction, which is not really that possible in a public school environment. You know, you're finding that people from all walks of life are now homeschooling their children.
NNAMDICeleste Land, one thing we heard a lot in talking to people is that homeschoolers today, as Mike was pointing out, are diverse. They come from all kinds of different backgrounds.
LANDThey do indeed, sir. What we have found here in Virginia, and I think it is replicated across the country, is that what all homeschoolers have in common is diversity. We have political diversity, religious diversity, cultural diversity, ethnic diversity. Here in Virginia, we are seeing a growing number of homeschoolers of color. We have a growing Muslim homeschooling population. Many of them are Middle Eastern immigrants who are coming from different countries and backgrounds. We also have a large proportion of Hispanic and Asian homeschoolers, African-American homeschoolers. And...
NNAMDIYeah. It's my understanding that one of the fastest-growing groups of homeschoolers is African-Americans.
NNAMDIDo you have any idea why?
LANDFor a number of different reasons, just like with any other families, one thing we have seen is there -- it's in a book by Grace Llewellyn called "Freedom's Challenge," which is about African-American homeschoolers. Many of whom see it as an outgrowth of the civil rights movement that this is their way of empowering their children to be better...
NNAMDIThere's the great old...
NNAMDI...Carter G. Woodson book, "Mis-Education of the Negro" and a lot of people who homeschooled decide that they, if they are Africa-American, can better educate their children about the history of African Americans. We'd like to hear your voice in this conversation. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you home school your child? What do you see as the advantages of doing that? Or were you homeschooled? What advantages do you feel you have? What disadvantages? Any regrets? You can call us, 800-433-8850. Go to our website, kojoshow.org. Send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet @kojoshow. Mike, there are a variety of reasons a parent might choose to home school. What are some of the most common?
DONNELLYWell, as I said, you know, people are concerned about the environment in public schools today. You can't open a newspaper these days or hear a show on the news without hearing about the latest bullying, about children being shot in schools, you know, what they're being taught, the content that may not comport with what the parents want their children to be learning in school. So there are a variety of reasons that parents want to school. Another reason, I think, Kojo, is as the body of research grows -- we now have about 15 to 20 years of significant research that shows that home education works. It is an outstanding way for children to learn regardless of a parent's educational background, the socioeconomic status of a family, which I think explains one of the reasons why you're seeing a lot of minorities beginning to grab on to the idea of homeschooling.
DONNELLYHomeschooling works. Children who are homeschooled score, as the research shows, 20 to 30 points higher on measures of academic achievement. These are standardized tests. And we just did some research within the last year, looked at almost 15,000 homeschoolers from every state which confirmed research that have been done about 10 years ago by a Lawrence Rudner, somebody who's with the government statistics bureau, looking at the same thing which has showed the exact same thing. And it's no wonder why. Homeschooling allows children to get one-on-one academic instruction, high levels of academic engagement with a material in an environment that is free from distraction. Now, I say free from distraction…
NNAMDIYeah. Because there's this image many of us has of the homeschooling families studying around the kitchen table. But one of the aspects of homeschooling is that you're really not tied to anyone, plus a lot of homeschoolers like the flexibility. They go on field trips to museums, you know? Let me ask our callers. How much of your kids' education took place outside the house? 800-433-8850. I can ask you, Celeste Land. How much of your kids' education took place outside the house?
LANDWell, the dirty little secret about homeschoolers is that we're never home. And (laugh) some mothers have said that homeschooling should be called car schooling because we spend so much time in our cars or on the road.
NNAMDIWhy did you choose to home school?
LANDI have two children. They are now 19 and 15. My daughter homeschooled all the way from preschool through high school and is now a sophomore in college. And my son is homeschooled preschool through high school. He's still there now. My kids -- my daughter was a clingy, fussy little baby who didn't wanna separate from her mother, and so we started looking into homeschooling because she wasn't gonna go to preschool, obviously. Now that little grew up to be a second degree black belt and go off to the rainforest in Costa Rica and...
NNAMDINow I understand why...
NNAMDI...went to public school, she would be dangerous.
LANDBut she went off to have all sorts of incredible opportunities, everything from backpacking through the rainforest, to teaching martial arts, to working on Capitol Hill, opportunities that she never would have had in a conventional classroom setting. And my son...
NNAMDIThat's -- that set you off on that course.
LANDYes. It did, indeed. And my son is more of the shy, quite type who's not very comfortable with crowds but he has – but he's a very talented musician and an engineering type and he is -- homeschooling has given him the opportunity to grow at his own pace and to do the things that he needs to do to live and grow and become a functioning, responsible young man. Statistically, Mike Donnelly, are the majority of homeschoolers still conservative or evangelical Christian?
DONNELLYI think you'd have to say that a majority are -- although I think that number is probably decreasing as the movement expands and reaches out into the mainstream population probably -- you know, we say maybe it's 60-40, maybe it's 70-30. It's hard to really know. But, you know, even within the conservative Christian, quote, unquote, "block," you have a wide diversity of why reason -- of reasons for people to home school. And even if you're religious, you may not necessarily be homeschooling for religious reasons. You may be doing it because you have a child who is a special needs child or you just wanna do something that you know is gonna produce a child who is academically excelling, which isn't to say that you can't do that in other venues of education, whether public school or private school. But for those parents who wanna home school, the research is in. It works really well and the resources out there have grown tremendously.
NNAMDIGetting to the resources in a second, because when you started homeschooling, Celeste Land, there were not that many resources as there are available today. Were there moments when you thought, I'm not sure I know what I'm doing? Should I leave this to the experts?
LANDWell, I think that every parent feels at one point or another they don’t know what they’re doing.
NNAMDIRegardless of where your child is going to school.
LANDBut the Internet was just getting started when my kids were little, and I remember going online when they were very young and finding this incredible network of resources, which of course has only expanded since then. I think the difference between the '90s and the current decade, whatever you want to call it, is that we have access to -- it's easier for us to connect. We can connect in seconds rather than minutes and that -- the challenge now is not lack of resources but trying to sort through at all.
NNAMDIHow to manage the resources that are all out there.
NNAMDIWhat kind of support networks out are there -- out there for parents who wanna home school?
LANDAt the state level, you have your state home school organizations like the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, which we provide an 800 line. We provide website. We provide conferences and seminars and all manner of resources for families. We also connect families with support groups. Every community has support groups of varying shapes and sizes. We're talking about the diversity of the homeschooling community. Some families do home school for faith-based reasons, whether it's Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu or -- and none of the above. You also have families that are not homeschooling for -- and some of those support groups are organized by faith but many, many of them are not. And so families will have -- that's one thing that has really changed is that there is a bigger smorgasbord a of support groups out there both face to face and online for families to connect with. It may be that you think you’re the only homeschooler in your neighborhood, but in fact there's one right around the corner and you can connect by the Internet and then connect and go on a field trip or play group or start up a class or program.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones now, we start with Richard in Hagerstown, Md. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICHARDHi, Kojo. Just to comment, when my daughter was going into junior high into the seventh grade, we went to the junior high orientation and they sat through and told us how safe the public schools were because they dogs -- drug-sniffing dogs (laugh) and so on so forth. And so we've sat through the orientation and as we were walking out to the car, our seventh grade daughter said, well, that settled it. And we said, that settled what? She said, I'm not going to junior high.
NNAMDIWhat does she have against drug-sniffing dogs? But go ahead, please.
RICHARDYou have to go to junior high, and she said, well, I'm not going to. I'll, you know, I'll study at home. I’ll do what I have to do but there's no way I'm going to junior high in that environment. And so we bought a course from the Calvert School in Baltimore and she did junior high on her own. It was the most rigorous and challenging year that she had in all of her career and she learned a lot and worked very hard to get through that seventh grade. Later, we found a charter school in the area that she went to and graduated from. She has a master's degree -- a professional master's degree that she got before her 23rd birthday. And she's working professionally in BBC now. So home school...
NNAMDIAnd she still reflects happily on her year of homeschooling?
RICHARDIt was great. Did a lot of (word?) and...
NNAMDIRichard, thank you very much for your call. Mike, homeschooling was not always legal in every state. Can you tell me a little bit about getting laws on the books to make homeschooling legal?
DONNELLYWell, it wasn't always legal, Kojo. In the late '70s, about five states had laws that explicitly recognized a lot for home education. Now, many people in the homeschooling community would say that parents have always retained the constitutional right to direct the education and upbringing of their children, which is something the Supreme Court has said parents do have. However, states have compulsory attendance laws and they didn't always recognize excuses for homeschooling, and so there were often problems. As the numbers began to grow, those numbers increase, which resulted in the founding of the Home School Legal Defense Association, HSLDA, back in 1983, founded to defend and advocate for parents at the state level and at the federal level. Since that time, across the states, every state has either adopted laws, regulations or has had a court decision that explicitly recognize that homeschooling is a valid educational alternative for parents to choose in all 50 states, and that's still the case. Although, I have to say we still have legislative fights today.
NNAMDII was about to say one battle you're still facing. Some states allow local school districts to set the rules for homeschooling requirements -- Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Utah.
DONNELLYMassachusetts and Rhode Island in particular. Utah, actually, is fairly driven at the state by the law there. But in Massachusetts, the school districts have certain regulations. Although, the Supreme Court in Massachusetts set out guidelines. And so we end up having our arguments with the school districts about how they're enforcing the guidelines and our interpretation versus their interpretation. And we've really reached a situation in Massachusetts where the school districts have realized, you know homeschooling works just fine. We don't really need to hassle these parents. As long as we've got the information and we're not concern about the kids, we're not gonna hassle the parents. Now, that's usually. Occasionally, we do have issues where a superintendent is asking for more than we think they're entitled to or they're contesting a parent's right to home school for whatever reason. And so we get involved. Same thing in Rhode Island. We've had a number of issues this year in Rhode Island with a couple of school districts where my colleague who handles that states says, in Rhode Island, every county acts like a state.
DONNELLYAnd they invent their own procedures. And so we get involved to coordinate the activities of homeschoolers to help them retain their freedom. And in some states, we are working with home school groups to try to enhance their freedom as well.
NNAMDIHere is Jean in Washington, D.C. Jean, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JEANHi, Kojo. My comments are about the reason people send their kids or don't send their kids to school, do the homeschooling. I don't really believe in parochial schools or charter schools. I think the reason people home school their kids is to fill their kids' heads full of propaganda. (laugh) You know, if they just want their kids to have a particular religious upbringing, they can do it at home. If they want their kids to have a particular political upbringing, they can do it at home.
JEANThey teach their kids just their world view, and then their kids get out and find out, oh, the world is not neat and tidy.
NNAMDIWell, you mentioned a very important point, Jean. And that is at some point these kids have to finish their homeschooling and live in the real world.
NNAMDIWhat has been your experience with kids who were homeschooled when they become adults and live in the real world? They seem to go to college and they -- then they seem to go out and get jobs like everybody else.
JEANMy brother started his kids in a Baptist school. I mean it's not homeschooling but, you know, he pulled them out finally, because he realized his kids -- there was no reality in the Baptist school. They weren't learning what, you know -- every kid there was nice and pleasant, and it's not that way in the real world. He finally pulled them out. I mean, I just don't believe in it. I think that all this weakens the public school. Now, that's another issue all together.
NNAMDIAnd believe me, I will defend with my last breathe you're right not to believe in it. (laugh) But I just like to hear some of the real world experiences of say, Celeste Land and your children.
LANDWhat we have found is that homeschooling -- we like to say homeschooling was the real world. Our kids were not isolated at home. They were out in real world jobs, real world situations with real world people. One difference between homeschooled kids and their public school peers we have found is that the homeschooled kids seem to be better able to function with adults. And they tend to better able to function in multi-age settings that -- because homeschooled groups often tend to be mixtures of children and adults working together just like it is in the real world, people of different ages, different backgrounds, as opposed to the school setup where you have all the third graders in one room with one adult. And so the kids tend to, as they get older into young adults, tend to be better able to work with adults, which is what our hope is for them in the real world.
DONNELLYThere is scientific research that backs that up. A study was done in 2004 by some professors, school psychologists in New York and University of Texas in Austin who looked at this and they did a study which showed that when you compare homeschooled students and public-schooled students and you look at scientific measures, statistical measures of social competence, what you found was that the homeschooled kids did at least as well as the public school children in the studies, and in some cases did actually better in terms of their self-esteem and their self-concept. And so that's shown in the studies. It's also shown in the other research that you looked at.
DONNELLYIn 2004, a study was done called Homeschooling Grows Up. When you looked at what home schools go on to do, they go on to do the same things that other people do. And when you look at the media today, the things that homeschoolers are doing like sailing around the world, like winning spelling bees, national geography bees, like winning, you know, science awards because they create a particle-smashing device. I mean, the things that homeschoolers are doing are amazing because they have the time to invest in those things that interest them. And, you know, we all have unique gifts and talents. And I think homeschooling really allows parents to guide their children to focus on that. And, you know, this idea that home schools are cloistered and they're just being fed...
DONNELLY...your know, their parents world view, I think is just simply not what is happening in reality.
NNAMDIHere's an e-mail we got from Joanne, "It's great that the kids get to experience much of what they learned. But what if math? Many parents cannot do the math that the kids bring home from elementary school. How many...
NNAMDIIt goes on to say, “how many homeschoolers become mathematicians or engineer?"
DONNELLYI just told you about the homeschooled kid who created a particle-smashing device. I mean, there's one kid for you. So I...
NNAMDIHere is Ryan in Bethesda, Md. Ryan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RYANHi, Kojo. You know, my comment is this -- my wife has been teaching in Frederick County, Md. for 15 years. And her particular experience, what I've heard numerous times from her is that just about every kid that she's had contact with that's been homeschooled is always behind whenever they're tried to be mainstreamed or integrate into their curriculum. And I wonder what kinds of follow up measures they're, you know, they're – they can have or should have, do you think, to put in place to keep these things from happening? And to maybe comment on some of the other callers, some of these -- you know, I'm not sure that some of the parents in these situations, you know, have really their kids' best interest at heart to make sure that they're doing the work independently.
NNAMDIHere's Celeste Land.
LANDWe at Virginia Homeschoolers often encounter situations like that. And what generally is happening is homeschooling and the public schools tend to be a self-selecting thing. The kids that return to the public schools generally are returning because their needs were not being met, and the parents had the wisdom to see that this was not working out and that it was time to do something different. So your wife may not seeing the home school success stories because they're not coming to her classroom.
NNAMDIIndeed. We got this email from Morrow who says, "I am a 15-year-old homeschooler. I've been homeschooled since day one. I am homeschooled, as well as my younger siblings for educational reasons, however, a word of caution to those considering homeschooling. Homeschooling is not a good fit for all children and parents. Not only should the kids want to be homeschooled, but the parents should be willing to teach their children. School at home or in a traditional institution is where you learn. Don't home school just to avoid sitting in a classroom for eight hours a day." Good advice?
LANDVery wise young woman.
DONNELLYWell, and I would say that, you know, it is true. I believe that homeschooling is an outstanding choice. You know, my wife is the primary educator in our family. We have six going on seven children, and she does an incredible job of it. I am very proud of her. It is -- it does require significant sacrifice on the part of one person in the family. Usually, it's the mom. And it is not -- you know, any teacher in the public school will tell you that it's a challenging profession. It is. It is a challenging thing to be working with children all day, but mothers love their children. And for those mothers who want to home school their children, it can just, as Celeste is pointing out here, it can just create incredible dividends for the family, for the relationships within the family, for the relationships between the parents and the kids, the siblings. It has lifelong benefits in that regard.
NNAMDIMike Donnelly is our guest. He is the Home School Legal Defense Association's Director of International Relations and staff attorney for Member Affairs in 11 states, including the District of Columbia. Celeste Land is the director of Government Affairs for the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers and a member of the board of directors. We are gonna be taking a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your call. If the lines are busy, shoot us an email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're discussing homeschooling with Mike Donnelly. He's the Home School Legal Defense Association's Director of International Relations. And Celeste Land is the director of Government Affairs for the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. She's also a member of the board of directors. Here is Jeremy in Washington, D.C. Hi, Jeremy.
JEREMYHi, Kojo. How are you today?
JEREMYGood. I'm calling because I have two quick questions. One is I'd love to hear about the demographic -- I'm sorry, the economic breakdown of the kind of the people who are able to home school. We hear so much about how our society today requires families that are intact to have two working parents just to pay the bill. How do you fit homeschooling into that environment? So I'd like to know how things break down economically. And then secondarily, I'd be curious to find out what the trends are in terms of urban versus suburban versus rural homeschooling. And I appreciate your guests' responses.
DONNELLYSure. Economically, the demographic is at homeschoolers, you know, the vast majority, 98 percent are two-parent families where they're married. They make between, on average, 50 to $75,000 a year. In terms of urban-suburban, it's -- you know, they're fairly equally split. We haven't done any studies that show there's more in the cities as opposed to not. In terms of, you know, figuring it out, I'll tell you. It does require sacrifice as I said before. Someone needs to make that decision.
NNAMDIBut homeschooling is a financial commitment.
NNAMDIWhat kind of costs are involved?
DONNELLYWell, you're looking at potentially taking one person out of the workforce, so you have to figure out how can you live on a budget. But you know what? Homeschooling families are innovative and creative. And they're entrepreneurial, many of them, and they'll start a home business. Mom will figure out a way to earn money from home if she has to while balancing the child care and education responsibilities. They live on less. They make due. And they invest in their children's future because they want to.
LANDThere are also a large number of single parent homeschoolers, so moms and dads who are figuring out creative ways of working from home or combining work with their schooling, or bringing the kids to the workplace if that's what it takes.
DONNELLYWell, that's a very effective thing for children. I like to bring my sons to work with me, and they get to hear all kinds of interesting things. I just did some research and wrote an article on single parent homeschooling, which, to me, I'm like, how in the world can a single parent home school? But they figured it out. Most of these parents -- moms, primarily -- earn less than $20,000 a year.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Jeremy. This brings me to this. From a comment posted on our website, "Are certain children better suited for homeschooling than others? Even if I wanted to, I cannot imagine my children wanting to be homeschooled by me, their mother. Even when I try to work with them during summer break, they seem to resist being taught by me, yet they are good students for their teachers in school."
LANDWell, the -- I think the important thing is not are there certain kinds of kids, but are there certain kinds of parents and certain kinds of family situations. What I always tell people is people often think that you have to be -- have a certain amount of money or a certain amount of education or a certain amount of books or a certain amount of resources or a certain amount of patience. But the bottom line is that if the parent is committed to doing this and has the support of their family and friends behind them, they can move mountains, and all of those difficulties can be overcome. If they don't have the support, it doesn't matter how rich they are, how smart they are and how patient they are, it's not gonna work. (laugh)
DONNELLYWell, I think...
DONNELLYCan I just say something?
DONNELLYYou know, many families don't have that kind of support. Many families find that they have hostility...
DONNELLY...or resistance from their families, and they still do it because they know it's the right thing for them to do. In some cases, it sounds like this particular person has their children in school. And I would point out that this is one of the things that happens with public schools when you send your children to a public school environment, which, again, it's fine for some people. But what you're doing is you're creating distance between yourself and your child. And sometimes you've got to take some time, if you wanna consider homeschooling, to create that relationship that you have lost because your children -- child is away from you six to eight hours a day. And they may resist you teaching them because they're used to having someone else teach them. So it may take some time to kind of get over that, and people find that to be the better solution.
NNAMDIBut what do you mean by saying that sending your children to public, private or charter school creates distance between you and your child? I went to schools...
NNAMDI...to public schools...
LANDSo did we. (laugh)
DONNELLYI did, too. I went to the public school.
NNAMDI...and I never experienced any distance from my parents.
DONNELLYWell, you're away from your parents for eight hours a day, and then you come home and you -- you'll have some time around the dinner table. Usually not, though, because most families don't gather around the dinner table, but then maybe you will. And then you've got to spend an hour or two on homework, which it seems like I've heard there's lots of homework given in schools these days. And understandably, the teachers are trying to do what they've got to do to make sure the children are learning. But you've got six hours in the school. Then you -- maybe you've got sports and extracurricular activities. When do you have time as a family? When do you have time as a parent to interact with your child? In a homeschooling environment, you have them all day long, and you can teach them not just academic...
NNAMDIBut what I'm inferring from what you're saying is that by going to school, you establish an estranged relationship with your parents. And what I'm saying is that that didn't happen.
DONNELLYI'm not trying to say -- well, I'm not saying...
DONNELLY...estranged. But I'm saying...
DONNELLYAnd maybe that's a good point because I guess what I'm comparing is the opportunity to have a closer relationship, which can happen in a home school environment, as opposed to what you get with -- in a public school environment.
NNAMDICeleste Land, very often the school district matters. You've dealt with homeschooling in a number of districts. On a practical level, what does Virginia asks you to do in order to be allowed to home school your child?
LANDWell, in Virginia, the law is the same across the state for all 132 school divisions, that you're required to file at the beginning of the year and test or evaluate and submit that at the end of the year. That's pretty consistent across the state. Where there is variation is in the -- such matters as if you're pulling your child out midyear for any reason, if you're putting your child back into school for any reason and access to public school programs, classes, services and extracurricular activities. With those issues, the school division makes their own rules and policies, and those policies can make -- vary quite a bit. For instance, in Virginia right now, about 50 percent of the school divisions allow homeschooled students to take classes in the public schools on a part-time basis. So -- but you might be able to sign your kid up for Latin in one county, and then just three doors down in the next county, not have that same privilege. So...
NNAMDITalk about virtual schools. Many public schools...
NNAMDI…have virtual schools. We'll be doing a future show on virtual schools, but for now, just trying to understand how virtual schools fit into the homeschooling picture.
LANDWell, first off, virtual schools encompasses a wide variety of different things. For instance, a lot of programs like the Calvert program that the caller was talking about earlier could be called a virtual school because the family is contracting with Calvert to provide that education, which is probably, at least in part, over a computer. But what -- and there's lots of a la carte and full package distance learning programs that homeschooler has been participating in for decades now. My son takes a distance learning, electronics class, from a wonderful guy in Alabama.
LANDBut the public schools are now coming up with partnerships with private vendors to form virtual schools, where the students are enrolled as public school students. They are doing their work in the home with -- presumably with a parent supervising them. But the coursework is coming from a public school program. They are accountable to the public school. The public school has standards of learning, as we do in Virginia. They are accountable to those standards and those school rules.
LANDSo it's a very complicated thing, and it's very confusing because you might look at my son working on his electronic scores and look at the kid in the public school, virtual schools. It's the same thing, but it's not because if I don't like my son's electronics teacher, I can fire him. And if I don't like the way the course is being conducted, I can work with the teacher to change that. But if my son is getting a virtual course through the public schools, I'm accountable to the public schools and those rules, and I may not have the same rights.
NNAMDILet me see if that answers the question that Houston in Memphis, Tenn., had. Houston, does that answer your question?
HOUSTONI -- it really doesn't, because -- and I mean, first of all, virtual schools, I don't think are as complicated or confusing as they would like to make it out to be. (laugh) But, you know, the idea that with a -- like a K12 curriculum which provides curriculum to homeschoolers, traditional homeschoolers such as myself and my family, who did not attended virtual public school, but -- you know, they also provide curriculum to these virtual public schools such as the one in Washington, D.C. as well as Virginia. And that HSLDA is taking such an aggressive stance against this program, and I'm wondering why that is so. Because when I hear the words like wisdom and choice coming from Mike and Celeste today, then all of these 70,000-plus families that K12 is serving, they, in essence, use their wisdom and choice to make a decision that is best for them. And I wonder why HSLDA is taking such an aggressive stand against all this.
NNAMDIHouston, you said you are a homeschooler yourself?
HOUSTONI am, yes. (unintelligible)
NNAMDIHow long have you been a homeschooler?
HOUSTONJust over 10 years.
NNAMDIOkay, here's Michael.
DONNELLYWell, I think we just heard a commercial for K12...
DONNELLY...which I've heard, you know, pride itself on saying it has a world-class curriculum. You know, we believe that parents should choose what's the best education for their children. We think -- I think that homeschooling is the best educational choice for people to make if they can make it. You know, if they wanna choose K12 curriculum, that's fine. But the issue is who's in charge? And in a -- and when you talk about virtual schools in the public school orbit, as Celeste just described, you're talking about the school is in charge not the parent. And we believe that the best form of homeschooling is parent-directed homeschooling. Okay? And that's really it. I mean, well, you know, people wanna put their kids in charter public school or charter virtual schools, fine. That's fine. That's their choice.
LANDAnd if I...
NNAMDIHouston, thank you very much for your call. I do have to move on...
NNAMDI...because I had this e-mail from Darryl who says, "Members of my family have homeschooled their children. The kids are incredibly sharp in their knowledge of history, geography, science, math, et cetera, outstanding. However, I worked in Marine Corp Recruit Training. Analysis was done to identify factors that predicted success or failure at recruit training. Homeschooling was correlated with failure. Homeschoolers did not assimilate as well, et cetera, follow direction as well, and were discharged. Do you have any research on this (word?) ?"
DONNELLYI -- yes, (laugh) I absolutely do. That is actually factually incorrect. And what was going on in the Marine Corp some years ago and in the Department of Defense, actually, was that they were miscoding homeschooled students. They were not properly decoding home school students. What you had in the recruiting command was you had recruiters actually assigning home school dropouts home school codes. And, yeah, home school dropout -- I mean, high school and these are -- I'm sorry -- high school dropouts not home school dropout. High school dropouts are homeschooled code so they can get in under what was at that time a preferential program for homeschoolers. Okay. And so you had a problem in the Department of Defense, which actually we've worked on correcting in the last few years. And what I think we're finding in the data has not come in yet is that homeschoolers you just find in the military. In fact, there's a lot of them that go into the military. They serve their country well. They assimilate well, just like they do in other walks of life.
NNAMDIAnd this comment we got on our website. It was posted by Cam. Could you comment also on unschooling, the unschooling phenomenon and the feeling within subscribers to that movement, that most schools actually stifle creativity?
LANDYeah. Unschooling was originally created by the late John Holt, who Mike mentioned earlier. John Holt was also influenced by Ivan Illich and John Gatto and some of the other counterculture education movements of the 1960s. And so the movement of unschooling is really quite old. And John Holt was originally working with parents to try to build their own schools as alternatives to public schools. So when that wasn’t working so well, he said, "Why don't you just pull out and school them yourselves?" And unschooling has taken off. There are lots and lots of unschooled kids in the homeschooling community. And the kids are doing very well. You know, there is no one way to home school is the bottom line.
NNAMDII want to get in one more...
NNAMDI...phone call from Amati in La Plata, Md. Amati, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIPlease, make your question a common brief. We're running out of time.
AMATII'm sorry. I'm calling because I'm a homeschooled student myself, and I would like your guest to discuss how homeschooled families take school tests but homeschoolers have no access to some extracurricular activities in public schools.
DONNELLYWell, the issue is interesting. When you look across the country, you see that states have a very different approach to this. Some states have laws that require public schools to make available classes, co-curricular and extracurricular activities. States like Utah...
NNAMDIYeah, they play sports in some places.
DONNELLY...Vermont, New Hampshire. Yes, exactly.
DONNELLYYeah, team sports. And sometimes, they're distinguished between sports and curricular activities. You know, the caller is -- you're right. This is an issue of fairness. You know, our association hasn't taken a position on whether there or should not be those laws. But if people in the state pass that law and they have every right to do so, then we will defend our members in situations where they're being discriminated against.
NNAMDIYou got about 10 seconds.
LANDHere in Virginia, it's at the discretion of the school divisions, but extracurricular sports is a major issue because the Virginia High School League has been fiercely opposed to homeschooled students playing on interscholastic teams, and that's something there's been legislation in the state legislature for several years and will be in the future.
NNAMDICeleste Land is the director of government affairs for the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers and a member of the board of directors. Celeste thank you for joining us.
LANDThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIMike Donnelly is the Home School Legal Defense Association’s director of international relations and staff attorney for member affairs in eleven states, including the District of Columbia. He also works on homeschooling legal issues international, which we didn't get a chance to discuss today. Mike thank you for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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