Friday, August 20, 2010

This is how education should work

A local Catholic school closed down this year. Teachers, put out of work. What will they do? I suppose some found other schools; most likely some retired and some are probably still looking for work. One entrepreneurial art teacher decided to strike out on her own.

This teacher connected with local homeschoolers (via yahoo groups) and surveyed the market for art classes. There is definitely a market for art classes! She secured the space. She set out her curriculum, prices, and schedule. Some people jumped right in. Others said the price was too high. Others said it all sounded great but didn't fit their own schedules. The teacher negotiated prices, juggled schedules, and now, there is a new homeschool art opportunity in town. And a teacher can teach without a school.

A former writing teacher turned homeschool mom offers composition classes in her home. She solicits new students by those same yahoo groups, by word of mouth, and probably by other means.

A group of parents and former teachers started a learning cooperative that turned into a school of sorts. Most people wouldn't think of it as a school. Parents can sign their kids up for a single class, or multiple classes. They can go one day a week, or as many as they want (up to five). There is a variety of classes to choose from, but they don't claim to provide a complete curriculum for any grade.

There are lots of other classes available to local homeschoolers; these are just some that I know about. My kids are participating in the art and writing classes.

But, you say, you have to pay for those classes! Public school is free!

Public school is not free. Public school is very expensive; parents just aren't paying for it directly, and they are subsidized by all the taxpayers in their district and/or state.

But imagine if all those tax dollars were set free. Imagine your property tax bill reduced by the amount used by the public schools. Imagine that you could use that money - your own money - to educate your child(ren) the way you wanted to. They way you thought was best for them.

Imagine if teachers were set free to teach the subjects they love in the way they want to teach them. To children who want to be there. Or, at least, to children whose parents want them to be there, to learn that specific thing from that specific teacher.

Most people I know - homeschoolers and traditional schoolers alike, send their kids to music lessons. Piano lessons around here seem to range from $30 to $60 per hour. No one really thinks that the schools should provide "free" music lessons. It's a cost of parenthood. So are sports league. This is a very sporty area; most everyone we know plays in multiple sports. Parents have to pay. It's not free, and they don't expect it to be.

But art, composition, math, science, social studies? Should be free.

The art classes cost $13 an hour; it will be less with the sibling discount (still being negotiated). If more people sign up, she will be able to lower the prices. She needs to be paid for her supplies, her space (maybe that's free, I don't know) and for her time. When you look at it that way, $13 an hour is pretty cheap. The writing class costs $15 an hour, but the instructor also offers a sibling discount so for us it's about $9 an hour.

Per-pupil spending in my district is about $7500. I haven't figured the exact cost of homeschooling my kids each year but we would have to take a lot of classes, and buy a lot of books, to reach that cost. Even public school kids buy their own supplies - and many classroom supplies too, such as disinfectant wipes and toilet paper. Of course I don't have a chemistry lab in my house, or a soccer field in my back yard - or enough kids in my family to put together two soccer teams for scrimmages. That's why homeschoolers often outsource their lab sciences (I saw one offered recently for $230 per academic year) and sign up for soccer leagues ($90 per season plus shoes and shinguards).

So why not just set all the teachers and students free to find ways to teach and learn?

Of course the argument is that people wouldn't use that freed-up money to educate their kids. They'll spend it on junk food, energy drinks and lottery tickets and let the kids play video games all day. That's what I've been told would happen.

I don't think that's true. I think most people want a good education for their children. There are always parents who don't care, but their kids aren't doing well in school anyway. Those kids might do better with targeted occupational training, rather than being forced to sit through English Lit. (Do they teach English Lit in high school anymore?) And people are used to getting something for nothing. Not everyone would see that they have more of their own money to spend on their own children.

Of course we can't just blow up the public school system overnight. (I don't mean that literally.) But I think the growth of homeschooling is evidence that many people want something different than what the schools are offering.

Not in my lifetime, probably. I hope in my kids'. I'm thankful that today we have the choice to do what we want to do. I'm thankful for those teachers who see homeschoolers as a market for their talents.


wayside wanderer said...

I really appreciate the alternatives to education that are available today. It has changed the face of homeschooling for the better in some ways but sometimes I think it has also helped change it for the worse.

There are a lot of opportunities in the Dallas area to outsource and to attend University Model schools. Overall, I am glad for any and all competition the public schools have, but there is a spirit of busyness and out-of-home that takes away from the original intent of homeschooling. (I would probably not be very popular for saying this in some circles here.)
It's a mixed bag in some respects. Some of the negatives I see ...less parental involvement, less than ideal student behavior/influences, profit driven, competitiveness, teaching to the SAT or college.

I really don't have much to compare the Dallas home school climate with but I do know I run a small co-op that is a true co-op in that everyone contributes to teaching and this is becoming less popular as people would rather pay others to do the teaching. We have seen a little increase with the economy being bad, but it is like our kind of co-op is a last resort or it attracts those that still really want to be a part of a community. I hate to see homeschooling loose its heart, if that makes sense.

Marbel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marbel said...

Well, I had to delete my own comment. Poorly worded and sure to offend. Here goes again:

Thanks for your comment! I guess I have not seen the problems you are seeing. But we do not outsource very much - most of what we do is done by me, here at home.

Actually, where I live (Philly suburbs) a lot of people use the cyber-charter schools or send their kids to school around junior high. I have not come across too many people who continue with traditional homeschooling past middle school. Even co-ops are often built around the cyber-charter curriculum. So, I haven't much choice but to go it alone for most things. Maybe that's why I welcome the ability to find some outside classes!

wayside wanderer said...

I really hope you didn't feel like I was criticizing your choices. I didn't mean to if that is how I came across I do apologize . It sounds like you have found some really great classes that are things that are difficult to teach at home.

My kids have done both paid classes and a true co-operative and even a combo of the two (a more exclusive "closed" co-op for 13 families who opened their classes for outside paid students to generate income for individual teachers). A lot of those moms are putting their children through college this way.

I think it would be interesting to be a homeschool reporter and travel around seeing what different homeschool communities around the US have going on. And doesn't it make you wonder what we will look like in 5-10 years?

Marbel said...

Oh no, I didn't detect any criticism. After I read your comment I did see that my post was heavy on outsourced education and not so much on traditional homeschooling. I

Recently I've heard the term "home-based education" in place of homeschooling. It was suggested that that is a more accurate term since most (many?) people don't do 100% of their schooling at home.

I do think homeschooling/education is going to keep changing and perhaps the changes will accelerate. I think being a homeschool reporter would be a great job!

Jennifer Lavender said...

I would love to see the type of education you describe, where parents take an active roll in deciding where their education dollars are being spent and people who have the talents to share step up and share them.

My only problem is that with each generation we become more entitled and expect the government to just take care of us. We've managed to create a society built on a philosophy of, "Why do for myself when the government will do it for me?"

Like wayside wanderer said, this philosophy even crops up among home schoolers in the form of "Why teach it myself when I can pay someone else to teach it for me?" I want things to improve, but I have a feeling things will likely get much worse before they get better and it may be 2-3 generations or more down the road before we start to see education the way it should be.