This article is being written from personal perspectives that include:
¢ 30 years of classroom teaching experiences in public and private schools.
¢ Currently a Christian school administrator.
¢ Profound respect for everyone involved in the education of future generations, even those holding world-views with which I disagree.
¢ Being a home schooling parent of seven children.
¢ Interim Directorship of Kansas PIC or Parents in Control- a school choice educational and lobbying initiative
¢ A Christian faith, with the conviction that the Bible is the final authority when it comes to parenting and education.
A few years ago the president of the National Education Association was asked, "When will the policies of the National Education Association begin to better reflect the real needs of students?"
"When students begin paying membership dues," was his honest response.
In a nutshell, this unusually frank retort best illustrates why so many parents have begun looking for alternatives to traditional government schools.
The much Publicized Baucham/Shortt 2007 Resolution to the Southern Baptist Conventions calling for an exit strategy from government schools.
An excerpt: "First it is important to distinguish between institutions and individuals. There is a sizable remnant of Christian adults employed by public schools. Many of them pray for their students and a few, though they risk being discipline or fired, furtively try to witness. But this certainly does not mean that institutionally any public school is, as some try to argue, 'sympathetic to Christianity.' In fact, expressing nontrivial institutional empathy or sympathy for Christianity, let alone teaching from a Christian viewpoint, is absolutely prohibited by a complex web of court rulings, legislation, and regulations that apply to every single school and every single school employee subject to the laws of the United States."
For many Christian parents, this is an unacceptable, spiritually hostile, educational atmosphere. Education is never world-view neutral. There is no such thing as metaphysical or religious neutrality. For instance, Randy Weseman, Superintendent of Lawrence Schools during an interview on radio 1320 AM during National Education Week in 2005, stated, " ... evolution will be taught in our science courses. Intelligent design will not be taught in Lawrence Schools. It does not matter what the Kansas Board of Education says."
Christian parents cannot help but respond to these gauntlets. Religion is one reason why parents are departing public education.
The U.S Chamber of Commerce, American Enterprise Institute, and Center for American Progress jointly released a report at the end of February showing the poor state of public education nationwide.
"We are hopeful that the report will serve as a wake-up call," about the state of the education system, said Karen Elzey, senior editor at the Institute for a Competitive Workforce. The institute is an arm of the Washington, DC-based U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which works to ensure businesses have access to an educated, skilled workforce. The study found that America's school system could benefit greatly by partnering with the business community to focus on business concepts such as accountability, efficiency, flexibility, innovation, and measurable returns on investment.
All of these words could be capsulated by a single phrase - Open market educational competition.
"Return on investment is a healthy way to start the conversation" evaluating school systems, says Don Soifer, executive vice president of the Lexington Institute. "There are Leaders and Laggards," he said.
The U.S Department of Education is adept at collecting statistics about the condition of K-12 government schooling. The Department of Education released two reports from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. One report found high school graduates in 2005 earned more credits, got higher grades and took more challenging courses than did their counterparts in 1990.
Unfortunately, the second report showed reading scores of high school seniors had declined significantly since the early 1990s. Only 35 percent were proficient readers, down 5 points since 1992. As for math, the NAEP launched a new test in 2005, the results of which could not be compared fairly to previous years. However, it was scarcely encouraging that only 23 percent scored at the proficient level on the new math test.
The juxtaposition of these results - ever higher grades for ever-less performance - helps explain why U.S. students lead the world in self-esteem while lagging behind in actual achievement.
The lack of academic improvement by public school students over the past 15 years is a strong reason why parents are choosing alternatives for educating their children.
From Genesis through Revelation, the Bible teaches the home should be the first and primary church and school a child will know. All parents are educators. God has mandated this. "Train up a child in the way he should live so that when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) God holds all parents accountable for giving their children the best education possible. All children should be challenged to reach their full potential. Supervision of this process is the responsibility of a child's parents.
The issues of home schooling are two fold. What aspects of their children's education can a parent perform successfully? What aspects should be contracted to someone else who is better equipped? However, whether a child is taught "in-house" or "off-house," the biblical mandate for parental oversight of their child's education should never be abdicated.
Manoah, father of the Bible hero Samson, requested, "Tell us how we shall teach this son that is to be born to us?" (Judges 13:8) Based upon a variety of circumstances, the answer(s) to this question vary. Yet, every generation of parents should be reminded the importance of this question. This is particularly true in postmodern America where public schools have become "government schools." Government education has become a deeply entrenched institution that ultimately (for instance, Kansas State Supreme Court's mandated school funding increases) has little trouble reaching into the not-so-deep pockets of taxpayers.
What bang are we getting for our bucks? Of late, American, government-controlled, public education has not been getting many A's. As the last century drew to a close and education entered the next, the institutionalized responses to public education's measurable and documented failings are more money (higher taxes) and tighter, bureaucratic, centralized mandates. Examples of these legislative initiatives are Outcome Based Education (OBE) and No Child Left Behind. These remedies have not worked.
As a classroom teacher and taxpayer I have come to the conclusion that more money, curriculum innovations, computer technology, and individualized classroom instruction will never be able to solve the social and cultural problems with which today's government schools are wrestling. America's moral morass is making it more and more difficult for teachers to help children cross the divide between academic indifference and focused learning. America's children are being spiritually starved, emotionally scarred, and intellectually stunted because of too much parental emphasis on high performance in extracurricular activities corresponding to declines in academic expectations, low church attendance, divorce and absentee fathers, immoral cultural images and icons, too much TV, hours of video games, and unbalanced peer dependency. Presidents and legislatures cannot repair what broken homes have caused.
Government controlled institutions tend to promote staffing (teacher certification), funding (taxation), licensing (accreditation) and curriculums (state standards) in ways that limit competition and lead to self-preservation. This is why the reintroduction of competition to the learning environment is so essential to American education.
Competition is commonplace in pre-schools, daycares and post high school learning environments. Why not K-12 schools? Poor pre-schools fail. Unsafe daycares go out of business. Bad technical schools close. Educationally soft colleges cease being attractive choices. Parents must begin to see themselves as consumers and purchasers of an "educational product." Failing K-12 schools should be allowed to die their own death.
Parents' "contracting out" their children's education to a government-administered school has been somewhat necessitated by the increasingly sophisticated and technical specializations required for a modern education that "challenges all students to reach their full potential." Yet this solution is not working in some cities and sections of the country. It is not that students are not learning information in government schools. They are. But there are intangibles that competition and tighter parental scrutiny brings to the education table.
I have taught in a public school system. So there are personal experiences that provide a basis for the following opinion. This will be a provocative statement to dedicated, hardworking, underpaid, and overworked school board members and teaching professionals, all of whom deserve the utmost respect for their efforts. Local school boards, administrators, and teachers have much to say in the way of schedules, school policies, staffing, distribution of funds, and space allocations. Unfortunately, when it comes down to what a school can and can't "really" do, local educators are progressively feeling their hands are tied. More and more they are getting a sense of existing only as window dressing for the mandates of the NEA, Topeka and Washington, D.C. Local school systems are weighted with meeting governmental standards without the flexibility or funding to creatively address the specific needs of their student population.
Dissatisfied parents choosing non-public education or home schooling and the resulting loss of students (i.e., school funds) are two ways that government education will be forced to rethink its philosophies, appraise their instincts toward self-preservation, and assess repeated failings aggravated by looking inward, rather than outward. Such out of the box thinking has already begun, but it is being done more by parents than professional educators.
At this juncture the biggest hindrance to a spontaneous generation of educational K-12 alternatives is the current system of school funding. Families choosing non-government educational programs, particularly those in Kansas, have to pay twice for their child's education. Arizona (tax credits and tuition reimbursements) and Utah (vouchers) are two notable exceptions. Kansas's families, choosing a non-government funded school, are forced to have their taxes pay for a school system they are not using. Only "after tax" dollars are available for use in purchasing an education of choice. This disparity typically means only the wealthy can afford "educational choice."
Utah is an interesting discussion-maker. Virtually all Utah families are eligible for $500 to $3000 per child for school choice. Yet, the Utah law is imperfect as a competitive catalyst because of a teacher union inspired and hard-lobbied "mitigation" provision that pays public school districts for up to five years for any students they lose to vouchers. This dulls the immediate impact of competition. Can anyone imagine tax breaks to Rexall Drugstores because of market share being lost to CVS Pharmacy?
Part of the solution will be relinquishment of central control and money back to parents. Such school choice alternatives are now spawning the formation of charter schools, virtual online schools, private schools, and the increasing interest in home schooling. All of this is being made possible by creative investments of collected taxes into charter schools, tax credits given to families that choose to purchase the services of non-government schools, educational vouchers or tuition reimbursements.
In America, this kind of school choice philosophy is not without precedent and ready acceptance. Childcare tax credits are currently available to parents allowing them to choose their own childcare and preschool provider. College students are given tax dollars to be spent at the college of their choice- including small, church-affiliated or secular, private, liberal arts colleges. This funding environment is serving the needs of families and students quite satisfactorily. When a school no longer suits a family's needs, their student and their dollars go elsewhere.
In a competitive educational market a daycare or college must ask itself significant staffing, marketing, and programming questions. Are we satisfied with our programs and core philosophy? Was the departing student (and his education dollars) simply not a good match for our educational opportunities? Did we lose a student and his dollars because our teachers are not performing or our curriculum is poorly designed? Is enrollment dropping because our facilities are inadequate? One has to question the motives of K-12 government schools that are now adamantly opposing a similar consumer mindset.
The monopoly of government education spends millions of dollars through the lobbying efforts of the National Education Association to restrict or stop the shifting of tax money to educational alternatives. As the quote from a past president demonstrated, one has reason to question the motives of the educational lobby.
In colonial America, parents organized local schools, hired teachers, and established school boards. Often these schools shared space with churches, as this was the best stewardship of a community's resources. These colonial schools were not necessarily catechism schools, but they did strongly reflect a community's prevailing religious beliefs, mores, and values. It appears parental dissatisfaction is moving America's education back to its roots.
Things to consider:
¢ Time commitment. When my wife and I got married, we made a commitment that Cindy would be a stay-at-home mom. Home schooling takes time. Both parents cannot work outside of the home. If a private school is chosen, there will probably no longer be buses available for transporting students. At home there will lesson plans to be written, experiments to be planned and set-up, papers to grade, field trips, sports practices, music lessons, etc.
¢ Personal Sacrifice. Believing children are the heritage of the Lord, my wife and I have coveted every moment with our children. What may appear to be a sacrifice has actually been a delight. Home school parents have little private time. Parent and child are together 24/7. Private school parents can also expect higher expectations of volunteerism.
¢ Financial Strain. Living on a single income has required budgeting and careful planning. Home schooling is far less expensive than private schooling, but home schooling also requires the teaching parent to not work outside of the home. Both choices require sacrifices and put significant financial pressure on a family. Economic priorities have to be chosen wisely.
¢ Socialization. We believe home schooling somewhat separates education from the distractions of socialization and concerns over peer dependency. But, when a family home schools more attention will need to given to getting one's children together with others. Church, clubs, volunteerism and sports teams are typical avenues for positive socialization.
¢ Household organization. Housework and laundry still have to be done, but it may not be first on the priority list. At the same time, a messy house is not conducive to creating a comfortable learning environment.
¢ Both parents need to be in agreement. My wife and I have never made an educational decision that we did not agree upon. Attending home school conferences, joining local support networks, researching, praying, and lengthy, loving discussions have helped keep us on the same educational page.
¢ Cooperation of children. All of our children have been home schooled through at least the 4th grade. One son decided that he did not want to "learn from mommy any more." We enrolled him in 5th grade at a Christian school. It was a successful transition. He graduated from Veritas Christian School here in Lawrence. Today, he is in nursing school. Our oldest child, a daughter, was home schooled until her sophomore year of high school. She is a college graduate working in human resources. These days our six and twelve year old daughters are being home schooled. Our two high school aged boys are at Veritas Christian School. Another daughter is soon to graduate with an Associates Degree. She also graduated from Veritas.
¢ One year at a time. In order to sell hesitant in-laws on our alternative educational choices (home school or private Christian school) we decided that we would make our educational decisions based upon what was going to be best for each child on a year-by-year basis. Home schooling is lifestyle commitment, but not a commitment of a lifetime.
¢ Can a parent teach? Certainly. Ask yourself what your three-year old knows. Who taught him or her those things? Curriculum and teacher materials will help. Many local support groups, such as TEACH, also have tutors and special elective teachers.
The meaning of education
My wife and I are Christian parents. To be quite honest, we do not want our children taught in K-12 government schools that promote humanistic, evolution anchored ideas. In our experience, this has been the unifying reason for the families we know to have rejected government schools and chosen home schooling or private Christian education. We believe our children are gifts from God. They were created in His image and for His purpose. To allow them to be taught notions and ideas contrary to this belief would simply be wrong.
Our two oldest boys attended a public high school for two years. They were successful athletes and good students. They avoided being pulled down by negative peer pressure. Spiritually they survived, but they did not thrive. Legally, they could not speak up about their faith. The few Christian teachers they encountered had to like-wise "spiritually sneak around." Oh yes, there were a host of exciting extra-curricular choices available to them in nice suburban school. However, we do not think we would ever send one of our children to a public school again.
Concurrently, we want our children to understand the thought processes behind anti-biblical world-views. Humanism, radical environmentalism, historical revisionism, communism, New Age, Islam, Spiritism, Animism, post modernism, and evolution come to mind as examples. In other words, we want our children to have better insight into all of these "isms" than the proponents that embrace them.
In this regard, I often think of something Ronald Reagan said, "A Communist is someone who has read Karl Marx. A non-Communist is someone who understands Karl Marx." This illustrates our goals and motives in educating our children for life long learning.. We want them to know inside and out the world-views that are driving our culture. When these views are detrimental to the human condition, we want them to know how to counter with a beneficial antithesis.
We long to keep our children physically, spiritually, and emotionally safe. But, rather than protect our children, we want to equip them to be world-changers.