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Archive for Thursday, June 3, 1993

EDUCATION

June 3, 1993

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Taking advantage of the longer daylight hours of late spring, Fletcher joined some friends from his neighborhood along Rhode Island Street for some games and fun time before the light dwindled away.

But unlike his friends who spent most of their day at New York School, Fletcher had the advantage of being able to see the budding trees and blooming lawns along his street the entire day. Fletcher, 11, gets his education at home from his parents, Nancy Sonnenschein and Dick Hamel.

Fletcher's brother Colin, 8, spends his mornings at home working on his language and math skills, then goes to public school in the afternoons for music, art and gym classes.

Their family's household is one of many in the Douglas County area that opt to educate at home rather than putting children in a more traditional public or private school setting.

Sonnenschein said she began home-schooling Fletcher on a half-time basis last year after the public school system's spring break. She and her husband made that decision because they felt their oldest son was not working up to his potential.

``I don't want to come from a position of criticizing the public school system, because there has to be a public school system,'' Sonnenschein said. ``But I didn't feel like he was being challenged, and he was starting to show some signs of being an underachiever.''

In addition, Sonnenschein said Fletcher was distracted by social situations at school.

``Every day he would come home from school with stories about something that happened on the playground or in class,'' she said. ``I just felt like I was an emotional dumping ground.''

At the beginning of the 1992-93 school year, the couple decided to keep Fletcher home all day and to have Colin at home in the mornings. Sonnenschein said since that time, Fletcher's academic performance improved dramatically.

``I had some concerns about his reading, but this year he has really taken off,'' she said. ``I feel like this year has been real groundbreaking for us.''

Hamel said home schooling brought the family closer together and created a better learning environment for Fletcher and Colin.

``I have noticed a difference since the kids started home school in that there is less emotional distress,'' he said. ``It's really been a wonderful change that way.''

Because home schoolers are not required to report to their local school board, there are no exact figures on how many Douglas County families have chosen to teach their children in the home. However, two local home-schooling support groups, Teaching Effective Academics in Christian Homes (TEACH) and the Lawrence Area Unaffiliated Group of Home Schoolers (LAUGH), report newsletter circulations of about 65 and 20, respectively.

Statewide, the latest numbers show that 2,537 parents have registered as nonaccredited private schools with the Kansas Board of Education. However, because home schoolers are not required to file with the state board, that number probably does not accurately reflect how many families are home-schooling.

As of September 1992, there were 85 nonaccredited private schools in Douglas County listed with the state board.

Vern Stephens, education program specialist for the state board, said the Legislature was the only body that could mandate the monitoring of home schools. In 1985, the Legislature considered a bill that would require home-schooled students to take the same minimum competency tests that public school students take. The measure was defeated.

``The Legislature never gave us any authority to check into that,'' Stephens said. ``We have no idea how many children are in these home schools.

``There is not much to go by in terms of data or information on those people.''

Kansas law requires children to attend public or private school through age 15. Homes schools may meet this requirement if they establish themselves as a private school, have planned instruction, teach for a time equivalent to the local public school and are taught by a competent instructor.

Rod Bieker, general counsel for the state Department of Education, said filing with the state as a nonaccredited private school did not automatically ensure private school status for home schools.

``We neither approve nor disapprove,'' he said, ``but parents really should register. By filing the form, that would be one indication that you're trying to be a private school.''

However, Bieker said there were no state or regulatory agencies with the authority to ensure that any of the private-school criteria were being met. He added that Kansas was one of only a handful of states that do not have regulations regarding the monitoring of home schooling.

``It stinks,'' he said. ``We don't know if these kids are learning. In many, many cases I'm sure they are, but we have no way of knowing that.

``The state does have an interest in seeing that each child gets at least an elementary education. The welfare of children is a compelling state interest. It's of utmost concern to all of us.''

There are other groups that support state regulation of home schools. In its 1993 legislative position, the United School Administrators of Kansas said it opposed any home school or private school which was not accredited by the Kansas Board of Education and which was not taught by a certified teacher.

Sonnenschein said she didn't think home schoolers in Kansas would be free of state regulation in the future.

``I don't think that will be the case in too many years down the road,'' she said as her youngest son, Louis, 2, climbed into her lap. ``Most of the authors of the home-schooling books we read are from the East Coast. There is so much regulation out there.''

Beth Anne Mansur and Richard Heckler home-school their children, Rose, 10, and Taj, 7. Mansur said they preferred educating their daughter and son without required state testing.

``We like it that way,'' she said. ``Those tests don't really show true knowledge.''

Mansur added that she did not see a need for state regulation.

``Everybody I know in home schools is very responsible,'' she said. ``They don't take advantage of it.''

Although parents who teach their children at home are not required to work with the state or local schools, Sonnenschein said, the Lawrence school district was cooperative with home educators.

``The one thing I really commend the school district about is that they are willing to work with home schoolers,'' she said.

Bob Taylor, assistant superintendent for the Lawrence school district, said it was the district's policy to work with home schoolers, not against them.

``I don't know that we would be in a position to say we're the only place to get an education,'' he said. ``We want to be cooperative with people who home-school and help in any way we can because many of these students will be back in the school system. Not all of them, but many will.''

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