Home schooling presents opportunities, challenges

By Russ O'Reilly

Altoona Mirror

Published: Sunday, Sept. 8 2013 11:16 a.m. MDT

In this July 31, 2013, photo, Neil Meyer talks with Matt Perlman, the co-manager of the psychology lab at Penn State University in State College, Pa. In Kansas, where Penn State student Neil Meyer spent a majority of his childhood, home schooling is unregulated. Pennsylvania is among the most-regulated states for home schooling, requiring meticulously maintained portfolios, fulfilled course requirements and standardized tests.

Altoona Mirror, Gary M. Baranec, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

ALTOONA, Pa. — More than a decade ago, home schooling was considered alternative and students may have been stigmatized as living in a bubble.

But now, home schooling has grown from 5,000 students in 1990 to a stable 22,000 since about 1998. Nationally, there are about 2 million home-educated students, the National Home Education Research Institute said.

Whether the state's myriad of regulations protect or hamper home-school education, divides exist for those invested in the culture.

Some teachers have resigned to home-school their children.

"It's common knowledge a lot of districts are really tied to test results," said Kristy Wall of Hollidaysburg, a first-year home-school parent and former public school teacher for 17 years. Six of the parents in her weekly science meetings at the Hollidaysburg Public Library are former public school teachers, she said, adding that she would not have left teaching if her 7-year-old son had not asked to be home-schooled.

Certification is not required to home-school a child, but Wall, certified to teach up to middle school, said she will investigate cyber courses if her son continues home schooling during his high school years.

"Where we have taken education prior to No Child Left Behind (of 2001) compared to how mandated education is these days, there's been a great shift. I've seen a great difference in how I've been able to teach," she said.

The state is no longer bound by some federal NCLB requirements, but parents are now contending with curriculum shaped by new standardized state exams at their children's schools.

Pennsylvania is among the most-regulated states for home schooling, requiring meticulously maintained portfolios, fulfilled course requirements and standardized tests.

In Kansas, where Penn State student Neil Meyer spent a majority of his childhood, home schooling is unregulated.

Meyer, 26, recalled a time, while getting his hair cut as a child, when he was asked how school was going and what grade he was in.

"It was tough to respond to that, because I never knew what grade I was in," he said.

Speaking between classes at Penn State, Meyer struggled to reconcile his negative home-school experience with his thriving college career. He was careful when sharing his perception to be fair to his parents.

"They instilled in us a sense of pride," he said. Formal instruction after second grade, however, was absent, said Meyer, who's lived in Huntingdon for about eight years.

He commutes almost daily to Penn State. He's earned numerous research grants and entrance to the McNair's Scholar program providing financial and academic preparation for first-generation college students to pursue graduate school.

He was recently honored with the Penn State Outstanding Adult Student Award and is pursuing clinical psychology graduate school next year.

He said his home schooling is a sensitive and complex topic within his family. Meyer's mother did not return a phone call, but Meyer said he spoke about the story with her.

"She seemed a little disappointed, and she definitely had her own take on the situation. Prior to today, my mother was unaware that the extremities of my childhood have played a major part in my personal statements and past successes," he said.

He remembers his mother going to home-school conventions every two years to buy books for him and his brother until Meyer was age 15. Their parents took them on trips to the orchestra or the zoo for educational enrichment. At home, they hounded him to "Hit the books."

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