kitchen table math, the sequel: Steve H on collective homeschooling

Friday, January 4, 2008

Steve H on collective homeschooling

If the money followed the child, many more local schools would pop up. Some would evolve from home schoolers, and some would evolve from groups of willing parents. After a period of rapid growth and change, I would expect a certain amount of consolidation so that buildings could be bought and economies of scale could be achieved.

I've talked with other parents about doing what amounts to a collective homeschool (even without money from the town or state). Each parent would contribute money, teaching, and/or effort in some way or other. When I talk with other parents about this idea, you can see the wheels turning. Some of them are sending their kids to private K-8 schools costing $15,000 - $20,000 and the schools expect more money and effort from them.

Just imagine if the KTM parents lived near each other. Imagine 10 kids (for example), a budget of $150,000 per year, and complete control over the curriculum. You could probably finish all of the direct instruction by noon. Homework would be completed after lunch. Imagine the possibilities. Invest in a small bus. Think of the field trips.

I've had some variant of this thought many times. My only caution is that I would want to keep things as informal as possible, which means I would want to avoid forming an actual school at least to start.

I say this because of our experience sending Jimmy and Andrew to a charter school founded by a group of dedicated, highly educated parents who knew exactly what they wanted (in their case a state of the art behavioral program for autistic kids). The whole enterprise turned acrimonious. Extremely so. Basically a founder syndrome issue.

That's not to say that charter schools aren't a good thing, or that charter schools started by parents who know what they're doing are doomed to open warfare. Not at all.

It is to say that if I had the good fortune to be teamed up with a group of like-minded parents I personally would be happiest starting with limited commitments and going from there.

Steve's right: we'd get through the curriculum fast -- and we could have great field trips in the afternoon!

Ed, a couple of months ago, decided that we need an "afterschool cooperative" that would recruit parents to tutor, reteach, preteach, etc. as needed. I think such a thing is highly feasible although I don't believe it would make up for simply having a great school dedicated to teaching the liberal arts disciplines to mastery to begin with.


concernedCTparent said...

I'm so glad you got Steve's post up front.

Oh, if wishes were horses...

Catherine Johnson said...

boy no kidding

As soon as I finish my book I'm going to get in touch with the playwright in Riverdale whose number I was given. (Think I mentioned her before.) It's late in the day for us, but I'd like to see what she's up to. Apparently she knows a terrific free-lance physics teacher, etc.

SteveH said...

The flaw is the money. Can you allow money to follow the child to a home school or a small school without open enrollment? Probably for the home school only. When I've talked to other parents about this in the past, it's always been with those who are already sending (spending) their kids to private school.

SteveH said...

Another hidden issue with choice is that if it worked, then many parents (whose kids go to private school) wouldn't have to pay tuition. At least 20% of the kids in our town are sent to private schools. That would be a huge increase in the cost of education for a town that spends two-thirds of its budget on education.

Of course, this is no argument against choice. It's just a statement of fact. Private school parents have been subsidizing town budgets for ages. Either education is free or it isn't. I wasn't charged a fee when I brought my son back to the public schools. Why should that change if there was choice.

palisadesk said...

I can't cite the research for you (without doing some digging, which I'm disinclined to do at the moment), but I'm quite sure the available data suggests most "choice" initiatives would have minimal impact on existing private school enrolment. Families choose private school options for a whole spectrum of reasons. The elite, top-tier schools will have nothing to do with "government money" (which ties their hands and requires administrivia); small religious schools may not be eligible - it depends on how law is set up. I believe some of Milwaukee's choice schools are religious in orientation. Some private schools are libertarian in spirit, rejecting government involvement, period.

Choice initiatives include direct funding of schools ($xxxx per student, paid directly to school), tax credits (family can get a tax refund on some or all of tuition paid), vouchers (set amount per student, parent can decide from a menu of options where to "spend" it), alternative or charter schools (tuition-free publicly-funded schools, differences are in organization, administration, curricula etc.).

Many existing private schools would not qualify for funding under new regulations, whatever they were -- but the choice options would influence new school initiatives (alternatives, charters, parent or teacher-initiated models, etc.). The biggest potential impact is in low SES or minority populations, where there is a strong demand for charter and private options. These are the children most aggressively maimed (I don't think that's too strong a word for it) by forced attendance at dysfunctional "ghetto" schools.

My union goes into paroxysms of fury at the very mention of any of the above; however, I find the notion that parents have a moral duty to supply children as fodder to "support public education" by way of a per pupil allotment (payable with no accountability) to be beyond comprehension. There are many competent, caring and committed staff in these dysfunctional schools, across all political lines , who would be lined up at the door for a chance to be involved in a well-run "choice" school. I have met some unlikely, clandestine supporters of the idea at every level.

The notion that school choice would increase polarization probably won't wash. The myth of heterogeneity -- and it is a myth -- is dispelled by data. Schools are polarized NOW. They are polarized by family income, by zip code, by housing prices, all correlates for race and income. Charter school enrolment is more heterogeneous and includes more children with special education needs than "regular" school enrolment, where comparative data is available. This suggests that it is precisely those whose kids are poorly served now who are looking for a solution.

Check out the Charter Day School in North Carolina:
Charter Day School

or the Arthur Academies in Oregon:
Arthur Academy

Of course there would be loopy and goofy "choice" schools too. So???? I could opt out off the goofiness, which I can't do now.

Off to organize materials for another term of guerilla instructivism.

SteveH said...

"...most "choice" initiatives would have minimal impact on existing private school enrolment. Families choose private school options for a whole spectrum of reasons."

I would disagree for the lower grades. A big reason is academic. This may not be so big once you get to high school, but for the private K-8 school my son went to, it's huge. Our school committee completely dismisses these parents. We weren't asked for any reason why we put our son into a private school in the first place. Actually, they knew, but there was nothing they would or could do about it.

It's not uncommon for parents to put their kids into private K-8 schools and then send them back to the public high school. Sure, $25,000 per year makes a difference, but the honors and AP courses at many public schools are pretty good. I was told, however, by one of the private school teachers, that "once an independent school kid, always an independent school kid". After a while, kids (and parents) can't imagine that a public high school could be any good, and if the others are heading off to places like Phillips Academy Andover, then the local high school doesn't sound so great.

Fortunately, we made the switch back early enough. The academics aren't as good, but the school allowed my son to go into 7th grade pre-algebra rather than sixth grade Everyday Math.

SteveH said...

The problem with mandatory open enrollment is that it makes it harder to set up a small school based on more rigorous expectations or curiculum. Small schools can't be all things to all kids. Charter schools can have "themes", but that doesn't prevent anyone from applying.

Then you have the issue of troublemakers or kids who don't want to be there. Urban parents need the choice of separation more anyone else. In fact, I expect that urban parents would scream about getting the money to leave public schools. I would expect that they would be the main drivers for choice.

There seems to be a conflict between individual needs and some sort of collective public (education) good. Choice allows you to leave the system and the implication is that those remaining will get a worse education; individual good versus collective good.

Public schools have the resources and scale to deal with these issues, but they won't or can't. Choice must allow parents to make real choices (like private school parents) and not worry about any sort of issues of collective good. I would argue that what is best for one is best for all; a collection of individual bests rather than the best average. That's why I always push to look at education on an individual basis rather than an average (statistical) basis.

To help urban parents, you have to allow them to get out without having to move out. You need to allow separation based on parental choice. Some of the best private schools in our state are in the middle of cities.

The only issue is making sure that there is enough choice for all. Public education will try to usurp choice (just like so many other words) to make it their own. Public schools are focused on averages, but choice must allow a focus on individuals. If you put too many restrictions on the flow of educational dollars, it's not real choice.