Before we left public school I wrote out a pro’s and con’s to help our immediate family discuss the decision to home school. Those in our immediate family and close circle of friends know our situation and story. We have been blessed with support and understanding. However, those in the extended circles do not know all the reasons or circumstances. It should be noted that homeschooling was encouraged by his public school teacher, the GT coordinator, the assistant principal, and several school personnel who knew our son. We had some great staff at the charter school he attended but the system prevented them from doing more and doing what he needed. In addition administrator changes and staff turnover meant there was no guarantee a plan would be followed through the next year. We knew when staff and community members were encouraging us to home school we were on the right path. Thus, this page is to highlight our reasons for leaving public school based on our experiences and what our child needed. The following comes from my original pro’s and con’s discussion with our family written while DS-8 was 6 years old in a public charter school for 1st grade (2011-2012 school year):
Pro’s to Homeschooling
Schedule & Independence — Homeschooling allows for complete flexibility. The traditional school is choosing the curriculum and schedules for learning around their calendar and state mandatory testing requirements. Homeschooling has freedom in that we get complete choice on the curriculum and the calendar. Some of the online schools follow the traditional school calendar but we have flexibility in terms of which hours during the day school is done. In addition, as long as we have access to the internet and have books with us, school can be done from any location. If homeschooling with online software or supplemental online gifted programs from the universities, we have even more flexibility. We would be completely free from the high stakes testing mandate. Homeschooling can be year round and allow us to do vacations when we want to. With any of the home school methods there are no more restrictive attendance policies (daily absence fines, threatening of truancy court, etc.).
Pacing & Off Grade Level – We know that DS-8 can learn at a faster pace than traditional schools allow. This has been demonstrated since he was at least 2 years old. We were warned by his preschools that a traditional school might not be enough when he was both 3 and 4 years old. Outside testing confirmed this suspicion and shed light into how gifted he is. His current participation in the EPGY math program through Stanford University has shown us that he can learn much higher level material than currently presented. In addition, his reading level is way beyond his current grade level. We are aware that his social maturity is not commensurate with his academic skills and combined with his physical stature, grade skipping is inappropriate within the current public school setting. The charter school is being more flexible than zoned school would be but it is not enough. The zoned school wanted grade skipping from the beginning. The public system as it is currently set-up and run is holding DS-8 back. The school is not reinforcing what he is learning in either EPGY math or in CTD science. In addition, the grade level spelling is extremely easy to the point of being silly for him. DS-8 needs intense differentiation which is currently not being provided. The schools around here do not allow for single subject acceleration and many only allow students to work on material one year ahead of their grade level (which is not enough). We know that DS-8 can read higher than a 5th grade level with comprehension at a middle 4th grade level (this was while in 1st grade, it is even higher now). We know that DS-8 can handle math instruction at the 3rd to 4th grade level (this was while in first grade, it is significantly higher now), possibly higher if what he has learned would be reinforced outside of his EPGY sessions. Given how fast DS-8 can learn and given how far ahead he is, the traditional school system is holding him back. Home schooling will allow instruction to be at his ability level for each subject area. This may mean that we need to pay for credit by exams periodically and we may be dealing with dual enrollment in the community college system earlier than typical.
Less stress & anxiety – Homeschooling will reduce stress over all for our whole family. DS-8 will experience less social anxiety and less bullying because of his different interests, his abilities, his perceptions of social justice, and boredom. He will no longer experience the prison type of rules currently used in the traditional schools around us (absolute silence, bubble in the mouth, walking in rigid lines with hands behind or in pockets, boy-girl-boy sitting, silent lunch, no crying, 1 = all group discipline, rigid rules for recess etc.). In addition, DS-8 will no longer witness the large amounts of inappropriate behavior (aggressive acts, threats, tantrums, talking back, refusal behavior, defiance, etc.) that can induce high levels of fear or increase stress/anxiety because the teacher is yelling at the whole class as well as he is completely bothered by such inappropriate and disruptive behavior. Homeschooling would eliminate the high stakes testing pressure put on both the students and the teachers. By not being forced to do high stakes testing, also would reduce the amount of time spent practicing for the tests and eliminate the exposure to the stress/tensions projected by school personnel. In TX high stakes testing affect at least 22 days at the elementary level and even more at the secondary level when counting: benchmarks, practice, test prep, & actual test days. All of those test days means silence for the younger grades and restricted movement during the day. Traditional school forces conformity and do not always encourage divergent thinking which can also increase stress and social anxiety. Homeschooling would allow DS-8 to be himself and he would not be forced or pressured to be like the others in terms of his interest and skills. Considering the class sizes and overly strict or punitive rules in the traditional school, homeschooling would be a calmer and safer environment. There are numerous studies on the effect of calm and safe environments contributing to higher rates of academic success and academic motivation.
Increased productivity – Homeschooling has an opportunity for increased productivity per school day versus traditional school. There is a lot of wasted time with the traditional school schedule and format. Due to high stakes testing, approximately 22-44 days (varies due to grade level) out of the 180 day school calendar are spent on some form of testing, bench mark, or test prep. Even K-2 students are affected by this because on test and bench mark days their schedule is altered to reduce any out time from their class out of fear that they might disturb the test takers. This means that they are watching movies in their room and doing silent activities. For kids who finish their tests early, they have to sit silently in the test room until they can be moved to another room where they can read a book silently. In addition there are hours each day that are wasted on classroom management and transitions pending the number of behavior challenging students in their class and total number of kids in their class. On average about 2.5 hours a day are not instructional at all: 15-30 minutes at the beginning of the day getting kids from breakfast to classroom and settled, 5-10 minutes for each transition to a different subject/topic or specials class (6-9 transitions per day means 30-90 minutes in just class transitions), 5-10 minutes for transitioning to and from recess, 5-10 minutes for transitioning to and from lunch, 15-30 minutes at the end of the day due to packing up and sitting in car pick-up line before dismissal time, and varying ranges of minutes spent on discipline. In addition, for DS-8 and other gifted kids there is a lot of wasted time at school repeating skills or activities that were already learned and mastered. It is this time repeating material he already knows that is frustrating him the most.
Broader Intellectual & Academic Growth – By homeschooling DS-8 will actually be able to learn and grow in all areas instead of just a few. DS-8 has grown in terms of social studies understanding, social maturity (handling stress of school), and his writing content (teacher forcing him to write about other topics this year). However, the traditional school is currently holding him back for math, science, reading and spelling. The traditional school has allowed him to read above level books but his actual written work and work sheets for all subjects is still at the first grade level despite evidence of him needing significantly higher work. Studies have shown that gifted kids forced to follow the pace of slower peers will lose their cognitive/academic edge as they develop poor study habits, negative attitudes toward school and turn in to under performers. Other studies have documented that under performers struggle when they get to college because they failed to develop study habits because school was too easy. The failure of traditional schools to properly differentiate or not doing it all is hurting the gifted. In home school, Alex will be able to actually grow intellectually and academically by gaining deeper and applied knowledge not taught at the traditional school. In homeschooling we can actually get D-8 to reach his frustration level and teach him in his zone of proximal development, instead of below that which is what is currently going on.
Project Based & Interactive – Homeschooling allows for the ability to dwell deeper into any subject or topic. We will be able to do more research on topics and can do more science fair type projects. DS-8 can pick topics or themes and we can tie in multiple subjects into projects. Homeschooling will allow us to go beyond just the basics and drill-repeat currently being done in the school. We will be using museums, zoos, community events, and videos to reinforce the books and projects. Homeschooling allows for significantly more field trips and more hands-on activities then traditional school.
No High Student-Teacher Ratio – At the charter school the ratio is currently 1:26-29 until 3rd grade then up to 1:32 through 6th grade. State law says 1:24 until 4th grade and then no limit. However, charter schools and struggling districts can seek waivers. At both the charter and zoned district high schools typically have 1:32-35 for the ratio. Some of the AP classes within our zoned district have as many as 40-50 students. It should be noted that the private schools in the area try to maintain a ratio of 1:12-18 with no more than 1:20. Homeschooling allows for individualized instruction. Small group instruction can also occur when utilizing community programs.
Stronger Curriculum – It has been well documented that the TX public schools have weak math, science, and social studies curriculum. TX’s ELA curriculum is adequate. The TX SBOE has inserted religion into science and revised the social studies and history curriculum. Textbooks are extremely old and many cases unavailable to the students. In addition, the state of TX does have a banned book list. By homeschooling we get to pick the curriculum and text books. We are not bound to one contractor or one program. We can use more than one and supplement with anything. We will not be restricted. We can read books that are currently banned in TX. We can actually teach without the rules that are limiting the TX’s curriculum. In addition we can start a foreign language now. Currently there is no foreign language until middle or high school. We can follow the TEKS but also use the UK standards (tougher than than anything in the US), other states, and common core if we choose.
Will actually get experimentation – By homeschooling we will get to do significantly more hands on experiments. Discovery learning is lacking at the traditional school. Many of the traditional schools in our area have drastically reduced lab science, many don’t do dissections any more, and many only get demonstrations once a week or less. At the elementary level, very minimal science is done due to the emphasis on reading and math for the high stakes testing. The charter school does do more science than our zoned district, but mostly at the middle and high school level. Even then, the level of science experimentation and discovery learning is significantly less than what we can be provided. At our zoned district, dissections are via videos and chemistry is dry labs. Thus in homeschooling, DS-8 will be given significantly more hands on science experiments.
Will help develop self-motivation, self-esteem, & confidence – The traditional school system is short on funding and no longer does developmental guidance programs. It is often only provided in reaction to some event or parent demand or solely for special education. This means significantly less instruction is provided on pro-social development, self-esteem development, and team building. Traditional schools utilize a zero tolerance discipline policy which is sometimes not even consistently implemented. This means kids are forced into conformity and external motivation. Traditional schools do not allow for kids to make choices or pursue their own interests unless they are at special academy schools (Vanguard program in HISD which we are not eligible for). Homeschooling will allow us to do formal social skills instruction (there are several programs available). In addition, homeschooling will allow DS-8 to make more choices and pursue his interests with guidance that will help him develop self-motivation and goal setting skills. Improving these will help foster self-confidence. In addition, homeschooling will allow DS-8 to be confident about his interests and choices without pressure to conform to what others do or like. The goal is for DS-8 to feel good about himself instead of constantly comparing himself to others, being told he is different by his peers or the staff, or being made to feel different for his interests.
More outdoor play time & nature therapy – In the traditional schools and private schools in the area, recess is for 15-20 minutes one time a day pending weather and is with at least 100 other kids at the same time. There is no outdoor recess on rainy days. In addition, recess is often shortened by forced lap walking. It should be noted that recess these days is not nature therapy or imaginative play. However, homeschooling allows for increased opportunities for true outdoor play and nature therapy. Nature therapy is the allowing children to play and explore the natural habitats around them. There are studies documenting the benefit of both play and nature therapy in child development. There are many studies documenting the physical health benefits of increased outdoor play.
Increased art & music – Homeschooling will allow for a lot more time in the fine arts than the currently 1-2 classes a week. There is research supporting the benefits of the arts for cognitive development, fine motor skills, and math skills. Home schooling allows more opportunity to grow in piano playing and we can do art daily or at least more often than currently allowed. In addition, the art museums offer more classes and family programs than offered at traditional school. It should be noted that in the private schools, there is an additional fee or cost to have art or music as an after school program since it is not available during the day at some.
Large supportive community – Here in TX there is a large community of homeschooling, gifted parents, and un-schooling groups. We are already members of the TX Parents of Profoundly Gifted. There are several local home school groups and several large un-schooling groups both with online support and in-person meet-ups. I belong to a very active mom’s group who have regularly scheduled play dates year round and coordinated group events.
Escape School Politics – Homeschooling would remove us from the whim of school board politics (state & local). We would no longer have to worry about yearly open enrollment lottery (currently HISD is closed) or the inter-district transfer lottery (currently none of the schools with self-contained GT are open to us). We would no longer have to worry about the extremely high teacher and administrator turnover rate both within the charter and zoned district. We would no longer be affected by the battles of school funding and cuts within the state of TX. And, we no longer have to deal with SBOE’s further weakening of science and social studies curriculum.
Better health – By reducing stress and by reducing exposure to the high volume of germs we all should have better health. Given the high spread of strep (tonsils removed from both SD-8 & myself due to frequent recurrent strep caught at school), various other viruses, and lice within the traditional schools (his campus had it spread more than once), home schooling would drastically reduce this exposure. In additional there is questionable hygiene and cleanliness in the traditional school. I have seen firsthand very minimal cleaning of tables and the cafeteria between lunches. The tables are not properly washed between lunches and the floor is not swept until after the last lunch. In addition there is visible mold in the building (common in many schools in the area). In general school building maintenance is not a high priority at any of the traditional schools in our area. As witnessed first hand, many parents send their kids to school sick (with fever & after vomiting) despite stated health rules in the parent-student handbook. Homeschooling would greatly reduce exposure to environmental toxins and germs. The other aspect to better health is that homeschooling could encourage healthier eating habits. Currently there is a very short lunch of 25 minutes of which only about 20 minutes is for eating and an afternoon snack time on days they have time. DS-8 does pack his own lunch but it is small and restricted compared to the quality of lunch he could eat at home. In addition the students who rely on school lunch even have less time to eat their food. Such rushed eating is not health. With homeschooling DS-8 could also be involved in meal preparation.
Increased socialization & social interactions – Although DS-8 would not see the inappropriate stuff from school (bullying, peer pressure, violent outbursts, tantrums, fighting, talking back, arguing, destruction of property, etc.), there is significantly less daily peer interaction. The peer interaction at the traditional skills is quite limited due to the rules of the school. However, the peer interaction had during homeschooling would be pro-social and not bound by school rules (silent lunch, limited interactions, etc.). Homeschooling would mean an increased interaction with the greater community which is a great social skill to develop. In addition, homeschooling will allow us to model more positive social interactions than those typically observed in the school. We would need to schedule peer interaction times such as play dates with the various groups and work on keeping up his current friendships (which is easy to do with play dates & community events). The play dates would allow for more natural and varied interactions than he would get at the various homeschool museum classes. The social interaction of home school is different than traditional schools, and building real life communication skills.
Con’s to Home Schooling
No mommy break & personal sacrifice – Home schooling means that I become mom and teacher full-time. It also means that daddy becomes teacher. This means there is some personal sacrifice for the betterment of DS-8’s education. I do feel it is worth it.
Less large group learning – Traditional school does offer a significantly larger group setting and large group learning. Much of the large group leaning is conformity versus true teamwork or consensus building. However in home school, there is no large group setting. DS-8 does better with small group settings. We will need to figure out ways to develop team work and group work skills through other activities such as Lego league, other organized activities and camps. There would be an opportunity for lots of small group learning with homeschool classes at museums, special homeschool days, and scheduled play dates.
Lots of documentation – The state of TX does not require any documentation for home schooling. However, the gifted programs and national home school groups all suggest keeping documentation. We will have to keep good records of work done and material covered by creating a portfolio, keeping certificates of completions, and any online grades or transcripts. We may need to pay for credit by exam as documentation of mastery. The point is, we are now the school and the record keeper of such learning.
Time commitment – Home schooling changes the time requirement to us. Although there are no written requirements, we need to agree to the steady time commitment as we are now the school. Home schooling is making learning out of anything and creating a lifelong love of learning.
Costs more – Home schooling will cost more than traditional school but cheaper than private school. Private school options in our area (very limited due to not liking curriculum or certain teachings at the religious schools) range from a base of $11,440 to $20,000 plus fees and would require a drive into Houston (45 minute to 90 minute drive pending traffic). Private online K-12 through Texas Tech is about $5,000 and private online gifted schools are around $3,000. Homeschooling would be cheaper than these options but still more than the cost of paying for gifted enrichment on top of public school.
Family pressure or attitudes – We may face some resistance or negative comments; so we will have to teach our family about homeschooling and online schooling. There are community supports for us. We need to get the family to be supportive and understand our specific battles or issues. Basically, we need family and friends to understand that our son is highly gifted and the schools in our areas couldn’t offer him enough challenges that we can. The schooling/education experiences we personally had with gifted education when we were younger does not happen here and the amount of high stakes testing done these days was non-existent when we went to school. Many of the private schools in the area are extremely religious, have even worse curriculum, and do even worse book banning than public schools. The secular private schools cost way more money than homeschooling and still are not as individualized as what we can do.
Admitting Public School is a Failure – Given all my educational training, I am struggling with the fact that public school is failing our kid and other gifted kids across the country. I struggle with what public education has turned into but I know my training is helping our child and homeschooling. In fact, in the states that have regulations I would be an approved home educator based on my degrees and licenses. More importantly, I don’t want to sacrifice our child for a theoretical ideal that doesn’t exist in any traditional school near us. And, I don’t want to watch him not reach his potential in a system that is not geared towards him but rather is consistently holding him back.
Fast Forward to Now
We are truly confident in the decision we made being right for our son and our family. We know that homeschooling is not an option for everyone and we know that public school does not fail all children. It was not working for our son. We are now in our second year of homeschooling. We have been amazed at the confidence developed in our son. And, we’ve been astonished at the speed in which he learns. If he was in a traditional public school without a grade skip he would be in 3rd grade, but if he received the double grade skip he would be in 5th grade. However, in reality he is working at a 5th grade through high school level pending subject (math, science, and computer programming are the highest). Our child is significantly happier. He is learning at his pace and based on his interests. He is being exposed to topics and experiences that aren’t available in traditional public school. Homeschooling truly works for us. I would have never predicted this path when in graduate school for school psychology, but I am glad we are on it!