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Outlook: A Home-Grown Solution to Bad Schools

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Gregory J. Millman
Co-Author, "Homeschooling: A Family's Journey"
Monday, March 24, 2008; 1:00 PM

"It's hard to generalize about home-schoolers, but if there's one thing we know, it's that we are changing the world, or at least the world of education choices. Others, though, see us as either misguided or a threat -- and probably cheered last month's California appeals court ruling that all children in the state must be taught by credentialed teachers. ... Nonetheless, home-schooling is booming. In 2003 the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that the home-schooled population nationwide was 1.1 million. The National Home Education Research Institute estimates that it may be growing at double-digit rates. ... The results? Studies have shown that home-schooled children outperform the conventionally schooled not only on standardized academic tests but also on tests of social skills."

This Story

Gregory J. Millman, co-author of the forthcoming "Homeschooling: A Family's Journey," was online Monday, March 24 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article about home-schooling and the ways it improves upon conventional public education.

The transcript follows.

Archive: Transcripts of discussions with Outlook article authors

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Gregory J. Millman: Hello, everyone. It's great to be here. Thanks for taking time to join the discussion.

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Bennett Point, Md.: As the father of a home-schooling family with six children (three school age), I am interested in what you feel are the five biggest reasons why people choose to home-school.

Gregory J. Millman: There's a fair amount of research on this. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics indicates that values, educational quality, and school environment are the top three most frequently cited reasons to home-school.

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Anne Arundel County, Md.: Any suggestions for home-schooling programs for children with Down Syndrome? One of my daughters has Down Syndrome.

Gregory J. Millman: There are home-school groups, Web rings, etc. that can provide support and information about this. I know of some parents who've had great success home-schooling special needs children -- and some who wish they had chosen home-schooling.

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Fairfax, Va.: How do you respond to folks who wonder about the self-serving nature of home-schooling? If you have a gift for teaching, why not share it with more children than just your own? Should we do what is in the best interest of society as a whole, or should we just think of our own kids? I know I could not teach my kids nearly as well as those educators in our public/private schools, so I admire the confidence of someone who believes they can do better -- but it seems sad to provide that dedication and skill to just a few children. What would our society look like if everyone did this (except, of course, the poor)?

Gregory J. Millman: Home-schooling is an intensely social phenomenon. Home-schoolers don't go it alone. They form groups, networks, associations, etc. and -- as we said in the article -- collaborate in self-reliance. More and more organizations are discovering the value of small teams and flat, non-hierarchical structures. Home-schoolers are bringing that value to education.

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Washington: Hi there. Can you talk more about what implications the California ruling will have for home-schooled children in California and nationwide?

Gregory J. Millman: I can't speak specifically to the legal implications, not being a lawyer. I do think that the ruling has reminded home-schoolers across the country about the dangers of complacency.

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McLean, Va.: Were the California teacher's unions behind the court ruling for credentialed home-school teachers?

Gregory J. Millman: I'm not sure what you mean by "behind". A director of one of the states teachers unions told the San Francisco Chronicle that the union was very much in favor of students being taught by credentialed teachers. More generally, teachers unions have a history of opposing home-schooling -- and, of course, other forms of educational choice.

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Takoma Park, Md.: How would the California appeals court ruling affect the standards used by private schools in hiring teachers? I hope that the required "credential" requires trivial effort to obtain. The whole reason why some parents choose private schools over public schools is that many private-school teachers spent their own educational years getting an actual education, as opposed to "credentials." If excellent -- albeit unconventional -- uncredentialed private-school teachers no longer can be hired in California, the quality of teaching in California private schools will decline.

Gregory J. Millman: You raise an interesting point, and we'll have to see what eventually emerges from the appeals -- and perhaps the legislative -- process in California.

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Rutherford, N.J.: Mr. Millman, I want to get my eighth grader to home-school next year, but of course the idea seems strange to him. How can I introduce him to the idea that it could be a very positive experience? Thank you!

Gregory J. Millman: I suggest you visit one of your local home-school organizations and give your eighth-grader a chance to get acquainted with some of the home-schooled children. You might also make a list of projects and potential field trips you could do while home-schooling -- but perhaps not so easily while in school,

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Chicago: How do parents coordinate home-schooling children, or even simply child care, around their professions/jobs?

Gregory J. Millman: It's a balancing act but do-able. Home-schooling includes families in a variety of circumstances. Teamwork, networking and co-operation among home-school families is especially important for parents who are juggling jobs and home-schooling.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Great article; but I hope you didn't mean to leave the impression that home-schoolers were cavalier about learning disabilities, and simply wait blithely for time to do its magic. Yes, some kids are late bloomers, and schools lack the flexibility to address that well, but sometimes kids who can't write by hand are dysgraphic (mine is), kids who can't read are dyslexic, and so on.

Many of us home-school in part to offer a truly "individualized education plan." Since we started home-schooling this fall, my child (documented Gifted and Talented, Learning Disabled), who was below grade level in math and barely could write a sentence, has completed almost two years' worth of math, and has a thick binder full of creative writing and essays. But home-schooled kids are as likely to have learning disabilities as anyone, and in my experience home educators do recognize that!

Gregory J. Millman: The word "disability" always depends on context, doesn't it? Often, it's the context that disables a child, by structures that don't meet the child's needs. There are, as Harvard's Howard Gardner reminds us, many kinds of intelligence. Schools tend not to accommodate more than one or two.

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Philadelphia: Gregory, thanks for providing insight into how your family lives and thinks about education. If you believe that requiring universal teacher certification for home-schooling parents is not the right way to go, what are some better oversight options? I'm thinking of families I have known that did not provide academic rigor or the enriching out-of-home experiences your describe providing your kids. In the end, not having oversight in those situations hurts the kids the most. What are your thoughts?

Gregory J. Millman: I think it takes a village -- and remember, villages are always small and personal. That's what distinguishes them from cities. Mutual aid, mutual support, personal relationships are quite powerful. Bureaucracies are big, blunt instruments that cannot do fine work very effectively, and the education of a child is fine work indeed.

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Anonymous: I'm the product of a good home education. I currently am finishing my Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, and I can say emphatically that I got a good education at home. My parents did a lot of things that you talked about in your column, like making me write essays after visiting historical monuments or participate in speech competitions. Yet I also was subjected to persistent (and sometimes painful) drills in mathematics, spelling or chemistry. Speaking from personal experience, this type of traditional learning is important and is too often overlooked by home-schooling parents who want to make every learning experience integrated and fun. I would hazard a guess that the type of home-educated students who end up at Brown and other elite universities finished their daily math workbooks and spelling lists before running off to rehearse Hamlet.

Gregory J. Millman: Thanks for sharing your experience!

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Hartford, Conn.: I'm a parent new to home-schooling who doesn't seem to fit any of the pre-existing categories, or even my own previous biases against it until forced by circumstances. In short, I don't have political or religious objections, and the public school is quite good academically for most kids. But there's something to be said about the social pathologies exacerbated by putting 2,000 or more kids in a confined space, especially if they are vulnerable or exercise poor judgment. The "lack of socialization" complaint about home-schooling can be turned on its head when there's too much of the wrong kind of socialization.

Gregory J. Millman: You raise an interesting point.

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Alexandria, Va.: What kind of educational attainment should parents have to successfully home-school? What if they're not fluent in a foreign language, say, or advanced math? How do they do chemical experiments?

Gregory J. Millman: There doesn't seem to be any real causal relationship between a parent's educational achievement and that of the child. Most of the parent's job is to encourage the child, to help the child find the answers. It's not the parent's job to know all of the answers. Also, I can't emphasize enough that there's a lifeline in the home-school communities. People working together, sharing their skills and expertise, can accomplish much more than anyone individually.

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Baltimore: You say that you are ok with the fact that your child was a late reader. What do you think are the main difference between traditional and home-schooling approaches to reading instruction? Are there any special faults/virtues?

Gregory J. Millman: There's some interesting research showing that early reading can be bad for children. David Elkind summarizes some of it in "The Hurried Child". Children learn to crawl, walk, speak, potty train, etc. at different paces, and forcing them to meet an arbitrary timetable can be counterproductive. Reading depends on a cluster of physical, cognitive and social capabilities. It's a mistake to force reading too soon.

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Washington: While I appreciate that the purpose of your article was to extol the virtues of home-schooling, there must be some down-side to this approach. For example, how do you handle things you do not have an expertise in, assuming the teacher/parent is not equally skilled in all areas? Also, how do you deal with push-back from teenagers who, in my view, need to break away from their parents?

Gregory J. Millman: Work with others. Make what you know available to them, and they will make what they know available to you.

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Washington: It's all very well to say that home-schoolers do well on tests. The only one I know of personally is a niece's son, who was "home-schooled" and is the most abysmally ignorant person my son ever has met. As a result, he's a sitting duck for con artists and frauds, as well as incapable of making the kinds of informed decisions on which democracy depends. Maybe all the others are equal to St. Albans graduates, but how do we know this? How do we know they're not all flat-Earthers and creationists, given that those issues seem to be the ones that inspire home-schooling in the first place?

Gregory J. Millman: You can probably find all kinds of kids in the school system and out of it. When we make broad statements about populations, we deal in the law of large numbers. That's why research studies are helpful. Most of the research on socialization of home-schoolers is quite positive. Would more research be good? Absolutely.

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Higher Ed: Gregory, I am a home-schooling alumna who went on to do a bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. in science. Although I can't say my home education crippled me academically, I do feel psychologically hampered. Like many women in academia, I would say I suffer from the imposter syndrome, which is the overwhelming feeling that despite all proofs to the contrary, my success is the result of luck, timing and fooling everyone into thinking I'm more intelligent than I actually am. However, unlike most of my peers, this feeling didn't start in graduate school -- it started in middle school.

Being home-schooled meant constantly answering questions about whether it was legal, was I socialized -- and yes, I actually was asked if I sat around in my pajamas watching TV all day. As a teenager I appeared confident and outgoing, the perfect home-schooling ambassador, but inside I felt ashamed and full of self-doubt. So my question for you is this: Have you thought about how you would recognize these feelings in your children, and how you might instill confidence in a bright, academically gifted child who is likely to think his/her successes only are due because of the special treatment of being home-schooled?

Gregory J. Millman: The imposter syndrome? Don't we all question our selves sometimes! However, I've read a bit about the syndrome you describe, and it's certainly not unique to home-schoolers. I think that the opportunity to work with other home-schoolers, to volunteer, to participate in activities with the conventionally schooled, etc., have all helped our children to get a reasonable degree of self knowledge. One of the advantages of home-schooling is that parents have an opportunity to develop close and trusting relationships with their children. We're all in this together, after all.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Gregory, I am enjoying this chat tremendously and am enthusiastic about the idea of home-schooling, but must say that when you answer a question like "how do you do chemical experiments" with "people working together, sharing their skills and expertise, can accomplish much more than anyone individually," it comes off to the reader as sounding more like propaganda than helpful information. So, exactly how do you do chemical experiments?

Gregory J. Millman: At first, we hosted a chemistry class, working with another home-schooling family. Experiments weren't a problem. When the children were a little older, we availed ourselves of the local community college for lab facilities we couldn't duplicate. Home-schooling isn't home-bound.

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Arlington, Va.: Gathering performance data on home-schoolers must be challenging. Could Mr. Millman comment on comparative studies of academic achievement and social growth between home-schoolers and traditional schooling? I would think this is especially difficult to measure given the diversity of backgrounds, motivations, and methods of home-schoolers.

Gregory J. Millman: The Peabody Journal of Education did a roundup of home-schooling research in 2000. Other research has been underway since then, of course, but it's a good starting point for people new to the subject. Our book does go into some detail on the state of research and on sources of information.

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Fairfax, Va.: We sent our kids to public schools. At times, I was not pleased with the level of challenge they had, or with other specifics, but for my kids the chance to learn all the social skills of getting along in an large organization, including surviving less-gifted teachers, was of great importance. Perhaps because I went to a very small private girls school myself and found myself lacking in these skills, I feel it was worthwhile to go with the public school system. Obviously, if we had not been in a county with good schools, or if our kids had different needs, we might have made a different decision.

Gregory J. Millman: That's what educational choice is all about -- people doing what they see as best for their children.

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Bowie, Md.: Do the data on the success of home-schooled vs. public-schooled students take into account that parents have self-selected home-schooling based in part on ability? Obviously the kids of two college-educated parents are more likely to do well in public schools than those of a single parent who didn't go to college. The former are more likely to get home-schooled as well. (This is always a problem when comparing schools.)

Gregory J. Millman: Any researcher worth his/her salt addresses that, and provides appropriate cautions to readers.

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Columbia, Md.: I don't think you really answered an earlier question. I realize that home-schooling today involves, usually, communities of home-schoolers, so that it's not such a lonely experience, but if a parent is such a good teacher, why shouldn't he/she seek a job with the local school system and use his/her abilities to benefit all kids in his community, not just his own children? Home-schooling may be a more communal thing now, but I see it as a more selfish example to society.

Gregory J. Millman: Some people prefer to work in school systems, and some prefer another course. Diversity is a strength of our society, not a weakness. As parents, our first responsibility is to our own children, and we would be remiss if we put them in a situation that was bad for them, just because we thought it was a noble idea to do so.

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New Jersey: Is there really a place for this in a family where both parents work full-time outside of the home? How can parents work all day then come home and provide all the education children need? I understand that people can make financial sacrifices, if possible, to have more flexible hours, but it seems like you need to have a parent at home dedicated to this endeavor.

Gregory J. Millman: Well, it's not a good idea for parents to leave children at home alone. We did make a choice to structure our lives so that one parent could be at home with the children at all times. This required some financial sacrifice. We know parents who run their own businesses and we also know parents who work with companies and take advantage of flexible work or telecommuting arrangements. It's not impossible for dual-career families to home school -- but it's not easy either.

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Clinton, Md.: Legally, what financial provisions and/or academic resources must a state and/or school district make available to a family that chooses to home-school? What Web sites, books and articles advise on this aspect of home-schooling?

Gregory J. Millman: It varies from state to state. The Home School Legal Defense Association provides a useful summary of each state's regulations.

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King George, Va.: Just a thought: The Virginia Legislature dealt with many of these issues from 1979 to 1984. It was an in-depth evaluation, resulting in the current Virginia legislation on home-schooling, which I believe was passed in 1984. Perhaps it would be useful for many, including California legislators, to examine the Virginia legislation. It is Section 22.1-254.1 of the Virginia Code.

Gregory J. Millman: Thanks for the contribution.

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S: My son, age 8, is not enjoying the "all standardized testing, all the time" method of teaching in the Montgomery County school system. My wife is an independent school Spanish teacher, and we were considering sending him to a private school (The Maret School and the Field School are on the list), as she has connections at independent schools in the area -- but your article gave us food for thought, especially with what we have access to in the D.C. metro area in terms of museums and programs.

Gregory J. Millman: Great idea.

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Chesapeake, Va.: As an educational consultant, I've worked with home-schooled children who have special needs, such as learning disabilities, for the past nine years. A growing number of my clients are those who have left the public schools because, in their experience, No Child Left Behind regulations and excessive state testing have left their children's needs unmet. Most of these children have made good progress once they are taught at home. What are your thoughts and experiences with this growing sector of home-schooling families? Do you have any way to document the percentage of home-schooled special needs children?

Gregory J. Millman: Interesting point. We haven't seen reliable statistics but a web search certainly turns up plenty of sites discussing the home-schooling of special needs children.

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Lodi, N.J.: Mr. Millman, I have an eighth-grader with ADHD (inattentive type) who is happy socially in school (which is actually in a very nice school) but he is slipping behind because of his lack of organization, slowness in completing his homework and intermittent attention in class. Yet he is also a big reader, and is smart. Like my son, I am more of a dreamy book-reader than an organizer. Would an ADHD kid like that benefit from home-schooling in your opinion, or be hindered by it?

Gregory J. Millman: The home-schooling environment can adjust to meet the child's needs, instead of forcing the child to adjust to meet the environment's needs. You might want to check into some of the home-schooling support groups in your area to see if there are others in the same situation.

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Arlington, Va.: Your article did little to change my impression that home-schoolers are taken out of public schools mostly for political or religious purposes. For the most part, the reasons appear to be more elitist than practical. I do have a basic problem when home-schoolers want -- if not demand -- equal access to public resources, when their parents already have opted out of programs. Any comments?

Gregory J. Millman: Different states handle this question differently, and different home-schoolers do too. On the one hand, parents of home-schooled children do pay taxes, like other parents, and probably have a legitimate case for access to public education services available to, for example, students in private schools. Some home-schoolers, on the other hand, feel that state funding and services always come with strings attached, and they prefer to avoid the strings. In many areas, home-schoolers have developed an infrastructure that even includes competitive athletic teams.

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Watertown, Conn.: Nowhere else in our society are people segregated by age as in our schools. The workplace, shopping mall, place of worship -- all age-integrated. The only other segregation, it would seem, would be nursing homes and "adult communities." Home-schooling offers opportunities for kids to experience real-world socialization -- which is to say, across the age spectrum. Virtually every home-schooled child I've encountered, including my own, is much more comfortable interacting with all ages, from babies to the elderly. This ability might not yet be valued in our current society, but I think it tends to nurture sensitivity and compassion, two values you generally don't find in traditional school settings, I've found.

Gregory J. Millman: We've noticed that too. Mixed-age education has a lot to recommend it.

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Chicago: The case in California was centered on a family in which abuse was occurring. I support home-schooling, but shouldn't there be a way to monitor the home situation and ensure a safe and healthy environment for the child? Scheduled check-ins throughout the year, perhaps?

Gregory J. Millman: Home-schoolers aren't exempt from child-welfare laws, and shouldn't be. That said, the fact that a family is home-schooling should not create suspicion that abuse is likelier to occur. "Home-school profiling" is as repugnant as any other discriminatory profiling.

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Manassas, Va.: A follow-up to your informative article of March 23: Is curriculum available for important, advanced, upper-grade subjects such as linear algebra, calculus, computer architecture, analytical chemistry, environmental science, differential equations and second- or third-year foreign language courses, such as Russian, Chinese, German, etc.? If so, do you think that most parents are capable of teaching these subjects? Thank you.

Gregory J. Millman: Curricula are available. By the time the student gets to advanced levels, he/she should no longer have to depend on a parent or teacher "teaching" the material. Many home-schoolers take advantage of college classes, distance learning opportunities, study groups, etc. Education isn't top-down. It's participatory, and at some point must become largely self-directed. I don't know of any home-schooling parent who is knowledgeable in all the fields you mention, but I know of home-schooling parents who are knowledgeable in some of each, and who are willing to point their children to resources to supplement what the parent does not know.

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Washington: How will you handle potential requests from your older children who may want the academic and social environment that a public or private middle or high school may provide? Will they have a choice in how they are schooled, or is home-schooling the only option as far as you're concerned? It strikes me that not all six of your children may want or benefit from a home-school setting throughout their entire education.

Gregory J. Millman: We've asked them about that often, and they prefer the freedom, social opportunities and academic resources they enjoy through home-schooling. Of course, they have numerous conventionally schooled friends, and it seems to be the other way round - the conventionally schooled often say they wish they were home-schooled.

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Philadelphia: Sorry, but the tax argument doesn't work -- everyone pays taxes that support our schools, regardless of whether they have kids in the schools, because all of society benefits from educating our young. And I didn't get the impression from your piece that you're concerned about the many home-schooled children who receive very sub par educations.

If a school fails, society has a remedy for that. If a parent fails to teach a child, what remedy exists to help the child? What protections are in place to ensure that the children are not being cheated out of the education that, by right in this country, is theirs? Also, what protection is there to make sure that the children are essentially healthy and not being mistreated? Whether we like it or not, schools have become one of the front lines against child abuse.

Gregory J. Millman: If society has a remedy for failing schools, it would be nice to see society apply it. Ten percent of children fear being attacked in schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Our urban schools consistently fail children. All too often, school district boundaries and school financing programs seem to perpetuate inequality, racial and economic discrimination, etc. Home-schooling has the potential to help reform education by showing what is possible with a different model.

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New York: I just wanted to add to the question about how you do a chemistry lab if you don't know a lot. I think there are many resources out there on science, and as long as you are willing to discover the answer with your child, you'll be able to make some observations. Having been a classroom teacher, I can assure you that just because someone has a teaching certificate, it doesn't make them a good teacher. Private schools require no certification at all, and I can tell you that teaching a few children at home is quite different from teaching a full classroom of students.

Frankly, I think home-school parents take their responsibility quite seriously, and truly desire to help their kids succeed. Of course, not every family is this way. It is doubtful in my estimation that it would be any different if the child were in school. As for regulations and oversight, here in New York we are required to turn in a yearly plan, four quarterly reports and a year-end assessment. That's plenty of oversight compared to other states.

Gregory J. Millman: New York is one of the most highly regulated states. Of course, regulation doesn't always translate into high performance. But you raise valid concerns.

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Arlington, Va.: Do you support home-schooler's claim for a legal or other rights to participate in extracurricular activities (e.g. sports, band) at their local school? There seems to be a "pick and choose" what you like from the schools, and leave the rest...

Gregory J. Millman: I think these decisions are best made at the local level. There is no one-size-fits-all.

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Ithaca, N.Y.: I have a comment on the idea that good teachers waste their talents on just a few kids at home rather than being in a classroom sharing the wealth. That's rather a socialistic sort of thought in my opinion. I have a different perspective on that. In my choice to stay home with my children and eventually to teach them at home, my question was "why would I commit all that energy to other people's children when I have a responsibility to my own kids?"

Gregory J. Millman: Thank you. I do think that by doing a good job home-schooling, parents do help other children, if only by proving that there is more than one way to achieve educational progress.

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Washington: First off, Gregory, thanks so much for this piece. An excellent treatment of the subject for an excellent paper. The chat has been so far almost as interesting (and civil! thanks, all!), but I must rebut one comment made by the mechanical engineering Ph.D.: namely, that finishing one's math workbooks and vocabulary lists is the only way for a home-schooler to achieve academic success. I was unschooled all of my life (quick definition for those who may not know: unschooling is, at its heart, the learning philosophy that children will teach themselves everything they need to know when provided with appropriate resources). While I chose a smaller, less-prestigious school than Brown for undergrad, I graduated valedictorian from that school with a double major in three years. Following that, I was accepted to graduate programs at Johns Hopkins, William and Mary and Virginia Tech, among others. Workbooks work, but so too do other paths, even if they involve running off to write one's own plays/prose/novels for a year to the exclusion of all else (as I did). Thanks again!

Gregory J. Millman: Thanks for sharing your experience.

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Tampa, Fla.: Mr. Millman, thank you for your balanced article regarding the diversity of home schooling, the variety of methods and the proven success. As a home-schooling mother, small group writing instructor and home-school class program administrator, I see the American Spirit alive and well within our home schooling community. We truly are living out the purpose of our nation's freedom; we are pursuing life, liberty and happiness in our educational choices. Our forefathers would not just be proud of us, they would applaud us.

Gregory J. Millman: Thank you for your comment.

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Washington: Probably commenting too late, but the obvious answer to the poster who thinks home-schooling parents should sign up to teach public school classes is that teaching a classroom full of students requires very different skills than teaching one child, or a very group. A good tutor may be a terrible classroom teacher, and vice versa. Also, in a classroom 25-30 students have to trundle along at the same speed; a tutored child can learn at his or her own speed.

Gregory J. Millman: Yes, the institutional structure has a lot to do with performance and outcomes.

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Durham, N.C.: What are some of the best ways to home-school "developmentally delayed" children?

Gregory J. Millman: There are numerous resources but the best place to start is with your local home-schooling groups.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hello Gregory. As a child growing up in Africa (both my parents were employed with nonprofit international organizations) my brothers and sisters had some form of home-schooling because of the limited schooling opportunities available in rural areas of Africa, as well as traditional schooling. Home-schooling may be a plausible solution when kids are young, but as we get into middle and high school, the benefits of traditional schooling could not be ignored.

Parents need to get involved with their schools, and not just when during parent's night. I think that parents should supplement traditional schooling with some sort of home-schooling to instill whatever values parents believe are important. Learning does not end on Friday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. -- learning should go beyond the little red school house. Parents need to identify what areas their kids need help with.

Gregory J. Millman: Thanks for sharing your experience. We know many home-schoolers who home-school all through high school and find that it is even more valuable during the high school years because it offers a greater range of opportunities than those available in conventional schools.

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Re: Unschooled Anecdote: Ph.D. mechanical engineer here again. Yes, spending a year reading widely and writing your own plays would make excellent preparation for college-level work in many fields, especially in the humanities. With mathematics, and degrees/careers that rely heavily on it, there is no substitute for years of formalized practice (excluding mathematical savants here...) I didn't even consider majoring in anything math- or science-related until senior year of high school, and it would have been too late for me to make the change if my parents hadn't insisted on building the math systematically all along.

Gregory J. Millman: Thanks for sharing your story. It is certainly important to include a solid math foundation.

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Alexandria, Va.: I was in Old Town on a weekday afternoon last week. About half a block ahead of me I saw what appeared to be a mother and her young daughter carrying a box with a globe in it. My first and only thought was "I bet that's a home-schooling trip out of the house." In your article, you said that a lot of home-schooling takes place outside of the home. Could you outline a typical day in a home-schooling household if you were not going anywhere?

Gregory J. Millman: Our days vary. In our book we describe our home-schooling experience from all angles. We are usually on the move, though.

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Olmsted Falls, Ohio : Hi Gregory. The California situation is one that everyone is watching closely. I interviewed Debbie Schwarzer, who is a home-school Mom, an attorney and co-chair of the legal team for the California Homeschool Association. Debbie and other California home-schoolers I have spoken to assure me that they are working on the situation and others should not panic. You can access her interview and other CA resources right here.

Gregory J. Millman: Thanks very much for that. We are all interested in seeing how things play out in California.

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Washington: I really find the argument that home-schooled kids do better in college hard to take. For one, I remember reading at least one study that said that home-schoolers did worse and needed more catch-up. Second, if you don't teach them about calculus, for example, but teach them statistics by taking them to baseball game, how will they be prepared for college and college-level courses? I can't imagine that there are many parents who know enough about calculus, higher-level physics, literature, etc., to be able to teach all that a child should know before he or she heads off to college. How do home-schooling parents prepare to teach their children these advanced-level courses?

Gregory J. Millman: We cited two studies in the article that followed home-schoolers in college, and cited alumni magazines of Stanford and Swarthmore. You can certainly follow up with these references. We introduced statistics by taking our children to ball games -- and why not? Isn't America's most statistics-intensive sport a relatively fun way to begin to learn statistics? Of course, we didn't stop studying math after we got home from the ball game. Homeschooling parents prepare their children for advanced courses using various means and resources. The Internet has made a world of learning available -- children can even take MIT courses free, online (not for credit) or for-credit courses from other universities through distance learning programs. Community colleges are an important resource. There's the Math Olympiad. There isn't space here to list all of the possibilities -- and home-schooling is largely about exploring possibilities and finding the one that fits best.

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Washington: As a parent who has taken his son out of public school because it failed to meet his needs, I take issue with the blanket assumption of Arlington, Va., who says "I do have a basic problem when home-schoolers want -- if not demand -- equal access to public resources, when their parents already have opted out of programs."

We didn't opt out of a public program; rather, the public school didn't provide appropriate programming. My son is exceptionally gifted and reads seven grade levels above his age. When we asked the school's principal if he could attend math and reading with some upper-grade kids, she told us that she had a responsibility to educate all kids, and could not make "special" accommodations for my son.

Gregory J. Millman: A friend of ours was counseled into home-schooling by a school principal who told her that the school could not provide enough challenge for her son.

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Ithaca, N.Y.: Thanks for your encouraging article on home-schooling. Here in New York, we are facing both sides of view on home-schooling from state leaders. The State Board of Education is considering allowing home-schoolers to participate on school sports teams, but on the other side, after 17 years of providing special services to disabled home-schoolers, they recently have decided to reverse that policy and withdraw those services. What is your take on the national and state trends in education policy with regard to issues like these?

Gregory J. Millman: As the abolitionist Wendell Phillips said, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

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Silver Spring, Md.: You stated in your article that there have been studies indicating that home-schoolers may be performing better in various student evaluations. Could you give us references for a couple of these studies? Did these studies control for any differences in family backgrounds between home-schoolers and those those educated elsewhere?

Gregory J. Millman: The most extensive study of home-school performance was conducted by Lawrence Rudner in 1998-1999. A Google search for his name will pull it up.

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Ithaca, N.Y.: We are home-schoolers, and I completely agree that public schools simply are not the one-size-fits-all institutions that they used to be. If your child fits outside of that box in any way, they will have a difficult time. There is hardly any money left for advanced students by the time PL 94-142 is taken care of (mainstreaming education law).

I want my kids to experience the extraordinary! We can follow our own schedule, learn at our own pace and provide so many experiences for them that they would not have at the local public school. I think home-schooling will continue to be a viable option for parents looking for an alternative to the public school. Having been a classroom teacher, I know my kids benefit from home-schooling. I like the way my kids will take risks and really ask the questions and be eager to find the answers. Public school kicked that out of my kindergartner in very short order. Thankfully, he recovered from the zone of apathy shortly after we pulled him out of the school! Thanks for a great article on home-schooling!

Gregory J. Millman: And thank you!

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Gregory J. Millman: Thank you very much for your time and for a very stimulating discussion. If we were not able to get to your question, please feel free to e-mail us.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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