June 7, 2009
Home schooling on the rise
By Candice Evans - Staff Writer
SALISBURY -- When Amy Miller finished her final year at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts, the eighth-grader asked her mother if she could be home-schooled.
"It was a little scary at first because she's a really good student and I didn't want her to fall behind," said Amy's mother, Nancy Miller, who began home schooling her 15-year-old daughter about a year ago.
Characterized as an "artistic student" by her mother, Amy decided not to attend a public or private high school because home schooling allowed for more flexibility in her daily schedule. Now, the Laurel resident can devote more attention to the performing arts, while "staying on track" academically in all subjects. "It's been an awesome experience," Nancy, 50, added.
Plus, Amy's choice isn't all that unusual. Every year, the number of home-schoolers continues to rise across the country.
As of spring 2007, an estimated 1.5 million, or 2.9 percent of all school-age children in the U.S., were home-schooled, up from 1.7 percent in 1999, according to new figures from the U.S. Department of Education.
"Home schooling has been growing every year since 1980," said Manfred Smith, the founder and president of the Maryland Home Education Association based in Columbia, Md. "Currently, there are about 26,000 kids home schooling in the state." Ten years ago, the number of home-schoolers landed in the 15,000 range, Smith said.
Why the change?
The new federal government annual report, "The Condition of Education," found that 36 percent of parents said their most important reason for home schooling was to provide "religious or moral instruction"; 21 percent cited concerns about school environment; 17 percent cited "dissatisfaction with academic instruction"; and 14 percent cited "other reasons," including family time, finances, travel and distance.
Either way, Brian D. Ray, president of National Home Education Research Institute, said the switch to a home-school education is not an easy decision for most parents. "Each type of schooling has its benefits and drawbacks," said Rebecca Jones, co-administrator of the Hand and Hand Homeschoolers group that uses the Internet to connect more than 30 families in Sussex County. "Parents need to decide what fits their child best of all." And sometimes, it takes a while to figure out the ideal academic setting for a student. For example, Jones' oldest son, now 16, attended public and private school prior to home schooling. "If the child is having problems, you can stop and go over it until they grasp that concept," said Jones, 42, whose son had difficulty focusing in the classroom. "That's quality of education instead of quantity."
Right now, Jones' three younger children also learn from home. But she always gives them the option of ending their home-school education each year. As it turns out, the high school prom wasn't enough for her son to give it up. The home schooling online network has allowed him to make new friends, take field trips, play on athletic teams and participate in group activities with other families.
"Is home schooling easy? No," Jones said. "But we teach our children out of love and commitment to their education." Even though Mckenzie Conley earned her diploma in a nontraditional environment, the Salisbury resident, like most high school seniors, is heading to college in the fall.
"We didn't like some of the influences my girls were being exposed to in the public schools," said McKenzie's mother, Cherry Conley, who has been home schooling her children for the last 10 years. Another Delmarva mom, Rita Clucas, started home schooling her oldest son after he completed kindergarten in the public school system.
"He wasn't getting the education we had hoped for and we weren't impressed with what we saw coming home with our son," said Clucas, the mother of four children, who range in age from 2 to 14. "We thought he would do better being around his family, to pass on our values."
Other parents like Nancy Miller say home schooling offers a chance to develop a closer relationship with their children.
"I wanted the extra time with Amy before she grew up and went away," Nancy said.