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Is Home-Schooling Right for You?

Once illegal in many states, home-schooling is now not only acceptable, but a fairly common option. Is home schooling right for you and your child?

HGTV’s Cortney Novogratz teaches two of her seven children at their home in Manhattan.

HGTV’s Cortney Novogratz teaches two of her
seven children, pictured, at their home in Manhattan.

Cortney Novogratz, a Manhattan mother of seven and the star of HGTV’s Home by Novogratz, never planned to home-school her children. But when one of her daughters asked to be home-schooled after meeting another child who was, her family considered the option.

“It took me a year before I was really listening to her idea and had decided to try it out,” says Novogratz, who home-schools two of her children and has considered home-schooling the others. “I had to think about it a lot first. I’ve learned to take one year at a time regarding the kids’ educations. Choices are made based on what each child needs, and also what works for us as a family. So far we have had a very good experience with home schooling.”

A generation ago the practice of home schooling, also known as home learning or home-based learning, was rare and, in many states, illegal. It wasn’t until 1993 that the practice was finally approved throughout the United States. Since then, home schooling is becoming more common. According to Education Week, from 2007 to 2010 the number of children home-schooled increased by an estimated seven percent; the number of children enrolled in schools increased by less than one percent over that same period.

On the Rise

Although reliable numbers are hard to come by since states define and track home schooling differently, some experts argue that home schooling is the fastest growing type of education in the country.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, there were about 850,000 children being home-schooled in 1999. In 2003, there were about 1.1 million children being home-schooled full-time. In January 2011, according to the Department of Education, there were roughly two million children who were home-schooled in the United States. At that same time in New York City, there were approximately 2,300 registered home-schoolers.

Home schooling allows parents to determine what their children learn and when they learn it. Learning can become more exciting as parents tailor the curriculum to their children’s interests. Parents can also tailor their teaching to fit their child’s dominant learning styles. Children also get in-depth, personal attention in any subject with which they struggle or excel. 

“To have specialized, one-on-one instructions is very valuable for any student,” Novogratz says. “It also encourages kids to learn outside of the box, take risks, and be unique. Everything isn’t so homogenized when it is specifically customized for the student.”

The flexible curriculum also allows Novogratz to build volunteer activities into the formal plan. The couple’s 13-year-old daughter reads to her younger brother’s nursery school class once a week.

Real Challenges

There are challenges—which some may consider drawbacks—to home schooling, though. Whichever parent teaches will have to spend 24 hours a day with their children several days at a time. Parents will also have to be very patient with their children when it seems like they aren’t learning anything at all or when it seems that their children are falling behind.

Parents will also dedicate a lot of time to learning how to be teachers. Some states have laws that require teacher certification. Others require regular testing. There will be a lot of time spent researching teaching techniques and strategies as well. Parents may also spend more money on their children’s education than other parents. They’ll also need to seek advice from other home-schooling parents who can provide access to additional resources.

“One of the biggest adjustments was how other people we knew viewed home schooling,” Novogratz says. “They thought it sounded like a crazy way for kids to learn, but the experience has been so great for the kids that it has convinced many of the naysayers.”

A Matter of Choice

Home schooling opponents worry that there’s no way to ensure that all students receive a quality education. Many states, including Connecticut, don’t require parents to become certified teachers before homeschooling their children. New York does require home-schooled students to take tests and requires parents to submit their curriculum for approval as well as undergo professional evaluations.

Children who are between ages 5 and 18 must attend school in Connecticut—unless parents are able to show that their children are receiving equivalent instructions in the studies taught at public schools. Children are required to study reading, writing, spelling, English, geography, mathematics, history, and citizenship. It is also suggested that parents file a notice of intent that includes the name of the teacher, subjects taught, days of instruction, and the teacher’s method of assessing the students. Portfolios must also be kept that showcase the children’s work and progress.

Homeschooling is not the right teaching method for every child or parent, but more people are trying it. In the past, the most vocal and organized home-schoolers have been white, conservative, and religiously motivated. But a growing number of parents are concerned about violence, peer pressure, budget cuts, or the poor academic quality in their schools. Parents who home-school represent a wide spectrum of racial, ethnic, religious, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Most are still well-educated, middle-class, and have two or more children.

Their methods may be working. Studies have shown that roughly one quarter of home-schooled students were enrolled one or more grades above their age-appropriate grade level. On standardized achievement tests, they scored at or above the 84th percentile in all areas.

Adults who were home-schooled and were able to reflect on the decision say that they were glad they were taught in this manner and would home-school their own children, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association.

“Both of our home-schooled kids have lots of outside-the-home programs so they have plenty of socializations,” Novogratz says. “It is up to the parents to include this in the children’s home schooling program so that the kids have well-rounded educational experiences.”

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Amber Greviskes

Author: Amber Greviskes is a frequent contributor to NYMetroParents. She lives in New York, and has also contributed to "Parenting" and "BabyTalk" magazines. See More

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