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Entries in Homeschooling (31)


The Future of Education Interview

Tomorrow, September 11, 2012, I'll be interviewed at 8PM by Steve Hargadon at The Future of Education. This is a free online event, and listeners will be able to send questions via text to Steve to ask me. A recording of the show will be available for free download after the show.

Steve and I plan to discuss John Holt's work as an educator and how John came to be one of homeschooling's earliest and most important advocates. I hope you'll join us and contribute to the conversation!


Teach Your Own: A Seminar About Homeschooling and Unschooling

I’m trying to gauge interest for bringing my latest workshop about homeschooling and unschooling to Portland, ME.

If 10 or more people contact me via email (pfarenga at by October 3 or sooner with interest, my friend Beth Della Torre Callahan will find me a space to do the seminar and I’ll send out registration materials to all who contacted me with interest.

Proposed Location: Portland, ME

Proposed Date: Saturday, Nov. 3, from 9AM to 1PM.

For detailed information about the seminar, and to read testimonials by people who attended the most recent one, click here.


John Holt and Grant Colfax on Education in 1985

This past weekend I tried out a new version of my Teach Your Own seminar and I learned a lot, and I think most of those who attended felt they did, too. The seminar participants had great questions and responses that helped me realize new ways to arrange my format, and all agreed that I needed to allow more than three hours to complete the session. Since then, people from ME and NJ have asked me to bring the seminar to their states, and we’re working on it.

While rethinking this seminar I went through all my old files, speeches, and presentation materials and discovered some cool things I hadn’t seen or thought of in years. For instance, when we discussed allowing children to do real things and real work and how it helps integrate self-esteem and knowledge, I remembered this article about Grant Colfax from 1985. I didn’t include it on Saturday because I felt I had too much material (I most certainly did!), but I’m glad I remembered it to share with you.  First, there are some great quotes from John Holt in the article, but best of all, as a young person with a nontraditional education who got into Harvard, Grant has some very interesting observations that I hope you enjoy, too.




Online Learning's Growing Pains

 In my last blog post I asked, "I wish there were more research about homeschoolers and their use of distance learning compared to how school uses it now and proposes to use it in the future. Does anyone know of such studies?" No one replied to me with a direct answer, but I learned from a friend about this recent story concerning the failures of K12, the largest distance learning company in the United States, and it led me to the other stories I link to below.

Educators are tied to the notion that if a properly trained teacher doesn't expose a child to an idea, thing, or event the child will never learn about it. In the school model of learning, I see why this is believed so deeply, but here is more evidence that this is a flawed view about the scope and sequence of learning in real life.

Here is a for-profit company, using the latest technology as well as federal and state curriculum standards, exposing children to the school curriculum on a daily basis in their own homes, and yet, according to this study, the online students do even more poorly than the brick-and-mortar students. As John Holt noted in 1964 in How Children Fail, "I teach but the students don't learn; why?" Holt's answers to this question are deep and took years to develop, yet they are ignored by schools. The school response has always been that it is better to focus on the institution of school and technology, since they are more easily controlled by education officials than children and society. Someday we may decide to work with the children and society side of this equation, but here are the current results of working with the teaching and technology side from the study "Understanding and Improving Virtual Schools":

  • ´╗┐Only 27.7% of K12 schools reported meeting Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in 2010-11. This is nearly identical to the overall performance of all private Education Management Organizations that operate full-time virtual schools (27.4%). In the nation as a whole, an estimated 52% of public schools met AYP in 2010-11.
  • Thirty-six of the 48 full-time virtual schools operated by K12 were assigned school performance ratings by state education authorities in 2010-11, and just seven schools (19.4% of those rated) had ratings that indicated satisfactory progress status.
  • The mean performance on state math and reading assessments of K12-operated virtual schools consistently lags behind performance levels of the states from which the schools draw their students.
  • The on-time graduation rate for the K12 schools is 49.1%, compared with a rate of 79.4% for the states in which K12 operates schools.
  • Many families appear to approach the virtual schools as a temporary service: Data in K12’s own school performance report indicate that 31% of parents intend to keep their students enrolled for a year or less and more than half intend to keep their students enrolled for two years or less. K12 also noted in this report that 23% of its current students were enrolled for less than a year and 67% had been enrolled for fewer than two years.

The above study led to this article that should be read by anyone considering replacing human contact and relationships for learning at home with technology: 

Study Renews Call to Slow Growth of K12 Inc. Virtual Schools

Finally, the day before I read these articles (thanks to my friends who keep sending me these suggestions to read, BTW), I read this one about how Arizona State University is taking educational technology to its next logical step if you believe that only what you teach and expose people to is what they learn and care about:

With 72,000 students, Arizona State is both the country's largest public university and a hotbed of data-driven experiments. One core effort is a degree-monitoring system that keeps tabs on how students are doing in their majors. Stray off-course and you may have to switch fields.

And while not exactly matchmaking, Arizona State takes an interest in students' social lives, too. Its Facebook app mines profiles to suggest friends. One classmate has eight things in common with Ms. Allisone, who "likes" education, photography, and tattoos. Researchers are even trying to figure out social ties based on anonymized data culled from swipes of ID cards around the Tempe campus.

Data mining hinges on one reality about life on the Web: What you do there leaves behind a trail of digital bread crumbs. Companies scoop them up to tailor services, like the matchmaking of eHarmony or the book recommendations of Amazon. Now colleges, eager to get students out the door more efficiently, are awakening to the opportunities of so-called Big Data.

The new breed of software can predict how well students will do before they even set foot in the classroom. It recommends courses, Netflix-style, based on students' academic records.

Data diggers hope to improve an education system in which professors often fly blind. That's a particular problem in introductory-level courses, says Carol A. Twigg, president of the National Center for Academic Transformation. "The typical class, the professor rattles on in front of the class," she says. "They give a midterm exam. Half the kids fail. Half the kids drop out. And they have no idea what's going on with their students."

So the latest research says online learning is worse than learning in conventional schools, and the president of the National Center for Academic Transformation says that half the kids fail and half drop out of conventional college introductory classes. What's a parent of a schoolage child to learn from this research?

There are other paths for learning besides using canned lessons in school and at home, as homeschoolers have shown for decades now. Homeschoolers have been using the Internet and other technologies for decades but I think there are substantial differences in the motivations and uses for technology when the learner works with technology rather than the technology being used to work on the learner.



Why Bullies Are Reason Enough Against Traditional Schooling

This is a guest post by Jane Smith.

School bullying has become the latest issue to challenge the traditional schooling institution. More prevalent than any other topic related to school violence or crime in recent memory, bullying has taken center stage in media outlets as the problem that threatens the very safety of many vulnerable children. Most recently, school bullying has been discussed in the context of gay students being victimized by fellow classmates that harass them for their sexuality. The bullying behavior has no basis in logic or reason; it’s a sad example of a few students being selected and ridiculed for their perceived differences.

Bullying has figured so prominently in the national dialogue of late that the topic factored into the presidential campaign. Specifically, there have been allegations that presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney himself bullied a gay teen when he was in high school, allegedly attacking a classmate with scissors simply because of his haircut. It’s a sad portrait of an institution that hasn’t much changed from the times that the candidate was enrolled in high school, and only further makes the case that high schools do little to foster real education in students.

More and more schools—not just high schools, but middle and elementary schools as well—report cases of bullying. It’s an acknowledged “part of growing up” for less sympathetic parents and administrators who have long since been written off the behavior as just enough facet of the school experience. But what these willfully ignorant individuals don’t seem to realize is that bullying takes a real and permanent toll on its victims. Just the other day a gay teen in Iowa committed suicide as a result of excessive bullying in a trend that has become far too prevalent in our society. What has to happen beyond teen suicide for the systems that govern public and private education institutions to realize that more needs to be done?

The bullying issue draws to attention the fact that schools have virtually no control over the social norms and trends that occur there. One of the most common defenses for public/private schooling is that it subjects a child to the social world, but how can a parent accept that assertion in good conscience when children across the country are choosing to end their lives rather than go to class? Is this the environment where you want your child to learn social norms?

I feel like it’s not enough to tell children, particularly bullied children, to just keep their head down and bear with the terrors and anxieties of school until they graduate. Telling kids, “It gets better” is a brave campaign that lends hope to those lacking it, but that message implicitly tells children to ignore their aggressors while they’re in school because a better time will come later. Why does traditional schooling have to be an experience synonymous with misery and a just-grin-and-bear it mentality? I don’t think it does, but administrators, teachers, and parents will have to come up with some pretty radical reforms if they want to change it.

I think the school bullying issue is one that needs to be addressed in our country, and fast. It simply isn’t acceptable to let our children go to school knowing that there are bullies out there who will mercilessly harasses them for no good reason. This is among the many reasons why homeschooling seems like such a promising prospect for more and more families.

What do you think about the bullying epidemic in American schools? Do you think it makes a stronger argument for homeschooling?


Jane Smith is a freelance writer and blogger. She writes about criminal background check for Questions and comments can be sent to: janesmth161 @